Thursday, November 29, 2018

Green Book (2018)

In the 1930s, African-Americans were becoming a sizable part of the middle class.  This meant buying cars.  In turn, this meant traveling to different cities.  Victor Hugo Green created and published The Negro Motorist Green Book, which listed establishments, such as restaurants and hotels, that were welcoming of people of color.  If you were in an unfamiliar area, it was a good idea to know which hotels that would take you for the night or if you should just skip the area altogether.

By the late 1960s, the book had become unnecessary.  This isn’t to say that discrimination had stopped.  The passage of the Civil Rights Act made it more difficult to discriminate.  This puts The Green Book near the end of the book’s publication.  It’s 1962 and Frank Anthony Vallelonga, a.k.a. Tony Lip, is working at the Copacabana as the muscle.  When the nightclub closes for renovation, he faces a two-month gap where he won’t be working.  Money’s already tight, so he’s in no position to refuse work.

Someone knows a doctor that’s looking for a driver, so Tony goes in for an interview.  The doctor is Dr. Don Shirley, a pianist that’s going on tour through The South.  Tony is reluctant at first.  It’s evident that the two will be the epitome of odd couples.  The two are opposite in almost every respect.  Don does take the job on the condition that he be able to be back for Christmas Eve.  Before they leave, the record studio gives Tony a copy of the titular book.

I’m amazed, although not surprised, that something like the Negro Motorist Green Book existed.  Apparently, it was one of many similar publications for minorities.  I remember a gym teacher telling me about Miami Beach during the time.  Blacks had to be off The Beach before sundown if they didn’t have a work permit.  Entertainers like Sammy Davis, Jr., could perform in the hotels there, but had to stay on the mainland.

Much of the movie is what you’d expect.  We get those subtle hints that Tony’s hard up for cash, like the fact that he has to pawn a watch.  Tony also has to bribe a police officer after Don and another man are found naked at a chapter of the YMCA.  As you might imagine, it’s not a movie for small children.  Not only would they not understand a lot of the subject matter, Tony’s not one to hold back on the racial slurs.

I once heard a good definition of an odd couple, which is that they are two people that remain friends despite being opposites in terms of personality.  Don and Tony are the epitome of odd couples.  Don is everything that Tony is not.  They look down on each other at first, but come to respect each other a little more by the end of the movie.  A post script reveals that they kept in contact after the events of the movie.

For most people, I would recommend waiting for the movie to come out on DVD.  It’s not one of the more spectacular films, but it does have that somewhat uplifting ending.  (Comparisons to Planes, Trains and Automobiles aren’t that far off.)  My only real complaint is that I would have liked to see a little more exposition on what the Green Book was.  At the very least, I hope it gets people looking it up.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 25 (The Devil in the Dark)

It’s no fun having to meet a quota.  There’s always that pressure to perform.  Falling behind often entails a lot of worry and stress.  When the miners on Janus VI come across a deadly creature, their operation has to come to a halt.  Thus, the Enterprise is called in to investigate.

The enemy is a mysterious one.  Anyone who has gotten a good look at it has died.  (50 people have been turned to a stain on a cave floor.)  Thus, it’s impossible to formulate a good defense, much less any sort of offense.  Kirk and Spock are at odds on how to handle the situation.  Once it’s realized that the creature is the last of its kind, Kirk is determined to kill in self defense.  Spock, knowing that it’s a silicon-based life form, wants to study the creature.  The problem is that the creature has taken a vital component.  Without it, the mining facility will run out of air.

When the time comes, Kirk doesn’t kill.  Instead, Spock is able to use the Vulcan mind meld to communicate.  It turns out that the creature is the last of its kind, save a lot of eggs.  Every generation, the species lays eggs.  All but one of the adults die, leaving the sole Horta to care for and protect the newborns.  An agreement is made wherein both parties will leave each other alone, for the most part.  The Horta will do most of the mining and the humans will collect what they need.

This is one of those episodes where the messages were somewhat clear.  First, there can be a balance between business and the environment.  Second, aggressors aren’t always bad guys.  For the second time during the first season, it appears that the Federation was encroaching on someone else’s territory.  A simple conversation could have avoided a lot of conflict.  (Ok.  So, the conversation isn’t so simple here.)

A few thing stand out.  First, how does a mining operation allow 50 people to die?  I would think that they’d evacuate the facility after only a few deaths.  I would call it irresponsible to let that many people die.  Yes, they have a quota and all.  Still, I think there would have been a revote by that point.

Another thing that confused me was how the Horta evolved to reproduce like that.  I would think that it’s not a very good survival strategy to entrust the entire population to one individual.  If anything had happened to Mother Horta, all would have been lost.  I’m assuming that there is at least one other population on the planet.  It would also make sense that there are no predators for the Horta to worry about.

There were some things that Star Trek did well.  Some things, like costumes and props, not so much.  The costume for the Horta was a bit obvious.  It seemed very much like a guy with a carpet over him.   One thing I will say is that Janus is a very appropriate name for the planet.  According to Wikipedia, Janus was responsible for the beginning and the ending of conflict.  We get to see the miners transition from a warlike state to one of cooperation.

This was probably one of the better episodes in terms of message.  It didn’t get too preachy and you could see both sides of the story.  The miners just want to do their job and the Horta is trying to protect the next batch of Horta.  It’s definitely one of the episodes I’d recommend watching.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

If there’s one defining characteristic of Ralph, it’s that he wants to be the good guy.  In the first movie, he comes to terms with the fact that he’s cast on the role of his game’s villain.  People start to respect him.  He even makes a friend of Vanellope.

