Monday, July 31, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 138 (Ship in a Bottle)

Way back in the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Geordi La Forge and Data decided to try out a Sherlock Holmes story on the Holodeck.  The problem was that Data is an android.  With his perfect memory, he was able to solve all of the problems instantly.  Having read all of the source material, there was no ending that he hadn’t come across already.  Due to a poor choice of words, they ended up with a sentient Moriarty taking the Enterprise hostage.  The issue was resolved with the holographic Moriarty being put in protected memory.

Ship in a Bottle has Data and La Forge playing Holmes and Watson again only to find that there are some discrepancies.  A character who should be left-handed catches something with his right hand.  It’s nothing major, but they have Reginald Barclay look into it.  He discovers Moriarty, who claims to have been aware of the passage of four years, even if nominally.  He demands to speak to Captain Picard, who had promised to find a way for Moriarty to leave the holodeck.

Picard assures Moriarty that the ship did everything they could before passing it off to Starfleet, who is still working on the problem.  Moriarty has no way of verifying it.  For all he knows, Picard is saying this to placate him.  Either way, Moriarty is still confined to the holodeck…until he isn’t.  He seemingly wills his way into the corridor, which should be impossible.  Moriarty is just a projection of light and force fields.  He has no actual mass that can exist off the holodeck.

So, how did he do it?  As far as anyone can tell, sheer willpower.  He scans as human.  Oh, and he wants his girlfriend, Countess Regina Bartholomew, to be afforded the same opportunities.  She is a holographic character as Moriarty was before.  Picard cautions against it, as it would be of questionable ethics and morality to deliberately create a second sentient hologram, to say nothing of getting her off the holodeck.  No one can be certain that Moriarty is stable.

Finally, Data realizes what happened.  Moriarty created a nested reality.  He put the holodeck in a holographic Enterprise onboard the real Enterprise.  Picard, Barclay and Data are the real deal, as is the still-holographic Moriarty.  Everything else is a ruse designed to get Picard’s command codes.  This affords Moriarty some leverage in dealing with the real Commander Riker on the real bridge, who has to get the ship away from some colliding gas giants.

Moriarty is eventually turns Moriarty’s trick back on him and creates another level.  Picard has Moriarty beamed to this second fictional ship, where a fictional Riker gives Moriarty and Bartholomew a fake shuttle.  Moriarty then releases control of the real ship at the last moment, allowing everyone to get to safety.

It’s an entertaining episode, even if it does follow the same basic plot as Elementary, Dear Data.  (Moriarty gains control of the ship through trickery only to release it at the last moment.)  Here, a more permanent solution is found, where Moriarty and Bartholomew are on an independent device living out there existence in a virtual world.

Picard even muses that they might be part of some simulation on someone’s desk.  The first time I watched the episode, I missed the joke in that this is exactly what’s going on.  However, Barclay does tell the computer to end program just to make sure.  It has been noted that the computer should have responded, yet didn’t.  Even if it did, how would Barclay or anyone else really know?  The episode aired around the time that Deep Space Nine aired.  You could have had some cruel throwaway line at the start of the pilot episode about the Enterprise being lost a few weeks prior.

It is interesting to note that Star Trek: Voyager had a holographic doctor with a similar predicament.  The Doctor was confined to sickbay until he got his own portable emitter.  Of course, by the time it could have been any use to Moriarty, it would have meant admitting to Moriarty that they had tricked him.

Even if they did do this, there’s the issue of releasing Moriarty on an unsuspecting universe.  He claims that he can go beyond what he was written to do, but he’s twice taken hostage the flagship of the Federation, which is no small feat.  Given that they have Moriarty quarantined and that Moriarty has effectively gotten what he wants, it was probably best to leave well enough alone.

The character was never mentioned again in any of the episodes, even though Deep Space Nine had a recurring holographic character and Voyager had a regular holographic character, both aware of what they were.  It would have been interesting to have at least a mention.  I’d also like to know what happened to Moriarty and Bartholomew .  It’s possible that they lived their lives without ever realizing the deception or that they figured it out within minutes.  We may never know.

IMDb page

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 137 (Chain of Command: Part 2)

As you might have guessed from the episode title, Chain of Command, Part II is the second of a two-part story.  In the first, Captain Picard is sent to a planet with Dr. Crusher and Lieutenant Worf to find and destroy some nasty weapons.  The entire plot is convoluted, but it’s used to set up this episode.  At the end of the last episode, Captain Picard is captured by the Cardassians.

This episode begins with the Cardassians interrogating Picard for information on a particular sector of space.  Even under the influence of some heavy drugs, Picard says that he doesn’t know.  That’s not good enough.  The Cardassian interrogating him, Gul Madred, keeps at it.  He even tries to get Picard to say that there are five overhead lights when there are only four.  If the Captain doesn’t say five, Madred pushes a button and Picard is given excruciating pain.

Meanwhile, Captain Jellico is still in command of the Enterprise.  Commander Riker meets Worf and Crusher to bring them back to the Enterprise.  Riker wants to rescue Picard, but Jellico won’t let him.  Their mission is negotiating with the Cardassians.

It doesn’t take long before they admit to having Picard, which puts Jellico in a tough spot.  If they admit that Picard was operating under orders, Picard gets certain protections.  Otherwise, he’s a terrorist.  The Cardassians present an offer:  If the Federation gives up certain sectors, Picard will be released.  Jellico isn’t about to do that.

Things finally come to a head between Jellico and Riker with the result being that Riker is relieved of duty, making Lieutenant Commander Data the first officer, albeit temporarily.  Riker is reinstated when Jellico is made aware of Riker being the best shuttle pilot available.  His skills are needed to place mines around a Cardassian fleet, thus giving Jellico the edge he needs to get Picard back.  Once Picard is safely back on the Enterprise, all goes back to normal.  The only notable exception is that Counselor Troi (or Lieutenant Commander Trou, if you prefer) wears the standard uniform throughout the rest of the series.

This is one of the few cases where the second part was better than the first.  Most of the first episode was meant to set up this one.  This episode deals primarily with Picard being interrogated.  Gul Madred uses a variety of means to break Picard, including dehydration and humiliation.  One thing I didn’t realize upon first watching the episode was that Madred’s insistence that there were five lights when there were really four was meant to break Picard’s will.  Once he gave into that, it would be easier to manipulate him.

As I pointed out in m review of the previous episode, needing Picard seemed a bit contrived.  There had to be easier ways to get the information.  It seems unlikely that Picard would have full battle plans in case of a specific conflict.  I don’t know if the Cardassians tried hacking into Starfleet of if Starfleet even had that information, themselves.  I’d think that there would have been easier ways to come by it.

The episode was well acted.  The scenes between Madred and Picard are believable.  We also learn a little about Cardassian society.  (Not coincidentally, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would premier not long after this episode aired.)  Some of my complaints about the previous episode carry over.  Jellico was still an arrogant captain.  I admit that the character’s traits were necessary for the episode, but I have to wonder what kind of captain he is normally.  Did his style work normally?

It seems like this episode could have been used to shake things up a little more.  Instead, it seemed like things mostly went back to normal for the Enterprise.  Jellico’s influence was a one-off deal.  It was interesting to see Jellico and Riker speak frankly.  Both are correct in their assessments of the other.  However, neither seems to learn from that.  (To be fair, Jellico is never seen or heard from again.)  It was a memorable episode, but it could have been better.

IMDb page

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 136 (Chain of Command: Part 1)

There were certain movies or TV episodes that made sense over time.  I didn’t get the message as a child.  However, as an adult, I began to pick up on things that I wasn’t aware of when I was younger.  Sometimes, the reverse is true.  When Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Chain of Command aired, I didn’t question certain things.  This is probably why I remember the episode as being better than it actually was.  It wasn’t until later that I began to pick up on things.

The episode starts with Captain Picard being told that he’s being relieved of command of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  The reason is that he’s being sent on a covert operation along with Dr. Crusher and Chief of Security Worf.  The details aren’t forthcoming, but Picard gets to meet his replacement, Captain Edward Jellico.

