Category Archives: Reviews

TNG: What Might Have Been

So, we were watching the TNG episode ‘Reunion’ http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Reunion_%28episode%29, and it got us thinking about what TNG might have been.

K’Ehleyr was such a big and interesting and *alive* character. Imagine if she had been a cast regular. The place she seemed to fit best in our mind was replacing Riker as the Enterprise First Officer.

First, a bit of backstory to set the stage:

It’s often been said that the original Star Trek was based around a ‘Freudian Trio’ of the Ego (Kirk), the Superego (Spock), and the Id (McCoy).
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FreudianTrio

Gene Roddenberry’s vision for TNG was that humans would have evolved to no longer ‘need’ the interpersonal bickering which characterized the Spock/McCoy interaction. Some say that this led to ‘too safe’ personal interactions amongst the crew, with the only sources of conflict being Worf’s conservatism, Riker’s devil’s advocate, and the management/engineering interaction* between Picard and Geordi.

This made the writers need to look outside the main cast for sources of conflict. This generally worked well, but wasn’t Wesley’s best performance in the series when he played the sulky teenager being called on the carpet by Picard?

All this is a long winded way of saying that it could have been a very different series with a more varied and emotionally expressive cast.

Back to Susie Plakson as K’Ehleyr as First Officer. You would have a very different take on the ‘Freudian Trio’, with the calm and rational emotional readings from Troi, and the more aggressive emotions from K’Ehleyr, with Picard bringing it all together. There’s a beautiful scene with K’Ehleyr and Troi talking just after K’ehleyr has broken a glass table in anger. So much interesting emotional depth to discover and explore!

Also, you’d have the fun dynamic between K’Ehleyr and Worf, with her as his superior officer, much more interesting than the never-really-explored-outside-of-the-book-Imzadi relationship between Riker and Troi.

But alas, TNG was a product of its time and executives. Riker with his daddy issues (which are important, and he carried the part well) must have spoken to those casting, and it must have not just been because he had the second highest rank on the ship that he got second billing, above all the ‘supporting cast’.

Also, the two women who were most like what we’re suggesting for K’Ehleyr were both written out of the show after the first season, both because they wanted more from their parts on the show. Denise Crosby left to pursue feature films, and Gates McFadden was pushed out because she was insisting on more substantive parts for her character.

It wouldn’t be until Kira Nerys that we would have a character close to what could have been with K’Ehleyr. Maybe in a Mirror Universe someday…

*It’s actually really fun to watch this, especially in the early episodes, where they have a number of classic ‘management/engineering’ conversations, including such gems as ‘I don’t want you to use the word impossible’.

Other interesting notes:

Apparently, ‘Wesley Crusher’ was almost ‘Lesley Crusher’: http://trekmovie.com/2010/08/26/1987-paramount-memo-reveals-actors-auditioning-for-star-trek-tng-cast/

Pages 293-7
http://www.amazon.com/The-Continuing-Mission-Star-Trek/dp/0671025597#reader_0671025597
Interesting notes include the fact that each of the actors had to pass personal interviews with the studio execs, that Marina Sirtis and Denise Crosby were originally cast in the opposite parts, and that Gene had to be convinced at length to choose Patrick Stewart.

The Spoilers Become More Awake

Earlier, I talked a little about fear and redemption in The Force Awakens:

The Spoilers Awaken

This post is more a bunch of scattered thoughts…

The movie was all about Han Solo, and that was a good thing. Harrison Ford has really matured as an actor (I should see how he is in American Graffiti), where you see the gravitas, which smoothed out the ‘scruffy-haired nerf-herder*’

There’s probably something about having actors of varying ages and maturity levels, and how it smooths things out. (Even though the young actors in this movie are more skilled (or better directed), they still have the very young energy, attractiveness, and rushing intensity, all of which can do better with guidance…)

‘Droids’ is an excellent example of good ‘in universe’ lingo**.

