Thursday, May 23, 2013

Favorite Star Trek Episodes

The good thing about all this Star Trek stuff, is that it put me in a mood to watch the original series.  Along with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, it was THE formative television show of my early life.  Perhaps more so, because when my family moved away from Los Angeles, we no longer had a station that showed Voyage, but Star Trek was still on pretty much constantly.

My favorite episodes:

1.  Bread and Circuses
2.  Shore Leave
3.  Mirror, Mirror
4.  Errand of Mercy
5.  Journey to Babel
6.  Balance of Terror
7.  The City on the Edge of Forever
8.  The Trouble with Tribbles
9.  The Enterprise Incident
10.  The Day of the Dove

Bread and Circuses has been my all-time favorite ep for thirty plus years.  Not an ep normally mentioned, but it hits everything I love.  I love the 20th Century Roman planet, with its Jupiter 8 cars and gladiatorial games broadcast on television.  I love Flavius.  I love the despicable Proconsul and his genuine respect for Kirk.  I love Spock and McCoy being particularly snarky with each other.  I love that they got to sword fight.  I love their costumes.  I love Kirk and how he handles everything (and the fact that he gets a machine pistol to wield).  I love Scotty (who, as we all know, really runs the Enterprise).  But most of all, I love Merik.  Merik, played  by William Smithers, is very nearly my favorite guest character on ANY television show.  He has a lovely redemption arc.  But the excellent screenwriting and excellent acting really illuminate his character with remarkably little screen time, when you think about it.  It's all the little things Smithers does that make his character particularly real to me. I don't actually know why Merik appealed to me so strongly when I was a kid.  But appeal he did, and he and his episode have never stopped being my favorite.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Oh happy sigh.  I watched Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan late last night, and the world is right again.  I did not realize how badly I needed to rewatch that to ease the taint of the new movie from my mind.  You know, maybe I’m just too old for these reboots.  These reboot movies clearly aren’t made for someone like me, but I’m really starting to feel like I come from a different era.

I’ve never reviewed Wrath of Khan or any of the ST movies here.  Not because I don’t love them, but because they are big screen movies, and I have a strong aversion to watching them on a television screen.  So I haven’t seen them in years.  Particularly my two favorites of all the ST films:  Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country.  Those just have to be watched big screen.  I saw both a fair number of times on the big screen during their initial theatrical runs, enough that I can still pull up what they should look like.

I love Wrath of Khan.  I can still remember the anticipation when that movie was about to be released.  We’d had the failure of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but this new one was directed by Nicolas Meyer, who my family already loved for Time After Time.  We were all excited for the new film.  I remember all the news about Leonard Nimoy wanting out of Star Trek, and the suspicions that Spock was going to be killed off.  I remember the theater was sold out,, and my family couldn’t even sit together.  I was in the back on the left.  I remember loud the audience was, cheering and laughing and clapping.  I remember crying during Spock’s funeral.  I remember how awesome the genesis cave looked on the big screen.  Today, it would be all CGI, but it was a gorgeous matte painting that I still adore.  On repeat viewings I couldn’t wait for that moment.  That, and the very end shots tracking through the vegetation of genesis planet to the torpedo.  (Yes, I have this thing for landscapes.  LOL!)

This was the ST movie my family had been waiting for.  It was a return to everything we loved about Star Trek in the first place, but with natural growth and aging, and with a great character arc for Kirk. And Ricardo Montalban was back as Khan, and even better than he was in the series.  I absolutely love how in the confrontation within the nebula, there are no final words spoken between Khan and Kirk.  Khan activates the device, Enterprise figures it out and turns to flee, and Khan just watches them go, grinning, knowing they won't make it.  No dialogue could ever make that better than how it plays out.  This film was also my introduction to composer James Horner, and this score remains my favorite Horner score to this day, despite how many other awesome scores he has written.  This one just hit it out of the park.  And for me, how much I love a movie is often tied to how good the music is.

The only things I didn't like about this film were Carol and David Marcus.  And I like the characters, I simply didn't like the actors portraying them.  They didn't work for me then, and they still don't today.  The actors don't seem to fit in that world. 

And then, after I finished watching Wrath of Khan, I just happened to check Ain't it Cool News (a favorite site), and found this review of Into Darkness that I just love.  This neatly sums up so much of my feelings and what bothered me so much about the new film and why it doesn't work for me.

And after watching Wrath of Khan again, having my love of Star Trek renewed, I can only echo Kirk's last lines... I feel young.

