Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Star Trek: Beyond: It's A Romp!

Scott and I finally made it out to see Star Trek: Beyond on Sunday.
I was excited but... a little nervous. I really loved the Abrams reboot but I'd been worried for a while about this one. I hadn't seen a single trailer in theaters (in spite of seeing multiple, big blockbusters since Star Wars) and I'd seen very few previews on TV. I was worried this was a reflection of how Paramount felt about the film—maybe they were dumping it off without trying to spend too much money, maybe it wouldn't be good, maybe it would get bad reviews, maybe people wouldn't go see it... etc etc. It was a rabbit hole that, as it turns out, I didn't really need to go down.

I don't write reviews on this blog. Not really. MYOST is about me and my experience with or thoughts about Trek rather than a compilation of graded reviews. That being said, I loved this one.

Spoiler Free Thoughts:
Star Trek Beyond is the first rompy "episode" of this Star Trek "series." It's fun. It's wild. It's weird. It's self-referential. It doesn't take itself too seriously but still manages to tug at the heart strings which, if you're like me, you'll feel that in your lower right side. I absolutely, without reservation, recommend it.


Alright. You've been warned.

References: Beyond was written by a longtime fan and it shows. References fly not only from TOS but also the two most maligned (and, of course, my favorite) series, Voyager and Enterprise. Part of this comes from the fact that the only canon Trek history pre-TOS-era is from Archer's time but they could easily have ignored it and just jammed in more technobabble and new history. Instead, Beyond is flooded with terms, costume designs, and history from Enterprise which, I loved. LOVED.

Chicks, Man: Beyond is the first of the rebooted Trek to feature multiple women with real agency. Amanda (Spock's mom) and Carol Marcus (Kirk's love interest) were both fine. Both actresses did a great job but their roles weren't expansive and you can sort of tell that by the way I've reminded you who they are. They are characters who exist to help deepen two main (male) characters. But here we have:
The Commodore played by the amazing Shohreh Aghdashloo has incredible gravitas. She's the only person in authority Kirk deals with in this movie and she conveys a deep understanding of his situation at the beginning and end of his story in Beyond. And, her name is Paris. Guys, I literally started crying when Kirk said he'd spoken to Commodore Paris. I just completely broke down. At that moment this movie said, "Yes, I am for you."
Kalara, the (apparently) alien woman who escapes to Yorktown from a nearby unstable nebula has a lot going on. She manages to dupe everyone at Yorktown and lure The Enterprise and its cargo back to the hands of her captain. Her screen time is ultimately limited but she manages to set a lot of story in motion.
Jayla. Alright, I love Jayla. She reminds me a lot of Lori Petty's character, Noss, from the Voyager episode, Gravity. She's tough, resourceful, brilliant, and she's been stranded on a hostile planet for years. She also manages (like Petty) to have a weird sort of punky/spunky quality that I found really refreshing. Given Anton Yelchin's tragic death, I found myself wondering/hoping that she might be on the bridge for the next film.

Big, Dumb, Fun: There are movies that you laugh at and there are movies that you laugh with. And there are movies where you do both and enjoy every second of it while it's happening. Beyond falls into that last category. In the (almost) climax, the key to defeating the hive of alien ships, comes down to disrupting communication abilities and they do this with... Sabotage. The same song from from the 2009 reboot. Waves of enemy ships explode like fireworks as the Beastie Boys blast into deep space. The moment this happened I immediately had that same old feeling I get when I watch Trouble With Tribbles, Trials and Tribulations, Mirror, Mirror, Author, Author, Hollow Pursuits, or any of the episodes in the long, long tradition of rompy Trek.

Hell Yes, Optimism: Beyond is unapologetically optimistic without being saccharine. An alternate title might as well be Star Trek: Friendship is Magic and I would absolutely be alright with that. Trek has always been about the power of unity, of friendship, of kinship among crew and Beyond gets at that in multiple, fantastic, resonant ways. Beyond sends a message that we are always more powerful together than divided. And that's a message I think we all need to hear right now.

