Friday, May 24, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 8 (Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum)

When reviewing TV series, I have to decide if I’m going to do it by the season or by the episode.  Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation lent themselves to being reviewed by the episode, as each one had a distinct plot.  With Friday the 13th: The Series, I realized that I should have done it by the season, as the episodes weren’t really distinct enough.  I’m still on the fence about Star Trek: Discovery, though.  There is a continuing thread with the Klingon War, although there are a few episodes that deserve further exploration.

Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum has the crew exploring a planet that would seem to sing.  It has this giant towering transmitter that broadcasts out into space.  Commander Saru is sent down with Ash Tyler and Michael Burnham to see about using this transmitter to find cloaked Klingon vessels.  It’s not clear how this is supposed to work, especially considering that the spire is so tall.  Do they just need a key component or are they going to take the whole thing with them?  How do they know that it will even work?

Anyway, Saru seems sensitive to the ambient noise.  Shortly after making contact with what would seem to be an indigenous life form, Saru would seem to go sideways.  He crushes Burnham and Tyler’s communicators, leaving them unable to communicate with the ship.  Saru wants to stay on the planet and would apparently have Burnham and Tyler stay with him.  It’s not really clear how much the locals are influencing him, but Saru has to be stopped.  At the very least, the war effort could do with that transmitter.

Meanwhile, Admiral Cornwell is being interrogated by the Klingons.  L’Rell offers to interrogate her only to secretly offer the Admiral the chance to escape.  L’Rell is disillusioned with her new leader and would just as soon leave.  The last we see of it is L’Rell ostensibly killing Cornwell, but it could very easily be a ruse.  (Is the admiral really dead or is she knocked out?  I’m going to have to wait until I get the third disc to find out.)

The title translates as, “If You Want Peace, Prepare for War.”  I’m sort of in the middle about the episode, as it does seem to be progressing nicely.  My only problem is that I kind of like the episodic series.  You’d have some continuity, but you didn’t have to wait until the end of the season to see so many resolutions.  It’s almost like a soap opera in that we keep having to tune in next week to see what happens.

Saru is definitely making progress.  He started the series as someone who would seem to be afraid of his own shadow.  He’s now leading away missions and even commanding the ship for moderate periods of time.  His learning curve isn’t as awkward as I thought it would have been.  I do think there might be some potential for this character.

We also see Paul Stamets confide in Sylvia Tilly.  (This is predicated by Staments having some noticeable mood swings.)  For once, we get a reason why he doesn’t go elsewhere.  It’s not common knowledge that he modified his own genes.  His partner is a doctor and would be bound to report what happened or live in fear.  Keeping it a secret is a priority.  I’m a little curious to see where this will go.

Star Trek: Discovery is becoming a guilty pleasure for me.  I still have issues, but I can’t stop watching.  (Maybe train wreck is better term.  I’m not sure yet.)  I’m going to finish out the season and see what happens.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 7 (Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad)

I suppose that it’s inevitable that every science-fiction show will do at least one time travel/time loop episode.  Star Trek had it with City on the Edge of Forever.  The Next Generation had at least one of each with Time’s Arrow and Cause and Effect.  The crew of Deep Space Nine even went back to visit The Enterprise with Trials and Tribble-ations.

Time travel isn’t so bad.  It’s usually the time-loop stories that get me.  You see, there can be, at most, one person, other than the perpetrator, that knows about  the time loop.  In case there isn’t anyone, everyone will have a sense of déjà vu. But there has to be a way for the characters to break the loop.

With the case of Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad, Harry Mudd is back.  Yes, he skipped an episode and he wants his revenge on Captain Lorca.  He’s going to do this by stealing the Discovery.  To do this, he’s gotten a time crystal to work, meaning he can make all the mistakes he wants before destroying the ship and jumping back 30 minutes to try again.  This effectively wipes the crew’s memories with the exception of Paul Stamets, who remembers everything.

Stamets enlists the help of Michael Burnham and Ash Tyler.  It’s not clear why he chooses these two people, as they are the two newest additions to the crew that we know about and most people still see Burnham as the mutineer.  (Even the captain, who wants her there, makes her a specialist.  If we are to assume that this means the naval rank, that’s about as far down the ladder as you can get.)

I have to say that this is pretty ambitious for Harry Mudd.  In The Original Star Trek, he was generally pretty petty.  Our first encounter had him trying to make a buck off of finding wives for lonely miners.  To actually steal a ship with the Klingons as the buyer is a pretty big con.  It’s actually worthy of the con that the crew pulls on him.  In fact, they bring him to his long-lost love, Stella, who I am to assume is the same Stella referenced in I, Mudd.

I do get that the writers are trying to nudge Tyler and Burnham together.  It would make more sense to have Staments go to the captain or to his partner.  Given the number of iterations the time loop had, it’s possible that he did.  The important thing for us, the viewers, is that we learn a thing or two about Burnham and Tyler and that they save the day.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 6 (Lethe)

I know that I seem to be getting used to Star Trek: Discovery.  Certain aspects are starting to make sense.  I still have questions and issues, but I’m learning how to deal with that.  Aside from which, I’m getting the DVDs from the library, so it’s not like I’m giving money to CBS.  Still, I have to take issue with any issue that starts with two main characters running laps in shirts that say DISCO in big, bold letters.

I can handle Spock having a foster sister we didn’t know about.  Star Trek V revealed that he had a half-brother and I took that in stride.  I’ve dealt with updated Klingons and easily abandoned technology, as I’ve mentioned before.  I can forgive a lot of things.  Please tell me that there’s no disco in the future.  If I find out that there is, the series is dead to me.

That being said, it looks like Discovery has holodecks, or something similar to it.  Captain Lorca and Ash Tyler are getting a little target practice in when we find out three things about Tyler.  One, he’s a better shot than Lorca.  Two, he’s modest about it.  Three, Lorca is making him the new chief of security.  I guess being in a jail cell together for an indeterminate, yet short, time makes for some good bonding.

In fact, Admiral Cornwell drops by to talk about just that.  She’s worried that Lorca isn’t ready to get back into the captain’s chair just yet.  In fact, she was apparently a psychiatrist, which would lend some credibility.  One thing leads to another, which leads to Cornwell and Lorca sleeping together and Lorca pulling a phaser on Cornwell.  So, yeah.

She wants to keep him off the bridge, but an issue has come up.  Ambassador Sarek was on his way to meet with the Klingons for diplomatic talks, but he was injured by a Vulcan extremist.  Yes, Vulcans have those, apparently.  There are those among the most logical race that would like to keep it that way.  Sarek’s taking a human wife and taking a human girl should be punishable by death.

The good news is that a rescue operation is successful.  The bad news is that Cornwell has to go in his place, as she’s the only qualified authority figure within range.  She and Lorca will talk about him taking a break when she gets back, which is the most obvious way of telling the audience that a major plot twist is coming.  She might as well just say, “I’m going to go put myself in a situation that requires the help of the one person who stands to lose if he’s successful.”

So, I guess Star Trek isn’t beyond a little cliché writing.  That’s ok.  You can’t be perfect all the time.  Aside from which, it does make for a good cliffhanger.  We already knew from the previous episode that maybe Lorca wasn’t the best captain.  Now we know that other people know it, too, and they’re in a position to do something about it.  This really is becoming a lot like a soap opera.

One thing I want to bring up: I don’t recall it ever explicitly being stated that The Original Series never had holodecks, although I could be wrong.  It would seem that holodecks came about during The Next Generation era, as the pilot of The Next Generation would have implied that it was relatively new technology.  I’ll grant that maybe the technology was in development.  Discovery is supposed to be this top-secret super ship, so it’s possible that everything is cutting edge.  I don’t know.

It is nice to see some subtle continuity, though.  Long-time viewers will remember that Sarek was at odds with Spock over Spock’s decision to enter Starfleet.  Now, we know why.  Come to find out that Burnham wanted in on the Vulcan Expeditionary Force, but those running the show wouldn’t hear of it.  Sarek is told in no uncertain terms, only one non-Vulcan at a time.  Either Spock is let in or Burnham, but not both.  It doesn’t matter that Burnham is good enough.  Apparently, Vulcans can be racist, too.