If there’s a second defining characteristic of Ralph, it’s that he doesn’t want things to change.  Six years later and he has his routine down.  He spends his days as the bad guy in Fix-It Felix, Jr. and his nights drinking root beer with Vanellope.  She wants change, though.  She’s beaten all of the courses in her video game.

In a way, she’s having the same crisis that Ralph did in the first movie.  There has to be more to life than what her video-game world has to offer.  She wants to try something new, which Ralph helps her with.  Despite the good intentions, this leads to a broken controller on the Sugar Rush game.  All of the characters make it out before the console is unplugged.

There is a possible save, though.  A replacement part is available on eBay.  Granted, it would cost more than the game could ever make, but it gives Ralph the means by which to save Vanellope and her friends.  Luckily, Mr. Litwak’s video arcade just got wi-fi.  So, Ralph and Vanellope head off to eBay in hopes of putting things back the way they were.

If you haven’t seen Wreck-It Ralph, you should.  It’s an awesome movie that happens to have an awesome sequel.  It’s not necessary.  I don’t think that this movie would have anything that would be a major spoiler.  Yes, the presence of a sequel implies that everything works out in the first movie.  Like you wouldn’t have known that going in, anyway.

Similarly, you know everything‘s going to work out fine here.  Both Ralph and Vanellope have some growing to do.  Ralph means well, but he can be a bit suffocating at times.  Vanellope is, technically, a Disney Princess.  (The other princesses actually make a pretty good case for inclusion here.)  She also finds that if she really wants something, it’s ok to go for it.

If you’re a parent thinking of taking a child to see the movie, don’t worry.  There’s plenty in the movie for you, too.  The layout of the Internet is a sight to behold.  There are also a lot of references to the Internet and other movies.  Major sites like IMDB and Google get their own buildings.  Stormtroopers chase the main characters.  Pop-up banners have proprietors, such as J.P. Spamley.  (There’s even a nod to Geocities for those of you that have been around a while.)

I had wanted to see it on opening day, but my work schedule would have none of that.  I was able to see it Saturday in 3D.  I don’t know that it’s going to be worth the extra money for most people.  Given the option, I do like 3D.  (I’ve also recently started using AMC’s A-List, which doesn’t charge extra for 3D if it’s one of your three movies for the week.  If you have A-List, go for the 3D.)

There is a certain lesson to be learned in not reading the comments.  You’ll always end up reading something you don’t want to read.  The irony is that the messages that need to be put out there don’t always get across.  It’s hard to say something necessary to someone you’re close to.  I suppose there’s a certain symmetry to the two movies.  In Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph learned that it’s ok to be the bad guy.  In Ralph Breaks the Internet, he learned that he doesn’t always have to be the good guy,

IMDb page

Monday, November 26, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 24 (This Side of Paradise)

Most of us have dreamed of having no responsibilities.  What if life were one long weekend?  There was no need to clock in or report to anyone.  Even the hardest of workers must have thought it would be nice to have all reward and no work.  Such is the life on Omicron Ceti III.  A group of colonists was sent there with supplies, but weren’t heard from again.  It was later discovered that there was a deadly form of radiation on the planet, meaning that there’s no expectation that they’re still there.

When the Enterprise beams down, it’s soon discovered that the colonists are all alive, but that they’re happy and in perfect health.     The leader of the colony even seems to have grown a new appendix.   What’s stranger is that there’s no sign of their livestock.  The people are in good health, but they have no cattle.

It soon becomes apparent what’s happening.  A flower there produces spores which infect the host body.  The host becomes perfectly happy and content.  The body is also repaired to perfect health and protected from the deadly radiation.  A few members of the landing party are infected.  Then, almost the entire ship becomes infected.  Kirk is left alone on the bridge of an otherwise-empty ship.  He eventually discovers a cure and is able to reverse the effects in Spock.  Together, they reverse the effects in everyone on the planet.

It makes sense.  A stagnant society, like the one that Omicron Ceti III would have had, is exactly the kind that Kirk and crew have fought against in the past.  I have to wonder what would have become of that society had Kirk not snapped out of it at the last second.  Would the children have to be inoculated by the plants?  Would the people even have had children?  Raising one is no easy task.

I also wonder if the plants were ever studied.  Sure, taking the spores as is isn’t great.  However, the ship has found an effective panacea.  I would think someone at Starfleet Medical would be interested in that.  You also have a possible cure for mental issues.  It might be effective against depression or those with homicidal tendencies.  (To be fair, I don’t think it was stated that the plants weren’t studied.)

My one concern with the plot was that it seemed unnecessary to send an entire ship to the colony.  It was known beforehand that there was lethal radiation.  It was assumed that the colonists were dead.  There was no mystery as to what happened.  I’m not sure what warranted sending Starfleet’s flagship.

It also seems a little odd that the entire crew was susceptible.  The crew is majority human, but there are more than 400 people onboard.  I’d imagine that there were at least a few nonhuman crewmembers.  Their physiology should have presented a problem.  The fact that none of the livestock survived would speak to this.  (Speaking of 400 people, there was also no mention of building houses for anyone.  Was everyone going to share one room?)

It’s still a decent episode.  Many of the episodes from The Original Series had similar issues.  However, they seemed to be more about getting a message across rather than worrying about details.  Again, it was never explicitly stated that houses weren’t going to be built or that there wasn’t already enough room.