Broken Captain: This is a trope that goes all the way back to TOS and occurs in pretty much every Trek series. Some captain has had it up to here with the Federation and their... ways. And he totally loses it and freaks the hell out and its up to our captain (and their trusty crew) to defeat them in a way that makes us all sad and yet grateful for our friends who somehow keep us from turning to the dark side. Idris Elba is the latest in a long line of broken captains and he does a lovely job of portraying a man who has done everything, everything for his crew and, in the process, has lost his humanity. He (physically) makes strides back to it throughout the film in a way that is pitch-perfect in it's Star Trek-ness.

Sulu's Family: Much has been made of Takei's reaction to the fact that Sulu has a husband in Beyond and, I suppose I get it. He feels ownership over this character and thinks about Sulu's life and legacy in ways that none of us can anticipate. However, several years ago I considered trying to start up (what would've been a largely ignored) campaign to Give Sulu A Boyfriend. I've been in favor of this idea since before it was an idea so, I'm happy. I think it's a great tribute to the character and the actor and it's high time we finally had an LGBTQ character in Trek.

Big Picture: Beyond is the first of the rebooted series to really, really feel like Trek. I loved the Abram's films. I really did. But this one felt alive. It had the heart and soul of the thing I've spent the last three years of my life (with basically 99% of 2013) writing and thinking about. I've written many times about growing up with Trek, about not remembering my introduction to it, about how it's always been in the background of my life, like an old friend. Beyond was like seeing that friend again, unexpectedly, and getting the biggest, warmest hug.

Some Issues: The action is a mess. The bulbs in our theater were a little dark so that might've been part of the problem but I'm a huge fan of frenetic, fast action and so much of the action in Beyond was just confusing and disorienting. This is surprising given that the director is known for action but it is what it is. Action scenes are dark, the framing is constantly askew, the camera is always shaky. Which is, in an otherwise lovingly written, powerfully acted movie, unfortunate.

Still, action was never really Trek's strong suit. So, I guess it's not the worst thing that ever happened:

Last Thoughts:
One of the most beautiful things about this movie is its acknowledgement of history. Both days gone by and the people we've loved and lost. Anton Yelchin passsed away suddenly in a time that I wasn't writing a lot. I was really sick and my hands were a mess and when Scott broke the news to me I had no emotional space to process it. When, For Anton, came up on the screen during the credit sequence, I smiled, teary eyed. That kid was brilliant. A perfect Chekov. And his work in Beyond (as in the first two films) was wonderful. He was gone far too soon and he will always be a beloved part of Trek.

Of course, Yelchin wasn't the only Trek star we lost recently.

Nimoy's death had a profound impact on Trek fans and his loss was carried into Beyond with the death of Ambassador Spock and the effect it has on young Spock. Toward the end of the film, Spock opens the box containing the Ambassador's belongings. Inside is this photograph:
Multiple choices were made and I love them all. One, I love the choice to just use this photo. I love that it's just the original cast with no attempt at melting their faces to look more like the rebooted cast. It's them. It's the characters and the actors we love and we are allowed to have that moment.
Two, I love the choice that Spock made. The fact that this photograph was in his belongings meant that when he initially boarded The Jellyfish to chase after Nero, when he knew he might never come back, when he knew he might die or he might be stuck on the wrong side of an inescapable wormhole, he took this photograph with him. The most meaningful thing to him, the thing he refused to leave behind, was his crew, his family.

So, basically, Beyond has the thing I'm always going on about, the thing that means so much to me about Trek—Beyond has heart. I can't wait for more.

Friday, July 15, 2016

TNG Re-Watch: The Price-Deja Q

Over the last week I watched several episodes of TNG while I worked or, as it happens, didn't work. I don't have a lot of time to type for "reasons" and I'll get to those reasons (hopefully) at the bottom of this post. Anyway, this is a quick and dirty roundup of observations from Season 3 episodes 8-14.

