Archive for the ‘The Arts’ Category

The Thinker

Second viewing: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 6)

Season 6 of this series emulates Season 5, which means that the overall quality is very good. There are no major clunkers in Season 6 (no Majel Barrett as Deanna’s mom helps) so every episode warrants at least a C grade. There is only one more season left for me to see again. It’s amazing that I forgot all this stuff over the last two decades when I originally watched them on TV.

Anyhow, if you want to scan Season 6 and watch only the good stuff, you can use my mini episode reviews with confidence.

  1. Time’s Arrow II. This is the conclusion from Season 5’s cliffhanger, which was not much of a cliffhanger. In Part I, Data’s head was found in a cave underneath San Francisco, causing certain members of the Enterprise crew to go back to that time to figure out what’s going on. In Part II they succeed and discover that some alien shape shifters are using a cholera outbreak in the bay area at that time to surreptitiously drain the life force out of many San Franciscans. The plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and Data’s jeopardy feels forced, but Mark Twain does get to visit a 24th century Enterprise. B
  2. Realm of Fear. The terminally shy and deeply annoying Enterprise engineer Lt. Barclay is back, this time with a new phobia: transporters. He slowly masters his fear and transports over to the starship Yosemite, where Barclay become pivotal in rescuing the missing crew. One of the stranger parts of this episode is where Transporter Chief O’Brian is talking about how safe transporters are. Transporter malfunctions are a regular feature of STTNG episodes. Of the Lt. Barclay episodes, this is the easiest to stomach. C
  3. Man of the People. Something is weird about the Lumerian ambassador the Enterprise is ferrying. The ambassador maintains his cool so he can excel at his duties through an intimacy ceremony that has the effect of prematurely aging his partner. When his companion “mother” with him dies, an innocent Counselor Troi becomes his next victim. She ages prematurely but no one seems to think this or her overly seductive behavior is that big a deal. Using 24th century magic, of course Troi will revert to her former svelte self by the end of the episode. C
  4. Relics. Pretty much every STTOS actor gets a chance to reprise his or her role aboard the Enterprise D if they wanted to, and in this episode it’s James Doohan’s (Scotty’s) turn. Speaking of transporter accidents (see Episode 2), Scotty’s been in one for 75 years that is why he doesn’t look a day over sixty when La Forge finally pulls him out. Scotty resumes being Scotty, but he’s a bit off his kilter (kilt?) on the Enterprise D. The only thing noteworthy in this episode is the Dyson’s sphere they encounter, making for some neat special effects for 1992. Scotty helps solve the crisis of the day and as a reward (but probably because he is sort of insufferable) he is sent to a more permanent retirement: Picard gives him an extended loan of a shuttlecraft as a going away present. Go study those technical manuals, Scotty. C
  5. Schisms. Apparently one episode using the insomnia meme was not enough in this series. Riker has a bad case of it but this time he is not alone. With the help of a holodeck, various crewmembers remember fragments of creepy “dreams” where they are being examined by aliens. In Riker’s case, he was partially dismembered and put back by curious alien doctors. It’s suitably creepy and well done, however. A-
  6. True Q. A promising intern Amanda is assigned to the Enterprise who soon discovers she has supernatural powers that frighten her. It turns out that she is a new member of the Q Continuum so naturally Q (John de Lancie) shows up to act as something of a sarcastic coach and naturally to spar with Picard too. Amanda must ultimately decide whether to become a Q too or abdicate her powers, which would not be a good idea, as Q must destroy her in that event. Guess which one she picks? C
  7. Rascals. Yikes! Yet another transporter accident! This one rolls back the aging for some Enterprise crewmembers including Picard who revert to 12-year-old children while retaining their adult memories and capabilities. The senior staff finds it hard to take orders from a child Captain Picard and we get to marvel at a young Picard with bountiful hair. O’Brien finds that having his wife Keiko turn into a 12-year-old changes their marriage big time, but if there was ever a case for legitimately having sex with a kid this would be it. (Glad O’Brien is not a creepy child molester!) The actor playing a young Picard though does a great job, and this is simultaneously fun and amusing while we await their eventual “re-aging”. Meanwhile, these child officers get to outwit a rogue Ferengi captain that takes over the Enterprise who has no idea who they are. B
  8. A Fistful of Datas. Speaking of transporter accidents, holodeck accidents are also a recurring theme in STTNG. We get another one in this episode when Worf, his son Alexander and Counselor Troi get caught up in a too-real holodeck simulation of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Worf gets to play sheriff, Marina Sirtis makes an unconvincing deputy and Brent Spiner gets to play a bad guy. They have to find a way to safely end the simulation for the program to end. A mildly amusing waste of time. C+
  9. The Quality of Life. Dr. Farallon is another brilliant, cute but bullheaded Federation scientist. She is working on a “particle fountain” to make mining more efficient on the planet Tyrus 7A. To assist she creates “Exocomps”, intelligent mining machines that prove too intelligent. Data thinks she has created an artificial life form, which naturally Data finds “intriguing” and eventually becomes protective of. This is interesting mostly for Brent Spiner’s acting. A-
  10. Chain of Command, Part I. Figuring there was no reason to wait for an end of season cliffhangers, the writers decided to put them in the middle of a season. Starfleet gets wind of a secret Cardassian biological weapon and covertly sends Picard, Crusher and Worf on a mission to Celtris III to verify then locate and destroy the technology. This illegal weapon is tantamount to war if it exists, so the Federation feels the need to go to war status. They send Captain Edward Jellico to take over Picard’s command, presumably permanently. This abrupt change does not sit well with the crew and Jellico goes out of his way to ruffle feathers, but only because the mission requires it. It turns out that the Cardassians are luring the Federation into a trap. Worf and Crusher escape, but Picard is captured. This and the next episode will press all your favorite Star Trek buttons. A
  11. Chain of Command, Part II. While Jellico continues to ruffle feathers as Enterprise captain, a Cardassian interrogator, Gul Madred, tortures Picard on Celtris III. Both Patrick Stewart and the interrogator played by David Warner give exceptional performances as all sorts of torture tactics are tried to break Picard’s will. Stewart proves yet again that Star Trek producers got the best deal ever when they hired him, as evidenced by his terrific acting in this episode. This is one of the best episodes of the entire series. A+
  12. Ship in a Bottle. After episode 2, you would think they’d give the Lt. Barclay character a rest, but he’s back. Fortunately Barclay is somewhat ancillary in this episode, but he does discover a very persistent Professor Moriarty in a Holodeck simulation, one who has been in memory since Season 2. Picard has been lax in his promise to try to free Moriarty so he can safely explore the real universe, so he takes things into his own hands, so to speak. So there’s yet another bug in the Holodeck software while Moriarity and his lover Countess Regina twist Picard’s arm to allow him to escape to the real world. This is a fun episode because it’s mostly a hall of mirrors episode. Moriarty gets what he wants, sort of. A
  13. Aquiel. Geordi falls in love with Lt. Aquiel Uhnari, a somewhat difficult officer assigned to a subspace communications relay station who lost her crewmates but still has her dog. The plot actually hangs on Aquiel’s devoted dog, which is not quite what it seems. C
  14. Face of the Enemy. In another one of these “you can’t make this shit up” episodes, Deanna wakes up to find she is a major in the Romulan elite. She was captured on orders from Spock, who is trying to bring peace to the Romulans by ferrying three secret passengers to the Federation. Posing as Major Rakal, Troi must bossily assert her dominance over Captain Toreth, who resents her privileged place in Romulan society. There are lots of problems with this episode; the biggest is that Spock would not order something like this. Marina Sirtis though does get to act very bossy and seems to enjoy the change of page. C
  15. Tapestry. Picard dies, or does he not? He seems to be in the afterlife, which is not all that great because who should greet him but Q? Because he’s in the Continuum, Q lets him redo pivotal points in his life. Picard discovers that some of his less than savory youthful aspects were essential to the man he became, so Q lets him and his artificial heart live. B
  16. Birthright, Part I. We get our first glimpse of Deep Space Nine in this episode, in its pre-Sisko era. There Worf encounters an alien who claims that his father was not killed on Khitomer, but is actually isolated on a secret planet with other Klingons and Romulan overlords that he will take him to, for a price. Meanwhile, Data encounters Dr. Julian Bashir (a recurring and annoying DS9 character) who wants to study him. During a test, Data receives an energy surge, which causes him to dream for the first time. Worf takes leave to go to the planet where the Khitomer Klingons and their offspring live. After secretly entering the compound he soon discovers that the Klingons are happy to be there and the younger ones have no memories of or care of Klingon traditions and history, which he finds very disturbing. B
  17. Birthright, Part II. Worf cannot understand why these Klingons don’t want to escape. In fact, the Romulans are benevolent overlords. Worf manages to stir up the blood of some of the Klingons by relating their customs and rituals, which irritates the Romulan commander who wants the status quo. B-
  18. Starship Mine. Everyone on the Enterprise must check out for a barium sweep. To avoid a long-winded colleague, Picard makes an excuse to go back to the ship and encounters some thieves after the ship’s trilithium. Picard must beat these foes while the sweep reduces the survivable space on the ship. B
  19. Lessons. Picard falls in love with the new chief of stellar cartography, when he becomes taken by her musical abilities. After getting an unnecessary okay from Troi to pursue a relationship with Lt. Commander Daren (fraternization is apparently not a problem in the 24th century), they move deeper into love while Picard and Riker struggle through boundary issues with Daren and each other the relationship raises. Most of this episode is blessedly free the usual jeopardy the crew must overcome. However, Daren must eventually lead a team to a planet to protect a crew there from an unusual solar storm, pitting Picard’s personal feelings for Daren with his command duty to be impartial. This is an unusual episode because it’s of the heart, not the head, and Picard fills out more as a human being. A
  20. The Chase. Picard unexpectedly meets an old mentor of his, Professor Galen who tempts him to take an archeological adventure with him. Despite Picard’s great interest, he must decline, which makes the professor angry. The professor’s shuttle gets attacked when he leaves the Enterprise and he dies shortly thereafter. Picard senses Galen’s great discovery is at hand, and directs the Enterprise to a number of planets to chase it rather than attend a conference. His crew puts together part of Galen’s puzzle: that there was a master species from which all humanoid forms evolved billions of years earlier who seeded the galaxy. If they can construct the whole thing they expect to get a message for them from billions of years ago, literally encoded in the DNA. But both the Klingons and the Cardassians are hot on the trail as well, seeking advantage. So a treasure hunt of sorts is underway to get the last genetic material to complete the sequence of understanding. This turns out to be a really interesting episode combining an interesting idea with a lot of action. A
  21. Frame of Mind. Riker is cast in one of Beverly’s plays in a challenging dramatic role where he is a prisoner in a mental asylum. It gets surreal when he has dreams that he is in such a place. Which is real: the asylum or the Enterprise? B
  22. Suspicions. Dr. Crusher finds herself out of a job when she sticks up for a Ferengi scientist who believes he has created metaphasic shielding that would allow spacecraft to enter previously dangerous places, like a sun’s corona. She invites some scientists to the Enterprise to critique his controversial work, one of who dies during an attempt to test the shield using a shuttlecraft. On a second attempt, the Ferengi scientist also dies, and Crusher performs an illegal autopsy to figure out the cause. Someone’s hiding something. B
  23. Rightful Heir. Worf is having a crisis of faith due to his experiences in Episodes 16 and 17. He wants to have a religious experience and get in touch with Kahless, the founder of the Klingon code of honor who died 1500 years earlier and promised to return. Granted leave, he goes to Boreth where devout Klingons go to pray, but has little luck summoning Kahless. On the thirteenth day though he suddenly appears to Worf, who wonders if he is the real Kahless or a fake Kahless. His faith is tested yet again while Gowron (head of the Klingon empire) butts heads with Kahless, thinking he is a phony. Most of these episodes featuring Klingon power plays are good, and this is no exception. A-
  24. Second Chances. In yet another improbable transporter accident (how many is this now?) Riker discovers a clone of himself left on the planet Nervala II. He had been there as a Lieutenant eight years earlier, and only now has a window opened allowing transporters to get down to the planet again, where he literally finds himself. Commander and Lieutenant Riker have sharp words with each other, the Lieutenant is still deeply in love with Deanna and you know before its over will come sort of test of Wills, literally. B
  25. Timescape. Returning from a conference aboard a shuttle, Picard, Geordi, Data and Troi encounter weird pockets in the space-time continuum and arrive at their rendezvous point to find the Enterprise and a Romulan vessel seemingly frozen in time and in the midst of a battle. They must figure out what’s going on because it’s clear a warp core breach is underway on the Enterprise. Can they figure it out and restore the Enterprise? Of course! B
  26. Descent, Part I. Time for a second cliffhanger, which turns out to be the last one of this seven season series. Unsurprisingly, the Borg are involved but it seems they have mutated. They don’t care about the collective, their ship looks different and they just want to kill people, but not Data. Trying to save his crew, Data must kill a Borg, and he experiences his first emotion: anger and finds it instantly addictive. He spends much of the episode on the holodeck trying to recreate the feeling and not succeeding, while Starfleet raises its shields. Picard is put in charge of a fleet of three ships trying to protect some new border colonies from the Borg. The Enterprise goes through a number of vortexes trying to find a shuttlecraft stolen by Data, ending up on a planet where they find Data and a surprise that suggests the Borg are not their real enemy. A
 