It sort of reminds me of Dark Page, in that the parent of a main character is hiding a dark secret about their child.  In Dark Page, Deanna Troi has to use her telepathic abilities help her mother resolve an issue as Lwaxana is close to death.  In Lethe, Burnham has to use her telepathic bond to help her foster father resolve an issue that’s been eating away at both of them while he’s close to death.  (Oh, and he has to hit the emergency beacon while he’s at it.)

So, Discovery isn’t all that I hoped it would be, but I am finding redeeming qualities and I am curious to see what happens next.  I’m just hoping that it’s not like Enterprise, where it turns out to be a holodeck fantasy or someone waking up from a dream or something.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 5 (Choose Your Pain)

I’ve asked a few questions while watching Star Trek: Discovery.  Notably, I’ve wondered if ethical concerns would prohibit the ship’s spore drive from becoming useful in the long run.  “Choose Your Pain” is the first episode to really face that head on.  The ship’s spore drive requires a living navigator, but that comes at a steep price, especially for said navigator.  The creature that the Discovery is using, Ripper, is in pain and actually gives out during this episode.

Only one crew member, Michael Burnham, advocates for Ripper.  The problem is that when Ripper’s services aren’t needed, it’s not really an issue.  When Ripper is needed, it’s to save lives.  During this episode, the ship has to go into hostile territory and get out as soon as they have their captain.  This can’t be done without Ripper, which means it sucks when he curls up into a ball and can’t navigate the ship.

While in captivity, Captain Lorca has two cellmates.  One is Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd.  Fans of the original series might remember him as the guy who was peddling would-be brides to miners.  He’s not a nice guy.  I don’t know that he deserves to be in a Klingon holding cell, but he’s not the kind of guy I’d want as a friend, either.

The other cellmate is Ash Tyler.  He’s a Starfleet officer who had the misfortune to be captured by the Klingons at the Battle of the Binary Stars.  How he’s survived seven months in Klingon captivity escapes Captain Lorca, but he’s still a Starfleet officer.  The two escape and leave Mudd behind.

I do think that the series is picking up.  We get some plot development and some character development, notably with First Officer Saru, who is left in command.  It would appear that this is the first time that he’s gone an extended period without the captain present, being that he has to look up how to be a captain.  I would have thought that an executive officer would have learned something about that by now.  Still, it’s nice to know that his head is in the right place.  It also gives the show a chance to drop a few familiar names.

Speaking of familiar names, I realize that the part of Mudd has to be recast.  I’m not saying that Rainn Wilson is a bad actor, but I was expecting something closer to Roger C. Carmel.  Instead, I had this lingering image of John Lithgow by the end of the episode.  (Maybe it’s my imagination.)

I’m beginning to get the sense that the writers are playing the long game here.  I suspect that more of my issues will be resolved as time goes by.  I had hoped to watch at least half the season, which would be to the end of this disc.  I may have to go put a hold on the third disc before I’m done with this one.

Monday, May 20, 2019

After Porn Ends 3 (2018)

A few years ago, I came across a documentary called After Porn Ends.  It was a pretty good documentary about people’s lives after they were porn stars.  Some had done well; others hadn’t.  They even did a sequel that followed up pretty nicely.  When I saw a spike in hits on both reviews, I realized that they must have come out with a third installment.   I checked Netflix and it turned out I was correct.

The premise is the same.  There are a lot of people (mostly women) that had been in front of the camera for years.  They tell what it’s like not doing that any more.  Christy Canyon has a radio program on SiriusXM.  Priya Rai is now a cage fighter.  Jenna Presley found Jesus.  The outcomes are usually different, although it would seem many got into the business for the same reason:  Money.  (Tera Patrick was studying to become a nurse until she realized that she could make more playing one on TV, so to speak.)

The movie doesn’t seem like it’s repeating anything from the previous installments, although the franchise does seem to be losing steam.  This one wasn’t quite as interesting.  The stories are new, but not necessarily more interesting  than those from before.  There’s also not the same variety as before.  In the first movie, most of the outcomes were less than desirable.  Actors found it difficult to move on.  In the second movie, many of the actors had found some life after lust.

The previous movies found a way to present the actors as people.  Yes, many of the actors shown here found something else to do.  I didn’t necessarily feel happy or sad about it.  Here, it’s more like actors recalling stories of their glory days.  It’s not said if any of the experiences are typical.  (Is turning to religion common among former adult stars?  I don’t know.)

As you might expect, there are a lot of explicit images.  After all, it is a movie dealing with adult topics.  Many of the stories are happy.  The only really sad one was Bonnie Rotten.  She didn’t have a great upbringing and had difficulty getting into the industry because of her tattoos.

I’m really not certain that a fourth installment is called for.  I spent a while debating over whether or not I wanted to watch this one.  I eventually gave in and watched.  I think if a fourth one is released, I’d probably pass on it.  It would have to pull off something entirely new to catch my attention.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 4 (The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry)

I recently realized that my local library has the first season of Star Trek: Discovery on DVD, thereby allowing me to bypass paying for CBS All Access to watch the show.  I just got the second DVD, so I’d like to review this episode before watching the next few episodes.  The episodes so far would seem to flow more evenly from one to the next, so this will allow me to keep the storylines straight.

This one starts shortly after the previous episode.  Michael Burnham has just come back from the Discovery’s sister ship, the Glenn, with useful technology and a tardigrade-like creature who has been dubbed Ripper.  She and Commander Landry are tasked with figuring out how to weaponize Ripper so that the crew might defeat the Klingons.  After all, Ripper took on a bunch of Klingons alone, as well as giving the away team a run for their money.

Burnham does make a major discovery:  Ripper has some sort of symbiotic relationship with the spores.  He’s also not that aggressive when not provoked.  All of Ripper’s actions thus far have been in self defense.  Furthermore, it would appear that Ripper can help navigate the ship for long jumps.  Discovery can use the spores for shorter jumps with some degree of accuracy.  To do the math for longer jumps requires some sort of supercomputer.

It’s not clear exactly what Ripper does or how Ripper knows where to go.  It’s not possible to communicate with the large creature, although the large creature does appear to be in pain when the drive is in use.  Captain Lorca uses Ripper to get to a colony that mines 40% of the Federation’s dilithium to protect it from a Klingon attack, so some discomfort isn’t his concern.  In fact, Burnham seems to be the only one who does show any sort of concern, ethical or otherwise.  She’s able to demonstrate that there’s no threat.

The ethics of using an alien creature without consent really isn’t dealt with in this episode.  The entire thing seemed a little too convenient.  I’m assuming that Ripper was trained by the crew of the Glenn.  Much like Star Trek’s The Devil in the Dark, it’s possible that a Vulcan was able to mind meld with Ripper to communicate what was going on.

So much is still unknown about Ripper.  Part of me feels like I’m missing something.  Maybe this will be explained in later episodes. I expect someone to leave a comment, “Didn’t you see when someone said X?”  I feel like the episode could have used a little more exposition.  It’s too bad for Ripper that his one advocate is someone who’s already on shaky ground with the rest of the crew.  However, this would be a very good reason for eventually discontinuing the use of the spore drive.

I definitely want to watch the next four episodes.  Maybe I’ll find a few of my answers.  At this point, though, I’m only expecting more questions.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 3 (Context Is for Kings)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was dark, but it was still Star Trek.  It showed that things weren’t always rosy in the idealistic Federation or Starfleet.  Being so far from the center of Federation space had implications.  Rules were stretched.  Sometimes, people did things they weren’t proud of.  But, it was still Starfleet.

Discovery started out dark, but seems to be coming around to something that looks like Star Trek.  It’s been six months since Michael Burnham turned against her captain and got her old ship destroyed.  She’s since been court-martialed and sent to prison.  While being transferred to another facility, her ship runs into trouble and is aided by the USS Discovery.  Burnham and her fellow prisoners are brought aboard temporarily.