It doesn’t take long for Jellico to start making changes.  He tells Commander Riker that he wants the crew on a four-shift rotation rather than the current three shifts.  He also takes Lieutenant Commander Data around the ship making demands, like telling engineering that he wants efficiency up and certain parts of the ship overhauled.  Data tells Jellico that it’s possible, but also points out that it would just barely be so.  Jellico wants it done anyway.

Meanwhile,  Picard, Worf and Crusher are training for their unspecified mission.  It isn’t until they leave that Picard can fill them in on the details: The Cardassians are making a weapon that could wipe out all organic life on a planet.  The three of them are to invade a research facility and destroy anything that might be dangerous.  It turns out that it’s a trap.  Crusher and Worf retreat, presumably to escape while Picard is captured.

When the episode first aired 25 years ago, the only thing that really bothered me was that they not only replaced Picard as captain, but the replaced him with a jerk.  Jellico isn’t concerned with being nice.  He’s concerned with results.  How people feel is secondary.  He’s the captain.  I came to realize that this was probably necessary, as he’s being sent to deal with Cardassians.  Riker at one point asks why he isn’t leading the mission.  Riker wouldn’t have been able to carry those scenes.  They needed someone who was abrasive.

It’s a little surprising to me that he made captain at all.  I suppose it’s possible that his method isn’t so bad if you’re used to it.  The crew seems to hate him mostly for changing things.  In fact, this is probably the only time that Riker is made to look bad.  When he has to tell Jellico that the change in shift rotation hasn’t happened yet, Jellico doesn’t care how the department heads feel.  In all fairness, Riker should have gotten it done sooner.  However, it’s done more to show how demanding Jellico is being.  I think the episode could have done without it.

Upon rewatching the episode, what seems most odd is that they would have sent Picard in the first place.  The next episode will have Picard being interrogated.  This episode serves to put him in that situation, but the reasoning is convoluted.  He’s one of three living captains to know about a certain technology.  The other two are retired.  You’re telling me that in all of Starfleet, the best person to send is a captain?  There are no engineers or science officers that could go instead?

The same goes for the chief medical officer of the Enterprise.  They only need someone to verify and possibly destroy the weapon.  Jellico is brought to the Enterprise on another starship, meaning you had at least two medical crews to choose from.  It was never explained why Dr. Crusher is needed.  (The reasoning will become obvious in the second part.)

If you’re thinking that these are the only problems I had with the story, I’ll be making some more points in my review of the second part.  This episode tends to typify why the season sets were a good idea.  Back when the episodes were being released on VHS, there were certain episodes like these that had some good scenes, but not great episodes.  It’s hard to recommend buying them, as you really have to buy two episodes when it’s not necessarily worth the price of one.  I hate to tear it down only to tell you to watch it, but it isn’t really worth avoiding altogether.

IMDb page

Friday, July 28, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 135 (The Quality of Life)

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

The main mission of the Enterprise is to seek out new life. One of the recurring themes on Star Trek: The Next generation is trying to get a hold of what life is. In “Quality of Life”, Lieutenant Commander Data, an android, believes that a set of machines may have intelligence.

The Enterprise is sent to evaluate a drilling operation. Captain Picard has to send a recommendation to Starfleet as to whether or not the operation is worth it. Three exocomps, which are little machines designed to do tasks like fixing things, are thought of as tools. They’re new and experimental, but have the potential to greatly speed things up and keep things moving. Things get complicated when one of the exocomps stops what it’s doing and comes out of a shaft. Attempts to get it to go back are met with resistance.

Eventually, something in the tube explodes; apparently, the exocomp was trying to save its own life. This and other evidence leads Data to believe that the exocomps have intelligence. It takes Data a while to convince everyone that the exocomps are truly alive, mostly because life is hard to define. Things come to a head when the drilling station has to be evacuated. Data won’t let the exocomps go to the station and be sacrificed to save Picard and Chief Engineer La Forge. Data is willing to risk court marshal to save the exocomps.

Data gets to grow a little in this episode. Data puts the safety of the exocomps above his own. In a way, he’s also capable of anthropomorphizing; he truly wants to see a part of himself in the exocomps. He even asks Dr. Crusher what life is. Her definition is the basic definition that you might get in organic chemistry: eats, excretes, reproduces, etc. Data points out that fire could be considered life under that definition. It consumes fuel, puts out heat as waste, and is capable of making more fire. Also, Data would be excluded because he’s not capable of reproducing in the conventional sense.

It was an interesting episode, but it’s similar to “The Measure of a Man”, where a trial is held to determine whether Data is a sentient being or if he’s the property of Starfleet. In fact, the episode is even acknowledged. Data tells Picard that he felt compelled to help the exocomps despite the fact that Picard had stuck up for him in that episode. Data knew that trying to save them was the right thing to do. I wish that there was a follow-up episode; I’d like to see what became of the exocomps.

I feel that the episode was worthy of four stars. It had the potential for five stars, but didn’t quite make it. It’s not that I think anything in particular is wrong with it. It was a great episode. I just don’t think that the episode was among the best that The Next Generation has to offer. I would recommend this episode. It’s enjoyable, although those that haven’t seen the episode might not get some of the references and will miss out if they haven’t seen The Measure of a Man. (Coincidentally, this is episode 135; The Measure of a Man was episode 35.) 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 134 (A Fistful of Datas)

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

The Enterprise has 48 hours to wait for another ship. During that time, the crew has some time to relax. Picard is playing his flute. Lieutenant Commander Data and Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge want to see if they can use Data as a backup for the ship’s systems in the event of an emergency. (For those that don’t know, Data is an android.) Worf is trying to give himself more work. Picard advises him to take the time off, which he reluctantly does.

Worf goes back to his quarters to tell his son, Alexander, that they will be able to go to the holodeck together. Alexander has this Wild-West program that he wants to try out with his father. Troi shows up a little later. Meanwhile, the experiment with Data seems to be going well until there’s a power surge somewhere in his positronic matrix. He and La Forge have to end the experiment.

That’s where things get interesting. At first, it’s small stuff. Picard is listening to music when the computer suddenly switches the song without acknowledging it. (It turns out that the second song was one that Data was studying.) Commander Riker is reading lines from what he things is a play, but is actually Data’s poetry from a few episodes ago. They also discover that all of the food replicators are only giving out a cat food that Data created. Notice the connection?

Unbeknownst to the rest of the bridge crew, Worf and Troi are stuck in the holodeck. Even they don’t figure it out until various characters take on Data’s appearance and abilities. Also, the mortality failsafe isn’t working. When they try to shut down the program, the computer doesn’t respond. Amazingly, there’s a simple solution. La Forge is able to purge the memory of both Data and the ship’s computer. All Worf, Troi and Alexander have to do is wait it out safely, if they can.

It seems like whenever something goes wrong, there’s usually some other problem that’s made worse by the first problem. In this case, Worf has to face bad guys in the holodeck program. Since his life is at risk, Worf has to figure something out. For some reason, the ship’s malfunctions didn’t really seem that drastic. It was more comedic than anything else. The replicators replicating cat food? I don’t really think of that as life threatening. I suppose that the writers didn’t want to have too many problems at once. It’s bad enough that Worf, Alexander and Troi are at risk.

The best part is the acting. Troi and Worf get to try something new, but Brent Spiner steals the show with five or six characters. Not only does he play Data, but he gets to play the villains in the holodeck, which he did very well.

I feel that the episode is worth four stars. It’s easy to understand for fan and non-fan alike. There is a lot of continuity in this episode. Like I said, we get to see Data’s poetry and Picard was playing the flute he got in Inner Light. Fans will appreciate the continuity, but non-fans will probably think nothing of it.

IMDb page

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 133 (Rascals)

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

Sometimes, even “Star Trek: The Next Generation” has a totally ridiculous story. Captain Picard, Ensign Ro, Keiko O’Brien and Guinan are returning via shuttlecraft to the Enterprise when the Enterprise gets a distress call. Picard orders Commander Riker to lay in a course and prepare to get going as soon as the shuttlecraft is back onboard. Suddenly, the shuttlecraft is caught in some sort of energy field. Transporter Chief Miles O’Brien (Keiko’s husband) has trouble locking on with the transporter, but is able to beam them out at the last moment. Seeing a 40% drop in mass, he assumes that he’s lost one of them, but all four make it back – as children.