The Thinker

Two movies reviewed

Star Trek Beyond

If you like action movies, you will like Star Trek Beyond, the third installment of this latest franchise reboot. It moves crazily fast, so fast you might want to hold onto the arms of your seat for its 122-minute duration. It is visually dense. Director Justin Lin won’t allow your attention to linger for a second. It also looks crazily expensive.

However, because it’s an action movie, it doesn’t really take you to brave new worlds. You’ve seen variants of this plot many times and in many shows and movies. For me the best Star Trek shows, or at least its best episodes, was when I was taken to these new worlds, or at least new thoughts. Here we have a standard villain Krall (Idris Elba) who wants to destroy the Federation. He only respects warriors and wants the universe full of Spartans like himself. In other words, he’s very much a Republican and he has a problem with the whole “let’s peacefully get along” meme. So maybe his real target is the late Gene Roddenberry. Can Kirk, Spock, Bones and the rest stay true to the ideals of the Federation when confronted by such a pathological killing machine?

It won’t spoil too much to let you know that the Enterprise is his first big target and Krall and his fleets of crazy Ginsu knive-shaped ships are going to do more than kick its fenders. Lin seems to be going for what worked in Star Trek’s best movie, The Wrath of Khan. Its plot is not all that dissimilar but at least Lin succeeds in making it not feel like an imitation of that movie.

As for character development, there is a bit of that. Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) get to spend too much time together in tight quarters causing Spock to sound more human than Vulcan at times. We learn about a minor tiff between Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and that Kirk (Chris Pine) is feeling his age a bit, as his birthday is upon him and he’s older than his father when he died. Frankly though none of these characters need more development and have had their personalities dissected many times. What we need are new characters to care about. With the untimely demise of the actor Anton Yelchin (Chekov) maybe we’ll get some in the next movie.

While not exploring any brave new worlds, you are unlikely to care. You won’t have time to analyze your feelings until sometime after the movie, but you will appreciate being taken for a hell of a roller coaster ride. Lin steps into J.J. Abrams’ big shoes to direct this movie, and he does a great job of it, giving it a fresh look … the warp effects are particularly well done. It’s clear that it cost a bundle and it’s so well done, just not particularly nourishing. Here’s hoping in the next movie we get less action and more inspiration. That would make Gene Roddenberry happy but perhaps not Paramount’s stockholders.

3.4 out of 4 stars, however.

Rating: ★★★½ 

Ghostbusters

Speaking of rebooting a franchise, 32 years after Ghostbusters we get this reboot where four women audaciously play the comedic roles played by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Harold Ramis in 1984. And crazily enough that’s a problem for some people who think casting women in these roles is somehow to cheapen the films. Jeebus, it’s a comedy people and Democrats have just nominated the first woman to be president of the United States! Get out of 1950 already!

I think the real sin of director Paul Feig is to go with “body positive” women. It makes a change to have a few plus sized women for the lead roles in movies, including Melissa McCarthy (Abby) and Leslie Jones (Patty). It makes it harder for men to fat shame women when they are normalized on the screen. One of my complaints about movies is that actors are predominantly thin and pretty. Obviously it’s a successful formula if you are chasing profits but for a comedy the rules can be relaxed. All four women including Kristen Wiig (Erin) and Kate McKinnon (Jillian) will keep you engaged in laughing in this pointlessly silly plot about ghosts taking over Manhattan. It makes no sense whatsoever and adds little in material to the premise, but 32 years have elapsed. Many of those coming to see the movie were not even alive when the original came out.

It’s harmless good fun and if you are old enough to remember the original movie you will see some actors that look familiar, just older and greyer. These include Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver in bit parts. (Dan Aykroyd stayed behind the scenes as one of the writers.) It certainly captures the spirit of the original movie while of course not being quite the same. The four women develop quite an ensemble, and Chris Hemsworth (probably best known as Thor, but here he plays “Kevin”) proves he has comedic talent too, this time as their receptionist.

A better than average piece of comedic fluff.

3.1 out of four points.

Rating: ★★★☆ 

 
The Thinker

Review: Independence Day (Resurgence)

Before going to see Independence Day (Resurgence), the twenty years later sequel to Independence Day (1996), I made a point of watching its inspiration, Independence Day again. When it comes to movies, my mind is like a sieve so a refresher showing helped me remember who the characters were twenty years ago and whether my assessment back then (a pretty good movie) still stood.