The Price:
I spent this entire episode texting back and forth with my BFF about Troi's terrible taste in men. I've gone into this issue in (too much?) depth before. But this is my blog so I'm gonna harp on it some more. I love TNG and I really try not to be too hard on it but I do get frustrated when the thrust of just about every female crew-member-centric episode is about babies or children or some terrible/dangerous boyfriend. This is something that got a lot better in DS9 and heaps better in Voyager but The Price falls in lockstep with the bad boyfriend parade of TNG.
Soft synth music, overlong foot massages, "advice" about Troi's hair and clothes, macho conversations about who will "win" Troi, and, of course, BOOB CUTOUTS:
No amount of thirty-something-esque boyfriend drama can overcome boob cutouts. I'm sorry. Ultimately Troi does stand up for herself and her crew but this whole episode is just another example of TNG not really knowing what to do with this character. 

The Vengeance Factor: 
For some reason this one really stuck with me from the time I was a little kid. I'm not sure why. As an adult, the main thing I think when I watch this one is, why doesn't Yuta go down when she's shot with the phaser. It worked on the dude Riker inexplicably hit when he beamed in. I know she's been genetically altered but the fact that Riker has to keep hitting her with stun when... I don't know... someone could just get off their ass (ahem, Picard, ahem) and tackle her? And then he ultimately has to set his phaser to kill and disintegrate her? I guess this is dramatically more interesting and less messy in terms of TV-time wrap-up but Yuta's (probably unnecessary) death at the hands of Riker just unnerves me a little bit. 
The Defector: 
Welp, I love this one. Top to bottom, I think this is a swell episode and an early example of what TNG was capable of. This one has Shakespeare, a (not very) secret Patrick Stewart cameo, Romulans (I love the Romulans,) mystery and excellent speeches from Picard and Jarok. Go watch it. 

The Hunted: 
A dangerous convict escapes prison, boards the Enterprise, and is thrown in the brig so, of course, Troi senses his beautiful mind and seeks to help him. I make fun but this is actually a pretty decent try at getting to the heart of PTSD, soldier programming, and veteran rights and physical/emotional care upon their return. Watch this one in conjunction with Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and Kipling's "Last of the Light Brigade."  

The High Ground: 
Another foray into political territory has Crusher tending to the wounded after a terrorist attack when she is then captured by said terrorists. Like The Hunted (and most early TNG) this one makes a good attempt at showing both sides of a conflict within the early 90s network TV limitations. I've got to hand it to them for not cleaning this one up too neatly, not making either side too right or too wrong and I really love the dimensional shift transporters causing sickness. Of course, because it's a Crusher (read: woman) episode there must be a bad boyfriend somewhere so the main baddie falls for her and she uses that to her advantage. My favorite thing about this episode is this chick right here: 
She's caught up in the middle of all this nasty business and knows how awful and messy it is but she never wavers and, importantly, never falls for Riker. 

Deja Q: 
Initially I was just going to write about this episode but decided it would be "quicker" to do a round-up. That didn't really work out. This post is much longer than I'd intended. 
Anyway, Deja Q is a legitimately great episode. It has a lot going for it: 
1-Q shows up sans Q powers.
2-Guinan enters and tests #1. 
3-Data and Q form a brief but perfect friendship.
4-Several fantastic conversations regarding "humanness" happen. 
5-There is a MOON hurtling toward a PLANET. I don't know why this lights my christmas tree but it does.
Ultimately this episode has a lot of what's good about TNG. Crazy space problem, long discussions about what it means to be human, and heart. Another must-watch.