Seeing the characters old and the death of Han Solo was not just the passing of the torch to the next generation of Star Wars, but also perhaps a passing of the torch to us, that it’s time for us to step up (similar to when Jack Layton died)…

Leia’s dress with a New Republic neck was a nice touch.

Some people have said that Leia was not the most convincing actor, but her acting worked fine for me. Her scenes with Han were very touching, along with the scene near the end with Rey. I also found her convincing as a general, who ‘went back to what she knew the best’, and seemed to fit well in that role.

In a galaxy with hyperdrive and even reasonable astronomy and astrogation, how could you not tell where a sector was, if there was a map of it that included 5-10% of the galaxy? Even with 300 billion stars in a galaxy, you wouldn’t need very many to be narrow down a sector, if the map had any reasonable level of accuracy…

So much regret for time past with problems remaining unresolved…Like Tron:Legacy…

Good use of X-wing quad lasers in ground combat against stormtroopers (apparently they added an under-blaster-cannon in the updated model for the movie), similar to R2-D2’s method for dealing with Joruus C’boath (even a jedi master cannot deflect startfighter-sized weapons, and/or they cannot predict what droids will do). Also, I liked the new X-wing colours. Apparently the shape is slightly different, but I didn’t notice that. http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/T-65B_X-wing_starfighter#Behind_the_scenes

It was very fitting that the new death star reformed back into a sun…

The art department had many scenes of groups of aliens, just doing their thing, ‘world building’ as S says.

The establishing shots were really well done (you should do Comic Book Boot Camp http://comicbookbootcamp.com/).

The force continues to be weak in dealing with droids…The light side of the force more often appears with empathy, so they they can use that to interact with droids

A very tech-savvy force user…Anakin, perhaps Luke, for sure Rey…Either a force ability, or something about growing up on desert planets. If it’s a force ability, interesting that it allows much easier repairs and jury rigging, but not sensing or understanding the motivations of droids.

A small complaint about Cineplex showing spoilers in the opening ‘pre-movie games’

Also, the imperials just sound better with English accents.

Interesting the ‘order’ vs. ‘freedom’ contrast between ‘The First Order’ and ‘The Resistance’.

*Similar to how the last few vestiges of Garath the thief were the only differences between Belgarath the Sorceror and Aldur…

**The counterexample I always use is ‘Argonians’ and ‘Kajhit’ in Oblivion, where no matter how racist the character, they always used the official names, which I always found jarring and unrealistic.

The Spoilers Awaken

This is my second post on The Force Awakens, this time with spoilers… (If you don’t want spoilers, you should go to the other post here: http://nayrb.org/~blog/?p=553)

From Anakin to Luke to Kylo Ren, the Star Wars movies are about the failed teaching of apprentices. It felt very poignant seeing the older Mark Hamil, with a beard, almost an echo of Alec Guinness’ haunted eyes. This suggests that movies VIII and IX may be the story of Luke Skywalker’s redemption as much as they may be Kylo Ren’s (in the same way that IV was Obi-Wan Kenobi’s redemption).

At the same time, it still feels like Luke ran away, at least it seems that way not knowing what has happened in the intervening time… Even if one of his students ran away and fell to the dark side, why would he not try again? What would make him flee that responsibility so resoundingly? Was it because he let his sister and best friends’ son fall to the dark side and kill all of his students?

Obi-Wan had more of an excuse, as the entire empire was after him, if he had stuck his head up, they would have sent out squads to kill him. But he had his redemption when he faced his fear/failed student.

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” -Yoda

So much fear on both their parts…You could say that the fear of Obi-Wan and Luke of their failed teaching and students led to much of the conflict in all seven movies so far…Who will break the cycle, to help adolescents actually grow up properly? (Or is this an endless part of the human condition?)

(It could also be, like Ty Templeton taught us in Comic Book Boot Camp http://comicbookbootcamp.com/, how you want to torture your heroes, to give them more depth, to give them more complex motivations, and in Star Wars, it’s often mistakes they’ve made in the past that they want to redeem.)