So first a brief second look back at Independence Day, the feel-good 1996 blockbuster summer popcorn movie. Both this movie and the sequel of course required you to suspend disbelief. In 1996 though aliens taking over the earth, while not exactly a new idea for a movie, was at least an infrequent enough a theme where this movie was pretty fresh. And for 1996 the special effects we got were quite awesome. Independence Day had going for it its timing near the holiday but also some really fun acting, principally Will Smith as Captain Steven Hiller, who nailed the role of a super-aggressive fighter pilot. They threw in an odd mash up of characters that managed to entertain us. These included Jeff Goldbloom as the quirky David Levenson, whose wife (Margaret Colin) just happened to be President Whitmore’s (Bill Pullman) chief of staff. Judd Hirsch showed up as his Jewish but not terribly devout father and Brent Spiner had something of an ancillary role as Dr. Okun, whose brain was quickly fried by aliens. Of course the world somehow united (via Morse code, if you can believe it) to defeat these alien invaders/harvesters. Millions died and our capital (including most major cities) was incinerated but in the end of course we won, with the help of a computer virus, Will and Jeff and a vintage 1996 Apple Macbook. There were staggeringly implausible coincidences throughout but who couldn’t cheer when the mothership came down thanks to good ol’ Yankee ingenuity? It was implausible as hell, but it was fun with just the right ingredients to make it engaging and entertaining.

Fast forward twenty years and you can see quickly where this review will end up. First of all, can you think of any summer blockbuster that doesn’t involve the earth or at least some major city like New York getting blasted by super forces? Pick any of the plethora of superhero movies out there and you will know that this plot is (to say the least) tired. Oh so tired. Granted, it’s even more visually stunning in 2016 than it was in 1996. Super special effects in 2016 though are no big deal. Even the cheaper movies can afford special effects, at least like those made in 1996. Trying to go over the top on special effects these days is nigh impossible. We’ve seen it all so many times that it’s a good thing that if we see this movie in a theater we don’t have a fast forward button to skip over them.

Many but certainly not all the characters are back from 1996. Unfortunately the ones who are missing were crucial to sustaining the first movie, principally Will Smith. Jeff Goldbloom is back and looks great twenty years later. Judd Hirsch doesn’t look like he’s aged much either. Brent Spiner is back too and gets more than a bit part. Dr. Okun must have gotten excellent physical therapy while in his twenty-year coma, because he’s hardly out of bed before he is bounding down the halls of Area 51 on his alien hunt. We also learn (or at least infer) that Dr. Okun is gay.

President Whitmore’s little daughter is now in the White House herself, as chief of staff, while her father suffers from what seems to be depression after his leadership saving the world. The earth is supposedly united and peaceful (kicking alien ass will do that to a species, especially when they are worried about a return visit), except possibly in Africa where David Levenson quickly encounters Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei), and African warlord with enormous pectoral muscles and a hankering for alien meat. Needless to say from tremors on the earth and the moon along with hulking entities that mysteriously appear on radars … they’re back, they’re much bigger and they are pissed. Time for earthlings to come together and invent a new Corbomite maneuver. Unfortunately, there’s no Captain Kirk here, but there is David Levenson and the now fully restored Dr. Okun to puzzle through how humanity will survive this time.

There are new characters. Captain Hiller’s son Dylan in the first movie is channeling his absent dad (dead, but cause of death not quite described) as a fighter pilot like dad, played here by Jesse Usher. How the earth is governed is not quite spelled out but the U.S. president (Sela Ward) seems to have an oversized role amongst all this new brotherhood. Once the alien attack starts though out go our communications satellites. This time though we revert to a newer technology to keep in touch: yes, shortwave radio instead of Morse code!

The movie does move along at a brisk enough pace but the characters this time are far less engaging while the movie suffers from an overdose of alien attack syndrome. The supposedly scientific explanations don’t make much sense and at times troopers are so busy shooting at aliens that it reminded me of a slightly better version of Starship Troopers. In short, this movie may not escape a Rifftrax commentary in a few years. And if you enjoyed the many implausible encounters in the first movie (like between the First Lady and the fighter pilot’s fiancée), wow, buckle your seatbelts because there are heaps more here.

It won’t spoil the plot to let you know that we beat the bugs again, with the help of a little extraterrestrial intelligence. Personally, I would have enjoyed seeing the aliens win. At least that would have been different.

If your standards in popcorn movies are low, by all means go see Independence Day: Resurgence. It’s not a bad movie, just not nearly as engaging as the first one and so rife with cliché and stereotypical characters it’s hard to care if any of the major characters get blown up by bugs. Not many actually do, of course, which means there’s a good chance for another sequel, as the end of the movie makes clear. Maybe based on this experience I’ll wisely skip any next sequel.

2.8 out of four stars here.

Rating: ★★¾☆ 

 
The Thinker

Second viewing: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 5)

Season 5 of this series holds its own, which is good because usually by the fifth season of anything the quality tends to degrade. Granted, the formula rarely changes from week to week with any of the Star Trek series. The Enterprise/Voyager/Deep Space Nine station is almost always under some jeopardy or unprecedented conditions and the plucky crew somehow manages to triumph over certain doom. If exploring space were this dangerous no one would bother. Anyhow, if you want to scan Season 5 and watch only the good stuff, you can use my mini episode reviews with confidence.