I have always wondered why paradise was so bad.  In the right context, Omicron Ceti III would have been great.  The planet would have made for the perfect retirement community.  As I said, it could have been great for medical treatments.  It seems a shame to just abandon the planet altogether.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Blazing Saddles (1974)

It’s not uncommon to hear older adults refer to a woman as a girl.  The usual refrain is that they grew up in a different time.  That doesn’t make it any less excusable.  Most women younger than I am might take exception to being called a girl, even if they don’t necessarily express it.  To see something like that in a movie doesn’t make it any less grating, even if it is a reflection of the times.

When I finally got around to seeing Blazing Saddles recently, I had similar thoughts.  The movie wasn’t afraid to use derogatory terms and play racism for laughs.  Had it been released in the past decade, the movie would have required major rewrites.  Had it been someone other than Mel Brooks, I don’t know that the movie would have been made at all.

The story starts with a railroad tracks being laid.  When quicksand is discovered in the path of the construction, it’s determined that the easiest thing to do is to route the tracks through the nearby town of Rock Ridge.  Hedley Lamarr, who’s overseeing the project, wants to run the people out of town.  He sends some lackeys in to no effect.  Fortunately, he’s also the attorney general.  When he hears that the town needs a new sheriff, he convinces the governor to appoint a black man to the position.

Bart is the man who gets the job.  He knows he won’t have an easy time of it, but he’s scheduled to be executed at Lamarr’s request.  Sure enough, the residents of Rock Ridge don’t warm up to him.  Bart and Lamarr end up squaring off.  Bart has the grudging help of the townspeople as well as a sharpshooter known as The Waco Kid.  He also manages to get the help of the railroad workers.  Lamarr has all sorts of undesirables, including both Nazis and Klansmen.

Blazing Saddles is one of those movies that is popular enough to be referenced in popular culture, which is what prompted me to watch it in the first place.  I do kind of wonder what kind of reception it would get if it were made today.  I was just a little uncomfortable throughout most of the movie.  I’ve liked some of the movies Mel Brooks has produced, but not all of them.  (The only other one I remember strongly disliking was History of the World: Part I.)

I can’t really think of a modern analogue to this film.  There really isn’t anything that would operate on this level.  Many of the jokes seem somewhat crude and gratuitous.  Take the character Lili Von Shtupp.  Would you write a script where a character’s last name was Screw?  The only other movies I can think of might be the James Bond films, but even that wouldn‘t be a fair comparison.

If I was looking for a list of must-see movies, I don’t know that I’d include this one.  I might mention it as something to consider on your own, but I would add that it’s definitely not something for younger children.  Any parent would want to have a talk with their children before letting them watch this movie.  It’s not a movie that’s going to be for everyone.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell exactly where something went wrong.  All of the components could work perfectly, yet give you a result that’s inadequate.  I think that the film Bohemian Rhapsody had one thing in common with the song:  Both were ambitious.  The problem is that the movie may have taken on too much for one movie.  Queen is such a legendary band with such a large catalogue of music that the story might have been better suited for a miniseries.

The movie covers a span of 15 years, starting with Farrokh Bulsara joining the band that was then known as Smile.  Bulsara took on the professional name of Freddy Mercury and rechristened the band as Queen.  The narrative skips ahead, making stops at various well-known songs.  The band is shown hitting new professional milestones, like going on tour or performing on an important show.  It ends with their 1985 performance at Live Aid.

My main problem is that the film didn’t really go into any detail.  It was like a stone skipping on water.  It would make contact with the story briefly before moving on to the next thing.  The final act is much better, but doesn’t really make up for the lack of substance overall.

As I said, many of the individual components worked well.  Casting Rami Malek as Mercury was a great choice.  There were also a few scenes with Mike Myers as Ray Foster, the EMI executive who let Queen walk because Bohemian Rhapsody (the song) was too long to play on the radio.  It’s somewhat ironic (perhaps deliberate) considering that Myers was in another movie that helped repopularize the band.

Another thing I noticed was that the movie focused too much on Mercury.  It’s as if the rest of the band was an afterthought.  We see Mercury throwing wild parties and whatnot.  The rest of the band doesn’t seem to have a life outside of the music.  The fact that Brian May has a Ph.D. in astrophysics is mentioned only twice, both times in passing.  I get the impression that there was a lot I was missing out on.

This is mostly evident when dealing with Mercury’s personal (mostly sex) life.  A lot of things were implied.  For instance, we see a trucker go into the men’s room while Mercury looks on with longing.  (There were a few bedroom scenes, but nothing explicit.)

I do think the movie could have been done better, especially considering that it was 135 minutes.  It came across as the recap that a TV series might have before the second part of a two-part episode.  I think it will be enjoyable for some people, but I think most people will be better off waiting for it to come out on DVD.

IMDb page

Friday, November 23, 2018

Smallfoot (2018)

I recently started using AMC A-List.  So far, it seems to be working better than MoviePass.   I decided to see Smallfoot as my first movie with the program.  I picked a weekday showing early in the afternoon, not realizing that school was apparently out that day.  (It’s my own fault, since school tends to let out a lot this time of year.)  Still, I’m not sure if I made the right choice.  There weren’t many other movies that I had wanted to see, but there were a few that I could have picked.

The story goes that Yeti live at the top of a mountain.  Their leader, Stonekeeper, tells them that the Smallfoot doesn’t exist.  This is one of many rules and laws, all of which are written on stones.  Questioning the stones is frowned upon.  That’s why Migo is put in such a difficult position when he actually sees a human.  He realizes that smallfoot does exist and that at least one stone is wrong.  The fact that he has no proof doesn’t help.  Migo exiled for insisting that humans are real.