Burnham finds several of her former crewmates are now serving on the Discovery, including Saru, who got promoted from science officer to Captain Lorca’s first officer.  Saru would be more than happy to help Burnham…get right back on that shuttle.  For the time being, he’ll have to settle for being polite to her.  He realizes that whatever else she might have been, she’s now someone who can’t be fully trusted.

Still, Lorca has a plan for Burnham.  That plan includes sending her to the Discovery’s sister ship, the Glenn, to retrieve classified technology.  When the away team arrives, they find the ship damaged and the crew badly mutilated.  Add to that Klingons that were viciously attacked by something.  The team gets what they need and discover the mysterious creature, which is resistant to phaser fire.  The crew makes it back to the Discovery.  The episode ends with Lorca offering Burnham a place on the ship, telling her what the secret project really is.  Oh, and it also turns out that he somehow got the vicious creature onboard.

I will admit that the show is getting more to the point where my questions aren’t as pressing.  The creature looks like a giant tardigrade, which is unusual, but I suppose not impossible.  Given that so many alien species look eerily human, it’s easy to imagine that a microscopic Earth-bound creature might be the template for a large creature of unknown origin.

Also, it’s revealed that the secret project is a new method of navigation that allows the ship to go anywhere instantaneously.  One might wonder why none of the other series had this technology.  That’s what Star Trek does.  One thing I remember from Star Trek: Voyager is lots of one-off technology.  (Voyager even had a species that had a personal cloaking device, if you can believe it.)  This aspect of the series is actually the most believable.

The one thing that gets me is that Burnham, who is usually quiet and logical (and is now more so after six months in prison) is given Cadet Sylvia Tilly as a roommate.  Tilly is a Chatty Cathy.  When she says that she talks when nervous, she’s not kidding.  I suppose that there’s a certain irony in this.  The one person that will actually talk to Burnham won’t…stop…talking!

I am kind of wondering what this black alert is.  It seems unnecessary.  Isn’t it enough to have red alert and yellow alert?  I guess I’ll find out what that is eventually.  (I just got the second DVD of the first season from the library.  Please explain if you can keep it spoiler free.)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 5 (The Apple)

The Enterprise went through a lot of security officers during it’s run.  I’ve often wondered if Starfleet ever asked why.  After all, new officers were being assigned to the ship and a death would certainly generate a report.  This was the second episode in recent memory to feature four security officers being killed.  I imagine some poor recruit getting his first assignment only to cry uncontrollably at the fact that it’s The Enterprise.  (“All this effort to get into Starfleet and this is what I get?  I’m too young to die!”)  To be fair, the crew did encounter a dangerous planet and Captain Kirk does wrestle with the loss of crewmembers.  However, there were a lot of deaths on the show.

In this episode, the crew comes upon a planet with a small tribe of people who are ruled by a computer named Vaal.  The people feed Vaal and, in return, Vaal makes the rain come down and the fruit grow.  Kirk and McCoy immediately realize that this is a stagnant society.  They don’t grow or learn or build.  All the people do is feed Vaal.  Spock, being the voice of reason, points out that it works.  It’s not humanity’s ideal society, but the people are happy and want for nothing.  Who are they to interfere with that?

Well, leave it to the writers to force the issue.  The ship is being dragged down towards the planet surface.  If Kirk doesn’t destroy Vaal, the crew will die.  It’s been said that the crew accepts this if it’s in service of The Prime Directive.  You don’t interfere with the natural development of a culture, even if it means your life.  But is it really interfering with a culture if there is no real culture to speak of?  Maybe, but the death of the crew would lead to a really short second season.  And I don’t imagine Kirk wants to be stranded on a planet where light rocks could explode under your feet.

It’s not clear how a small group of child-like immortals developed in such a way that they came under the care of a computer beyond their capacity to build.  It’s possible that they were left there by a more-advanced civilization.  Maybe it was a sort of daycare that was abandoned.  I suppose of all the possible questions, it’s not the worst to have.  It would, at least, make for an interesting novel or fan movie.

I’m also not sure why Vaal has it in for the crew of the Enterprise.  I’m assuming that the ship falling towards the planet was unintentional.  Vaal could just as easily have shot down the ship or sent the ship away.  It would appear that whoever wrote the episode was concerned more with the issues and immanent danger.  (I know.  This describes most of the Star Trek episodes.)  I suppose it at least makes for an interesting moral debate.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 4 (Mirror, Mirror)

The idea of an alternate history is nothing new.  Several novels were published in the 19th century.  The Man in the High Castle had been published in 1962.  Mirror, Mirror isn’t even Star Trek’s first take on the concept.  City on the Edge of Forever and The Alternate Factor both used alternate timelines in their plot.

Here, a transporter accident sends Kirk, Scotty, McCoy and Uhura into a universe where The Federation, or at least Earth, is overtly imperialistic.  The Empire takes by force what The Federation would negotiate for.  In fact, Kirk had been negotiating with the Halkans for dilithium crystals when an ion storm hit. 

Kirk’s alternate was instructed to destroy Halkan cities if they don’t cooperate, which puts Kirk in a difficult position.  He doesn’t want to level cities, but can’t avoid it without raising suspicion.  The four crewmembers are able to get back at the last minute with some help from the alternate Spock, who agrees to try to change the Terran Empire.

Part of the reason the episode works is that it does what it sets out to do.  There’s very little filler or exposition.  The only real exposition would be at the end, where Kirk has to drag it out when they have only minutes to spare.  It shows what an alternate to The Federation might be.  As Spock points out at the end, the alternate isn’t really that different.  Kirk is able to refrain from many of his baser instincts whereas the other Kirk has no real incentive to do so.

It would have been interesting to explore that universe a little more during The Original Series.  It’s not clear if all of The Enterprise’s missions were the same.  I would like to see how Khan or Harry Mudd fit into that universe.  Fortunately, Deep Space Nine and Enterprise did visit The Mirror Universe, so we do get to see what happened because of Spock’s decision.

Only two things really bothered me about the episode.  First, how is it that all of the same characters exist in both universes?  I suppose, given an infinite number of timelines, that there would be one that’s at least similar to ours.  There’s probably one with an Enterprise that has an entirely different crew.  There may be one where Vulcans or Andorians weren‘t space-faring.

The other thing was that Kirk and the others beamed into their alternates’ clothing.  Not only that, they beamed back into their own clothing when they got back to their own universe.  It’s a concession necessary to help them blend in to The Mirror Universe, I know.  It’s still a little odd.

Overall, it’s a pretty good episode.  I’m glad that the plot was at least used in several of the spin-off series.  The Original Series wasn’t particularly good with continuity, so anything is welcome.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 2 (Battle at the Binary Stars)

I’d like to think that there’s a plan.  Not to life, necessarily.  I think life, in general, is random.  When it comes to episodic television, though, I’d like to think that there’s a plan.  With Star Trek: Discovery, it’s not clear what that plan is, yet.  The Klingons look totally different.  They have cloaking devices.  Spock has a foster sister we didn’t know about.  Oh, and Spock’s foster sister has apparently just started a war with the Klingons.

Michael Burnham is the foster sister and she did kill one a Klingon, although it’s probable that they were looking for a fight.  There’s this new wannabe Klingon leader, T'Kuvma, who wants to unite the houses by picking a fight with The Federation.   If not Burnham, it would have been someone else.

The fact that she was correct is irrelevant, even when lots of other Klingon and Starfleet ships show up.  Her plan was to shoot first, which Starfleet doesn’t do.  Aside from which, she also tried to mutiny, which lands her in the brig.  She escapes and does help the Captain try to take T’Kuvma alive, but that ends in failure, too.  Both T’Kuvma and Captain Georgiou die.  Burnham ends up stripped of rank and court-martialed.

This was the second part of the pilot story.  It’s enough to make your head spin, especially if you’ve watched all the previous incarnations.  As I mentioned for the first part, it’s a huge franchise, with all the TV shows, movies and books.  A few things aren’t clear, like how Burnham got her spot as first officer or why the Klingons look the way they do.

