Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Can you get lost in space? I suppose, in a literal sense, yes of course you can. You find yourself on the wrong end of a magnetized polar variation and bam, you're stuck in the Delta Quadrant for seven years (no offense Captain Janeway). But what Star Trek: Beyond wants to tackle is whether a person's identity can get lost in the vastness and sameness of space; whether it's possible that the day to day living aboard a vessel can leave people questioning their own purpose and general direction in life and whether the solution is a new tactic or the same shtick ad nauseum. In other words, when things begin to feel a bit episodic (pun intended), what keeps us, and the fearless crew of the Enterprise, going at warp speed toward the next horizon? Those types of questions are explored in Star Trek: Beyond. There is a throughline in the movie that should the crew of the Enterprise break up, the individuals of the ship would cease to be the people they need to be. Uhura tells the main antagonist that there is strength in unity and the film goes to many great lengths, via both intense action sequences of everyone working together and quiet musings, to demonstrate that the team, the crew, and the sum total are greater than the parts. But what happens if individuals were to carefully remove themselves from the equation? Take away the linchpins and slowly people lose themselves. Kirk contemplates taking a Vice Admiral position; Spock wonders if he should aid in the re-population of New Vulcan. As fans of the Original Series, and just Star Trek generally, we know, of course, that Kirk and Spock (and Bones, Sulu, Checkov, Scotty, and Uhura) all belong with each other aboard their beloved Enterprise. We know that in another timeline Kirk did achieve the Admiral status and gave it up because his true love, passion, and reason for being is Captaining the Enterprise. In another life, Spock left Vulcan (twice!) to be with his friends. However, the crew members themselves are not privy to the same history that we have; they are living it, making the history we already love. They have to figure out for themselves that there is beauty in the episodic, a sort of mundane glory in wearing the same shirt day after day and recording the same sort of stories time after time; that while chaos gets the blood thrumming and the heart racing, it's the day to day adventures, twists, turns, and sometimes negotiations gone horribly wrong that are their first and best destiny. With that in mind, it's easy to see how Star Trek: Beyond is a coy wink and a nudge from the writers to the fans. This "episode" might be on a much grander and more blockbuster scale, but the script and plot could have come, broadly, from any individual episode of Star Trek (take your pick for series; they all have episodic one-offs). While the crew of the Original Series Enterprise never engaged in this many space battles, the crew landing on some far off planet and dealing with someone who's own ideas stand opposed to the Federation, but is dealt with by Kirk and company, feels all too familiar. The broad strokes of the story could have played on a smaller screen and been a perfectly fine episode and that's what we're dealing with here. The writers want us to love the episodic, to embrace the formula that their Star Trek series is going to stick to. Just like Kirk accepts the glorious mundane, so too we accept and love the comfort of the known. It may not be fresh, innovative, or groundbreaking, but it will feel like the Star Trek you watched as a kid. Even with the many space battles and inexplicable lens flairs.
--If this movie did one thing exceptionally well, it was mixing up the normal pairings of crew members to allow those not often seen together a chance to play off each other. The heart of the franchise will always be the incomparable trio, but too often the other crew members are sacrificed for the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and Bones--and quite often even my dear Bones gets the short stick. The movie took a chance by having Kirk working with other people and keeping Bones and Spock together for a change. It worked! One of my favorite episodes from the Original Series is "Bread and Circuses" in which Spock and Bones have some time apart from Jim and you really see that while they might be wholly different in terms of philosophy, they still care for each other a great deal and would die for one another if they had to.
--"You gave your girlfriend a tracking device?"
"...that was not my intent."
--The moment when Spock opens up Spock Prime's belongings and finds a picture of the Original Crew tore my insides up and it was all I could do not to cry in the theater. It keeps with the throughline of being your best self with others but it was also a very nice acknowledgement of the past history.
--Modern day science fiction has a nasty habit of thinking that it needs big battle sequences in order to be classified as Science Fiction. Nothing could be further from the truth and if you go back and watch many episodes of Star Trek (again, any series) you'll see that big battles in space are few and far between. Star Trek is more philosophical and introspective than constant torpedoes. While I understand that a big summer blockbuster is going to have at least one action sequence, having more than 4 in a two hour movie wears on the eyes, the ears, and patience.
--Props to Simon Pegg, who co-wrote the movie, for putting the humor back into Star Trek. There have always been witty exchanges among the Star Trek crew; in the last film that felt decidedly lacking.
--I think the film writers want me to be impressed with the Jaylah character but while she's a "tough female character" she's also in the mold of what men think a tough female character should be. In other words, they give them hallmark male characteristics--fighter, handy, intrepid, tough--and expect us to applaud their feminism. While women are certainly all those things, feminism isn't about taking male characteristics and simply putting a vagina on them. It's about who controls the female's agency--her or a man. Jaylah might be a pretty tough fighter and she certainly plays a part in the grand plan to get off of Krall's planet, but she's heavily reliant on the male Starfleet officers to progress her story off the planet and, in the end, into the academy. Cool makeup, though.