  1. Redemption II. This conclusion to the Season 4 cliffhanger was worth the summer wait as Picard and the Enterprise try to keep a Klingon civil war from starting while Romulans covertly try to smuggle arms to traitorous Klingons who want to the empire to ditch the Federation. Picard becomes something of a commodore and strings together a temporary fleet to blockade the Romulans along the zone between the Romulan Empire and Vulcan. This is a really fun episode particularly because Commander Data becomes temporary commander of the understaffed Sutherland and he gets to kick some serious ass. Denise Crosby clearly regretted leaving the show in Season 1 because she is back again as Tasha Yar’s daughter, now the Romulan commander Sela, who apparently inherited none of her father’s DNA. As a bonus Worf finally gets rid of his discommendation, which will prove useful in the seasons ahead. (Note: the Sutherland was a British ship also commanded by the fictional Horatio Hornblower, and was woefully understaffed. That is doubtless not a coincidence here.) A+
  2. Darmok. Picard gets caught up in an encounter with Danthon (Paul Winfield), a prominent Tamarian who is wrestling with an unseen foe on the planet where Picard is taken. Conveniently the Enterprise cannot rescue the captain but there’s the additional challenge that Tamarians communicate through metaphor, making communications almost impossible. Lots of flash and action in this episode, but little light here, so it’s eminently skippable. C.
  3. Ensign Ro. A disgraced Starfleet officer, Ensign Ro, is assigned to the Enterprise to help persuade her fellow Bajorans to refrain from attacking Federation colonies. Her real mission is something much worse that involves the Cardassians, but there’s the added complication that she has a smartass mouth and does not follow orders. Guinan helps her sort things out as does Picard, who adopts her as something like the new Wesley while he is off at the academy. Ensign Ro (Michelle Forbes) becomes something of a recurring character through Season 5. A-
  4. Silicon Avatar. The Crystalline Entity is back (see Season 1) and lays waste to a colony and all the life forms on the planet, except for some colonists the Enterprise away team manages to save deep inside a cave. Doctor Marr, a specialist on the entity, joins on a mission to confront the entity but has a chip on her shoulder because the entity killed her son. As the entity shows signs of intelligence the choice becomes whether to talk to it or kill it. B
  5. Disaster. A series of powerful vibrational strings nearly destroys the Enterprise. The show becomes a fight for survival with a number of subplots, some of them a bit annoying. Keeping it wholly on the Enterprise certainly saved production costs. B
  6. The Game. Wesley pays a visit to the Enterprise during a break from Starfleet Academy and gets a serious crush on Ensign Robin Lefler (Ashley Judd, I mean, who wouldn’t?) Riker meanwhile returns from the pleasure planet Risa with an addictive game that soon take over the Enterprise crew for nefarious ends, and only Wesley and Robin aren’t playing. The problem with the episode is one you see repeatedly: piss poor security practices, but otherwise it’s pretty fun to see the crew turn into game playing zombies. B-
  7. Unification I. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has gone rogue and has secretly moved to Romulus where he is trying to teach logic and peace to an underground movement. Before going, Picard meets briefly with Spock’s father Sarek (Mark Lenard), who is estranged from Spock and close to death but shares what he knows about Spock’s mission. Picard uses a cloaked Klingon ship to secretly go to Romulus to contact Spock, bringing Data along. They find Spock just in time to end the episode so it can be continued in… A
  8. Unification II. … the second part wherein Spock spurns Picard’s request to stop his cowboy diplomacy. Picard also conveys the news of the death of Sarek, which does affect the logical Vulcan, particularly after he mind melds with Picard, who shared his mind with Sarek in a previous episode. Back on the Enterprise, Riker figures out that some missing Vulcan ships are being used by the Romulans to start an armed insurrection on Vulcan. This is being masterminded by … you guessed it … Sela (Denise Crosby) from the first episode of the season. A
  9. A Matter of Time. Penthara Four is hit by an asteroid that is triggering a catastrophic and sudden global cooling event. The only way to fix it is through a highly risky maneuver likely to wipe out all life on the planet and Captain Picard gets to decide if it’s worth the risk. A “historian” time traveler from the 26th century played by Matt Frewer shows up to supposedly document this famously historical incident but unsurprisingly he has ulterior motives. Frewer (“Max Headroom”) enlivens the show but really there’s not much worth viewing here. C
  10. New Ground. Worf’s adopted human parents decide they are too old to take care of his son Alexander, so Worf and Alexander have to try to establish a functional relationship, an uphill task. This is really the meat of this episode, such as it is, while the “plot” involves an experimental “solitonic wave” that could replace warp drive but causes a predictable crisis instead. At least Worf is no longer the only Klingon on the ship at the end of this episode. Pass. C
  11. Hero Worship. The crew finds only a child alive in a federation science vessel. After rescue, he quickly starts emulating Data as a way to cope with his feelings of loss and presumed guilt that he caused the catastrophe on his ship. The Enterprise gets caught up in the same phenomenon and has to figure out how to survive it. Nothing here you haven’t seen elsewhere, so pass. C
  12. Violations. Some “telepathic historians” join the Enterprise on a peace mission, but one of these mind readers has boundary issues, which causes those affected like Troi and Riker to be psychologically raped then go into traumatic comas. B
  13. The Masterpiece Society. Moab IV is in great danger because a stellar core fragment is due to pass by the planet, destroying its insular and otherwise unknown colony of humans creating utopia through good genetics and isolation. They accept help from the Enterprise only with great reluctance. Of course interaction causes changes to the dynamics of their society and breaks the Prime Directive too. It becomes clear that if the colony survives it will still be permanently altered by their presence. B-
  14. Conundrum. An alien ship scans the Enterprise and wipes out everyone’s memories of who they are. The aliens on the ship unsurprisingly have ulterior motives and plan to use the Enterprise as their proxy in a longstanding war. This turns out to be a fun and novel episode: some place the crew has actually never gone before. While not the show at its best, it is one you will want to watch for its theatrics. A-
  15. Power Play. The Enterprise picks up a distress call from what turns out to be lifeless moon. Upon landing the away team is quickly possessed by something. Eventually we learn it’s the spirits of prisoners left there doing the possession. The moon is a penal colony and these evil spirits are all trying to escape the planet. They possess Data, Chief O’Brien and Counselor Troi who nearly succeed in taking over the Enterprise so these spirits can return “home”. Except for seeing Data getting nasty, there’s not much reason to tune in to see this one. C
  16. Ethics. Worf’s spine gets severed in an accident, which proves that not only is security pretty poor on the Enterprise, but they don’t know how to secure barrels properly in the cargo bay either. In short, Picard is running a sloppy ship! Worf wants a dignified death and asks Riker to kill him like a Klingon would do, which he won’t. All this confuses and stresses his poor son Alexander. A rogue surgeon Dr. Russell comes aboard and advocates for a risky procedure to replicate and replace Worf’s spine, which gets Dr. Crusher’s professional dander up. Not sure what the point of this episode was except to fill out a season, but rest assured you can skip it without guilt. C
  17. The Outcast. The J’naii, a genderless species, contacts the Enterprise to get help finding a missing shuttle. This becomes quite a fascinating episode in today’s light, as it parallels the modern LGBT movement in a sort of reverse way. Those among the J’naii with gender feelings must be “corrected”. Soren, with feminine feelings, is one of these and working with Riker they develop strong feelings for each other. The only things that doesn’t quite work here is that Soren should have had male orientation, as it would have made it much more interesting for Riker to fall for a man, a critique Jonathan Frakes shared afterward. Otherwise it’s quite excellent, a couple of decades before its time, and one of the few episodes where the Enterprise actually boldly goes where no show up until that time had dared to go. A
  18. Cause and Effect. The Enterprise becomes caught in a time loop that always results in the destruction of the Enterprise. The interesting take here is how they figure a way out of it when they have no idea what’s going to happen. It’s déjà vu all over again. A
  19. The First Duty. Cadet Wesley Crusher gets injured during a maneuver with teammates around Saturn’s moons. Will the truth come out? Picard, scheduled to address the graduating students naturally gets involved since Wesley is involved and helps him do the right thing. B
  20. Cost of Living. Perhaps channeling Gene Roddenberry’s death during this season, his wife Majel Barrett appears again as Troi’s mother Lwaxana, who is feeling her age and agrees to be betrothed to a man she hasn’t met. Needless to say they aren’t well suited for each other, so she fusses over Worf’s son Alexander instead. This is as cringe-worthy as all these episodes. D
  21. The Perfect Mate. An empathic metamorph who can sexually and romantically bond perfectly with any male and is in peak hormones comes aboard the Enterprise. An ambassador is ferrying her to a planet where she will be a key part of a lasting peace between two warring worlds. She is every man’s ideal mate but when her guide Briam has an accident, Picard has to figure out a way to coach her while not getting involved with her. This episode is just fascinating and the most interesting part is puzzling through how Picard manages to do what no one else can do and stay detached from her. So it becomes something of a psychological study of Picard’s brain and motivation. It leaves it unanswered, but my guess is Picard is too self-controlled to allow himself to wholly let down his guard to anyone, even the perfect mate. Best of the season. A+
  22. Imaginary Friend. A young daughter of a man who works in engineering has an imaginary friend, which due to some usual fantastical events becomes a real evil alien girlfriend who starts wreaking havoc on the ship. Quite skippable. C
  23. I, Borg. The Borg are not back, but one Borg, a survivor from a crashed Borg scout ship, is rescued and isolated aboard the Enterprise. Picard who was once Locutus of Borg wants to use “3 of 5” to implant the viral idea of individuality that would destroy all the Borg. However, isolated from the collective this Borg, who the crew names Hugh, slowly gains an appreciation for humans and causes Picard to rethink his strategy. Good stuff. A
  24. The Next Phase. Trying to help a distressed Romulan ship, Geordi and Ensign Ro get caught up in a transporter “accident” that appears to have killed them, but in reality puts them in a time phase so that they can’t be seen while they wander around both the Romulan ship and the Enterprise unseen. Along for the ride is a Romulan who plans to destroy the Enterprise when it completes repairs and goes into warp drive. Can Geordi and Ro get back to their own phase and save the Enteprise? Of course, but the fun is getting there. B
  25. The Inner Light. Encountering an unmanned alien ship, Picard gets stunned and finds himself on another planet and in a new life, which unfolds over 30 years. He is married and eventually has two children and grows old while only minutes pass on the Enterprise. The plot here doesn’t really make any sense (how did the people of this planet create such a powerful probe when they have barely mastered putting a satellite into space?) but it strangely becomes a very moving episode anyhow. A
  26. Time’s Arrow I. Data’s deceased head is found underneath San Francisco, dated to the end of the 19th century. The Enterprise investigates the source of particles found in the chamber, which eventually sends Data back to this time and his probable death. Guinan advises Picard to go on a rescue attempt, because otherwise they will never meet. Includes Jerry Hardin playing a convincing Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). The conclusion awaits in Season 6 but this doesn’t quite feel like cliffhanger material. B
 
The Thinker

Second Viewing: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 4)

I may be ODing on STTNG. Last night Patrick Stewart/Capt. Jean Luc Picard kept coming in and out of my dreams. It still amazes me that I purged most of this stuff over the years. In a way that’s good because it’s like seeing STTNG for the first time 25 years or so later. Season 3 was overall very good and ended up with a nasty encounter with the Borg. Except for the cliffhanger from Season 3 in the first episode, there are no more Borg encounters in Season 4. But the Klingon Empire is on the verge of a civil war and the Romulans seem anxious to find a pretext to start a new war with the Federation. Capsule episode reviews follow, so if you are seeing the series for the first time you can use these to skip the good stuff.