Favorite parts of Wrath of Khan:

“Where’s the override?”
We will!”
The genesis cave
Kirk taunting Khan to get him to follow the Enterprise into the Mutara Nebula.
“Yours is the superior...”
Whole Mutara Nebula and Genesis Countdown finale.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

So, I’m still pondering exactly why I wanted to go see the second installment of the Star Trek reboot, considering how much I disliked the first film.  Curiosity, of course, and eternal optimism that they’d actually give me something worthy this time.  I really shouldn’t be surprised, then, that I don't get this one either. It actually makes me think I liked the first movie better.  I also appear to be in the distinct minority on that, as the rest of my family and friends quite liked all or most of the movie.  I'm okay with that.  And I'm okay with being one of the sole people who seems to be missing the appeal of the reboots.

Huge Spoilers follow!!!  You have been warned.

As I’ve figured out, my personal deal with the movies I love is that I have to want to be one of the lead characters.  Now, I grew up on the original Star Trek series.  I love it.  I’ve wanted to be Captain Kirk since I was in single-digits.  I like the rest of the original crew and could relate to them.  I would happily have served on the original Enterprise.

But I don’t want to be this Kirk.  At. All.  I actually like Chris Pine as an actor, but I can’t see anything of what I loved about the character of Kirk in this Kirk.  I don’t want to be any of the other characters either, nor do I relate to any of them, but at least I can recognize them as ST characters.  But I can't find a glimmer of Kirk in there.  They really are in an alternate universe, I guess.  Or I am.

When the characters fail to grab me, all I’m hoping for is an entertaining story.  But, as with the first movie, this one’s plot hinges on plot holes and coincidences and, dude, I can forgive an awful lot of crap in a movie when I like the characters.  But when I don’t like the characters, and there's nothing but story left...

I see this alternate universe is still messing with the physics of the universe.  At least they are consistent in their BS.  The Enterprise can now submerge beneath the ocean.  Never mind the fact that the indigenous race on this planet has barely invented the wheel, so clearly has no telescopes.  Never mind that the Enterprise is there to survey the planet.  They can’t do that from orbit?  Particularly when later in the film they can use their sensors from earth (!) to detect that Khan is alone in a deserted portion of the Klingon home world who knows how many solar systems away?  Nothing makes any sense in this universe. 

And then there’s this whole bizarre thing with the volcano.  It’s going to blow and wipe out the locals, so the Enterprise decides to stop that by killing the volcano.  Spock seems to have no problem with this, even though that would be messing with the prime directive too.  Besides, volcanoes usually provide fertile soil and geothermal pools and various other things that the natives were probably using in their daily life.  Turning off the volcano seems like it would be pretty traumatic for the natives.  I mean, it’s spewing lava one moment, it’s dead the next?  That’s not something that would change the course of their civilization?  (Also, no invention of the wheel, but the natives have a complicated written language?)

But that whole ridiculous opener is just to 1) show off the starship Enterprise rising from the (very deep) coastal waters, 2) get Kirk and Spock arguing so that there is a moral of the story, and 3) get Kirk demoted so we can promptly promote him again, and 4) let me know that if the first ten minutes of the movie make no sense, it wasn't going uphill from there.

Once again, Starfleet appears to have no qualified personnel and no other ships or crews.  And the Enterprise appears to have no other qualified engineers besides Scotty.  And speaking of Scotty, not only is he a genius who invented transwarp transporter technology (which no one but Khan can use), he can just take a shuttle (maybe they have rent-a-shuttle agencies?).. and pilot it all the way to Jupiter to a super-secret space station... that has no radar or detection gear whatsoever and no security protocols... and Scotty can just... fly right in without being challenged, and just waltz onboard this secret ship and stowaway because somehow he knows he'll be needed to sabotage said ship half an hour later?

You know, I hope the Klingons come and wipe earth out in the next movie, cuz Starfleet in this alternate universe remains the biggest bunch of idiots.  Not that the Klingons are much better.  In this alternate universe, the Klingon home world is well less than a day away from earth.  (The Enterprise gets there and back complete with damaged ship and an adventure planetside in under 24 hours.)  I guess they're not patrolling the Neutral Zone yet, but at least, the Klingons are monitoring what lands on their own planet.  That’s something.  Better than Admiral Marcus’s secret unguarded space station.

And then there’s Khan.  He’s at least somewhat interesting, but I found him unbelievably bland.  We’re told to fear him, but other than the fact that he has immortal blood which allows him (and any other being who gets a transfusion, including tribbles, cuz you know tribbles and humans have compatible blood) to heal and not take much physical damage in a fight, and the fact that he moves very fast... what’s to fear?  He was deliciously cold, but hardly intimidating.  Maybe that’s just because this movie gallops along at breakneck speed and never gives us a chance to know him a little better?  I think I liked him best when he was temporarily working with Kirk, just because the way they set him up, he made a far more interesting ambiguous ally than an enemy, and those were some of the better scenes in the movie.  I could almost like some of those parts.

I still like Pike.  And I did like Admiral Marcus.  I sort of liked Carol Marcus, but again with Starfleet being a bunch of morons.  She can change her name and just walk on the Enterprise?  No orders?  No security?  And then turn out to be the only weapons specialist they have?  She wasn’t supposed to be there, so who would Kirk have turned to if she wasn’t there?  (I feel like being Happy in IM3 – “Where’s your badge??”)