It’s not easy for any of them. Picard has to step down as captain and let Commander Riker take over. Picard realizes that there’s no way that he could be taken seriously. Guinan, who basically runs a bar, can’t really go back to serving alcohol even though she’s really well over 500 years old. Miles has trouble accepting that his wife is now in the body of a twelve-year-old girl. Ro doesn’t particularly feel like being a child again. She spent most of her actual childhood in a labor camp.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get much worse, it turns out that the distress call was a setup. Several Ferengi got their hands on some Klingon Birds of Prey and want the Enterprise, which they figure will sell for quite a bit. As for the crew, all able-bodied adults are ordered down to the surface to mine the planet. Dr. Crusher has found out what’s gone wrong with the shuttlecraft survivors, but the crew hasn’t had a chance to do anything about it. It’s up to Picard, Ro, Guinan and Keiko to save the day.

The whole story is ludicrous. For starters, I’d like to know about the 40% loss in mass. Where did the 40% go? When everyone is returned to normal, the 40% miraculously comes back. It’s truly amazing. Also, we have a new fountain of youth. All someone has to do is go through a transporter that’s programmed to block certain genetic sequences. And that’s not even counting the weight loss. I also find it a little odd that no one noticed that the young Picard is wearing a uniform. Granted, the Ferengi that have taken over the Enterprise might not know what a Starfleet uniform looks like, but they’re getting a good look now.

Of the four characters that had to be reverted to childhood, Guinan was the best. The child Guinan was the most like the adult Guinan. Both were very calm and held back. Picard was a close second. It was almost like a teenager that reading lines written for Picard, but it was still believable. I didn’t quite buy into Keiko and Ro. I suppose you can’t ask for everything. All four were lucky that a cure was found. The possibility of having to grow up again was discussed and even though it was appealing to some degree, everyone was happier as adults.

IMDb page

There were aspects of the episode that were below average, such as the concept, and there were aspects that were above average, such as the acting. I have to settle on three stars. It’s an enjoyable episode if you don’t really think about it too much.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 132 (True Q)

In the Star Trek universe, little was known of the Q.  This was especially true during The Next Generation’s run. We had an omnipotent being who would just pop in to annoy the crew of the Enterprise.  The Q is a race, but we’ve mainly seen the one played by John de Lancie.  In True Q, de Lancie returns.  Does he antagonize the crew again?  Yes, but he’s on a mission.  Also onboard is Amanda Rogers, a young woman who is there as an intern before going off to Starfleet Academy.

It turns out that she can do things like affect the momentum of a falling object and stop a warp core breach.  Amanda isn’t really human, after all.  Her parents were members of the Q Continuum.  It’s up to Q to see how much she’s inherited.  If she has all of the powers of the Q, she’s to return.  If not…

Much of the episode is spent debating how much choice she has in the matter and what responsibility the Q have.  They can’t let an omnipotent being run around snapping things out of existence.  Then again, what right to they have to force her to do anything?  If she’s not fully Q, what can they do about it?

My one complaint about the episode is the extremes presented.  Either she goes back to the continuum or she’s destroyed.  She’s presented with the option of staying on the Enterprise and not using her powers, but it’s not long before she’s presented with an impossible choice.

On that note, it’s interesting to point out that this episode is the origin of two continuity errors for Star Trek: Voyager.  In Death Wish, a Q wants to commit suicide.  The continuum’s big fear is what the death of a member would mean.  Granted, Amanda’s parents were executed and possibly kept secret from the rest of the continuum, but any secret would be up once Amanda had returned. In The Q and the Grey, Q has a child, which he claims would be a first

Amanda Rogers was never brought up again.  This episode is basically ignored for the rest of The Next Generation and for Voyager..  I suppose it could be argued that the Q wouldn’t necessarily have linear lives that line up with ours.  Most likely, the writers of the Voyager episodes hadn’t seen this one.  Even if they had, her presence would have complicated the stories to the point that they might not have recovered.

If the episode comes on television, it’s possible to watch it without having seen any previous episodes.  The only thing that might be confusing is Q’s relationship with the crew.  For those that have seen the series and are fans of Q, it’s an enjoyable episode to watch.  It deals with the concepts of choice and responsibility pretty well without being overbearing.

IMDb page

Monday, July 24, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 131 (Schisms)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major details about the episode.  If you don’t want spoilers, this isn’t the review for you.

Many episodes of Star Trek had a clear message. You could tell where the story was going and why.  Others, not so much.  Take Schisms.  The Enterprise is minding its own business mapping a very dense region of space.  Strange things start happening.  Commander Riker is having trouble sleeping.  He gets into bed and it’s suddenly time to get up.  Lieutenant Worf has a strange reaction to a pair of scissors.  Lieutenant Commander Data, an android, loses time.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Worf, Riker and a few others gather in a holodeck and are able to create the image of a table which seems familiar to all of them.  Add to that some strange clicking noises and they realize that’s something’s up.  It turns out that the crew is being abducted by aliens from subspace.  Things get real when one crewmember is returned with his blood congealing.

Riker volunteers to help close the rift.  He’s probably going to be taken again, so he offers to do what he can while he’s there.  The plan works, but a little patch of energy leaves the ship, never to be seen or heard from again.  The bridge crew discusses the matter, hoping that the subspace aliens were just curious.  Riker points out that they’re more than curious, as they killed one of the crewmembers.

This episode has all the markings of some sort of lost challenge or bet.  It has all the earmarks of an alien-abduction story.  How do you do an alien-abduction story in space?  There are two possibilities.  One is that you have the Enterprise or another Federation vessel abducting aliens and you explore the issue that way.  The other is that people from the Enterprise are being abducted.

If you go the second route, you have to up your game.  If you have another space-faring vessel, it just seems like ordinary abduction to the crew.  You don’t get that scary paranormal vibe.  Going outside our normal universe would be the way to go.  The problem is that it doesn’t seem that strange.  I think this is a story that looked good on paper, but didn’t translate that well to the screen.  Those taken have no memory.  Had it not been for Riker’s fatigue, it’s possible no one would have known.

I don’t think I got the full effect that was intended with the episode.  Even when I first saw it, I don’t recall it being particularly scary or suspenseful.  To those that are in the know and paying attention, the clues will be there.  (The aforementioned loss of time, for instance, should be a big clue.)

One thing that caught my attention was Riker having a hairline fracture of the humerus.  I didn’t think much of it the first time the episode aired, but I had an accident that resulted in that same fracture.  While it wasn’t painful, it was a constant problem.  I had to have surgery to have it fixed.  Riker wouldn’t have known unless someone in sickbay had noticed it.  It’s possible that the aliens had fixed it.  It was never stated that it hadn’t been repaired by the aliens.  However, it came from the aliens taking Riker’s arm off and reattaching it.  All things considered, that’s a pretty neat trick.

There’s little to no replay value.  The entire story is built around suspense that doesn’t really happen.  At least three main characters are being abducted; there’s little threat of any of them being permanently harmed.  We have several secondary characters being abducted only so that we can guess which of them might be sacrificed.  It’s not an episode to necessarily avoid.  If you can get it streaming, I’d say watch it once.  I just wouldn’t make plans to watch it again.

IMDb page

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 130 (Relics)

There was a roughly 8-year gap between the original Star Trek and the spin-off series.  This made it difficult for any sort of real crossover, as most of the original bridge crew was human.  There was an appearance in The Next Generation’s pilot episode,  Encounter at Farpoint, by DeForest Kelley as a very old Dr. McCoy, but it was for one scene.  During the fifth season, two characters from the original series appeared, but they were both Vulcan:  Sarek and Spock.  Early in the sixth season, we had Relics, which featured an appearance by James Doohan reprising is role as Scotty.