  1. The Best of Both Worlds, Part II. Captain Picard is still Locutus of Borg and has his mind tapped by the Borg to learn about the Federation’s weaknesses. To cope, the new albeit temporary Captain Riker has to develop some new strategies that Picard/Locutus could not infer. The Enterprise is severely disabled by its encounter, but at least it survives. The Borg destroy a fleet of starships then beeline for Earth, followed by the Enterprise once it affects repairs. Naturally using unorthodox strategies the Borg ship is destroyed and the captain is rescued, but just barely. Picard feels mentally raped and struggles to resume his command. A+
  2. Family. Trying to get his shit back together and since the Enterprise is back at Earth getting repaired, Picard takes a holiday with his family at their vineyard in France. Family turns out to be his grouchy and insular brother, his sweet sister-in-law and his “uncle”, actually his nephew. This is really a continuation of the last episode and shows just how ripped apart Picard became when captured by the Borg. Patrick Steward does some of his best acting of the series in this episode as Picard works through control issues with his brother. Meanwhile, Worf has a reunion with his adopted human parents while Beverly discovers a dated tape of her late husband who has a message for Wesley. A
  3. Brothers. Presumably Brent Spiner (Data) got paid extra for this episode as he meets his dying “father”/creator Noonean Soong (played by Spiner) and reunites with his evil “brother” Lore (also played by Spiner). Unfortunately, Data hijacks the Enterprise in the process but it’s not his fault; his homing beacon is built into his firmware and Dad wants to give Data an emotion chip before he dies. C
  4. Suddenly Human. The Enterprise rescues a Talarian vessel with five boys, one human. The human boy Jono was adopted by a Talarian (Endar) after the Talarians killed his parents and many other humans. The war-like Talarians are very anti-human but Jono seems attached to them. Picard exposes Jono to his real family, setting up a huge cognitive dissonance episode in the boy. Where does he belong? B
  5. Remember Me. In typical Star Trek fashion, the highly atypical thing happens but it’s all Wesley’s fault when his science experiment goes awry again. This generates what seems to be a cascading series of events where the Enterprise crew keeps mysteriously shrinking but only Dr. Crusher can remember the way things used to be. Although the crisis of the day seems too familiar, surprisingly this is actually a terrific episode as it plays mind games with you. Gates McFadden again gets to prove she can be a hell of an actor too when given a chance to shine. Good stuff. A
  6. Legacy. Tasha Yar’s sister shows up when the Enterprise shows up at their late security officer’s home planet. They are there to rescue people from a Federation freighter that crashed on the planet. On the planet two groups of rival gangs fight an endless battle for control. Tasha’s sister Ishara is used by one side to try to gain leverage by one group with the Federation, while the Enterprise crew tries to make her feel at home and offers her a chance to leave the planet for good like her sister did. Ishara seems willing to help and to leave, but is she really being duplicitous? And is her friendship with Data real or just a tactic? B
  7. Reunion. Klingons sure are a lot of bother and will become more so later in the season. In this episode Worf’s half human/half Klingon love interest/infatuation from Season 2 (K’Ehleyr) returns with a boy that bears an uncanny resemblance to Worf and turns out to be his son. K’Ehleyr is trying to mediate a succession dispute within the Klingon empire because its leader has been poisoned and is nearing death. In addition, an explosion is determined to be due to a Romulan bomb, suggesting that the Klingon Duras who quests for power is in cahoots with the Romulans. All this while Worf is officially “dis-accommodated” adds up to a big power struggle that Picard gets pulled into. B+
  8. Future Imperfect. During an away mission, Riker mysteriously awakes sixteen years later. He is the Captain of the Enterprise but everyone assures him he was suffering from a condition that would cause this memory loss. Or is something else going on? Of course it’s the latter but getting there is half the fun. B
  9. Final Mission. Wesley finally gets a call to attend Starfleet Academy but before he leaves he and Captain Picard end up on an away mission with a crusty miner whose badly maintained vessel ends up on an inhospitable planet. Wesley and Picard get to tell each other how much they really admire each other, and Wesley also gets to save the captain’s life. This feels like a creepy bromance written to satisfy the fans, but it’s utterly predictable and uninteresting. On the plus side, the Enterprise doesn’t have Wesley to muck things up anymore, at least not for a while. C-
  10. The Loss. Troi mysteriously loses her empathic powers and she finds it is devastating. It doubtless has something to do with the two dimensional creature off the helm and a powerful nearby cosmic string which of course looks lethal and will tear the Enterprise apart if our heroes can’t figure it out in time. Marina Sirtis does a great job here as a hobbled empath but otherwise the jeopardy feels kind of forced, like the basic plot that we see over and over. B
  11. Data’s Day. Data documents his day for a researcher and learns to dance from Dr. Crusher all while Chief O’Brian’s fiancé Keiko (Rosalind Chao) abruptly calls of their wedding. Meanwhile, to give the episode some semblance of a plot, there is an encounter with the Romulans and a spy on board. Keiko became a semi-regular of the show in this episode, at least until the producers spun off Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where the two lovebirds eventually migrated to. C
  12. The Wounded. A highly regarded Captain is busy destroying Cardassian ships against the orders of the Federation High Council, as he suspects them of planning to restart a war. This is a terrific show and one of the highlights of the fourth season, with a delicious last minute or so when Picard has a little chat with the captain of a Cardassian ship. The Federation simply does not pay Picard enough! A+
  13. Devil’s Due. A mythical power returns after many millennium to a planet that seems eager to believe she must enslave them, as their predecessors had signed a contract with her for the long period of peace. Is she real or is there a man behind the curtain? Not hard to figure this one out so it’s easy to skip. C
  14. Clues. The Enterprise goes through a wormhole and loses 30 seconds … or was it 24 hours? This is actually a pretty clever whodunit with a twist ending you probably won’t see coming and very well done. It turns the normal jeopardy plot on its head. A
  15. First Contact. The Federation has been studying the humanoids on Malcor III and decides it’s time to make first contact and tell them about the rest of the universe. But are they really sufficiently advanced enough? Thinks go awry for Riker on the away mission, which sets up a massive case of future shock. B+
  16. Galaxy’s Child. Geordi gets to meet in the flesh Dr. Brahms, the designer of their engines he first “met” in a simulation on the holodeck in Season 3. He discovers that Holodeck simulations are not perfect leading to some embarrassing incidents for the infatuated Geordi. Fortunately Dr. Brahms is around when they uncover a one of its kind huge spacefaring creature. When it reproduces it finds itself drawn to the Enterprise and sucks its energy like a vampire with a fresh neck. Geordi and Dr. Brahms have to play nicely and wean this new “baby” off the hull before of course the Enterprise gets destroyed. C+
  17. Night Terrors. Why did the crew of the Brattain go crazy and kill themselves? The Enterprise crew gets the same symptoms when they investigate the incident, leading to literally sleepless nights, crew violence and the Enterprise getting trapped inside yet another rift. Nothing really new here. The crew didn’t get much sleep, but you might sleep through this one. C
  18. Identity Crisis. Geordi reunites with an old service friend and superior Susanna. They are the only two still alive from an away team mission both were on in a previous posting. On a new mission back to the place where the incident occurred, Susanna transforms into an alien creature with Geordi following suit. Can this be reversed before their entire human DNA is changed to the new species? Of course it can; Levar Burton had a contract to fulfill. B-
  19. The Nth Degree. Lieutenant Barclay from Engineering is back and having some success fighting his shyness but soon becomes extroverted and unnaturally smart, in fact sort of superhuman. It turns out he’s really channeling the powers of a race at the center of the galaxy. C
  20. Qpid. Vash is back and Q shows up for the ride. Q takes the key staff on a not so merry visit to Sherwood Forest and Nottingham. This is pure fluff and was written to perhaps give the cast a change of pace. It’s really just very irritating but with the occasional flash of humor. D
  21. The Drumhead. Is the explosion of a dilithium crystal chamber a work of sabotage? A respected retired ambassador with a chip on her shoulder arrives to find out and quickly turns it into an inquisition and fishing expedition. Naturally, Picard is greatly concerned by this 24th century McCarthy-ism. It’s not too hard to see where this is going but somehow it doesn’t matter as it is done so well and Patrick Stewart does such an adroit job with Picard’s untangling of this matter. A-
  22. Half a Life. Finally a Lwaxana Troi episode you don’t entirely cringe through. Since Picard won’t let her make his life miserable, she latches onto a visiting scientist from the planet Kaelon II (David Ogden Stiers, or Major Winchester if you remember M*A*S*H) who is trying to save his planet by fine tuning its cooling star. Dr. Timicin though is approaching age 60 and on his planet that means a nice life celebration followed by a peaceful death, and Lwaxana is not amused. Still not a great episode but the best of the bunch for the executive producer’s wife (Majel Barrett) seemingly annual guest appearance. B-
  23. The Host. Crusher falls madly in love. Unfortunately, she falls for a Trill without understanding it’s a species that lives inside a host’s body. The body dies and it moves temporarily to Commander Riker and finally to a female host. The idea of trill is actually one of the better ones that Star Trek writers kicked out and this one explores the meaning of love and actually shines some light on the subject. This is topical 25 years later as we struggle through issues like whether a transgender person can use the restroom of their choice. Good topical stuff all these years later. A
  24. The Mind’s Eye. When Geordi takes a shuttlecraft to a conference, he finds he is kidnapped by the Romulans, brainwashed and his visor is hacked to make him an assassin when he returns to the Enterprise. This time it is largely up to Data to figure out what’s going on, and he’ll need all the sleuthing powers of his hero Sherlock Holmes to figure it out. A-
  25. In Theory. Data gets hit on by the comely Ensign D’Sora and attempts to be her boyfriend, but of course android and human have inherent relationship problems. Data makes it seem like he has no experience in the lovemaking department but it’s not quite true. In Season 2, he related that he and Security Officer Tasha Yar were “intimate” so perhaps he had some tricks up his sleeve. Alas, it doesn’t look like this relationship was consummated. Data turns out to be D’Sora’s “rebound” boyfriend after a failed relationship. C-
  26. Redemption I. It’s time for a season cliffhanger, but no Borg this time, just more Klingon succession issues all while Worf tries to remove the unjust dishonor placed on his family. It looks like there are Romulans colluding with some Klingons to break the Klingon Empire’s relationship with the Federation. Worf, his brother and Picard quickly step deep into the doo doo. What’s really going on? And is that really Tasha Yar as a Romulan commander? The exciting conclusion awaits in Season 5, Episode 1. A
 
The Thinker

Second viewing: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 3)

I’m working my way through this series again, now nearly thirty years in the past. Like a fine wine, STTNG improves with age and in this case subsequent seasons improve too. Season 1 was hardly watchable. Season 2 gave you some reasons to watch and introduced the neatest villain ever: the Borg. In Season 3 the first half leaves a lot to be desired then picks up and ends strongly.

You can read my reviews of Season 2 and Season 1 if you missed them. You can use my reviews to decide if an episode is worth bothering with. With well over a hundred and fifty episodes over seven seasons, there is little reason to see them all unless you are a diehard Trekkie, particularly those that disappoint, so use my reviews.