Speaking of what it means to be human. I'm having some more EDS related issues. Namely, my hands have been cramping up and aching like mad and there's not a lot I can do for them at this point. I've been wearing compression gloves, ring splints, rolling them, massaging them, soaking them in hot water, writing with fountain pens instead of regular pens etc. This stuff helps but the problem is still there. I saw my doctor about it yesterday but he doesn't know what's going on and he's referred me to a hand specialist—which will take at least two weeks to schedule—in the meantime, my ability to work is limited. Typing, drawing, writing is fairly agonizing so, until this gets taken care of, posts will likely be spaced out, short, or both. But know that I'm still here. Watching. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

TNG Re-Watch: Who Watches The Bonding Of The Booby Trap And The Enemy

Monday night (Independence Day) we headed over to the Dodger game (which was awesome and I ate nachos out of a hat) and because I have a dime store immune system and went out amongst humanity and nature I spent the next day totally laid out by the crud. Also, I took some (expired) Mucinex DM and it messed me up big time. Big Time. Thanks to the meds I renewed my love affair with the couch and together we watched four episodes of Next Gen (and five episodes of The Murdoch Mysteries) Granted, I was tripping balls somewhat stoned (and not in a pleasant way) from the cold medicine, so I'm not sure how great my attention span really was but anyway, here's what I noticed:

1-Beverly's sudden and unexpected hair growth.
In my addled state, I was unduly distressed by the plain fact that Beverly's hair grew about eight inches over the course of two episodes:
Who Watches The Watchers
The Enemy

2- Worf has a "brother"
In The Bonding, Worf leads an away mission in which a crewman is killed. The crewman in question was a single mom who leaves behind a little boy and Worf feels obliged to go through a Klingon ritual that would bond the two of them as brothers. Lots of wacky stuff happens (or may not have happened, again, I wasn't really on top of things yesterday) but my takeaway here is that at the end of the episode Worf is all, "Now we're going to be forever linked as brothers." And then we never see this kid again.
Just doing brother stuff, I guess. 
3-Picard is a god, or not, maybe.
In Who Watches The Watchers a bunch of scientists accidentally reveal themselves to the primitive society they're studying and then religion happens. Their god is Picard because, I mean, come on, if you're lining this bunch of 23rd century jerks up and saying, "Pick one of these to be your god," obviously you're going to pick The Picard. I mean, if you've seen seasons 1-2, you're definitely going to pick Picard. At least, if Guinan isn't there. Because then you might pick Guinan. Anyway, they pick Picard. And Picard goes through all these god-like elaborate but earnest steps to show his new followers that he isn't a god and finally he's out of options and is all, "If the only way that you will believe I'm mortal is if you kill me, then fine! I will die!" And so they shoot him in the chest with a bow and arrow and he dies.

Except... he doesn't. He goes back to the ship (in a scene we don't see) and Beverly fixes him up and the next time we (and his followers) see The Picard, it looks like this:
And The Picard is calmly explaining the tenets of the Federation and the core principles of anthropology and suchlike and somehow no one is talking about the fact that The Picard died and then (probably on the third day) was resurrected. I mean, I may have been kind of zonked out yesterday but I did happen to grow up in the Bible Belt and, let me tell you, if I've seen one Sermon on the Mount painting on someone's grandma's bathroom wall, I've seen 'em all.
Hmm. I had a "really good" joke to stick here but in the time it took me to put together this Space Jesus photo collage, I totally forgot what it was...

Moving on.

4-Booby Trap
This episode has the word "booby" in it. Given that this is a holodeck intensive episode, I feel hoodwinked.

5- The Enemy
In this one the Enterprise comes upon some Romulans where they aren't supposed to be. One of them is stuck on a junk planet with Geordi. The other one is dying in sickbay and the only thing that can save him is a ribosome donation from Worf. You know what's super surprising and kind of awesome? Worf won't do it. And, he never backs down. And, he never shows any guilt about it. Obviously, TNG shouldn't be overrun with this kind of thing. If it were, it wouldn't be TNG. But I like the complexity here. Michael Dorn is given some meatier stuff in this season and he's making the most of it. Worf's character is deepened by his unqualified hatred of Romulans. And, Geordi's is deepened by his willingness to compromise à la Enemy Mine.

Ok. Well, it's been 24 hours and I'm fairly sure I've finished riding the Mucinex DM roller coaster so I have to get back to work. Fortunately for me, some of that work entails watching TNG. Unfortunately for me, the next episode is The Price:

Give me patience, The Picard. Amen. 
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