Speaking of redemption, it made Han Solo a much more interesting character to have him needing redemption for his perceived failures with his son. Also, this may be me projecting or reading things in, but it felt like there was some Harrison Ford wanting redemption for his terrible acting in the original trilogy. (Just after I wrote that, I read an article talking about how he re-wrote much of Han’s terrible dialogue to be more in tune with the character, and apparently also wanted Han Solo to die at the end of Jedi, to give the movie a ‘bottom’. So maybe it was the drama of Han Solo that he was trying to redeem, to finally give him some gravitas.) (Also, given how much he apparently put into the part, I feel bad complaining about his acting…Maybe it’s just that many actors are not that good at that age, or that directing has improved (or that George Lucas was much better at the art and setting than at script writing or directing actors*), or that he was being compared to Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing.)

Either way, fear and redemption is the catch phrase of Star Wars. Comment below!

*Apparently, Harrison Ford also contributed a lot to his character in American Graffiti, which was successful for George Lucas in part because he set the scene well with the setting and music from the period.

No Spoilers Awaken

Well, we just saw The Force Awakens, and it was really good. I think I can say ‘great’, possibly the best of all of them.

I’ve promised no spoilers for this review, so I’ll be focusing on other aspects.

First, the music was seamless and brilliant. It carried the mood superbly, through all of the lonely scenes, the poignant scenes, the battle scenes that Star Wars is known for.

Second, the movie felt really tight. It was paced well, it felt like it moved all the way through, that all the scenes needed to be there.

There were many sendups, but they weren’t jarring, they felt natural to the characters saying them (like the conversations about aging in The Undiscovered Country).

It felt very true to the feel of the Star Wars universe, while at the same time, being a great movie.

Also, I feel like Harrison Ford was much better, like he’s grown into himself.

In short, go see this film.

Cineplex: 100 Years

This trailer, “Cineplex – 100 Years of Movies” which currently shows at the beginning of all Cineplex movies (at least, the ones I go to), always makes me tear up:

There’s something about the nostalgia, the ‘humans trying so hard, with whatever they had at the time, all sharing the dream of flying’, going from the first tentative flights, to biplanes, to the first propeller planes where it was important enough to have retractable landing gear, to the first jets, to fighter jets, to the Space Shuttle*, to some type of Interstellar-like FTL ship.

It’s the “we’ve been here, helping you tell stories all the way through this, and we’ll still be here, helping you tell stories when we reach the stars.”

Even though multiple iterations of the planes are fighter planes, there is no violence in the trailer, and it feels very hopeful.

“If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.”

*Probably not quite on a trajectory the Shuttle would take, but that’s reasonable dramatic license.

Mad Max: Furiosa Road

Mad Max: Fury Road was a complex movie. Or at least it stirred a lot of complex thoughts in me. I’d heard a lot about how it was ‘really feminist’, and/or ‘much more feminist than the original’. I was curious to see how this panned out, as I’d never seen the original (aside from scattered memories of desert movie scenes when I was very young, and the Thunderdome at Burning Man). This will be a number of scattered thoughts.

I’d recently watched the Fallout4 trailer, which had stirred some of the sadness of the post-apocalyptic situation, and I think that carried over into watching this movie. So much of it felt like needless fighting and grandstanding, when they really should have been working together (but I guess that was the point, that when you have a warlord culture, it all becomes about penis size, instead of actually solving problems).

In a literal and figurative sense, it felt somewhat like watching a car wreck. You know that there will be at least some small part of hope at the end, but you know that there will be a lot of death on the way, of people on the side of helping others dying to try to purge some of the madness. (The Postman (the novel) had some of this.)

That being said, the film was quite engaging, and I actually enjoyed it a lot. (It made me think, so it was def. worth it from that perspective. 🙂 )

It even passed the Bechdel test, even with the small amount of talking in the movie. I found the conversation about, and then the passing of the seeds very touching, but then again, I might be a druid. I also liked how the main character was a badass woman who was 10x as badass with her artificial limb.