  1. Evolution. Acting ensign Wesley creates a science experiment with “nanites” that goes awry. It’s interesting that they conceived the idea of microscopic robots so long ago, an idea now starting to bear some fruition. The nanites become intelligent and declare themselves to be their own species, and when attacked hijack the Enterprise’s computer system. It’s an interesting premise unless you think about it a bit: mainly, why is there no proctor for Wesley’s creative experiments? Wesley and others on the Enterprise often do stupid stuff like this. C+
  2. The Ensigns of Command. Data is tasked to tell some colonists they must leave their planet or a species that claims their planet will destroy them. There are many skeptics among the colonists, so Data has to improvise. This is predictable stuff but it’s fun to see Data take on a human challenge. C+
  3. The Survivors. A verdant planet with millions of inhabitants is blown to smithereens except for a small patch containing an aging scientist and his wife. Why were they spared? The answer will disappoint. C
  4. Who Watches the Watchers? The Prime Directive gets the Enterprise in trouble again, but this time at least they have a good excuse: a Federation team silently observing these humanoids have their invisibility shields break down so they get discovered. Naturally, the Enterprise team is treated like gods and in the end it’s up to Picard to convince them there is a fake wizard behind the curtain. He succeeds but it feels too well wrapped up: the lady they bring aboard (Liko) is like, well okay we’ll all do our best to evolve naturally: see you in a few million years. C+
  5. The Bonding. An away team led by Worf ends in tragedy when one of the team, a mother, is killed. Her distraught son naturally blames Worf who was in charge and Worf gets a case of the guilts. Wesley tries to help the kid cope but then suddenly the kid’s mom is back. It’s some alien voodoo on the planet responsible for all this of course. The Enterprise crew feels duty bound to demonstrate that this “mom” is a fraud. Worf helps the kid cope with the loss in a Klingon bonding ceremony. Michael Dorn’s acting makes this otherwise predictable plot watchable. B
  6. Booby Trap. The enterprise gets sucked into a trap in the universe set to snare starships. Naturally the crew has to fight their way out somehow and Geordi gets tapped on the shoulder. To figure it out he needs the help of the designer of their warp engines replicated on the holodeck who he quickly falls for. B
  7. The Enemy. Geordi gets trapped on an inhospitable planet with a Romulan, which makes for strange bedfellows, literally. The plot feels pretty contrived but it’s fun and works somehow. B
  8. The Price. Deanna becomes infatuated with a dumb empathic negotiator who works through telepathic translators. Assassins get the translators leaving the negotiator to try to nonverbally bring two warring factions on a planet together in peace. Riker doesn’t look too happy with her choice in men, but he’s a nice guy at least. B
  9. The Vengeance Factor. The Enterprise gets involved in yet another clash of civilizations but in the process Riker falls for a woman who he eventually discovers is a carefully altered assassin. Can he keep his feelings from getting in the way of his duties? B
  10. The Defector. Why is this Romulan general defecting to the Federation? He says it’s to keep the Romulans and the Federation from open warfare. Fortunately, Captain Picard is smart enough to plan for the worst leading to a neat Corbomite maneuver at the end of the episode. A
  11. The Hunted. Again it’s up to Picard to figure out what’s really going on, this time at a penal colony. Unfortunately, they take on an escapee who seems (well actually is) engineered to get himself out of any box and he’ll take the Enterprise down with him. This is a lot of fun, keeps you hopping but again the Enterprise really needs to up its internal security defenses. You listening to me, Chief Security Officer Worf? A-
  12. The High Ground. A rare episode where Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) gets to shine, here as a hostage who has to be high-minded while evolving feelings for her captor on one side of a complex civil war where giving your life for the cause is part of the mission. Lots of modern parallels in this episode. (The Islamic State comes to mind.) B
  13. Déjà Q. Q gets his comeuppance from the Q Continuum who realize he may be God-like but he’s basically a jerk. Q (John De Lancie) is forced to struggle for survival as a human on the Enterprise and try to wend his way back into the Continuum’s good graces. Fortunately, it happens just in time before everyone on the Enterprise decides to strange him for being so insufferable. C
  14. A Matter of Perspective. Riker gets accused of murder and also seducing the wife of a prominent scientist. He gets a trial of sorts using simulations on the Holodeck. C
  15. Yesterday’s Enterprise. The Enterprise gets sucked into yet another quantum flux of some sort, but this one is fun as they find the Enterprise C is stuck in the same space. The Enterprise C was destroyed in battle, but the two captains (Tricia O’Neill is terrific as Enterprise C Captain Garrett) get to meet, along with their first officers, and it’s all good, except the Enterprise C is still doomed. In addition, a quirk in the flux allows Denise Crosby (playing Tasha Yar) to reprise her role from Season 1. She still dies, but has a better death and seems to find true love. Good stuff! A
  16. The Offspring. Data creates a “daughter”, who names herself Lal. Lal though quickly evolves as an android in ways that Data cannot, including being able to do contractions and feel emotions. It’s not easy for an android to have emotions and she keeps Counselor Troi busy. This is quite special and endearing. Hallie Todd as Lal is terrific. A
  17. Sins of the Father. In an earlier season, Riker got to try out being first officer on a Klingon ship. In this episode, a Klingon officer becomes the Enterprise’s temporary first officer, but it turns out he’s actually Worf’s younger brother and there is a serious problem involving factions trying to control the Klingon Empire where both he and Worf prove pivotal. Picard gets to stand with Worf and act Klingon-y, which is neat. In fact, this is just terrific, the sort of show you wait all season for and the best show of Season 3 with plenty of competition. A+
  18. Allegiance. Aliens kidnap and replicate Picard. An alien in his body does lots of strange things like putting the moves on Doctor Crusher. Naturally, the crew is wondering what happened to their Captain but he is genetically identical. Picard meanwhile is trapped in a room with other prisoners being used this way and they try to find their way out. C
  19. Captain’s Holiday. A prickly Picard reluctantly takes a holiday on a pleasure planet but wants to read books rather than get laid. The latter seems to be the point of the planet. There he meets Vash (Jennifer Hetrick), who recurs in future episodes as a beautiful but dangerous galactic vagabond. They go on something of a treasure hunt together. True story: Patrick Stewart and Hetrick started dating each other because of this episode, so the chemistry on screen was also going on off the set. B-
  20. Tin Man. A super-telepathic and troubled Betazoid and former patient of Counselor Troi comes aboard to help make contact with “Tin Man”, a strange starship that appears to be an alien life form that will soon be destroyed when the nearby star goes supernova. Tam (the telepath) doesn’t work and play well with others, but Tin Man becomes a perfect companion. B
  21. Hollow Pursuits. Reggie, one of Geordi’s engineers is not quite Enterprise material, is late for work and spends much of his time on the Holodeck engaging in inappropriate relationships with replicants of the crew. Naturally a crisis happens and Reggie must perform. Can he get his act together? This is pretty cringe-worthy. D
  22. The Most Toys. Data is kidnapped by a ruthless (but somewhat charming) kidnapper. Can Data kill to save others and himself? This is a bit predictable but fun. B-
  23. Sarek. Yeah! Spock’s father Sarek (Mark Lenard) is back with his newest human wife. Boo! Sarek is two hundred years old and is losing control of his emotions, but must negotiate a critical peace treaty. This requires Picard and Sarek to do a mind-meld so Picard can provide the stability Sarek lacks. Stewart proves again he is a first class actor and Lenard has lost nothing since 1968, including his looks. A
  24. Ménage à Troi. A Ferengi captain kidnaps Troi, her mother Lwaxana (Majel Barrett) and Riker but eventually only Lwaxana remains. The Ferengi captain surprisingly finds her hot and wants to make her his wife. It’s hard to know who is more annoying: Lwaxana or the Ferengi captain Daimon Tog. If you like the sounds of fingernails on a blackboard, you’ll love this grating and predictable episode. D
  25. Transfigurations. The Enterprise finds an escape pod containing a man with amnesia who they call John Doe. He’s very nice and empathic. Everyone loves him and Beverly starts falling in love with him. But he’s actually a hunted man with very special powers that his species needs to evolve but which they are resisting. B
  26. The Best of Both Worlds. The Borg are back so you know what that means: huge space battles against huge odds, and this one delivers these goods, a threat to Earth’s existence all while Picard gets kidnapped and turned into a Borg and Riker has to think on his feet. This has got it all and fits well as the season cliffhanger. It’s amazing though that it was bested by Sins of the Father. A+
 
The Thinker

Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Some month’s back I reviewed M. Night Shyamalan’s latest low budget movie The Visit, a pretty good example that less can be more in a movie. It wasn’t particularly hard to figure out, but it was still well done, creepy and plausible. The secret to a good horror movie is to make it something that you can relate to.