I felt that the episode was kind of weak.  Part one was the setup and part two was basically one big battle scene.  Sure, it’s an epic battle and all, but we’re getting mostly the story of how Burnham came to be on the U.S.S. Shenzhou.  (Two episodes in and we haven’t even heard from the U.S.S. Discovery yet.)

The episode ends with Burnham utterly defeated.  She has no rank or position, despite a promising career.  Even if she gets out of her life sentence, which she does, she’s the executive officer that mutinied and got her commanding officer killed.  She’s not going to have a lot of friends.

I have the first disc of Season One from the library, with a hold on the second disc.  Given that I’ve watched all of the life-action series and movies, I feel like I have great expectations for this series.  I know people wondered about Worf, given that he looked so different from the original Klingons.  I am willing to give Discovery a shot.  I can only hope that it doesn’t disappoint.

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 1 (The Vulcan Hello)

Star Trek has an interesting history.  The Original Series was apparently not popular enough to get a fourth season, but it just made it to the point where the reruns could be syndicated.  The Next Generation was syndicated, which gave us seven seasons.  Then, came Deep Space Nine and Voyager, the latter of which was the flagship of UPN.  UPN didn’t last long after Voyager went off the air, but we did get Star Trek: Enterprise, which was set before The Original Series.  There were also the movies, which were a mixed bag.  Then, we got that movie reboot, which I’m still not fond of.

So, here we are with Star Trek: Discovery, which is supposed to be this big thing for CBS All Access.  Except, I’m not going to let CBS use my love of Star Trek to get me to fork over money for yet another streaming service.  I refuse to.  Fortunately, by local library has the first season on DVD.  Thus, I can watch the show and not pay for it.  Having watched the first two episodes so far, I’m glad I didn’t.  I’m not entirely satisfied with what I’ve seen so far.

The episode starts with Captain Philippa Georgiou and First Officer Michael Burnham bringing water to a dry, pre-warp culture without being seen by the inhabitants.  They manage to beam off the planet after a successful mission.  Cut to a damaged communications relay.  It appears the big hole in the middle of it was deliberate.  Not only that, but there’s a Klingon ship hiding in the asteroid field.

These aren’t the original Klingons that Kirk had to deal with.  They have ridges and no hair.  They’re the exact opposite of the first Klingons.  I have no explanation for this.  I’m assuming it will be explained later on.  Anyway, the leader of this ship wants to declare war on The Federation so that he might unite the houses under one rule.  It is a powerful ship and he does have a cloaking device, which I’m assuming will also be explained later on.

Georgiou wants to hold off on attacking.  Starfleet doesn’t fire first.  However, Burnham is in contact with her foster father, Sarek, who advises her to attack first.  Georgiou declines her first officer’s advice, prompting her to act illogically and take the captain out with a Vulcan neck pinch.  Before Burnham can attack, Georgiou recovers and relieves Burnham of duty.  We’re left with a cliffhanger, not knowing what the Klingons will do next.

I have a few issues with the series so far, and we‘re not even 50 minutes into it.  It seems like the show was written by people that had never seen Star Trek before.  It’s as if everyone took a look at various Wikipedia articles and just decided they could wing it.  I’ve already mentioned two issues with the Klingons.  It also seems like the Shenzhou was given a first officer that didn’t have much training.  (If I’m interpreting correctly, it seems like Sarek got her the job rather than having her work her way through the ranks.)

If CBS wanted hard-core fans to buy into the service and support the show, you’d think the writers would try a little harder for continuity.  To be fair, the first season of The Original Series was all over the place, but we’re talking about a franchise that’s fifty years old.  This is the sixth live-action series.  I’d think they’d have their act together.

I think anyone who watched most of the previous series will take issue with the pilot.  I am hopeful.  Each of the other series took a while to get going.  Even the movies seemed to alternate between hit and miss.  There are so many issues with this episode, but I am willing to give the series a chance.  It did get a second season and will apparently get a third.  I will admit that there are ways my issues could be satisfactorily resolved.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)

Tim Goodman always wanted to be a Pokémon trainer.  Apparently, not everyone is cut out to do that.  The Pokéman has to want it.  So, Tim became an insurance salesman.  It’s not a bad career, but there is a sense that Tim gave up on his dream.  We’re reminded of that when his father, Harry, goes missing.  Tim is called to Ryme City, where Harry was a detective.  Inside a room meant for Tim is a bead with a pair of distinctive yellow ears at its head.

Moments after seeing those ears, Tim hears a crash in his father’s apartment.  Armed only with a stapler, Tim confronts a Pikachu.  Specifically, it’s his father’s Pokémon partner.  The thing is that this Pikachu can talk.  Both are confused, as all Tim should hear is, “Pika Pika.”  Everyone else does.  So, why not Tim?  It could be genetic.  It could be that purple gas Tim accidentally inhaled moments earlier.  Detective Pikachu has amnesia, so answers aren’t forthcoming.

Both decide to team up, as they have the same objective:  Find Harry Goodman.  Detective Pikachu would also like to recover his memory.  Since Pikachu lost his memory right around the time Harry went missing, but that should work itself out as a result of their investigation.  The two meet Lucy Stevens along the way, who’s an intern at a news organization.  She’d love to break a big story, but seems to be relegated to getting coffee.  It’s perfect because Tim needs a local to help him out.

I don’t want to give too much away, mostly because there was so much about the movie that I didn’t see coming.  I know this is based on a video game, which I haven’t played.  The world of Pokémon is relatively unknown to me, so I was able to come to the movie fresh.  (I suspect that this is a good thing most of the time.)

I will say that the relationship between Detective Pikachu and Tim was great.  This is no small feat considering that one of them is animated.  The expressiveness on Pikachu’s face was great.  The coming attractions show you this pretty well.  The characters look emotive.  They look like you might meet one of them walking down the street.   The effect is seamless.  Justice Smith reacts as if Pikachu were actually standing there, about to hit him with that big yellow tail.  Even a minor breakdown in this dynamic would break the illusion.

It’s difficult to say who the movie is for, probably because it has to play to such a large group of people.  This is the latest installment in the Pokémon franchise.  It’s the first predominately live-action film for Pokémon, but there have been animated movies, an animated TV show, manga, video and mobile games and a CCG.  I think there is an element targeted at younger demographic, but Pokémon was introduced in 1995.  There are going to be members of the audience that were members of that demographic 20 years ago.

Then, there are also going to be people like me that got excited by the coming attractions.  It may not have been an overly meaningful or deep movie, but it did keep my attention.  I don’t know that I could see a direct sequel coming out of this movie, but I could see other in-universe features coming about.  I’m curious to see what those would look like.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 3 (The Changeling)

I’ve never made it any secret that I hate an unstoppable force versus mere mortals.  You have movies like The Terminator, where there’s one strong force with limited range and power.  It’s another thing altogether to have a god-like creature.  In fact, the episode to air before this one literally had a Greek God as an antagonist.  Now, we have an Earth probe that was presumed destroyed only to have it turn up with some amazing modifications.

When the Enterprise first encounters it, Nomad had just finished wiping out over four billion people.   Yes.  This tiny little probe destroyed the entire population of a solar system.  Why?  Because they were imperfect biological creatures.  Nomad is about to do the same to the Enterprise until it hears the name James T. Kirk.  Nomad takes this to be the name of its creator, Dr. Jackson Roykirk, and spares the ship.

This puts Kirk in a difficult position.  He’s in no position to deny Nomad anything.  The probe thinks nothing of killing anyone wearing a red shirt.  At least four security guards get vaporized.  Nomad even kills Scotty and wipes Uhura’s memory.  (Nomad is able to resurrect Scotty, but can do nothing for Uhura.)  On the other hand, Kirk can’t show Nomad the way to Earth.  That’s billions more imperfect beings that would be slaughtered.  Kirk is able to save the day at the last minute by outthinking the probe.