I had been hoping that the movie would have been more accessible for adults.  It wasn’t.  I got the very distinct impression that it was written with younger audiences in mind.  There wasn’t as much nuance as I would have liked.  Take the stones, for instance.  It could be seen as a play on religion.  There are many rules that are there to guide and protect the residents of the village, yet we know many of them to be based on lies.  Migo is apprenticing with his father to wake up the snail that lights the sky each morning.

The movie seems to be more formulaic than original.  We have a father that comes to appreciate his odd child.  We have a society that’s resistant to change.  There are also a few stock characters, like someone who has to learn what success really means to him.  I’ve seen comparisons to The Lego Movie and I can’t say that it’s entirely unfair, except that The Lego Movie did it better.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 23 (A Taste of Armageddon)

It would seem that the Enterprise came across a lot of unusual situations.  I would think that visiting most planets would be boring.  There’s no promise that there’s any life on them at all.  Many would probably prefer to be left alone.  Such is the case with Eminiar VII.  The Enterprise is directed to make contact with the planet by Ambassador Fox.  Eminiar VII insist that no contact be made, but the ambassador says that having a treaty that planet is necessary.

The crew soon finds out why.  Eminiar VII is at war with another planet, Vendikar.  This is no ordinary war, though.  The entire thing is done by computer.  A program determines which areas have been hit and it’s up to the citizens to report to a facility to be killed.   It’s all very neat and orderly.

War is not supposed to be a pretty thing.  It’s certainly not supposed to be neat and orderly.  However, Eminiar VII and Vendikar have it down to a science.  Of course, you would, too, if you had been doing it for 500 years.  The reasoning is that the respective cultures can be preserved.  People are killed, but the buildings and artwork are preserved.  There’s no mess to clean up.  Life goes on for everyone else.

The only problem is that the Enterprise is reported destroyed in a simulated attack.  The leader of Eminiar VII expects Kirk to play along.  The crew is supposed to beam down and be killed, as if they were citizens of the planet.  Kirk, of course, refuses.  He didn’t sign up for their war and isn’t going to be held to their practices.  Instead, he has to find a way out of the mess, hopefully without destroying both sides for real.

This was definitely one of the odder episodes for me.  On one level, I get the message that war is never really that clean.  You will always have casualties, even if the buildings remain intact.  On the other hand, it’s odd to see two warring societies that have each become so accustomed to battle that they’ve mechanized it.  How do you even have a war that long without a victor?  You’d think that one side would have either built better weapons or at least found a way to cheat.  (Yes, it’s engrained in their societies, but it takes just one person.)

It is also odd that the residents of the planet would expect Kirk to honor their request to kill everyone.  Again, it’s been five centuries, so it’s become an integral part of their societies.  Are they so blind to it that they really expect outsiders to understand and accept their deaths?

For that matter, how did it all come about?  Someone had to first design the computer system.  Then, both sides had to agree to use it.  I suppose, to some extent, it would seem better.  Only the targets are killed.  Buildings are left intact, which makes progress that much easier.  There’s nothing to clean up.  I can’t imagine trying to pitch that idea, though.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 22 (Space Seed)

I would submit that Khan Noonien Singh is the first true Villain in Star Trek.  Sure, Trelane and Charles Evans were forces to be reckoned with, but the threat was mostly to the ship.  Anton Karidian may have been Kodos The Executioner, but what he did was in the past.  Even the Talosians were trying to rebuild a society.  Khan was the first really evil character that the crew of the Enterprise had to deal with.  It was the first time that there was a threat that extended beyond the ship and had to be stopped immediately.

Khan was a human from the late 20th century who had been selectively bred to be superior.  He and about 70 of his followers set out on a sleeper ship only to be found by Kirk.  Records of that era were sketchy, but it soon comes to light who Khan is.  Khan is bent on taking over the ship.  Once that’s accomplished, he can take over a planet or two.

The episode seems a little silly to me.  Khan’s movements and words seem exaggerated.  The same exaggerated movements are used by Khan’s people when they come out of stasis.  Khan also manages to manipulate ship’s historian Marla McGivers in short order.  (For someone who is serving on the flagship of Starfleet, she seems way to susceptible to Khan’s charms.)

It still ends up being an above-average episode.  Khan and Kirk seem to play well off of each other, mostly because William Shatner was know for being a little exaggerated as Kirk.  Ricardo Montalban seemed to equal Shatner in that respect.  Both Khan and Kirk are strong, smart and seem to be popular with the ladies.  (And both characters seem to have the most obvious stunt doubles in the entire series.)  If you’re going to use an established character to be the antagonist for the second movie, Khan would be your best bet.  I think Star Trek II: The Wrath of Mudd would have killed the movie franchise.

I had only a few issues with the episode and I’m sure people have brought them up before.  For instance, why would the ship have a historian?  It makes sense for Khan to manipulate her, but what need would the ship have for her?  If Starfleet did have historians, wouldn’t they be posted at headquarters?

Also, how is Khan supposed to build a society with 72 people?  It doesn’t seem like much of a gene pool.  As Spock points out, it would be interesting to see how well the group had done in time.  I’d be interested to know if inbreeding was a problem at all.

The biggest issue for the franchise is the fact that when Star Trek: Voyager visited 1996 in Future’s End, there were no obvious signs of the Eugenics Wars that Khan was supposed to have been a part of.  To be fair, I don’t imagine anyone involved with the show expected Star Trek to last this long.  The fact that it had so many spin-off series is impressive.  Voyager could have gone with the alternate history, or at least found some creative way of acknowledging it, but it could also be excused for not acknowledging it at all.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 21 (The Return of the Archons)

Major cast changes aren’t that common in American television.  When two main characters are put in danger, there’s a pretty good chance a solution will be found.  This is especially true with Star Trek, which had no shortage of disposable security officers.  In fact, the episode even starts with Sulu being brainwashed by an alien race.