The Enterprise, NCC-1701-D, responds to a distress call from a large spherical object that can only be a Dyson sphere.  On the surface of the sphere is a ship, the USS Jenolan.  Sensors show no life signs and minimal life support.  When an away team beams over, they find the transporter is active and there’s a pattern in there.  When normal function is restored, out comes Captain Montgomery Scott.

The rest of the episode is basically a backdrop for Scotty to interact with the rest of the crew, primarily his counterpart, Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge.   Being 75 years out of date means that he mostly gets in the way and feels sad about missing his friends.  The Enterprise gets trapped inside the Dyson sphere and it’s up to La Forge and Scotty to save the day, proving that Scotty can still be useful.

The biggest issue for the episode is one of continuity.  Scotty is happy at the thought of Kirk leading the rescue.  The episode was written and produced a few years before Star Trek: Generations, in which Scotty witnessed the ostensible death of Captain Kirk.  It’s interesting to note that Scotty pays a visit to Ten-Forward, which is run by Guinan.  Kirk was lost rescuing a group of  El-Aurian refugees, among them Guinan.  This would have been the second time in the Star Trek chronology that Guinan and Scotty almost crossed paths.

For those wondering, Freeman Dyson is a real person.  He did propose that an advanced civilization might construct something similar to what we see in the episode, although I doubt it would look exactly like this.  My understanding is that a planet-bound species would probably want to include their planet within the sphere rather than having it wind up outside, so the size would be rather large.  I was wondering why the Enterprise hasn’t come across more of these, but there are several practical challenges, such as resources.  Something like what is shown in this episode wouldn’t be easy to build and maintain.

If you’re not a regular viewer of Star Trek or Star Trek: The Next Generation,  I wouldn’t go out of your way to find the episode.  The plot is a little weak.  As I said, it serves only to have Scotty show up without actually being 140 years old.  The Enterprise doesn’t even get to see much of the Dyson sphere.  (It is mentioned that other ships will be sent to study the structure.)

For those that are regular viewers, it’s a fun episode.  I remember seeing James Doohan at a convention in Miami.  Someone asked if he’d appear on Deep Space Nine, as that might be a possibility.  I don’t remember him being opposed to the idea, but this was probably intended to be a one-off encounter.  It was probably better to leave it at that.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 129 (Man of the People)

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

The Enterprise responds to a distress call; two are ships attacking a third ship. The Enterprise scares off the two attacking ships. The one in distress is carrying an ambassador that’s to negotiate peace between two warring people. The Enterprise agrees to escort the ambassador and his mother the rest of the way. The mother is rude and aggressive towards Troi with no apparent motive or reason.

The ambassador’s mother dies en route. He asks Counselor Troi, the only empath aboard, to help him with a ceremony. Once it’s over, Troi knows that he’s done something, but it’s too late. Troi starts to act strangely; she has sex with an officer and starts to age rapidly. Eventually, she starts acting like the ambassador’s mother. Dr. Crusher wants an autopsy, but the ambassador refuses.

When a very elderly Troi walks into the transporter room, everyone knows that something is up. Crusher has Troi taken to sickbay and insists that the ambassador come along. The ambassador beams down to the planet to start his mission anyway, but Picard allows Dr. Crusher to do an autopsy over the wishes of the ambassador. It turns out that the woman, despite looking very elderly, has the interior organs of a 30-year-old woman and thus not the ambassador’s mother.

The ambassador seems to have a psychic link with Troi. When confronted about it, the ambassador admits what he’s up to. He used the woman (and is now using Troi) as a “receptacle” for negative emotions, which allows him to concentrate on his mission. Usually, the women live a long time, but Troi is aging very rapidly. The only way to undo what the ambassador did is to kill Troi and wait to revive her so that the link is broken. Once this is done, the ambassador ages rapidly and dies.

First off, there’s no real attempt to explain Troi’s rapid aging or miraculous and speedy recovery. The special effects and makeup are great, but you have to not question it. Theoretically, when hair grays, darker hair should still be there. It would look like the opposite of having your roots show. Troi’s hair all becomes gray, then returns to normal when the link is broken

The title, “Man of the People”, is a reference to his apparent altruistic intentions. He’s there to help the people of a planet without regard for any sort of compensation. He asks Picard if Troi’s life is so valuable that she should be saved and the inhabitants of the planet be allowed to continue to fight. It seems like a little bit of the writing was sacrificed for the benefit of the episode’s message. Presumably, Troi’s rapid aging and recovery were used to show the negative effects of what the ambassador was doing and how severing the connection returned her to normal.

I’d have to give the episode three stars. It’s not a great episode, but it wasn’t horrible. The acting and effects were good. It was really only the story that I didn’t like. I felt like there could have been more of an explanation. For instance, is the ambassador’s ability something that others in his species possess? Why was Troi so much more adversely affected? There was little or nothing said about either of these questions.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 128 (Realm of Fear)

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

New technology brings about new fears and the transporter seems to have brought about a great deal of concern. Lt. Reginald Barclay is deathly afraid of the transporters and, being an engineer, has a right to be. He understands that the transporter literally takes you apart molecule by molecule and puts you back together somewhere else. Even though many people have used it, it’s still a frightening experience.

However, Barclay has to use it. The Enterprise finds the U.S.S. Yosemite trapped in a plasma stream and the only way to get over there is by using the transporter. The plasma stream is going to make transporting tricky, but tractor beams are useless Captain Picard doesn’t want to risk losing a shuttlecraft to whatever might have damaged the Yosemite. So, the away team is beamed over one by one. When it comes time for Barclay to transport over, he can’t do it; he storms out of the transporter room.

Counselor Troi talks some confidence into Barclay and he manages to transport over. On the way back, he sees something in the transporter. It looks like a big worm with a rather large mouth; one of them actually ‘bites’ him on his arm. He tells Chief Engineer La Forge and Transporter Chief O’Brien. They take the transporter apart and look it over, but find nothing wrong with their systems. Soon after, Barclay starts having problems with the part of the arm where he was bitten. He thinks that he has a problem called transporter psychosis, but there hasn’t been a case of that in a while.

Finally, La Forge and Data are able to figure out that there are life forms in the plasma stream. Barclay collapses and is taken to sickbay, where it’s discovered that he’s got them all over his body. The transporter’s biofilter, which is capable of screening diseases, couldn’t detect them because they exist in an unusually state, but now the transporter can be programmed to filter them out. Barclay is sent through the transporter beam and sees the worm creatures again. Instead of being afraid of them, he actually grabs one when it approaches. It turns out that the worm creatures are actually people from the Yosemite that had disappeared. Security Chief Worf and two other members of security are sent through the transporter to retrieve the others.

Somehow, the people from the Yosemite were trapped in the transporter. I’ve seen this episode a couple of times and I’m still not sure exactly what happened. A very brief explanation is given, but it didn’t really mean anything to me. The transporter creatures aren’t that elaborate. The overwhelming blueness of the transporter effect obscures them, so it’s hard to see them anyway.

Mostly, I think the episode is meant to showcase Barclay, who’s appeared in several other episodes of The Next Generation. Barclay has always been a little neurotic. That’s always been the best part of the character. It shows that even in the 24th century, not everyone is this normal, happy person. (If that were the case, Counselor Troi would be out of a job.) Barclay is the character that’s used to show some of the more pronounced problems; in this episode, it’s a phobia, but he’s had an addiction to the holodeck and is known for being paranoid about his medical condition. Barclay has always been a little insecure. He’s a good engineer, but not sure of himself. Dwight Schultz does a great job with the role.

I’m torn between three and four stars. It’s above average, but I don’t think it’s that great that it’s half-way to five stars. I feel compelled to give it four stars because it is better than average, but it’s closer to 3? stars. I’d recommend this episode if it comes on TV or if you have the season set, but I wouldn’t rush out and buy the tape. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 127 (Time's Arrow: Part 2)

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

I should warn you that I’m going to reveal details in this review that will probably ruin the story of both this episode and the one before it. If you choose to proceed, don’t blame me for ruining the surprise.