There are several things that bothered me about the episode, starting with the fact that this is the second week in a row that the Enterprise squared off and defeated a powerful being.  Kirk and crew are spared only by the similarity of two names.  For that matter, why did Nomad spare the crew?  It had no problem killing security guards, even given orders by Kirk not to do so.  It could just as easily destroyed everyone except Kirk and maybe Spock.

My second issue is Uhura’s memory loss.  Her memory is wiped, presumably completely.  She’s left with only a knowledge of Swahili, and yet they bring her back up to speed in a week?  It’s not entirely clear, but it’s implied that she loses all her memories, including those of friends, family and her fellow crewmembers.  This is never brought up again.  She just goes about being Uhura, as if it never happened.  Uhura is so easy to disposable that she’s effectively replaced by…Uhura?

And the episode could have done so much more with the concept.  This is proven by the fact that they reused the basic plot in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  They took a concept that had no business using up a full hour and made it into a feature-length film that actually worked a little better.  (Granted, the movie still wasn’t great, but it was better than this episode.)

I think, if anything, this episode demonstrates how much more the series could have done.  We didn’t learn much about the crew outside of the ship.  Most details, like Sulu’s fencing or Kirk‘s brother, generally come up when it’s necessary for the plot of the episode.  Uhura’s memory loss is something that should have been a terrible trauma and it’s used as a way to show Nomad’s power.  Uhura deserves better than that.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 2 (Who Mourns for Adonais?)

Space is vastly empty.  Consider that it takes light four years to get to from our star to the next closest one and there’s nothing in between.  It seems odd that a spaceship would be able to find interesting planets every week.  Granted, there are a lot of stars out there, but there’s no promise that any of them would have inhabited planets.  They could all be barren wastelands.  Not only that, but the Enterprise has a propensity for finding god-like creatures.

In this case, it would appear that they’ve actually found the Greek god Apollo.  He reaches out with a hand-like projection and holds the ship in place, demanding that the bridge crew come down to the planet.  Once there, the landing party is informed that they will stay and worship Apollo as humans once did thousands of years prior.  Likewise, the humans will tend sheep and do other things humans have long since given up.

It would seem that the Enterprise is trapped, but Apollo has some sort of assistance.  He also conveniently gets tired very easily.  This, of course, presents an opportunity.  Once the details are worked out, it’s just a matter of removing that assistance and the crew is off to the next planet.

This would make for a better episode if it didn’t seem so similar to The Squire of Gothos.  You have what appears to be an all-powerful being intent on keeping the Enterprise crew captive for its own ends.  It needs assistance which, once destroyed, incapacitates the being and allows the crew to leave.

What makes this different is the ancient-astronaut theory, in which several aliens came to Earth and set themselves up as deities.  (A few even had kids with the locals.)  It’s not clear why Apollo has a thing for humans or what he did for 5,000 years.  He states that worshipers give him some sort of power, but it’s not clear if other races would have the same effect.  Even if Apollo headed straight back to his home planet, he and the others of his kind had to explore the galaxy to find Earth.  They might have found another planet that would have been close enough.

The episode is just a little too uninspired for me.  It might have been more interesting to explore what Greek gods had done on Earth.  (I’m sure Apollo would have a few tales to tell.)  Instead, Apollo is intent on regaining his former glory.  All of the other members of the Greek pantheon knew the game was up and moved on.  It basically takes the Enterprise destroying his source of power for Apollo to take the hint.

I definitely think there was a lot of wasted potential here.  I get that it was a product of a different era.  The network may have assumed that the audience wanted more of an action show.  The episode might have been able to do more with the philosophical element had it not been for this.  The show even seems to have a 60s-era attitude towards women, even.  Take, for instance, that Scotty is interested in a female lieutenant.  It’s assumed that if she marries someone, she’ll leave the service.  I’m assuming that this attitude was adjusted by the time The Next Generation came around, as Starfleet had no problem with married couples serving on different ships.   You‘d think that we would have moved on in the next 300 years.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 1 (Amok Time)

During the first season of Star Trek, the Vulcans were established as being very logical.  Everything about their race and culture was done logically.  Their reproductive habits weren’t talked about much, though.  As Kirk put it in this episode, everyone just assumed it was done logically.  But, Vulcans do mate and it’s not a very logical time for them.

The episode starts with Dr. McCoy telling Captain Kirk that something about their resident Vulcan is off.  If it were anyone else, they might be described as temperamental.  But, this is Spock we’re talking about.  Something is off.  He even requests to be taken back to Vulcan.  He won’t give any details other than that he has to go there immediately.

Kirk agrees.  The only catch is that they have to go to an important ceremony that can’t be delayed.  There’s no way that Kirk can drop Spock off at Vulcan and still make the engagement at Altair VI.  When Kirk diverts course, Spock diverts back to Vulcan.  Why?  It turns out that Vulcans have an uncontrollable urge to mate every seven years upon reaching adulthood.  Spock was bonded to a woman years ago and it’s now time for him to marry her.

Of course, it’s not that simple.  His bride challenges the marriage and has Kirk fight Spock…to the death.  No, they’re not going to have the first officer kill the captain this early in the second season.  (McCoy has a trick up his sleeve.)  I must admit that it’s an interesting way to start a new year.

The big plus for this episode is that we get to see some development for Spock and Vulcans in general.  I must admit that his parents are suspiciously absent.  You’d think they’d make the time for his son’s wedding.  For that matter, it would seem that neither side has any family present.  I can see that it might have been short notice, considering that the wedding takes place literally when the urge hits them.  You’d still think that they’d be on call.

It’s also curious that other Federation worlds don’t know anything about the Pon Farr.   It’s said that Vulcans are secretive about it, which is understandable.  It’s not clear what percentage of Starfleet officers are Vulcan, so it’s plausible that most were able to discreetly request personal time when the occasion presented itself.  Also, in The Immunity Syndrome, it’s stated that there was a ship staffed solely by Vulcans.  I’d think that at least a few officers would be gone at any given time.  In any event, it was great episode to lead off the second season.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

The Intruder (2019)

I do occasionally worry if spoilers are warranted for a movie.  How much information is necessary for you to get an idea of what the movie is about?  How much do I have to give away to talk about important plot points?  In the case of The Intruder, the trailer took care of that for me.  If you’ve seen it, you know basically what the movie is about:  Charlie Peck sells a house to Annie and Scott Russell.  Only Charlie doesn’t exactly walk away.  All that’s left to fill in are Charlie’s motivation and fate.

Well, ok.  There’s a little more to it than that, but not much.  There is a very paint-by-numbers feel to the movie.  It’s like [Character A] and [Party B] conduct transaction.  [Character A] has [Issue].  Everything that Charlie does is setting up for some sort of repercussion.  Charlie’s supposedly going to stay with a daughter?  You know that’s not happening.  Charlie is staying at a hotel?  Maybe.  And when I say maybe, I mean not really.

The movie does do well to turn up the suspense at a consistent rate.  Charlie starts out as a friendly, albeit creepy, man.  When Scott meets one of his new neighbors, they get to talking about good old Charlie.  The neighbor is basically, “Oh, yeah.  That guy.”  There’s a little more to Charlie than we are initially told about, but we know that from the beginning.  It’s just a matter of when and how that information will come out.

I did a little reading.  It turns out that the writer, David Loughery, was also the guy who wrote Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.  For those even vaguely familiar with Star Trek movies, the odd-numbered films were notorious for being of lower quality.  This must have been an odd-numbered suspense movie.  It had a very generic, bland feel to it.

I will say that I’d like to see what Simon Pegg could have done with the script.  This is the guy that wrote Paul and Hot Fuzz.  I definitely think he could have made this a better movie.  (Granted, that’s like saying you could make water taste better, but still…)   The movie had so much potential.  Instead, it came across more like a basic template for suspense movies.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Wonder Park (2019)

It would seem that the moment I joined AMC’s A-List, AMC started requiring that I pick a seat beforehand.  I don’t know if this is coincidence or not.  It does seem to be new, as people are still getting used to it.  However, it does have its advantages.  I can pick a seat with lots of leg room.  I can also see how full a movie is before getting seats.  This is especially useful for an animated movie like Wonder Park, where there might be lots of children.  I was fortunate to have only two other people, both adults, watching the movie with me.  Children tend to be, shall we say, unpredictable audience members.