Sulu is part of a landing party on Beta III.  The Enterprise was sent to find out what happened to the USS Archon.  The inhabitants are strangely peaceful and friendly.  Those that aren’t local are absorbed into their hive mind.  Sulu is with another member of the landing party, who manages to run away before being absorbed.  When Sulu is beamed up, he’s very peaceful until he realizes that those around him are not of the body.

Kirk, Spock, McCoy and a few others beam down to figure out what happened to the rest of the first landing party.  They discover that The Red Hour is about to begin.  This is a time when the peaceful population goes wild.  People think nothing of looting stores, forcing themselves on other people and having an all-around great time.  The second landing party seeks shelter in a hotel.  Those already in the building soon realize that Kirk and Co. aren’t local.  The fact that they’re not participating is against the will of Landru.

Who is Landru?  Well, he’s the one that managed to subdue the local population.  The story goes that 6,000 years ago, Landru absorbed everyone and founded the society that Beta III has today.  Kirk realizes that he has to undo what Landru did all those years ago.  He finds the computer that controls everyone and puts an end to its rule of the population.

In case you’re wondering, yes, Kirk does mention the Prime Directive.  In fact, this is the first mention of the Prime Directive.  Kirk dismisses it, saying that it applies only to a living culture.  As the culture of Beta III has stagnated, Kirk can and should interfere.

This is one of those episodes that’s changed with time for me.  When I watched it as a child, I didn’t get a lot of the overtones.  It was just a case of Kirk having to save Sulu, even if it means altering the trajectory of a society.  When I watched it recently, I started to think it was a story about communism, with everyone thinking of the good of the whole.

Then, it occurred to me that it was more about religion.  Everyone is indoctrinated.  Those who aren’t part of the religion are considered dangerous.  They even have a founder who lived thousands of years ago and now exists only as an image to be worshipped.  I suppose it could be any mind-controlling agency, whether it be government or religion.  However, there is a very religious tone to the episode.

Landru is held in high regard because he stopped the fighting among the people, although there are other ways to do that.  The Vulcans had the same problem until they adopted logic.  The difference is that Beta III’s population stagnated.  In fact, the regressed.  They had technology.  Now they don’t.

There are a few issues with the episode.  First, I wonder why it took a hundred years for anyone to come and investigate the disappearance of a ship.  That’s several generations.  It would place it around the time of Star Trek: Enterprise, which might mean that no other ships were available.  (Still…)

Another thing I noticed was that Beta III had Earth-style clocks including actual numbers.  It seems odd that a planet so far away would have a 12-hour clock.  Even if we were to assume that the crew of the Archon had some influence, why would the planet adopt a type of clock that I don’t think the Federation even uses any more?  (I suppose having that kind of clock is no different than having human-looking aliens.)

Little is given as to the history of the planet.  It would be interesting for some sort of book or fan-produced movie.  Maybe have something on who Landru was and how the society was founded.  I think that we’re supposed to assume that the entire planet was under Landru’s control.  (On that note, would a few teams of sociologists be enough to help everyone?)

I also wondered how the computers lasted for 6,000 years without anyone fixing them.  It’s possible that there was some pope-like figure who was in on it.  The society had lawgivers.  It’s possible that there was some sort of class designated for tech support.

The big thing for me is that there’s no talk of what happened to Sulu and the rest of the affected crewmembers.  Sulu shrugs it off and we don’t hear anything from anyone else.  Ok.  So Sulu didn’t really do anything wrong, but others did.  I think a few apologies might have been offered.

It’s still an enjoyable episode.  There is a sense of danger, as Landru (or, rather, the computer) can pull a ship down from orbit.  You know this isn’t going to be the end of them, but the same thing happened to another ship.  I don’t think Kirk and Spock want to wait another hundred years for backup.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 20 (Court Martial)

Any sort of military or military-type organization is probably going to be dangerous.  Starfleet, as the name implies, is an organization, ostensibly modeled after the Navy, that travels between star systems, so you have the added danger of being sucked out into space.  It’s not a pleasant thought, but I would think most people sign up understanding this.

This isn’t to say that someone’s death wouldn’t trigger an investigation.  When Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Finney is killed in action, Captain Kirk is held responsible.  Kirk ejected a pod while Finney was still in the room.  Kirk was supposed to go to red alert before ejecting the pod, which he claims he did.  The computer records show otherwise.

Kirk is assigned Samuel T. Cogley as his lawyer.  Kirk has witnesses in his defense, but it still doesn’t look good for the defense.  How do you argue with the computer?  Well, it turns out that the computer might not be operating normally.  Spock had programmed the computer to play chess.  If Spock plays against the computer, he should get a draw at best.  He beats the computer four times in a row.  This means that the computer has been tampered with.

Cogley has the court martial moved to the bridge of the Enterprise.  A minimal crew is on board, so that the can hear what few heartbeats there are.  McCoy uses a device to remove the sound of one heartbeat at a time until one remains:  Finney’s.  It turns out that Finney faked his death, altered the records and was hiding out in engineering the whole time.  Kirk is acquitted and Cogley is off to his next case, which happens to be defending Finney.

I think this may have been an attempt by the show to try something different.  Kirk is put on trial for something we all assume he didn’t do.  We know by now that Kirk is experienced enough that he followed procedure.  He’s also honorable enough that he wouldn’t lie.  I suspect that the script may have been pared down from a slightly longer one.  There are some aspects that are lacking any sort of explanation.