Since the end of the third season, Star Trek: The Next Generation has been doing cliffhangers where the end of one season was the first part and the beginning of the next season was the second part. Time’s Arrow II opens the sixth season of The Next Generation, picking up where part one left off. To recap, Data’s head was found beneath San Francisco, despite the fact that an intact Data was alive and well in the 24th century. He was sent back by a freak accident, which the mysterious Guinan seems to know something about. This is because Data was able to locate Guinan in the19th century. Captain Picard, Commander Riker, Counselor Troi, Dr. Crusher and Chief Engineer La Forge go back to the 19th century to find him.

And so the new season begins. Picard, Riker, Troi, Crusher and La Forge have a room, but apparently can’t afford to pay rent. (They all seem to have clothes, even though the entered the era in their uniforms. For some unexplained reason, Riker has a policeman’s uniform.) Crusher has discovered that the aliens are using a cholera epidemic as cover for their attempts to steal human neural energy. The aliens feed off the neural energy and apparently can’t find a substitute for it.

The rescue team (Picard and company) manages to chase off the two aliens, which attracts Data’s attention. A police officer delays the rescue team long enough for Data to get there and join up with them. From there, it’s a matter of figuring out how to use the aliens’ device to get home. When they do accidentally activate the device, it splits Data into two pieces. His head remains in the cave in the 19th century and the rest of his body is sent back to the 24th century. Riker, Troi, La Forge and Crusher go back to the 24th century; Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) follows them; once back on Devidia II, they beam back up to the Enterprise and try to fix Data. Picard stays with Guinan in San Francisco.

While La Forge puts Data back together and attempts to get him working again, Riker tries to figure out a way to get Picard home. He’s given a way to get there, but only one person will be able to return. Clemens offers a solution. Since he’s supposed to be in the 19th century anyway, he’ll go back so that Picard can return home. We’re given another last-minute save here. Picard gets back to Devidia II just as modified weapons destroy the aliens’ lair permanently. Clemens helps an injured Guinan, but leaves a gun, his watch and Data’s head in the cave beneath San Francisco.

It’s an interesting episode that reminds me of “City on the Edge of Forever” from The Original Series, in which Kirk and Spock have to go after Dr. McCoy. The trouble is that Part I had a nice setup, but Part II was a letdown. We had all of this mystery about Data’s head and about Guinan. This episode was just kind of like, “Ok. Here’s what happened” and doesn’t really do much beyond that. There are some funny moments, like learning that the bellboy at Data’s hotel is actually Jack London and that Twain’s breaking into Data’s room allows Twain the opportunity to tell London to become a writer. We also get to see that Guinan is over 500 years old and also that from this episode on, Data’s head will have 500 years on the rest of his body.

There was a lot of explanation missing. For instance, how did the rescue party get clothing? As I said, they didn’t take it from the Enterprise. I’d be very interested to find out how Riker got a policeman’s uniform. Also, although no exact time frame is stated, they’ve apparently been there for several days. Do they have several sets of clothing? If not, how do they wash their clothes? They also managed to come across several copies of Shakespeare’s plays, yet paying rent is difficult. Data at least had the poker money.

On a similar note, after returning to the Enterprise with Twain, Troi escorts him around the ship. She beams back up with her 19th-century clothes, but at some point changes into her regular clothes. There was no mention of her stopping in her quarters to change.

While in the cave in the 19th century, Picard manages to enter a code into Data’s head that will (hopefully) allow Data to warn Commander Riker not to use unmodified photon torpedoes. How does Picard know where or how to enter the message?

I know that I beat up on a lot of the episodes, but this one had its share of bad moments. Alone, I’d have to give this episode three stars. The only reason that I do recommend it is that I recommended the first episode. It’s too bad that you can’t buy both episodes on one tape. You really can’t buy one and not buy the other and as I said in the review of Part I, you can’t get them as part of the same season set. You might be able to find a deal on eBay or if you’re lucky, but I wouldn’t recommend buying this episode without the other.

IMDb page

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Riaru onigokko/Tag (2015)

I’ve always tried not to give away endings unless it’s necessary or the ending is obvious.  I have to weigh the importance of surprise in a story.  Tag is one of those movies where I’m stuck in the middle.  On the one hand, surprise is part of the fun.  Then again, I almost didn’t stick with the movie.

It starts out with a bunch of schoolgirls on traveling by bus to a summer camp.  By the time the obligatory pillow fight starts, it looks like the director is letting you in on his fantasy.  What’s the deal?  It isn’t until both buses are cut in half (along with most of the passengers) that you realize something is up.  There’s a temptation for me to let you know that it does get better.   It’s cliché, but the movie isn’t what it looks like.

The story follows the one survivor between the two buses, Mitsuko.  She flees from the wind, as that seems to be what kills everyone.  She tries to warn people to no avail; they all die, too.  As she runs, she comes across a lot of bodies, all of them cut in half.  She finds her way to a school for girls where she meets several other girls claiming to be her friends.  This is only the beginning of her wild ride.

This is where I want to end the spoilers, as it’s better to let you find out on your own.  It’s better to go into this without the burden of knowing what’s going to happen.  (Wikipedia gives a more-detailed account of the plot if you need one.)  I will say that it’s strange.  It reminds me of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, except that it’s ultimately possible to follow what’s going on with Tag.

Mitsuko serves as a surrogate of sorts.  We find out information as she does.  We’re as surprised by it as she is.  She’s leading us through this bizarre tale that seems to jump between different universes, or at least between different narratives.  How much control does she have over the whole ordeal?  If she does have a destiny, can she change it?  Also, what’s the deal with down pillows?

I’m not saying that this is my new favorite movie, but I am glad that I stuck with it.  I’m not sure how much of the movie is lost on me as an American.  I’m sure at least some of it is.  Fir the first 60-70 minutes of the movie, all of the characters are female except for a pig in a suit.  Is this a way of saying men are pigs?  I’m not sure.  It wasn’t really an obstacle to enjoying the movie, though.  It does work as a thriller in that we want to see the main character survive and understand what’s going on.  I only had my doubts for about ten minutes.  If you come across this title and want something that’s way out there, this is your movie.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Twins (1988)

WARNING:  This review does give away some details, including details about the ending.

Comedies are often less limited by reality than dramas.  With a drama, you usually have to explain things in greater detail.  In Twins, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito play Julius and Vincent Benedict, respectively.  What’s so hard to believe about this?  They’re the titular twins.  We are given minimal background in that they were the result of an experiment.  The idea was to take sperm from six men, all of them being great in some way, and use the genetic material to impregnate Mary Ann Benedict.

What the scientists expected was Julius, the epitome of what a human could be.  He grew up to be perfect.  What wasn’t expected was Vincent, who was formed from the genetic backwash when the twins’ cells split.  Whereas Julius became strong and intelligent, Vincent was unremarkable.  Whereas Julius was sent to live on a tropical island with one of the scientists, Vincent was dumped in an orphanage.  The project itself was shut down and sealed off.

On their 35th birthday, Julius is told about the existence of Vincent.  Julius sets off to find his long-lost brother, sensing that Vincent might be in some sort of trouble.  Oh, does Vincent have trouble.  Julius has to get Vincent out of jail by paying countless parking tickets.  Shortly thereafter, Julius meets some thugs sent by a loan shark Vincent owes money to.  Add to this the fact that Vincent has stolen a car with a valuable prototype in the trunk.

Vincent’s plan is to deliver the car and collect the $5,000,000 payment, leaving Julius alone for a few days.  The catch is that Julius has found one of their fathers living nearby.  The father tells Julius of Mitchell Traven, who is living in New Mexico.  Since New Mexico would be on Vincent’s way, it wouldn’t be difficult for them to stop by.  Before Vincent can leave Julius behind, Linda Mason shows up with her sister.  Linda is Vincent’s girlfriend.  She and her sister decide to join the twins on their journey.

One other aspect of a comedy is that, despite all manner of problems, there’s usually a happy ending.  You would expect everything to work out for the Benedict brothers.  Will they find their mother?  Probably.  (Read:  Yes.)  Even if something happened to their mother, you can at least assume that the brothers will form a permanent bond and grow as individuals.