The movie is about a girl named June who plans an imaginary park with her mother, called Wonderland.  (This leads to the conundrum of why a movie about Wonderland would be called Wonder Park.  There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer for this.)  The plans are derailed when June’s mother, simply called Mom, has to go away.  (It’s not explicitly stated, but parents will pick up on the fact that the reason is most likely cancer.)

This leave’s Dad to take care of June.  He does his best, but June is affected by Mom's departure.  She puts away anything related to Wonderland, instead becoming overly protective of her father.  It becomes so bad that Dad has to send June to math camp to get her mind off of things.  She initially agrees, but escapes the bus ride and tries to run back  She’s diverted when she finds a piece of her Wonderland map and is led to the actual Wonderland, or what’s left of it.

There, she meets all of the characters that she and her mother created.  Many of the rides are there, but the park is being dismantled by chimpanzombies (stuffed toys that came to life) and fed into a great void called The Darkness.  Absent, at first, is Peanut, a chimpanzee who builds the park.  June manages to find him, believing that if he can fix the rides, all will be restored.

I think this may be a movie that was intended for both children and adults that somehow missed the mark.  There’s a certain amount of allegory that will go over the heads of children.  To be honest, I started reading about the movie after I saw it.  I came to realize that I had missed a bit, myself.  For instance, the chimpanzombies could be seen as an allusion to cancer.  They’re in the likeness of Peanut and attack the park, much like a cancer would attack a person.  (They’re also difficult to get rid of.)

I’m not sure this is a bad thing.  Someone who wanted to sit back and just watch the movie could easily do so.  On that level, it works as a girl who goes off on an adventure and finds the peace of mind that she needs.  On the other hand, someone who wanted to find deeper meaning could find a few connections.

The trouble is that it’s not a really great story.  It sort of reminds me of The Explorers.  The Explorers was rushed to production and had an incomplete feel to it.  Wonder Park seems like something that wasn’t quite fully developed, either.  It’s an entertaining 85 minutes, but it’s not the best I’ve seen.

According to Wikipedia, Nickelodeon is using this to launch a TV show, which I suppose makes sense.  I could see this being a pilot episode, setting up the characters and mythology.  Still, given the 85 minute runtime, I feel like the movie could have done better.  Then again, this may explain why I don’t watch any of Nickelodeon’s TV shows.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Missing Link (2019)

Humans are a social species.  Part of that means wanting to belong.  You want to have friends.  You want to get married.  You want a job where people accept you and value your work.  This is totally understandable.  This is all Sir Lionel Frost really wants.

Frost is essentially a Cryptozoologist.  He wants to find and prove the existence of mythological creatures.  The movie starts with him trying to photograph the Loch Ness Monster.  Why?  So that he might get into a society of great men.  The current membership, led by Lord Piggot-Dunceby, doesn’t much care for him.

Frost’s latest adventure begins when he gets a letter from someone claiming to be able to lead him to a Sasquatch.  Thus, Piggot-Dunceby makes a wager with Frost that if Frost can find said Sasquatch and return with evidence, Frost will be admitted to the society.

Frost discovers that the letter was sent by an actual Sasquatch, whom he dubs Mr. Link.  Mr. Link sent the letter to Frost in the hopes that Frost might bring him to the land of the Yeti.  You see, Mr. Link has similar desires.  He’s the last of his kind and simply wants to live out his days among his distant cousins.  So, it’s agreed:  Frost will take Link to the Yetis.

Frost has to get a map from an old flame, Adelina Fortnight.  Fortnight reluctantly agrees only if she is allowed to come with them.  To boot, Piggot-Dunceby has hired a hit man to kill Frost, knowing that Frost will never quit.  Oh, and it turns out that the Yetis aren’t too keen on outsiders, even if they’re Sasquatch.  So, there’s that.

The movie was enjoyable, although I think it was aimed at younger audiences.  It’s a solid PG movie, having a few scary moments and some gunplay.  When I was in the theater, there weren’t any scenes I would have worried about if I had a young child with me.

The character development is about what you’d expect for such a movie.  Frost comes across as a bit selfish.  He’s a bit bossy and inconsiderate.  He even missed his best friend’s funeral.  He can’t see past what he wants.  Even when he considers Link’s request, it’s in terms of what Frost wants.

As for Link, he’s more naïve.  When Frost prompts him to pick his own name, Link chooses Susan, leading to a few gender-related jokes.  (Fortunately, the movie doesn’t overdo it.)  Many of the jokes involving Link are based on him not understanding English that well.  (Link taught himself.)

This isn’t going to be for everyone.  It’s not one I’d prod my parents into seeing.  It’s the kind of movie I might watch again if it’s on TV.  (I say might, only because I could see it airing on a kids’ channel.  I don‘t know if I want to sit through those commercials.)  It’s also stop motion, which makes for less natural transitions at times.  I do think it’s interesting to consider the amount of effort put into making stop motion.  (There’s a mid-credits scene that offers some insight into this.)

There’s also a level of predictability.  Both Link and Frost want to belong to a group that doesn’t want them.  Both must find that happiness and peace come from within rather than from acceptance.  I could definitely see a sequel happening wherein Link finds another of his kind.  I’m sure I’ll even get around to watching it.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Twilight Zone -- Season 2 Episode 8 (The Lateness of the Hour)

One of the sad truths of Hollywood is that if you don’t get the ratings, you don’t get the cash.  In some cases, this means cancellation.  In other cases, it means episodes are made on a shoestring budget.  In the case of Star Trek, it meant both.  (The series was cut short, despite having to do many episodes entirely on the Enterprise during the third season.)

I would imagine that The Twilight Zone was never too good with the ratings.  The show has become a cult classic, but it was still a fantasy series when westerns were big.  Consider that it aired years before Star Trek, a show that was similarly considered different and groundbreaking.  Both shows also had a great many episodes that had one or two sets and a very limited cast.  In an effort to cut costs, Rod Serling was forced to shoot six episodes on videocassette, this one being the first.

The story is about an older couple and their daughter living entirely in their mansion.  All their needs are met by androids.  The Loren family wants for nothing.  Well, except the daughter, Jana.  Jana wants a little imperfection.  She wants to go outside and live life as normal people do.

What good is it to live in a sterile environment if it’s not fun or challenging?  She also seems to resent having artificial helpers.  She pleads with her father to get rid of them, finally threatening departure if he doesn’t.  It isn’t until after he’s destroyed them that she makes a startling realization.

Several things stand out.  First, I have to wonder how the parents could live like that without going stir crazy.  The daughter already seems to be at her wits’ end.  The parents see quite content.  It would seem that they’ve had enough of humanity.  They much prefer a controlled environment, including controlled people.

This brings me to my second point.  At some points, the parents would die.  I would imagine that Jana would no longer be obligated to stay in the house after they’re buried.  If this is the case, she would not be prepared to live on her own.  Even with a certain amount of counseling, she’d lack job experience.  I would imagine that if the estate could support three people, it would be enough for one, but I don’t think Jana’s the kind of person to sit around all day.  It’s also still possible that the money would run out, given inflation.

I would say it’s a testament to Serling and Co. that the episode came out as well as it did.  It’s a fairly contained episode that gives the obligatory twist at the end.  In that sense, it’s still satisfying.  It’s just that this is one of the episodes where a bigger budget might have helped.  Due to the video quality and a little overacting, it almost comes across as a soap opera.  It would be interesting to see what would have become of the episode with some more money.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Twilight Zone -- Season 2 Episode 7 (Nick of Time)

I remember reading once that if you removed the star signs from the newspaper’s horoscopes, most people wouldn’t be able to know which one was meant for them.  This is how vague they are.  If you take a step back, how could a set of vague sentences accurately guide the lives of roughly 8% of the population?  There are roughly 327 million  people in the US.  Do you really think that your horoscope can really be that effective for about 25 million US residents?  What about those living in the rest of the world?