The most obvious is that Finney had to somehow fake his death and hide.  It’s possible that he was stockpiling food, but he still would have had to do something that would have meant risking being sighted by someone else.  At the very least, he would have had to go to a terminal to fake the evidence.  At some point, he would have had to go to the bathroom or take a shower.

I’m assuming that, at some point, he would have had to get off the ship.  I don’t know how he would have done this without being noticed.  If, at any point, someone realized who he was, Kirk would have been set free.  The entire point seemed to be to get Kirk stripped of his command.

There’s also something else I noticed, which no one else seems to have brought up.  Finney had a daughter.  In this respect, one of two things would have happened.  One possibility is that Finney was going to basically abandon his daughter, who appears to be a teenager.  He would leave the ship with Jame thinking that her father was dead.  This is a pretty cruel thing to do to someone.  The other possibility is that he either told her or was planning on telling her at some later point.  This would be, at the very least, a difficult position to put her in.  I don’t know how any father could do either, but Finney did.  I’m not sure how father and daughter handled the situation afterward.  That should seem like a pretty big betrayal to Jame.

Another thing that has been brought up is that the third act seems a bit overdone.  It seems like having McCoy account for the heartbeats one at a time was done just to draw it out.  There aren’t that many people on the ship and only one person wasn‘t on the bridge.  It should have been easy to ask the computer how many life signs are on the ship.  If they have 10 people on board and the computer says 11, ask to locate and/or identify the life signs not on the bridge.

One thing I’ve noticed about The Original Series is that it didn’t seem to pay attention ot detail as much.  I’ve heard that there was more of a focus on the story and the moral.  I could probably go through all of the episodes and find some sort of technical fault with each one.  It’s just that in some episodes, the faults are more glaring.  One thing that always bothered me was that Finney’s plan was unraveled because Spock played chess.  How is it that Spock happened to do the one thing that was also affected by Finney tampering with the computers?  I would have thought that several other problems would have come up.  If Finney was that lazy, why not have a problem with the transporter logs or communications?  Maybe have the food dispenser give someone the wrong order.  It seems odd that Finney would leave one obscure fault that someone happens to find out.  (It’s also possible, although unlikely, that Spock got better at chess.)

It’s still a good episode, even if it’s not perfect.  It’s still enjoyable to watch.  However, I don’t see this being a lot of people’s favorite episode.  It’s the kind of episode you might watch if you were already committed to watching the series.  I don’t think it’s going to be a good episode to introduce someone to the series.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 19 (Tomorrow Is Yesterday)

I grew up having watched reruns of the original Star Trek.  By the time I was old enough to watch TV, the original series had already ended its original run and had become a staple of syndication.  When The Next Generation came around, the production values had gotten much better.  It wasn’t until I started watching The Original Series again that I realized how much.  It seemed like the writers for The Original Series didn’t seem to pay attention to detail as much.  Admittedly, stardates only had to be consistent within an episode.  Still, there were a lot of things that stuck out in my mind.

One such episode was Tomorrow is Yesterday.  The Enterprise finds itself stuck in what was then modern-day Earth.  The ship needs to be repaired, not that it has any place to go.  Add to that the fact that they’re in a low enough orbit that they can be seen by an Air Force base.  The ship is forced to beam up  Captain John Christopher, presenting the crew with a difficult problem.  They can’t send him back for fear that he’ll tell what he’s seen.  However, it’s not fair to hold him indefinitely.  Spock also discovers that his unborn son will make an important contribution.

The ship does get repaired and a way back home is discovered.  In the process, the crew is able to return Christopher and another unfortunate visitor, leaving them with no memories of their adventures.  How are they able to return them?  By beaming them back into their old bodies.

It seems a little too contrived.  Somehow, The Enterprise is able to beam someone into their past self without any problems.  What happened to the other Captain Christopher?  It’s also not explained how the whole beaming thing works.  It’s more of a hocus-pocus presto-chango kind of thing.

It was one of those things that they presented the audience with, thinking we wouldn’t ask too many questions.  During the episode, Kirk has to worry that there might be footage of the ship.  The same concern should hold true once they go back a few days to erase everything.  If they have to return the officers, shouldn’t they also have to take care of any footage again?  For that matter, shouldn’t there be a second Enterprise?  I suspect that the writers needed a simple way out.

The series also seemed to rely too little on continuity.  The Enterprise has found an easy way to travel through time, which they do use in subsequent outings.  There’s no mention of how common the practice is.  I could see science vessels going back in time a lot.  I could also see the practice being restricted for fear of the timeline being corrupted.

Overall, the episode is a nice diversion.  There are no enemies to fight.  There’s no battling a superior opponent, hoping for a way out.  It’s more having to fix stuff and think their way out.  Still, I think the writers could have done a little better here.  Maybe offer more of an explanation in some areas, or at least make them more believable.  It’s an episode that tends to be more enjoyable if you don’t think about it too much.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Mercury 13 (2018)

It occurred to me one day that astronauts probably have the worst commute ever.  Consider that a rocket launch would subject the passengers to three times the normal gravity of Earth.  Someone going to the International Space Station could be there in a few hours.  For Apollo astronauts, it took about three days for the ship to get there and another three to get back.  Plus, you’re crammed into a little ship and have to bring all your supplies with you.

I don’t imagine many people qualify to do that for a living.  Geraldyn "Jerrie" Cobb might say otherwise.  Cobb was one of 13 women who wanted to become Mercury astronauts.  All of the women were pilots.  They underwent many of the same tests as the men, even though NASA never sanctioned it.  NASA wanted nothing to do with them in any official capacity.  As far as NASA was concerned, you had to be a man to be an astronaut.