Last night we went to see 10 Cloverfield Lane and I can happily report that unlike most movies in this genre, it totally creeped me out. It creeped me out so much that I dreamed about it most of the night, naturally in morphed situations where I was in a similar role. It couldn’t have cost that much more than The Visit for except for some special effects in the last ten minutes it all takes place in a small bunker. And whereas The Visit had a cast of four, this effectively has a cast of three, unless you count John Goodman as Howard, whose immense bulk is hard to ignore. Maybe he counts as two. For the kids in The Visit, getting away from the grandparents is not too hard: just run away. For poor Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) there really is no escape. That’s the key here in this horror movie: the characters are put into a box from which it’s virtually impossible to come out alive.

And that’s because Armageddon has arrived. Emmett spent months helping the obsessed Howard build a survival shelter on his property. Howard may be sixty-something and massively overweight but at least he can sense when the end is near and he was prepared. The cause of Armageddon is unclear: was it nuclear war or some sort of massive chemical attack? Was it the Russians, the North Koreans or space aliens? As the youthful Emmett relates it (he managed to fight his way into Howard’s shelter) whatever it was, it sure was bad, but it was worth the broken arm to simply have the chance to survive. To the college-age Michelle, she had no idea Armageddon had even arrived. She got into a terrible car accident and found herself a dozen or more feet underground in Howard’s bunker, chained to a wall in a cinder block room with lacerations on her head and a brace on her leg. Needless to say she is terrified and she is dubious that the paranoid Howard is telling the truth about the outside, particularly when she occasionally feels the grounds shake and she hears loud noises above them.

John Goodman proves himself a hell of an actor and veers between weird, plausibly honorable, humorous, self-deprecating and homicidal. Whatever may be happening when the ground shakes, it is clear that Howard has plenty of issues and will rock their inner world. Given his size and that he has all the keys and a gun, it behooves Michelle and Emmett to be nice to him. There’s not much space in the shelter and even if Howard weren’t so strange it’s hard to share close quarters and not get on each other’s nerves.

I can’t say too much more without giving away great portions of the plot. The important thing to understand is this is a hell of a great premise and even better it had a terrific director (Dan Trachtenberg) to do it justice. And yet it could not have cost much to make, because both Winstead and Gallagher are virtually no name actors. This leaves Goodman to chew the scenery, but not objectionably. And boy is he creepy and gets more so as this story enfolds. A trip to a chamber near the surface convinces Michelle that Howard is telling some variation of the truth, but also surfaces clues that Howard is one messed up and very violent man.

If M. Night Shyamalan sees the movie he’s no doubt pissed that he didn’t get to direct it, but I doubt he could do a better job. It bears some semblance to his 2002 movie Signs starring Mel Gibson. I won’t report if there are aliens in this movie like there were in Signs but Howard can stand in for any alien from another planet. How do you win in this unwinnable situation? How do you come out alive, particularly when Howard is paranoid and his beneficence is often fleeting?

10 Cloverfield Lane inhabits a slim genre of movies that I see. I see plenty of movies and many of them are superstarred and airbrushed to within an inch of their lives. 10 Cloverfield Lane should end leaving you feeling like you’ve seen a movie. A movie is not just a movie, it’s a movie that makes an impact, will resonate with you, which actually feels special and which you can’t possibly forget. If you aren’t too squicked out by horror and violence, it’s quite a tour de force on what must have been a very modest budget.In short, it’s terrific so go see it if you don’t have a weak stomach and skip the bloated Superman v. Batman flick. 3.4 out of four-points. It ends in a way that suggests a sequel is possible, and I’ll be first in line to see it.

Rating: ★★★½ 

 
The Thinker

Second Viewing: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 2)

Yes, it is strange to go back and see this series again nearly thirty years later. It was a wonder I stayed with it after the first season of this Star Trek reboot. Even so, the first season was no worse that the second season of STTOS (Star Trek: The Original Series). It must have been the franchise that kept me watching. Either that or it was Patrick Stewart.

Thankfully Season 2 is a big improvement on Season 1, but does not come close to the last five years of the season, and it introduces us to the Borg. But there are some peculiarities in this season. Most strange is the introduction of Dr. Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) as Chief Medical Officer. McFadden (Beverly Crusher) was fired at the end of Season 1 for reasons I don’t understand. She returns suddenly in Season 3, probably as a result of fan pressure. Curiously, Crusher’s son Wesley (Wil Wheaton) wasn’t sent packing. Supposedly Beverly was at Star Fleet Medical School. Muldaur is okay as Pulaski, but showed little energy in the role, while “Acting Ensign” Wesley wanders the ship like he’s missing mommy.

Still, we do get Colm Meaney, who shows up as Chief Transporter Officer. Like Stewart, Meaney was probably too good for Star Trek and his role was beneath his capabilities. We also get Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan, whose role is mysterious but who seems to have some sort of special relationship with the Captain while mostly tending bar in the ship’s lounge, Ten Forward, also new in the show. In reality, Goldberg was simply a devout Trekkie who leveraged her stardom for a recurring role. Since she had done The Color Purple just a few years earlier and probably worked for the union minimum, she was likely too good a deal for the producers to turn down. We also get Gene Roddenberry’s wife Majel Barrett back as Deanna’s mom and Q (John de Lancie) makes a reappearance. In addition Commander Riker grows a beard. These changes seemed to settle things down a bit. A writers’ strike reduced the season to 22 episodes.

I watched them to reacquaint myself with the series, but it also gives you the opportunity to skip the chaff and go straight to the wheat, if you read my capsule reviews below:

  1. The Child. A surprisingly touching tale of the mysterious pregnancy of Counselor Deanna Troi by some spiritual entity that delivers a boy that gestates and matures in a matter of days. No virgin birth here but it’s hard not to wonder about the biblical parallels. B+
  2. Where Silence has Lease. The Enterprise gets sucked into a void — basically to be toyed with by a mysterious entity. There are lots of episodes like this in STTNG that doesn’t really make much sense but do pad out a season. C
  3. Elementary Dear Data. Crewmembers get caught in a viral holodeck program based on Sherlock Holmes. It’s innovative until you think about it a bit: whoever programming holodeck software did a really crappy job with the security controls. You would think Worf (security officer) would insist on deactivating the thing. C
  4. The Outrageous Okona. This is mediocre love story hiding under a transparent interplanetary Indiana Jones character. Data continues his endless quest to become human-like through failing to understand humor. C-
  5. Loud as a Whisper. The Enterprise ferries a renown negotiator who is also dumb (cannot speak) and who has agreed to try to bring peace to two warring tribes on a planet. Little mystery to this one. You know the plot, but it is competently made. C+
  6. The Schizoid Man. A strange episode where a dying old man/scientist with affectionate feelings for his much younger and prettier lab assistant occupies Data’s circuitry when his human body dies and then puts the move on his assistant. This episode feels incestuous and weird. D
  7. Unnatural Selection. Another back-to-back creepy episode, this one where a planet full of people who can only clone each other (and who don’t do sex) capture a bunch of Enterprise kids including Wesley before all the cloning ruins their gene pool. Dr. Pulaski of course figures out a solution just in time. D
  8. A Matter of Honor. Riker takes on the challenge of a temporary assignment as first officer on the Klingon vessel Pagh and handles the culture shock with aplomb. Quite a bit of fun but you kind of anticipate that his conflicting interests to both the Enterprise and the Pagh will be predictably tested. B+
  9. The Measure of a Man. Is Data a person even though he is an Android? This episode deservedly won all sorts of awards. See it! A
  10. The Dauphin. The Enterprise meets a shape shifter and Wesley develops hormones, only his crush is not quite the young lady he thinks she is. B-
  11. Contagion. The Federation and the Romulans fight over possession of a portal on a planet in the neutral zone that can take people to various periods of time while a mysterious computer virus ravages both vessels. One wonders if their operating system was Windows. B
  12. The Royale. The Enterprise is shocked to find gambling going on in a casino on an otherwise lifeless and inhospitable planet. Apparently a third rate crime novel is constantly replaying and the away team has to figure out how to end it so they can beam back up. Nothing special here except Picard’s reaction from reading the badly written book. C
  13. Time Squared. The Enterprise finds its captain in one of its shuttlecraft, which is surprising because Picard is still on board. Apparently they are in another weird time rift. You see these a lot on Star Trek but this one is very well done thanks mostly to Stewart’s great acting. A-
  14. The Icarus Factor. Riker is offered a command and meets his estranged father with whom he has bad karma. Wesley helps Worf have a Right of Ascension ritual. B-
  15. Pen Pals. The Prime Directive gets in the way again when Data develops a pen pal relationship with a girl over subspace on a rapidly dying planet. Wesley gets to try leading a team that seems hostile to his youth. This plot feels overly contrived. C
  16. Q Who. Q (John de Lancie) is back to harass the enterprise, but this time for a good cause: to introduce them and the Federation to the Borg, still the scariest space villain of all time. If the episode is about the Borg, you know it’s good and this initial encounter whets your appetite for more at the end of Season 3. A
  17. Samaritan Snare. Picard has a bad heart that must be repaired which forces he and Wesley (who is on the shuttle to take a Starfleet entrance exam) to awkwardly occupy a shuttle. Meanwhile Riker tries to help a vessel seemingly piloted by imbeciles who have an unexpected strength. C+
  18. Up the Long Ladder. Two early settler colonies from Earth in the same star system find a reason to hook up, literally, although they could not be more different. Thirty years later the Irish stereotypes look pretty offensive. Still, it’s kind of fun. B-
  19. Manhunt. Troi’s mother Lwaxsana (Majel Barrett) makes life miserable for Troi and Picard. Troi’s mom is going through a menopause, which makes her horny and particularly indiscreet. Frankly these episodes with Majel (also the voice of the computer) are tedious and unfunny. No exception here. D
  20. The Emissary. Worf meets his match and a potential mate in a half human-Klingon woman he both loathes and loves. She arrives to help the Enterprise deal with a Klingon vessel on a 75-year mission finally returning home. They have to figure out a plausible way to tell them the Klingons are not still at war with the Federation. This is a fun episode and goes to prove that Michael Dorn (Worf) is an excellent actor. B
  21. Peak Performance. With the Enterprise in a war game practicing for a Borg attack, Riker gets to see if he can outsmart Picard. Then the Ferengi appear out of nowhere. B
  22. Shades of Gray. A poisonous plant stings Riker during an away team mission. This allowed the producers to do numerous flashbacks, giving fans effectively half an episode and half of the cast sent home early for the season. Feels and is contrived, probably in reaction to the writers’ strike. Deeply unsatisfying. F
 