Don and Pat Carter find themselves in a similar situation.  They’re passing through a small town when their car breaks down.  The mechanic has to order a part, leaving the newlyweds to explore the area.  They start with lunch in a diner, where they find a small fortune-telling napkin holder.  You can ask any question you want for a penny, provided that it calls for a yes or no answer.

Don is intrigued.  He starts with something simple:  Will he get the promotion he applied for.  The fortune teller responds that it has been decided in his favor.  When Don calls, he finds out that it already has.  One might chalk that up to a lucky response.  So, Don asks other questions with similar outcomes.  When asked about the car being fixed, Don is told that it has already been taken care of.

The answers are vague, but seem accurate.  Thus, Don becomes obsessed with the contraption.  Pat has to be the voice of reason, pulling him back from surrendering control.  What Don fails to realize is that the cards spit out by the machine were probably printed long ago in some factory somewhere.  Much like a fortune cookie or daily horoscope, the person writing the message is doing so for someone they will never even meet.

Most people can take a fortune cookie or horoscope as entertainment.  Even if you believe in such things, I don’t imagine that you’d live your life by either one.  You take it for what it is:  an inspirational message, at best.  For Don to make decisions based on what a simple machine says makes any outcome meaningless.  What good is a fixed car if Don won’t leave the diner?  What good is a promotion if it’s in another city?

There comes a point where you have to step away and accept that you don’t have all the answers.  The true measure of success isn’t in always being right or knowledgeable.  Instead, it’s how you handle what you don’t know and dealing with things that you don’t get right the first time.  Pat realizes this.  What does it matter knowing where they’ll live if they can’t enjoy it?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Breakthrough (2019)

There’s a scene, early in the movie, where we see a Christian band performing.  Rather than keep it brief, it goes on just a little too long.  All I could think was that it was time to move on to the next thing.  This proved to be a pretty good analogy for the rest of the movie.  Everything about it is just a little too much.

The movie is based on a book, which was an account of a true story.  The book was written by Joyce Smith about her son, John, who fell into a frozen lake and was pronounced dead.  He makes a full recovery because of Joyce’s faith in the Christian God.  There are a few scenes where this is done subtly.  Tommy Shine, a paramedic trying to get John out of the water, hears a voice that he initially assumes to be his boss’s.  When his boss denies it, it must be God.

Many scenes are more blunt.  When Joyce is allowed to see John’s body, she starts praying.  Right when she asks for His help, John’s heart starts beating.  Coincidence?  It’s probably not that simple.  Between the fact that John’s mother wrote the book and the fact that Hollywood is known to embellish a little, I would think that there’s more to the story.

I would come down harder on Joyce except that the movie does well in portraying her as a mother in grief.  I get that she’s dealing with the possible loss of her son.  My issue is that religion is the only mechanism that she has to deal with that stress.

When Joyce overhears doctors talking about the reality of John’s condition, she forbids any such talk in his room.  When friends and neighbors are gathered in the waiting room Joyce overhears someone telling their daughter that John’s might not make it.  Again, she forbids any negativity.  (Fortunately, Brian calls her on this.)  Instead of religion being a powerful force, it could easily be seen as a crutch.  It’s like that saying: If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Consider something called survivorship bias.  Dr. Garrett indicates that he’s never seen someone that far gone come back.  How many of those other patients had family members and friends praying for them?  Maybe we’re to believe that Joyce is just better at it.  It’s because of her sheer willpower that God let John live.

One might say that this was all a way to let Joyce shine and show her faith.  She gets to tell everyone that God will take care of it.  Maybe it was to show her to tone it down a bit.  She is at odds with a lot of people, including the pastor.  It’s easier for me to believe that it was all random.  To put that much stock in faith undercuts the work that medical professionals do.  John is lucky to be alive and to have parents that love him.  I just don’t think that God was ever part of it.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator was my introduction to bootstrap paradoxes.  It was the first time that an action was caused by another action that subsequently necessitated the first action.  If John Connor hadn’t been born, he wouldn’t have led the resistance that took down the machines.  That victory caused the machines to go back in time to kill Sarah Connor before John Connor was born, meaning that Kyle Reese is sent back in time to not only protect John Connor, but to ensure he exists in the first place.  Yes, the correct decision would have been to just kill Kyle Reese or to not go back at all.

I’d elaborate on the story, but there’s not much to add.  Humans handed over the world to machines, who took that power and tried to kill the humans.  When the humans won, time travel was the last-ditch effort.  The movie is about two humans trying to survive against a nearly unstoppable machine.  The result is that Sarah Connor knows what’s coming and is able to prepare herself and her unborn child.

Sarah becomes a great reluctant hero.  The future of humanity literally hinges on her being convinced that the end is coming.  She has to protect and train our future leader. (Kyle Reese has the ultimate Cassandra complex, which he passes on to Sarah Connor to exhibit in the second movie.)

It’s interesting that The Terminator became so well known.  By today’s standards, the effects are kind of basic.  (In fact, the reason the sequel took so long to be released was due to the necessary effects not having been invented yet.)  Even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s catch phrase, “I’ll be back” was just some random throwaway line.

I did notice a few clichés, such as detailed records not existing in the future.  It occurs to me that a computer network that has access to all manner of files should have been better able to keep records.  It must have been embarrassing that no backups were kept nor were any printouts made.

Also, there’s the adversary that can mimic anyone, meaning you can’t trust the person at the other end of the phone.  So, what does Sarah do?  She calls the Terminator and gives away her location.  You’d think a machine designed to track someone would just use conventional tracking methods.  Yes, it’s easier just to ask.  Still…

Of course, there’s the one cliché common to all of the Terminator movies, in that a hopelessly outmatched hero takes on and defeats an incredible villain.  No matter what Kyle throws at The Terminator, he keeps coming.  It takes heavy machinery to eventually stop the onslaught.  (This, of course, brings us to the second movie’s bootstrap paradox:  Skynet was based off of technology that it would eventually send back into the past.)

It is nice to know that the franchise is still going strong, with another movie on the way.  It’s hard to believe that the franchise spans so man decades. Consider that in another ten years, we’ll be in the future where Skynet was dominating.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Back to the Future (1985)

Note:  I will be giving away important details.  If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t blame you for wanting to watch it before reading this.

It seems odd that Back to the Future would be considered a great film, yet it is.  Someone pointed out that the main character, Marty McFly, ends the movie the same way he began it.  He also has a lot of less-than-stellar people surrounding him.   The father, George McFly, is a loser and Biff’s yes man.  His mother, Lorraine McFly, is an alcoholic.  Both of his siblings, Dave and Linda, seem destined for low-end jobs.  That’s not even getting into Uncle "Jailbird Joey”.

He has two things going for him:  Girlfriend Jennifer Parker and best friend Dr. Emmett Brown.  It’s not clear why Doc and Marty are friends or how they met.  However, Doc seems to be a failed scientist.  Every invention he ever made didn’t work.  In fact, a strong case has been made that he’s suicidal.  (If you watch the video, be warned that it’s not safe for work.)  This is why it’s surprising that Doc is willing to test a brand-new time machine.

Not only does he test it, but it works.  He shows off the controls to Marty, demonstrating with several important dates.  The last one he puts in is November 5, 1955.  This is the date that Doc Brown invented time travel, or rather, the flux capacitor.   It provides the necessary 1.21 gigawatts of power necessary to propel the DeLorean through time.  Alas, before Doc can do any traveling of his own, the Libyans catch up with him.  (Don’t judge.  He had to get his plutonium from somewhere.)

Marty is able to escape to 1955, but soon discovers that it’s a one-way trip.  In the rush to avoid a machine gun, Marty neglected to take the spare plutonium with him.  He’s able to find Doc in 1955 and get back home.  The catch is that he has to wait a week, during which he interferes with his parents’ first meeting.  He does get them back together with some interesting consequences.