The main gag is that Schwarzenegger and DeVito could be twins.  Everything else feeds off of this.  Vincent is reluctant to believe Julius until he sees opportunity.  Julius is able to get Vincent out of jail and to fend off the loan shark’s collectors.  Julius is able to provide Vincent with hope of finding their mother.

One plot hole that always bugged me was how Julius had money.  We can assume that the scientist raising him would have access to funds, either his own or someone else‘s.  (He’s doing something, either for himself or for a third party.)   If the scientist doesn’t have some sort of benefactor, he would at least have some money from working for the government.  At the very least, he probably earned a lot working o the secret experiment.  Either way, I doubt he would have let Julius leave without some sort of plan, especially since Julius had to pay for a plane ticket to The United States.  Since Julius is assuming his brother is just like him, it’s doubtful that he’s expecting his brother to have untold parking fines.  It was fortunate that Julius had that much money.

The movie was pretty evenly paced.  Julius leaves the island pretty quickly and manages to track down Vincent in short order.  There wasn’t a part of the movie that dragged.  It’s a simpler story, as you might expect.  There is character development, but not much.  At the end, Julius is still as naïve as he was at the start.  Vincent is just as ready to pull a quick one as ever.  They do, however, have family now.

Monday, July 17, 2017

K-PAX (2001)

Some plot devices have been used so much that there’s really nowhere new to go with them.  Ambiguity, for instance, can only take you so far.  If you’re using that as the focus of your story, you had better be able to do it well.  K-PAX relies on a fair amount of ambiguity.

A man appears in a train station.  He’s taken to a psychiatric hospital, mostly because he’s a little off.  When I say a little off, I mean he claims to be an alien named Prot from the planet K-PAX.  Dr. Powell is the one who catches his case.   The only thing that’s unusual is that Prot can see ultraviolet.  Other than that, he’s an ordinary guy that was walking around without any ID who happens to claim to be an alien.  Dr. Powell sets out to figure out what Prot’s major malfunction is.

Prot’s story is pretty well developed.  He’s able to describe aspects of K-PAXian society, like children being raised by the community.  When presented to a group of astronomers, Prot is able to describe his solar system in great detail.  It would be a pretty lame trick except that it explains the wobble that had been observed in the system’s binary stars.  (The movie was released in 2001, when wobble was how we inferred planets around other stars.)

So, we have ambiguity.  Prot can’t really prove that he’s an alien, since he rode in on a beam of light.  It makes sense that an alien civilization would come up with some strange method of interstellar travel, but it’s convenient that it’s one that doesn’t give Prot a spaceship to show off or get back to.  On the other hand, he’s in human form.  There’s no test that any doctor could run that would prove or disprove the claim.  His ability to see UV rays could be nothing more than a random genetic mutation.

Prot can’t be an alien because its absurd.  Except that he seems to know stuff that makes his claim somewhat convincing.  Except that, when put under hypnosis, he has memories from before his arrival on Earth.  The memories are presented as those of a friend, which we take in the context of, “I have this friend who has an embarrassing question.”  So, is Prot really an alien or is he a person repressing some bad memory?  We have Prot’s impending departure to look forward to for answers.

As the saying goes, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.  As much as Prot’s story is self-reinforcing, we can’t take that as proof that he isn’t what he says he is.  When Prot disappears for a few days, it’s possible that he really did go off to Iceland and Greenland.  It’s also possible that he was hiding in a ventilation duct the whole time.  There’s no way to be certain of either, short of finding footage of Prot at a 7-Eleven in Reykjavik.

It is an interesting story.  I wish it went into more detail.  The movie seems to want to walk the fine line between Prot being an alien visitor and a crazy human.  It is based on the first book in a series.  It would be interesting to get ahold of them just to see how the source material handles Prot’s claim.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Krampus (2015)

We’re all familiar with Santa Claus.  He brings presents to the good girls and boys.  Americans aren’t that familiar with Santa’s opposite, Krampus.  Legend holds that Krampus comes to kidnap and punish those boys and girls who made the naughty list.  Krampus is better known in Europe, where films like Rare Exports have been made.  Shortly after watching Rare Exports, I had heard of a film to be released in America called, of all things, Krampus.  This week, I have some free movies from on demand courtesy HBO.  Lo and behold, one of those movies was Krampus.

I honestly had such high hopes for this movie.  It focus on a family that’s getting together for Christmas.  It starts a few days before Christmas.   Sarah and Tom are parents to Max and Beth.  Aunt Linda and Uncle Howard will be joining them until the big day along with their kids and dog.  Oh, and Sarah’s outspoken Aunt Dorothy will be coming along, too.  Surprise!  Rounding out the group is the grandmother, who seems to prefer German to English.

Sarah, Tom, Max and Beth are not looking forward to this.  They have varying degrees of hatred for Linda and Howard and their spawn, to say nothing of Dorothy.  Max is picked on by his two female cousins.  Dorothy asks Sarah why she hasn’t served ham, going so far to ask if she’s Jewish now.  Yeah.  This is the kind of petty family stuff we’re talking about.  It gets to the point where Max wishes it would all go away.  He just wants a normal Christmas like they used to have.  Big mistake.

What follows cannot really be described as a horror film.  Sure, it has it’s dark moments.  It also has a few throwaway lines, but can’t really be described as a comedy.  There are a few scenes that would suggest that those who created the film wanted a horror film, but they seem to have failed.  For instance, Beth goes missing quickly, prompting Tom and Howard to take Howard’s Humvee in search of her.  They come to her boyfriend’s house where they find a gingerbread man attached to a refrigerator door with a chef’s knife.  It’s funny, but in a foreshadowing way.

We have already seen a hit of Krampus at that point.  He jumps from rooftop to rooftop.  He’s meant to be scary.  At the very least, he’s ugly.  I may even end up with nightmares tonight.  That’s how bad it is.  It’s his helpers that I’m not sure about.  For some reason, he likes gingerbread men, who come off as comical, but will attack people.  They even take a nail gun to Howard.  (Who leaves a nail gun lying around, anyway?  Especially when they know children of varying ages will be around.)

Krampus also has some large porcelain dolls helping him.  Imagine if a porcelain doll were made in the image of a Predator.  And it wants to eat your kids.  It sounds scary, but it doesn’t always work.  Part of it is that you’re trying to scare the audience with something that’s cute.  You can’t go for flat-out horror with porcelain dolls and gingerbread men.

The other part of it is that the characters don’t elicit sympathy.  Max is the most sympathetic, in that he seems to act only when provoked, even if he is provoked easily.  He also just wants a normal Christmas.  The only other characters I didn’t come to hate were the grandmother, the baby and the dog, mostly because they were background characters.  By nature, the dog and the baby didn’t have any lines.  (The dog did have a few good moments, though.)  The grandmother was there mostly for background information, letting us know what Krampus was.

Howard, Linda and Dorothy are all adults that you want to take into the next room and slap.  You’re rooting for Krampus to get them, even when you earn a little bit of respect for them.  You soon realize that they’re still less than respectable.  Howard and Linda’s kids are the product of their parenting and can be forgiven to an extent, but are still responsible for their own actions.  Also, when I said Dorothy was outspoken, I imagine you get the idea that it’s in an obnoxious way.  I was hoping she’d go first.

That’s another thing.  Building tension requires some hope that the characters might make it out.  Krampus quickly lays waste to their surrounding area.  A utility truck is left idling, presumably as Krampus took the driver.  It’s just a matter of time before the family is eaten.  The only real question is how and when each family member will be taken.  There is a chance Max will be spared.  Even if he is, what then?  Will the town be restored?  Will Max be sent to a foster home?  How do you end a mess like this?