In hindsight, we can see how misguided that thinking was.  Women have become astronauts since.  And you can say it was the 1960s.  That sort of thing was common.  This happened years before the Civil Rights Act would have prevented it.  NASA still required astronauts to be graduates of a certain military program, meaning they basically had to be men.  All this despite the fact that the Soviet Union sent women while all of this was going on.

The truth is that saying women weren’t fit was a load.  No one knew what to expect.  There was no promise that anyone could handle it.  The Mercury program was meant to be our first step out into space.  It was supposed to see how someone reacted to going up and coming back down before going to the moon.

It’s an interesting film to watch.  At 78 minutes, it’s a little long to watch in most grade-school classes, but it does show what sexism looked like.  There was absolutely no reason why the women should have been denied the opportunity to go into space.

This is but one front where women seek equality.  You’d think that women would be better represented.  Given that half the population is female, you’d think that half of any given group would be female.  The Senate should have 50 men and 50 women, give or take.  Even though women have been into space, only about 12% of the 536 people have been female.  We should have had 22 women serve as president out of the 44 people who have held the office.  (For those wondering, Grover Cleveland is counted twice.)

It’s an interesting story for those that want to learn about equality.  It’s a case of women being shoved aside simply because they weren’t men.  It’s almost like that line attributed to Winston Churchill: You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

The Last Laugh (2016)

I remember the first time I heard of dead-baby jokes.  Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.  No, I won’t be repeating any here.  (If you’re really curious, you can look it up on Google.)  It struck me as odd that such a specific type of sick humor existed.  I would have thought that such a topic would be beyond the scope of humor, but it’s not.  Instead, there are lots of them.  The Last Laugh takes a look at that line.  Are there some topics that aren’t for making jokes?  Can you make jokes about the Holocaust or 9/11?  How about AIDS or rape?  Is pedophilia acceptable?

The movie focuses mostly on the Holocaust.  Many of those interviewed agree that the topic is off limits for now, but making fun of Nazis is acceptable.  Renee Firestone, a survivor, is featured in the film.  It shows her reacting to some clips by various people.  Some, she finds to be not funny.  Others manage to illicit a chuckle or two.

Time does seem to make a difference, though.  The Inquisition would probably have been off limits several hundred years ago, but is perfectly acceptable to joke about now.  Firestone recalls meeting Josef Mengele, who advised her to have her tonsils removed, should she survive.  At the time, it was serious.  Decades later, there’s a certain absurd humor to it.

There are a lot of celebrities interviewed, such as Mel Brooks and Sarah Silverman.  There are also clips of routines from Chris Rock, Louis C.K. and George Carlin.  Gilbert Gottfried is also interviewed, which has a certain irony to it, in that he made his own controversial comments back in 2011.  (That controversy isn’t mentioned in this documentary.)

I don’t know that anyone will be able to agree on where the line is.  It is possible, with a certain level of skill, to joke about certain topics.  George Carlin was able to do it well.  Others, not so much.  I tend to be more liberal with what I find funny.  Most people I know would be offended at a lot of the jokes I find funny.  That being said, there are a few topics I wouldn’t venture to joke about.

I would say that this could be used in a class on humor or as a starting point for a discussion.  My one big complaint is that it deals too much with the Nazis.  Other topics are mentioned, but there are a lot of topics that would be considered too dark.  (I don’t think dead-baby jokes were even mentioned.)  I think it could have been a little more balanced, or at least bring up more examples of what’s considered taboo.  Still, it’s an interesting documentary to watch.  For the moment, it’s available streaming on Netflix.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017)

“The average woman would rather have beauty than brains, because the average man can see better than he can think.”

-- Anonymous

I signed up for Google Analytics for this blog.  One thing I noticed was that a lot of people that read my posts are doing so on a mobile phone.  (When I checked yesterday, mobile users accounted for 74 of readers.)  If you’re reading this on a tablet or a cell phone and are using wi-fi or cellular data, you have Hedy Lamarr to thank for that.  It’s because of her that we now have secure, reliable wireless communication.

The documentary covers Lamarr’s life starting with her film, Ecstasy.  She was known for looking beautiful.  She could act, sure.  But her main draw was that she looked good in front of the camera.  What most people didn’t know was that she was an inventor.  She even made a tablet that, when dissolved in water, would produce flavored water.  (The tablet was done in by the fact that different cities have different amounts of impurities in their water.)

Her big contribution came during the war.  There seem to be different stories, but the one I heard had her watching a player piano.  Radio-controlled torpedoes were susceptible to being jammed, either deliberately or accidentally.  Thus, it was difficult to steer the torpedoes with any accuracy.  While looking at the piano, she got the idea to change frequencies randomly, thus improving the reliability.  She and George Antheil even got a patent.  They were willing to let the Navy use the technology, given the appropriate fee, but Lamarr was told that she could put her talents to better use by selling war bonds.

The documentary comes about due to an interview that was thought lost.    I wonder if a documentary about Lamarr would have been made had it not been found.  It’s a story that people should know about.  It’s a sad fact that people who deserve the credit often don’t get it.  Nikola Tesla got a car named for him.  Alan Turing had a test named for him.  Even still, both inventors aren’t really household names.  Even with Lamarr, most people would know her solely as an actress.