When I first saw the suicidal Doc theory, I have to admit that I found it interesting.  There were a few things that I missed, like what exactly was Doc doing hanging a clock in the bathroom?  Also, why hadn’t Doc done any sort of small-scale test on the DeLorean?  Really?

I tend to look at it another way, though.  If the suicide theory is true, Doc does eventually get his wish.  It’s a shame that he finally has a working invention right before his demise, but he does die.  When Marty goes back to 1955, Doc finds out that he has a working invention, giving him thirty years to think about it.  He heeds Marty’s warning and chooses to use a bullet-proof vest.

The argument could be made that Marty is a good influence on those around him.  Not only does he make life better for his family, but he gives Doc something to live for.   (Sure, Doc always had something to live for.  It just took Marty to show him.)

I remember reading once that Back to the Future was odd in that Mary didn’t really learn anything.  He did seem to inspire things in others.  In fact, there was some question as to whether the parents knew who Marty was in the altered time line.  We know that Doc did, as he was in on it.  Marty introduced himself and explained everything.

I would say that Lorraine probably didn’t.  Marty didn’t have much interaction with her.  In fact, of all the people Marty interacted with in both 1985 and 1955, the only person Marty dealt with less was Mr. Strickland.  On the other hand, Marty had to deal with his father to help train him to be more assertive.

To that end, we see three people on the cover of George’s book.  There are the two teenagers, presumably representing a George-like and a Lorraine-like character.  Between them is none other than Darth Vader of Vulcan.  To say that Marty made an impression on him is an understatement.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Twilight Zone -- Season 2 Episode 6 (Eye of the Beholder/A Private World Of Darkness)

There are certain situations where spoilers should be withheld.  There are others where spoiler warnings are unnecessary.  This is a case where I don’t feel bad about giving away major details, as most people should be able to see the twist coming.  It’s almost impossible for me to review this episode without at least hinting at it, even if subconsciously.

You see, Janet Tyler is undergoing her eleventh attempt at corrective surgery.  This is her last chance.  If the bandages come off and she’s still abnormal, there are few alternatives left for her.  All of the characters, including the doctors and nurses, spend the beginning of the episode either in the shadows or blocked from the camera’s view so that we can’t see their faces.

When the bandages come off of Janet’s face, we see a beautiful woman.  The norm is a warped, pig-like face that we would consider hideous.  This society, wherever it is, values conformity.  It values standard people with a standard look.  Janet doesn’t fit the bill, so she’s to be sent to live with others of her kind.  The hospital even brings in a man to ease her into the transition.

When I first saw this episode, I took it at face value, if you’ll pardon the pun.  Ours is a species that values attractiveness.  What attractiveness means is subjective, but we can be cruel to those who don’t have it.  Sure, Janet will still be able to live a productive life.  She just won’t be able to do it with normal society.

It wasn’t until I started reading about the episode that I picked up on other details, like the fact that she’s basically being set to a ghetto.  When the episode ran in syndication, it was called The Private World Of Darkness.  (The alternate title plays on not only the lack of light in the beginning of the episode, but on the fact that darker skin tends not to be viewed as desirable.)

There’s a reason that this is one of the most iconic episodes of the series.  There are subtle jabs at segregation and race that would still have meaning today.  Appearance shouldn’t matter, but it does.  It’s as relevant now as it was in 1960, almost 60 years ago.  We don’t even need to know if the characters are human or not.  It doesn’t really matter.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Twilight Zone -- Season 2 Episode 5 (The Howling Man)

The original Twilight Zone had a very stripped-down feel to it.  Granted, this was out of necessity, as the network often didn’t want to spend a lot of money on any given episode.  This meant just a few actors and usually one or two sets per story.   Some were effective.  Others, not so much.  The Howling Man was one of the better episodes.  It has only five main characters and gets its point across effectively.

It’s told in retrospect about (and by) a man named David Ellington.  He was walking across Europe shortly after World War I.  Trapped in a rainstorm, he sought shelter in a sanctuary that tried desperately to turn him away.  As David started to leave, he collapsed from exhaustion.

You might ask why the brothers at the sanctuary were so desperate to be rid of visitors.  The reason is the character credited as The Howling Man.  Brother Jerome tells David that this is no ordinary man and that his imprisonment is necessary for the benefit of all mankind.  David is just as suspicious as you or I might be, and with good reason.  The prisoner appears to be just an ordinary man.  Maybe a little crazy, but that’s to be expected. He comes across as desperate to get out of his cell.

Well, David makes the mistake of releasing the prisoner only to find out that he’s made a huge mistake.  The episode ends with David telling his housekeeper that he’s captured the prisoner and is going to make arrangements to have him transported back to Brother Jerome.  No amount of narration of warning is enough to prevent the prisoner from being released again.

The reason that the episode is so effective is that we get just enough details to tell us what’s going on.  The presence of two brothers means that the prisoner is a serious threat.  The fact that David is on a walking tour of Europe tells you that he’s not far from civilization.  The fact that a religious order would send a stranger back into the rain is telling.  Even the fact that the prisoner is held in by little more than a long stick is suspicious.

And yet, it packs that punch.  As soon as the prisoner leaves, you know it’s a mistake.  Any one of us would probably do the same thing.  Yes, the prisoner is dangerous.  We get that because we’re the audience.  However, what would you do if you found someone being held in a neighbor’s house?  Even though the story, itself, is implausible, the reactions are very much understandable.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Hellboy (2019)

I think, on a certain level, it might be fair to compare the Hellboy franchise to the Ghostbusters franchise.  In both cases, a movie was released.  Both movies were followed by a sequel and talk of a third movie.  However, the third installment of each morphed into a respective reboot that was met with critically negative reviews.  While I enjoyed both movies, I can see where people were coming from.  In the case of Hellboy, the transition from Part III to reboot wasn’t quite as good.  It seems to want to do both, yet doesn’t do either that well.

The movie starts with King Arthur cutting up Blood Queen Nimue.  This doesn’t kill her, so her various body parts have to be spread all over the British Isles.  Cut to the present day and she seems to have a plan to get herself back together.  This would bring about the end of civilization as we know it.  It’s thus up to Hellboy and The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense to stop her.

That’s it.  That’s all the plot review I really need.  I could say more, and believe me, I will.  But, if you want to know what the movie is about, that’s basically it.  It’s an action movie that has way too many subplots.  For instance, we get the rehash of Hellboy’s origin story.  He was a half-demon that was born and somehow summoned to Earth during the tail end of the second World War.  He’s also supposed to bring about the end of the world, which he almost does.

The problem is that the sequel part of the movie makes it seem almost like the movie is trying to distance itself from the first two movies.  Franchises have survived recasting.  I’m sure the audience would have understood that a new actor is portraying the main character.  Thus, the reboot aspect comes off as unnecessary.  You could drop the origin story and just do Part III.

Even if you did, though, there are some aspects of the plot that seem a little strange.  For instance, Hellboy is called to Britain to help the Osiris Club hunt some giants.  This serves to set up the club betraying him.  The humans hunting the giants decide to turn on Hellboy because he was supposed to be killed at birth.  Hellboy is only saved because there are actually giants in the area.  The entire subplot seemed out of place.

Many of the other subplots at least seemed to work.  I would say that they seem natural, except that we have a giant talking boar named Gruagach who took Alice Monaghan as a baby, thus giving her some paranormal abilities.  So, natural might not be the best word.    I would say that if the movie had tried to be an outright sequel, it would have worked.

It would seem that the movie will try to bring back characters from the first two movies.  The final scene before the credits has a large water-filled container labeled Ichthyo sapien.  A post-credits had me thinking that Grigory Rasputin might be coming back, although there is a character named Koschei that would be a better candidate.

I don’t know that this will be the end of the Hellboy movies, as comic books seem to be a good source for movies  The franchise could go a lot of different ways.  Plus, if the Star Trek movie franchise proven anything, it’s that a few missteps aren’t the end of the world.  It’s entirely possible that a fourth movie might do well assuming that we even get that far.