The movie is different, to say the least, but this is one of those cases where different isn’t always good.  It’s like the SyFy channel finally got a theatrical release.  It’s that level of mediocrity.  I was expecting so much more.  I was hoping for some level of depth.  No.  We have some scares and some one-liners.  That’s about it.  Krampus takes everyone in town and for what?  Because some kid wished his family away?  The twist ending doesn’t leave you wondering what just happened so much as why.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The NeverEnding Story (1984)

Every so often, I find a movie or TV show that I watched as a kid.  I remember watching the live-action He-Man movie only to realize how much my perspective changed as an adult.  The same thing happened with the NeverEnding Story.  I remember liking it is as a kid, but it doesn’t quite stand up as much as an adult.

The story is about a kid named Bastian.  He recently lost his mother.  As you might imagine, it’s taking him a while to get over it.  The best advice his father can give is to suck it up and get over it, which doesn’t help.  Add to that three bullies with nothing better to do than harass Bastian.  You’ve got a kid in serious need of help, or at least an escape.

While hiding from the bullies in a bookstore, Bastian finds a book, which the store owner says is like no other.  Bastian takes it, promising to return it.  At school, he ends up in the attic.  He decides to read the book, only to find a very involving story of the land of Fantasia.  Fantasia is in trouble because The Nothing is taking over.  The Childlike Empress is sick and needs someone to find help.

The movie comes across like an epic children’s tale.  The story is meant for younger audiences, but the movie has a PG rating.  There is some violence, which ranges from Bastian being thrown in a dumpster up to a knight being killed by electrical bolts.  As a result, it’s kind of in between a children’s movie and an adult movie.

I’m not really sure what the target audience is supposed to be here.  Adults will probably find the story a little too simplistic.  You have The Nothing invading Fantasia.  Many of the places have simple names, too, like The Ivory Tower and The Swamp of Sadness.  I can forgive a few because it looks like at least some effort was put into the name.  (The Ivory Tower is better than just The Tower.)

At the same time, it may be a little too much for those that are really young.  Most of the imagery is safe for children.  There are a few disturbing images, though, like the knight that gets killed.  We catch a brief glimpse of his face.  I don’t think it’s going to give most people nightmares, but it is worth noting.

I think this is one of those movies where nostalgia is going to be your primary motivator in seeing it.  If you watched it as a kid and you can get it on demand, you’ll probably give it a shot.  I would advise doing this before buying it, as I’m not sure how well it will hold up for you.  I don’t think I’ll be watching the movie again any time soon.

IMDb page

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Founder (2016)

I remember seeing a plaque in a McDonald’s once with the name and likeness of Ray Kroc on it.  It even had some information, although I don’t recall the details.  I wondered why a guy named Kroc would call his business McDonald’s.  Where did someone else’s name fit into all of this?

There were actually two brothers named Richard and Maurice McDonald who opened a hamburger stand.  That stand soon became very popular.  It becomes so popular that they order six milk-shake machines from Kroc’s company.

This prompts Kroc to visit the location to see why one location would need six machines that each make several shakes at a time.  He realizes that the brothers have something.  It takes some doing, but he gets them to allow him to franchise the name and system that they have for making burgers.  After a troubled start, Kroc is able to open up new locations as quickly as he can sign the paperwork.

The McDonald’s brand expands rather quickly.  The problem is that Kroc isn’t making money as quickly.  That’s when he runs into someone that might be able to help him.  This stranger looks over Kroc’s book and realizes what Kroc is doing wrong.  This propels Kroc to the position he needs to buy the company and do things his way.  This is why Kroc is often portrayed as the founder of McDonald’s.  He didn’t originate the name, but he did found the company that bought the original business.

The movie is based on a true story.  Not many people are necessarily familiar with the story of McDonald’s.  As a movie based on the facts, I’m nut sure how many liberties the movie took with the details.  Since Ray Kroc isn’t presented in the best light, I would imagine that they stuck as closely to the facts as they could.  Kroc starts out as a somewhat sympathetic character.  He seems to be a guy that’s trying to support himself and a wife, but Ethel Kroc doesn’t get to see much of her husband.

A while back, I wrote a review of a documentary on David Klein.  I pointed out that after viewing the documentary, you may not look at Jelly Belly the same way.  I think that Founder may have a similar effect for McDonald’s.  I don’t know that it will sour anyone on the company, per se.  However, you come to realize how much of the business really was business.

Ray Kroc starts out as a seemingly nice guy who just wanted to sell equipment to drive-in owners.  You come to realize that he’s simply eyeing his next big deal.  He seems to view other people as secondary to himself.   In fact, his one underlying principle is that only persistence matters.  If you persist long enough, you can accomplish anything, and that’s what Ray Kroc does.  The tragedy is that the McDonald Brothers realize too late that they’ve sold their business to the devil.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Despicable Me (2010)

Sometimes, the coming attractions tell everything about the movies.  Sometimes, they leave out details.  When I saw the coming attractions for Despicable Me, I got that it was about an evil genius, Gru, who has three girls come to live with him.  I wasn’t sure how the children came into his custody, though.  I think I had assumed that there was some clerical error or that he was a long-lost relative or something.

The truth is that Gru has big plans.  When one of the pyramids in Giza goes missing, Gru realizes that he needs to up his game.  He has stolen a few minor things, like the Jumbotron and a few Las Vegas landmarks.  Nothing as big as a pyramid, though.  He’s not getting any younger, so he decides to do the biggest heist he can think of:  Steal the moon.

He has Dr. Nefario working for him and a lot of the yellow Minions on payroll.  You assume that he’s supporting his organization somehow.  He’ll still need a loan from Evil Bank, but the loan officer wants some sort of proof of his ability to carry out the heist, like having the shrink ray that he needs.  Gru tries to steal it, but is unsuccessful.  Vector is the one who gets away with the device, leaving Gru to try to break in to Vector’s fortress.  He fails until he realizes that he may have a way in.

He notices that three girls are able to get in to sell him cookies.  All he has to do is get some cookie robots in and he can get the shrink ray.  He adopts the three girls and promptly starts ignoring them.  All he needs is for them to deliver the little robots.  Once that’s done, he’ll ditch the girls and promptly start forgetting about them.  As you might expect, ditching them isn’t that easy, to say nothing of forgetting about them.

For adults that don’t like animated movies, I have a short list of movies in mind to recommend.  The hope is that it might be able to change someone’s mind.  This movie isn’t going on that list.  It’s enjoyable, yes.  This might be something I’d recommend once you’ve come to like the films.  I don’t know that it’s necessarily going to bring anyone around.

This isn’t a movie that you think hard about or that has any strong message.  You look at movies like Zootopia and you can tell that there are messages that aren’t meant for children.  Usually, it’s the message.  (Zootopia takes on racism in a somewhat blunt fashion.)  Here, the only part of Despicable Me that I would deem too much for children is one of the girls getting trapped in a coffin with nails in it and ostensibly being hurt.  Of course, being more of a comedy, she‘s not injured.

There are a few references, like the Evil Bank formerly having been Lehman Brothers, that adults will get.  However, it’s one of those family movies where family skews more towards the younger members.  Much of it comes off as a little silly, like the Minions talking in gibberish that Gru and Dr. Nefario being able to understand.  It’s the kind of thing that’s almost safe to show in school, although not quite.  It does have its fair share of cartoon violence, like Gru being hit with a few dozen missiles and surviving when he shouldn’t.

I had rented this movie to decide if I wanted to rent the rest of the franchise.  I may wait for it to become available streaming.  I don’t have plans to rush to see the third movie, especially since I haven’t seen the second yet.  There is also the Minions movie, which I may check out.  (It looks like there’s a Minions 2 expected in 2020.)  I’ll have to see how the other movies turn out.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Get Santa (2014)

Back in the first days of streaming, life was good.  More specifically, the selection was good.  The studios had not yet realized how popular the service would be and allowed Netflix and other providers to stream movies at a low cost.  By the time the contracts had expired, the studios found themselves in a position to charge more.  The result seemed to be that Netflix limited the number of bigger (read: expensive) movies. They still had plenty of lesser-known movies that I imagine cost less, but would still allow Netflix to claim to offer more titles over the Internet.