Lamarr never got any money from her invention.  The Navy held on to the actual patent document and Lamarr wasn’t able to renew it.  By the time the technology made its way to wider use, it had expired.  Interestingly, the Navy did use it to some extend and should have paid for that use.  Whether you know Lamarr as an actress your know use wireless communication regularly, I’d tell you to watch this documentary.  You’ll never be able to look at the wi-fi logo the same way again.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 18 (Arena)

There were several differences between Star Trek and the subsequent series.  For instance, it seems that Captain Kirk was a lot more willing to chase and destroy an attacking ship.  Way back in Balance of Terror, Kirk decided that the Romulans couldn’t get back and report on the Federation’s defenses.  It makes sense, even if you don’t agree with the method.  If the ship can’t report on what happened, the Romulan Government is left guessing and assuming that their ship didn’t complete its mission.

In Arena, Kirk makes a similar decision.  The Gorn attack and destroy a Federation outpost on Cestus III.  The Gorn also attempt to lure the Enterprise there to presumably destroy them.  When that fails, the Gorn retreat with the Enterprise giving chase with the intent of destroying the Gorn ship, thus preventing them from reporting to their superiors.

Before the Enterprise can destroy the Gorn ship, both captains are beamed down to an asteroid.  An alien race calling themselves the Metrons addresses the Enterprise (and, presumably, the Gorn ship) explaining that both captains will fight to the death.  The winner will be allowed to leave on his ship.  The ship of the losing captain will be destroyed.  The asteroid contains everything either captain could need to defeat the other.

The Gorn captain is able to fashion a dagger whereas Kirk initially tries dropping boulders on his opponent.  Kirk eventually realizes that he can make a crude cannon, eventually defeating the Gorn captain.  Kirk refuses to kill, though, which impresses the Metrons.  A representative of the race agrees to let both ships go.

The original series was sold as a western in space.  It would make sense that there’s a certain amount of fighting.  There was also a moral aspect.  Here, Kirk admits that there’s a time for fighting and a time for mercy.  It may have served a purpose to destroy the Gorn ship in battle, but to kill the Gorn on the asteroid?  Maybe not so much.

It occurs to me that Kirk’s original motive was to prevent the Gorn from reporting back to their government.  By sparing the captain, that could still come to pass.  The captain would even report back to his superiors that Kirk showed weakness in letting him live.

The episode was somewhat drawn out in  that much of its running time was dedicated to the fighting.  Even the battle on Cestus III seemed unnecessarily long.  In the end, we see that Kirk doesn’t have to kill the Gorn to win.  There’s very little debate as to the morality of inflicting pain and death on your enemies.

When the crew gets to watch the two captains, it comes to light that the Federation may have encroached on the Gorn’s territory.  Even that had little screen time.  You’d think that someone would have mentioned negotiations getting underway at the end of the episode.

Come to think of it, I’m surprised that this isn’t a bigger concern.  It’s a big galaxy and there are bound to be lots of other powers out there.  The Federation has already had to deal with the Romulans and the Klingons are also out there.  You’d think someone would have asked around before setting up a colony or outpost on some random planet.

It’s still an interesting episode.  I can forgive certain aspects of the episode, given that it was the 60s and the show hadn’t really been developed that well yet.  This is one of the episodes where I imagine a certain amount is lost on me because of context.  I can imagine someone explaining something that was going on at the time that might be informative.  Some aspects of the series were dependant on context while others were timeless.  I think this may have been one of the more context-dependant ones.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

The Rift: Dark Side of the Moon (2016)

It’s always been a little strange to me that there are certain tiers when it comes to movie quality.  You have big-budget films with well-known actors and that certain gloss.  There are made-for-TV movies, which may have a few recognizable names and are generally enjoyable, provided you don’t pay much for them.  Then, there are the independent films.  There have been good independent films, but most lack the production values (read: money) of the other two categories.  Even within independent films, there are those where the writer and producer did a great job with it and those where some guy just really wanted to get his movie made.

The Rift strikes me as a movie that someone really wanted to get made.  The plot is confusing.  The CGI is passable.  There’s also a sense that the actors maybe didn’t have many other offers at the time.  It’s not that it’s a horrible movie.  I’ve seen worse.  It’s just that I’m not exactly sure what the script was trying to do.

John Smith and Liz Waid meet Dysart and Darko at an abandoned gas station.  Their mission is to track a fallen American satellite.  What they find is a strange family and an even stranger rift.  On the other side is the moon.  Dysart reveals that he was an astronaut on a post-17 Apollo mission, which he believes is when the rift connects to.  Oh, and no one can seem to die.  (Anyone killed comes back to life.)

Add to this some basic coincidences.  It turns out that Dysart was an astronaut on that Apollo mission.  In fact, one of the other astronauts came through the rift.  Actually, Dysart assumes that it’s the same guy.  Really, it’s just a guy in an astronaut suit.  No real attempt is made to remove it to either help him or at least verify his identity.  You’d think they’d want to get it off, as there’s no need for the suit to remain on.

For that matter, you think the astronaut would be more emotional at being back on Earth.  He’s not overjoyed.  He doesn’t seem confused or scared at the sudden change in scenery.  For the most part, he just sits or lays there.  It would at least make some sense to try to go back through the rift, maybe to get back to his crew.

I’m not entire certain what I was supposed to get out of all this.  It wasn’t particularly scary or creepy.  There didn’t seem to be any sort of message.  There was no explanation given as to what happened.  (It’s not stated how or why people came back to life or how the rift even formed.)  It’s almost like a rough draft of a film.  All you would need to do is fill in some sort of explanation of what’s going on.

It’s almost impossible to take the movie literally.  Very little back story is given, either on the characters or the mission.  We have no reason to care about the characters or why they were chosen for this mission.  It would seem like maybe this is the first half of a story that somehow got its own movie.  I actually tried to look up some sort of explanation, but couldn’t find anything.  Of course, I only went through about three or four results before I realized something crucial:  I doubt any explanation would really help make sense of this movie.