The Thinker

Review: Witch

Witch, now playing in theaters is something of a head scratcher. Just what is director and writer Robert Eggers trying to say in this movie of a New England family circa 1630? Chances are that you will emerge from the movie as baffled as I was, so perhaps its meaning (if any) is intended to be in the eye of the beholder. The movie probably won’t leave you satisfied. If there were a “downer of the year” movie Witch would probably win the award and it’s only March. Boy, is it bleak!

That’s not to say this movie about a family ostracized in their New England plantation is not without merit. The acting is quite good and aside from the parents William (Ralph Ineson, who I mistook for Geoffrey Rush) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) it’s otherwise virtually an all-kid cast. Eggers gets fine performance out of these children, some of the best I’ve seen from kids since Haley Joel Osment’s portrayal of Cole in The Sixth Sense. It is also suitably creepy in an M. Night Shyamalan way, who of course took off big as the director in The Sixth Sense. This ostracized and overly religious family (no small thing by Puritan standards) leaves the plantation to make their own path with no compromise in their worship of God. They end up on a creepy meadow at the edge of a forest that reminds me of my new digs here in Western Massachusetts. Except it is always overcast on this meadow next to the forest, and William and Katherine’s reverence doesn’t seem to be of much help. It seems like God has mark against them. Something in their dreary lives they must have inspired his animosity. Maybe it was from all that praying and prostrating of themselves.

All this is a hint to expect nothing in the way of humor or levity in Witch. Get your Pilgrim spirit on and start channeling sermons like Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. For it’s calamity after calamity in Witch and actual witchcraft seems to be at best a figment of their imaginations. Still, what else but witchcraft could cause their infant son to be mysteriously snatched away from them? It certainly doesn’t help matters when their blossoming daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), perhaps as a small act of rebellion against all the excessive Christianity, suggests to her younger siblings that she is a witch. Mostly Thomasin like most of the family seems to be dealing with PTSD. Their family may aspire to be devout but needs a lot of family therapy instead not to mention some fertile land. But all they have is each other and their good book and it’s not enough.

One thing is clear: the movie couldn’t have cost much to make. One short plantation scene and we are out in the middle of nowhere for the rest of the movie. Their farm is mostly a hovel and their efforts at farming aren’t working out. Is it the hunger and malnutrition that cause them to do loopy things? William takes his boy Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) into the woods to try to shoot their way to prosperity and William only manages to hurt himself all while hiding this from his wife.

Meanwhile director Eggers keeps throwing metaphors at us that you don’t know whether to take seriously or not. A wild rabbit eludes being shot and shows up at moments of great crisis. A sign of fertility? Things happen in the woods that may involve a witch but it’s hard to tell. Is it that or is all the PTSD causing the kids to hallucinate? They are obviously not getting their daily Flintstone vitamin. Whatever is bad goes to worse and it won’t be spoiling much to say it all devolves into the worst. Moreover, it’s a violent movie and quite gross in many places.

So that’s what you get: a lot of really good acting, an intimate story of life in the wilderness in early Puritan New England, metaphors like the rabbit and a ram and — not to spoil too much – a lot of people in this family will meet untimely ends. Thomasin seems to be the one most between a rock and a hard place. Her mom suspects she is a witch and wants her banished, but is too busy dealing with other traumas to do much about it. William is trying hard to be godly and devout but the harder he tries the more nature and real life proves his better. All this plus a lot of 17th century dialog that is accurate for the period but hard to parse; it’s like listening to Shakespeare but without the poetry.

So I think you will either walk out of the theater feeling unsatisfied or you will find some solace in the fine acting and directing and maybe see a meta-meaning to the film. This is one puzzle you can’t put together. Maybe it’s a movie designed to be a Rorschach test. Maybe it’s just a mess. Build your own answer. It’s a dreary bit of cinema but it is well done for whatever that is worth.

2.7 on my four-point scale. Generally this movie should be avoided unless movies with metaphors intrigue you, you want to scratch some Wiccan tendencies (and this will likely leave you unsatisfied) or you want to see really good child actors for a change. Scrimshaw does have an amazing death throes scene. You might want to go just for that.

Rating: ★★¾☆ 

 
The Thinker

Review: Spotlight

It’s not too hard to find the year’s best picture in theaters immediately after it wins the award. That’s where we were yesterday, in part because Tuesday means cheap date night: only $5.75 a ticket all day. If nothing else a Best Picture award suggests the movie is unlikely to be a loser. Spotlight won the award this year, against a host of other worthy contenders and my personal favorite of the bunch (of those I’ve seen), Mad Max: Fury Road. But first, a little rant.

Can anyone recall a Best Picture that was not released near the end of the year? I can’t. Why is this? It’s unclear to me but it is unfair. My personal suspicion is that those in the Academy who have voting privileges suffer from long term memory loss. But they do remember what they have seen recently, which is why it seems these pictures always seem to win in the end. Recognizing the reality the studios probably deliberately hold what they think is their best stuff for the end of the year. At least Mad Max: Fury Road was nominated even though it was outside of the cycle as was The Martian.

Anyhow, I set my expectations high for Best Picture, which left me leaving the theater after seeing Spotlight somewhat disappointed. It’s obviously not a bad movie. If you’ve seen All the President’s Men forty years earlier, you’ll know the plot. In this case the bad guy is not the President of the United States, but the entire Roman Catholic Church. Spotlight is the story of a group of Boston Globe reporters who broke the sex abuse scandal within the Roman Catholic Church, but more specifically within the Boston archdiocese. Boston though was just the tip of this iceberg, actually the tip of the tip. The excitement, such as it is in this movie, is from understanding the magnitude of the abuse, as it becomes clear at the end of the movie. It also comes from understanding why these crimes are so horrendous.

So it’s an interesting story full of twists and turns as you would expect but like All the President’s Men you know how it’s going to end up. The priests mess up a lot of kids, but no one actually dies, except possibly their souls. There’s not even a car chase. What comprises an exciting moment is definitely relative, but there is one near the climax as you would expect when one of the reporters (Mike, played by Mark Ruffalo) runs to the courthouse to get copies of some recently unsealed documents before the competition does. You take what you can get.

What you get is certainly good acting but nothing hugely out of the ordinary. Spotlight is an investigative team at the Globe overseen by Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton). Robby’s two reporters Sacha (Rachel McAdams) and Mike do most of the tedious grunt work. Fortunately they are well supported by the Globe’s staff, which is undergoing some reorganization. The big change is the new executive editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) who basically gives the Spotlight crew their marching orders. At first it’s unclear how this new fancy pants editor from Florida will do in cold and Catholic Boston, but he ends up fitting in pretty well with these Boston-bred reporters. This includes in their managerial chain Ben Bradley Jr. (yes, son of the editor featured in All the President’s Men) played by John Slattery of Mad Men fame.

There is no Deep Throat or dramatic scenes in parking garages in this movie. Much of the action takes place on doorsteps or in cafes where the reporters interview attorneys and abused victims. They form a tight and driven ensemble but soon sense a stonewall, which is the Catholic Church, which is deftly defending itself from potential legal action through a lot of cash payments, victim intimidation and legal tricks.

The best parts of the movie are the interviews with the abuse victims. Even if you are tuned into the scale of the church’s cover up, it still feels astounding when reporters fully uncover just how large of a cover up this is. Mostly the team succeeds through tenacity and wearing out lots of shoe leather.

The grubby feeling of the Boston Globe is well done, as are the cubicles stacked with papers where the reporters work. The makeup is minimal in this movie. Michael Keaton (whose Bird Man movie last year won Best Picture) is not aging well; in fact he looks much older than he is. Kudos perhaps to the actors for not caring. Ruffalo too looks incredibly ordinary and no Bruce Banner. McAdams was hard to recognize under all that frosted blonde hair. All held back much of their acting prowess, which was probably a good choice on the director’s part because it made the movie feel more plausible. Still, you pretty much get the movie you expect. I just did not get a movie that felt to me like it deserved to be in the Best Picture category.

3.2 out of four-points.

Rating: ★★★¼ 

 

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