And then, there’s the whole “let’s take the climax of Wrath of Khan and reverse characters!” portion.  My sister and I lost it during that scene, we were laughing so hard.  We can’t tell if the filmmakers meant it to be funny, or if that was a completely unintentional side effect. Was it actually supposed to be some kind of loving tribute to the original movie and not a parody?  Because it sure felt like we had slipped into a bad Saturday Night Live skit.

I do find it very amusing that Kirk handles Spock’s death in Wrath of Khan far better than Spock handles Kirk’s death in this one.  This Spock falls apart like a cheap suit. 

Also, the entire end is a WTF moment.  When Khan kills 42 people in the beginning, it’s enough to get a no-holds-barred “go get ‘em” order (granted there’s more to that order, but Admiral Marcus is not the only Admiral in Starfleet still left alive).  When Khan kills possibly thousands at the end of the movie as he deliberately plows his huge ship into San Francisco, demolishing several high rises at least, no one says a blooming thing.  No death toll.  No injuries.  Zero consequences for Khan.  He’s not put on trial, not even for his previous terrorist act, he’s merely put back to sleep.  I simply do not understand how this alternate universe works. 

But, of course, I’m going to be foolishly optimistic about the next film.  They at least appeared to be setting up a war with the Klingons.  I like that.  I can go with that.  Until I find out in a couple years how badly they plot that out too.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Wow, huge delay between Bond movie reviews.  Sorry about that. It was mostly due to bad disks from Netflix.  I've been having a string of bad disks.  (Moonraker arrived, and it is cracked... sigh).  Anyway.  The Spy Who Loved Me

This movie has hands-down, my favorite pre-title sequence.  First we open with a submarine.  You know I’m all over that!  Then we get introduced to Russian Agent XXX, in a scene which plays to the audience’s expectations that it must be a man, when in fact it is Barbara Bach as Major Amasova.  Then we get Bond and an amazing ski chase that ends with him skiing right off a cliff, free falling, and then opening his parachute, which displays the British flag.  Cue title song...

I wish I could say I liked the rest as much as I love the opening.  And I do like a lot of this movie.  It’s one of the stronger Roger Moore films.  And it was my first theatrical Bond film, so it gets bonus points for that.  And I know it's quite popular.  But I still have mixed feelings on this one.  It's another one that I enjoy more in memory than sitting through.  

The villain’s plan is rather similar to Blofeld’s in You Only Live Twice: start a war between the Russians and Americans.  Only Stromberg intends to wipe out everyone on the surface and start a new better life beneath the ocean.  Because all that nuclear fallout won’t affect the seas, of course.  He has a pretty awesome sea station.  He also has a giant tanker that he uses expressly for capturing submarines.  It, also, reminds me of You Only Live Twice, in that the set is gigantic in scale, and the bad guys hole up behind “impenetrable” screens that the good guys must breach, with the countdown to Armageddon leaving them only a very short time to accomplish this in both movies.  But where Blofeld lacked any worthy henchman, Stromberg has Jaws, the steel-toothed giant played perfectly by Richard Kiel.  Jaws is one of the most iconic Bond henchman next to Oddjob.  Deadly, of course, but I particularly love how he is always straightening his tie and suit after any mishap.

I also don’t particularly like Major Amasova, though I can’t really put my finger on why.  Part of it might be because she’s supposed to be the best of the Russian spies, and yet, she never really displays any of that talent.  Exact opposite, really.  No way would she get that close to Jaws when she goes to pick up the microfilm.  Are you kidding me??  Script’s fault.  Makes her stupid, when she shouldn't be.  However, she still gets points for being one of the stronger female leads.

I wish I had more to say about this one, but I really don't.  I like it.  Everything works, but it just never quite jumps into the great category for me.

Favorite parts:  That opening ski chase.  The pyramid light show – kind of cheesy, but also spectacular, cuz, hello! Pyramids!  The Lotus Esprit.  I want one of those.  The helicopter portion of the car chase, particularly when it’s waiting for them around a corner (also that the pilot is a woman.).  Submarines!  And I should say, I love the British sub captain (of course), and he gets killed (of course).  Grrr.  Jaws.

Music:  Good.  Not a score I would ever listen to by itself, but it works well in this movie.  I particularly like the theme that goes with arriving at Stromberg’s Atlantis.
Theme song:  I know this is a popular song, but it does nothing for me personally. 
Credit sequence:  Okay
Bond girl:  Alas, I wish I liked her better.  I do like Caroline Munro as Naomi.  Much cooler lady.
Bad guys:  Stromberg is kind of cool. Jaws is better.
Overall personal rating:  3 out of 5 stars