It’s been said about the movie that it’s really about women finding their own way, and carving out what they actually want in a mad/male dominated world. What would the movie have been like without Max? If Furiosa had solved it on her own, or perhaps with one of her companions finding more of her voice along the way. But then it wouldn’t have been a Mad Max movie, and might have been much more difficult to sell…

Anyways, protagonists. The movie was billed as being about Max, even named after him, but he was really an active character for very few points in the movie. The protagonist was clearly Furiosa, who had a very specific thing she wanted. Oddly, both Furiosa and Max were antiheroes, with her discovering more bravery and him discovering his selflessness by the end of the movie.

Also, his madness was really only an issue at the beginning, but perhaps that’s because he’d gotten back on track.

It says something about Hollywood that they didn’t think that Charlize Theron could carry her own movie (even though she did), and only half/kinda named the movie after her character, and gave her second billing.

Thinking about this some more, there is actually a bunch of hope at the end of the movie, with some (more) sensible people now in charge of the main resources

Other things:
– I liked how even when everything was going sideways, with all the cars mired in well, the mire, the drummers were still going. This shows a dedication to music that is important to a culture. 😀 Also, the fire-shooting guitar rig was totally in canon, as that’s what you’d expect from a showboating warlord not so sure of himself.
– There were a lot of nice tying things together, such as the gift of blood transfusion after being a ‘blood bag’ for the first third of the film
– Speaking of that, I found the first third of the film difficult to watch, with Max being a passive character, then being not sympathetic at all.
– I found it sad how much science had decayed in the film, but perhaps there was a kept caste of scientists to keep the green and windmills going…
– Susana Polo at Polygon said that the avoidance of gore and objectification made for a stronger movie, the former because it allowed for more audience reaction when it dd happen, the latter because it made for a stronger movie, where the female characters could actually be conscious and active actors.

Some inconsistencies:
– How did society decay that fast, so that Max who was a cop before the apocalypse would be 40 or less? There would have been barely enough time to grow a generation up in the new religion that had formed.
– Is there anywhere in the world that you can drive for 160 days and not hit ocean? Even going from Kamchatka to Lisbon is only 9427km, which is a leisurely pace of <60km/day. Those must be some slow motorbikes. (Also, there's no way you could carry enough to sustain you for 160 days on a motorbike.) You could almost walk across Australia in 160 days. At 5 hours/day at 5km/hour, you could do the 4000km in 160 days. Maybe they meant 16 days? - How did no one ever run out of gas in that movie? - If the huddled masses are fighting over that much water, how often must it be released? (Also, what a waste, to throw it down into the dirt, rather than handing it out...Perhaps the warlord had just come into his power?) - How did they do the test for blood type? (Thinking about it, it's a pretty simple coagulation test.) - How would a warlord not leave any defenses? Relying on fear that much?

Ghostbusting Clues

I had always seen Clue (1985) as Tim Curry’s ‘other movie’. That it really showcased him doing what he did best, which was being totally outlandish, and truly owning a part with incredible energy. Sadly, even he could not save the movie.

The movie starts slow, with uncomfortable moments between him and Col. Mustard, and doesn’t really get going until about two thirds of the way through, when Curry zanies it up.

It feels like the movie never really knew what it wanted to be…It wasn’t really a ‘Plot’, even with the third ending, with Wadsworth as Mr Boddy being the protagonist. Half of the jokes were jokes were British wordplay, the other half were dog poop and boob jokes. Some reviews have commented that the film was saved by its excellent actors. Their reaction shots to each other, in caricature (rather than in character) showed a great attention to detail on their part, or perhaps the director’s.

However, somehow, the play never really fit together. It felt like there was too much explanation of things happening, rather than watching the things happening, or having events lead up to them, like there were a bunch of scenes which didn’t really interact much. It was missing useful establishing shots, or something that would allow the audience to construct a mental image of what was going on overall.

Clue did innovate with the three endings, and it might have been the first movie based on a boardgame.

(Another reviewer mentioned that it felt much more like a play, with the overacting for the back of the auditorium one would expect from that.)