I have found a few good movies streaming.  I’ve found a few bad ones, too.  Get Santa is somewhere in between.  I knew coming in to the movie that it was probably going to be nothing spectacular.  It’s about a father-and-son team that has to come to Santa’s rescue.

The movie starts with Steve getting out of jail.  He wants nothing more than to see his son, Tom.  Meanwhile, several reindeer are wandering around London.  Santa has crashed his new sleigh and has found his way to the garage of Tom’s mother.  When Steve arrives, he chases off this weirdo that’s talking to his son.  He has enough to worry about with mandatory visits to his parole officer.

The next, Steve picks Tom up for a day together.  All Steve can think about is helping Santa, who has ended up in the very same prison that Steve just got out of.  The reindeer have been taken, as well.  So, it’s up to Steve and Tom to get Santa out of jail and get his sleigh in working order.  Oh, and since Steve had to trespass and miss his very first parole meeting, he has the police and his parole officer after him, not to mention Tom’s mother since Tom didn’t get back on time.

The movie is pretty much what you’d expect.  The film is British, but I could see the Hallmark Channel airing something similar.  It seems somewhat formulaic.  You have someone claiming to be Santa and seems crazy.  You have someone who has a low tolerance for trouble that finds trouble.  You also have someone who Santa mistakes for an elf who is, in fact, not an elf.

Santa having to prove his identity wasn’t as played up as much as I would have expected. He’s able to tell people things about their childhood.  The police find someone who bears a resemblance, but it’s not explained if this is the same person or if it’s a coincidence.  (The person was arrested 20 years prior, making it look like someone who hadn’t aged.)  Then again, how do you prove that you’re someone who the world regards as fictional?

The movie is rated PG.  It is a kind of dark movie, mostly due to prison scenes.  Santa has to get a lesson on how to act among his fellow inmates.  IMDb has it listed as a comedy and a family movie.  I’m not entirely certain about either.  The movie is probably safe for teens and above.  I don’t know that younger children would understand certain aspects.  It also wasn’t particularly funny.  There were a few good lines, like Steve pointing out how useful one of Santa’s tools would be to Steve’s friends.  That was about it.

I’m hoping that Netflix rotates their steaming selection soon.  I’m kind of running out of movies to watch.  I understand that they have to keep financial concerns in mind, but I’ve noticed that I’m watching some of the more mediocre films here.  This is definitely one of them.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ghostbusters (2016)

I’ve never cared much for remakes.  Even when they’re good, they tend not to be as good as the original.  If you’ve seen both, you tend to compare them and the one you saw first will usually be the better one.  The first Ghostbusters movie came out in 1984 with a sequel released in 1989.  There had been talk of a third installment since then, but it never materialized.  Instead, we got a reboot with four female leads.  People were unhappy about this.  Granted, it’s a pretty big departure from the original, but if that was the only complaint, I’d probably like the movie.  I was even pretty psyched when I first saw a trailer for the movie.

The new movie carries over the basic plot.  Four people with an interest in the paranormal form a business dealing with the supernatural.  Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates are friends since grade school.  They bonded over that interest in ghosts.  They even wrote a book, which Erin tried to bury when she set out to get tenure.  Abby, on the other hand, started working with Jillian Holtzmann on a college campus.

Abby’s publishing of the book doesn’t help Erin.  When someone approaches the trio about a haunted tourist attraction, the subsequent YouTube posting gets Erin fired.  So, now the three are left to form what they call Conductors of the Metaphysical Examination.  They set up shop above a Chinese restaurant since it’s the only place they can afford.  The final addition to the team is Patty Tolan, who works for the MTA.

Several more ghosts appear, all due to devices placed by one Rowan North.  He’s trying to trigger the apocalypse.  By bringing ghosts to our plane of existence.  At first, it’s hard for anyone to believe what’s going on.  Even after they capture a demon at a live music performance, they still have their doubters.

Add to this the Department of Homeland Security and the New York Mayor’s office trying to discredit them.  Both appreciate the Ghostbusters’ efforts, but can’t publicly acknowledge that ghosts are real.  As you might imagine, we’re in store for an epic human-versus-ghost battle for the final act.  Rowan is able to get his wish, leaving the Ghostbusters to save the city.

When I went to rent the movie from Netflix, I was a little disparaged by the movie’s low ratings.  I had heard that it wasn’t as good as the originals, but I couldn’t be sure where this was coming from.  There are two possible paths you can take with a reboot.  You can either try to stick as close to the original and risk not living up to it or you can try to distance yourself and still be seen as an inadequate copy.  It’s basically the devil’s fork.  Either way, you’re being compared to the original and you‘re probably not going to be seen as being better.

I do think that the movie is decent in its own right.  Doing a carbon copy of the original serves no purpose.  Instead of trying to start anew, the movie decides to embrace its origins.  Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd both make cameos, as do Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts.  Even Stay-Puft and Slimer come back for this installment.

I think your enjoyment of this movie is going to based on what you bring to it.  There is a 30-year gap between the older movies and this one, so some people will be coming in to it with fresh eyes.  Those that saw the originals may not be impressed as much.  I would say to forget about any baggage you bring in with you.  If you see it as a new movie, it is enjoyable.

One thing I noticed was that the movie took advantage of being letterboxed.  I’ve often thought what a shame it was not to be able to rent a 3D movie.  I get that it’s impractical to release a 3D movie on DVD.  Even if you sell glasses in the package, DVDs by mail and streaming movies are so popular that there’s no easy way to get glasses to the customers.  Do you mail them with the DVD?    If you do, do you expect them back?  Is it fair to expect people who stream to get their own glasses?  You could give out cheap ones for free or you could sell good 3D glasses, but how many people would even take advantage of it?

With Ghostbusters, some of the effects extend into the matting above and below the actual motion picture.  It does sort of give a vague sense of 3D, kind of.  It’s nowhere near perfect, but it is thinking outside of the box.  This is the only attempt I can recall even being made.

On IMDb, under the movie’s connections, I do see an Untitled Ghostbusters Project.  I think the biggest measure of the movie’s success for me will be how that sequel turns out.  This movie walked a tightrope between using the old and coming up with the new.  The second movie will be the test for me as to whether or not they can stand on their own.

IMDb page

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Truth Is in the Stars (2017)

Star Trek is ubiquitous.  Between the original series, four spin-off series and two sets of movies, you’d be hard pressed to find an adult who hasn’t at least heard of it.  William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the original series, hosts a documentary on the effects the TV shows and movies have had on society.

It starts with Ben Stiller, who shows off his collection of Trek memorabilia.  A few of the items were props from the original series.  From there, we get interviews with Whoopi Goldberg, who played Guinan, and Jason Alexander, who had a guest appearance on Voyager.  Seth McFarlane and Neil deGrasse Tyson are also interviewed.  Things like the science of the show and the cultural impact are discussed, but not really in depth.  Shatner is shown talking with various people for a few minutes each.  His big goal, though, is to meet Stephen Hawking at Cambridge University.

The documentary is kind of light.  It’s more a way of briefly describing the show’s influence.  This isn’t the kind of thing that a hard-core fan would look to for behind-the-scenes stuff.  I don’t want to call it a long fluff piece.  It is entertaining to watch, but there are a lot of Star Trek documentaries out there.  This isn’t even the first one I’ve seen hosted by William Shatner.  It does seem to take a meandering approach to the interview with Hawking, which was also only a few minutes.

I do feel that the documentary could have done more with certain things.  There are a lot of interviews during the documentary’s 85 minutes.  It might have been more interesting to stick to cultural influences.  With Hawking as the main interview, we even could have had scientific advances that were derived from the show.  In addition to Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku are interviewed.  Both are known as science communicators.

I found the documentary streaming on Netflix.  This is exactly the kind of thing I’d recommend streaming.  Most people will be able to enjoy the movie, but I don’t think that there’s going to be a lot of replay value for the majority of viewers.  I liked the documentary, but this isn’t the kind of thing where I came away with any new insights into the show.  It’s more like a documentary made for those that haven’t watched every episode of all of the series.  It’s like you liked the show, but you’re not looking for some new bit of trivia.  If you can get it streaming, go for it.