But fundamentally, we are never given a reason to care about the actors, or anything in the movie. Also, it has a problem many works of fiction have, in that they never use slang to talk about “nuclear physics”, or other long phrases that people probably talk about a lot.

All of this is in stark contrast to Ghostbusters (1984), another film I remembered with great fondness from my childhood. Bill Murray stole the show in this one, with his terrific improv. There also was a much better sense of pacing throughout, and the director knew much better what to put in and what to leave out. I just had a lot of heart, whether from Dan Akroyd’s Stay Puft speech to Harold Ramis’ “terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought”.

What is my takeaway? I had such fond memories of each, but I left Clue with disappointment at what it could have been, and Ghostbusters with a sense of satisfaction that it was all it could have been at the time.

The Edited Episode II: Jedi have terrible tactics

So, they mentioned that they removed most of the battle droid back and forth in the phantom edits…I thought that would have missed it, but if I hadn’t known it was gone, I wouldn’t have noticed.

But on to the second (edited) episode…

For my part, I enjoyed it. I remember, the first time I saw it, the ‘adolescents who are essentialy bundles of broken glass inside’ got a little much, but with the edits removing most of that, the parts that remained seemed to be well acted and genuine. Anakin is pretty creepy, but most 18 year olds who’ve been celibate for the past 10 years would be, too. (And the creepiness is well acted, too.)

S said she had issues with the CG, especially R2D2 (who is really easy to do as a robot, or with an actor). The factory scene (what remained of it) was also superfluous. (And they edited out C-3PO’s ‘getting grafted onto a droid’ moment, which considering I didn’t really notice it was gone, was apparently a good thing.)

But all of these were really minor things for me. What really bothered me were two things: Appalling Jedi tactics and CG of mammals.

Maybe the writer was trying to make a point about the decay of Jedi society, or their self-perceived invincibility, but seriously? Taking all of the Jedi you have and leading them into a trap where two thirds of them could die? You’d think they would have found a way to have delayed the ‘execution’ for a few minutes while they waited for Yoda to get there with his *army*.

Mace Windu, you’re kind of an arrogant SOB who just gets people killed. Like how you think someone would have gone and checked on Shmi at some point during the 10 years. Maybe if Jedi are really that uncaring and not noticing the small things, perhaps it was time for someone to bring some ‘balance’.

Also, if Yoda has the power to lift a *huge* stone column, to save Anakin and Obi-Wan, you’d think that he could also just push it in the opposite direction, into Dooku’s ship. Also, even if he couldn’t have done that, you’d think he could do *something*, if only with the *army* that they had on the planet to at least try to stop a lord of the Sith from escaping.

Which brings me to the CG of mammals. Interestingly, for me, the CG in the film was reasonable, most of the time. The robots acted robotically, the parts of the factory looked like a movie impression of factory parts, even R2’s flying scene wasn’t reprehensible.

But all of the little critters, both of the mammalian monsters in the arena were horrid. That’s no castigation of the CG experts…They were doing the best they could. But there’s something about gravity, or anatomy (I’m not sure what) that just still seems unreachable with CG. Interestingly, the crab/alien-like creature was totally believable. Maybe because it only had hinges and no visible musculature, so the limitations of CG were not limitations…

It reminds me of the Lord of the Rings, where they had a bunch of CG, but they used (as I remember) in places where you wouldn’t notice it (as much) when it become dated later.

But overall, I enjoyed the film, plot holes aside. As edited, 3 stars.

The Princess Bride: Truly Timeless

This movie just has so much heart. So much. The Wikipedia page describes it as placing (top 100) in multiple categories, for love story, fantasy, etc…

But it’s difficult to pin down exactly why it’s such a cult classic. Maybe it’s a good director. There certainly aren’t any bad actors in the film. Cary Elwys is amazing, the bromance between Inigo and Fezzig is touching, and the villains are sublime.

One thing which might not be mentioned as much is how good the physical acting is in the film. Cary Elwys when he’s recovering from ‘only mostly dead’ is classic, never dropping out of character for even a second.

It’s just that you can see how much fun the actors had making the film. Their joy comes out of the screen.

The swordfight between Elwys and Patinkin was awesome, in how it portrayed their sheer joy at participating.

There are so many other things about the movie. Possibly the one unnecessary part was the ‘deadly fire swamp’, which dragged on too long, and hasn’t aged quite as well as the rest of the movie.

But there were also so many turns of phrase, little things like “get used to disappointment”,and ‘eel-infested waters’ which don’t even make the top 20 quotes from the movie, but ended up in the vernacular.

Fundamentally, I think its because the movie was just eminently quotable.

Overall, 4.5-5 stars, a true classic, 28 years later.

“We’ll never survive!”
“Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.”

Jake Lloyd was pretty good in The Phantom Edit

So, we decided to re-watch the star wars movies (for me, a lot because I had most recently watched to the end of Episode III, and I wanted to watch Episode IV to get a happier taste in my mouth)…

So, we started with Episode IV, and the movie has aged surprisingly well. We saw the version with the updated special effects, but overall, they were understated, and didn’t interfere with the plot. Much of the acting was pretty bad, but Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, and Kenny Baker held things together*.

The sword fight was almost slow and stately (especially after Yoda in episode II/III), but it made sense, and befit an old master confronting his old student. But anyways, the sword fights in IV/V/VI were all about the conversation and trying to convince each other of things than anything else.

The other interesting thing was how many of the phrases in the movie have entered the common lexicon: “I have a bad feeling about this”, “…a wretched hive of scum and villany…We must be cautious.” (Honestly, Alec Guinness may have been the only person who could carry those lines off, but I enjoyed them all.)

Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamil were were pretty bad. They did some good stuff over the competition over Leia, but most of their acting was execrable.

But anyways, we still cared about them as people, we cared about Obi-Wan, and he sacrificed himself for them (and Mark Hamil’s anger and sadness there was good). So, during the Death Star trench scene, there was actually tension while we waited for the result.

Overall, it’s difficult to give this movie one rating. For cultural influence, could easily be a 5, as an aged classic, probably 3.5 or 4, overall as a movie, maybe 3 or 3.5. But overall, good to watch, and I wanted to see rest of the film, which cannot be said for the next review.

*And Peter Cushing, for the Death Star scenes.

Which brings us to Episode I: The Phantom Edit

Having seen it in the theatres at midnight on opening night, and having been so thoroughly disappointed, I wanted to see what a new (better) editor could do with the footage provided.

It’s a really bad film. It’s racist (Gungans and Trade Federation), nonsensical (why didn’t they just go to a different junk dealer, why didn’t they go back for his mom immediately), and Jar-Jar, even mostly edited out, is a cringe-worthy character. S explained it that we don’t care enough about any of the characters, so there’s no tension, and therefore no real need for comic relief.

There were some bright spots. Jake Lloyd at 8 or 9 was a pretty good actor. The C-3PO meeting R2D2 for the first time scene was touching. This is actually a good time to delve more into Jake Lloyd. Apparently, he was so teased for being involved in such a bad and well-known film that he left acting. But, watching the movie, he’s fine in it. He’s pretty good for an actor of that age. If he doesn’t have the acting depth of Alec Guinness or Liam Neeson, well, he’s certainly better than Mark Hamil, Carrie Fisher, or Harrison Ford in Episode IV.

Also, the Phantom Edit removes the dialogue which makes him out to be a blundering fool (the ‘oops’), which makes his character pretty bad-ass. (It was pretty gratifying to see a starfighter take out droids and save the day, similar to how R2 did it with C’baoth in the Zahn novel.)

The pod race was still far too long, and somehow totally devoid of dramatic tension. Maybe because we’re never shown why we should care about Naboo or the characters. Also, looking at it 15 years later, Darth Maul was not really scary at all. If their ship had been a fighter on Tattooine, his involvement in the story would have ended right there.

But, in general, the actors in The Phantom Edit could easily have carried the day, given a better story and direction.

Overall, Two stars, which is miles ahead of the original edit.