--Some nice canon touchstones like reference to the Xindi wars and Jim Kirk not wanting to celebrate his birthday (but Bones really should have presented him with some Romulan ale and Spock gifted him a copy of A Tale of Two Cities).
--I honestly have no idea why this movie is called "Beyond."
--For the next Star Trek film, should there be one, I'd like more exploration before the problem falls into Kirk's lap. One of the best things about the franchise is the creative imagination that spawns brand new worlds, new races, and let's us traverse a new landscape. Going along with this, please stop destroying the Enterprise. It doesn't have the same emotional impact as when Kirk blew it up in "Search for Spock" because unlike that ship, this rebooted one doesn't feel like one of the main characters. The original ship, in all its NCC-1701 glory, was "a lady. You treat her right, and she'll always bring you home."
Final Ratings for Star Trek: Beyond: B
It's very much a summer blockbuster but because the story feels more like a classic episode of a most beloved franchise, it evens out all the very tedious fight scenes and dull villain. It's still Star Trek, after all, and that will always mean something.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
--I feel as though I would be remiss in my snark duties if I didn't point out that Adam and Eddy achieved a better LGBT narrative with Drew than they did after 5 years and a token romance over on OUAT with Red and Dorothy.
--Jessie is the worst and while she and Drew might both be "scared" the same can be said of Amy and Cricket and Alex. Jessie trying to compare her situation with Drew's is unnecessary and petty. Whatever went down with Jessie and her DUI was her choice and one she did not have to make. Drew declaring he's a boy is not a choice; it's a fact of his life.
--So Deb's box contains a....book? That apparently teaches the virtue of teenage sexual love?
--Drew has a some good taste in music with both David Bowie and Sonic Youth.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
--Is Cricket having premonitions or is someone warning her from the other side?
--Yeah, Amy got struck by lightening while standing in the demon-lake. That'll end well.
--So, we did manage to get a bit more information on the Satanic cult. Apparently they sprung up in 1871 with their intention to commune with the dead and were led by the piano player.
--I'm worried that all the TVs around Camp Stillwater only play the same Satanic Documentary over and over again.
--Cricket may be an idiot, but Jessie is just the worst, ever.
--"Women like us, sometimes we have to settle." There are bad parents in every single Adam and Eddy show, aren't there?
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
--Maybe I'm not cool enough (or old enough) to understand the reference that gives us this week's title, but...it's an odd one right?
--Holy love quadrangle, Batman. So...Amy likes Alex and likes Garrett. Cricket likes Alex and Blotter likes Cricket. Jessie likes Garrett and Garrett likes Amy and possibly still Jessie. Blair likes Drew and Drew hasn't opened up everyone that she's trans. On top of all this, Joel is crushing on Deb and trying to film her with his ever present camera. Yikes!
--The bar where Garrett's mom works and where Garrett goes to read secret police files just happened to be showing a documentary on Satanism.
--Two boys making a bet on who can score with a girl first. Yes, just what this show needed.
--"Where are you from?" "The Soviet Union." Do the writers understand that the Soviet Union isn't just one place; that it's a conglomerate of many nations that have many different languages and cultures?
--What is Deb's secret? Is it that she can create magnificent ice sculptures or freeze people? Maybe it's that she is secretly working for Ben Linus to get the lights turned back on before the "V" aliens arrive. (Yes, this is a meta reference to all of Elizabeth Mitchell's most famous TV roles).
--I just realized that the lead cop is Blackbeard from OUAT.
--The visuals for the acid trip were well done.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
--There really are way too many characters on this show. It's as if the writers couldn't narrow down to just a few cliches--they needed to have ALL of them. There's the ugly duckling who became the super hot swan (Jessie); there's Blair (who is supremely gay and needs everyone to know it); there's Alex (the popular but probably insecure alpha male); along for the ride is Drew who's only character trait so far is long hair and sullen silence and Cricket who fills our quota for the "stupid nickname" cliche.
--Amy's flashbacks reveal that the first friend she ever had 1) died (of course) 2) is the reason she went to Camp Stillwater (again of course) and 3) imparted the great life lesson that sometimes you have to do stuff that scares you.
--How about a round of applause for me for NOT making an Amy/Anna joke? Elizabeth Lail isn't nearly as captivating here as she was on OUAT, but she's also just being asked to act mopey, sad-eyed, and scream at everything that startles her (which occurred approximately every 5 minutes).
--Do I smell a love triangle between Amy, Garrett the Deputy, and Jessie? Adam and Eddy just can't resist, can they? On the other side of cliche romances, we have the somewhat icky set up of Deb and Joel in an autumn-late spring type of romance.
--The lake is apparently shaped like a ram/demon's head and the Camp sits at its heart. Naturally.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Whether or not Pixar suspected the sort of cultural collateral they were about to establish with Dory when she crashed into "Finding Nemo" we'll never know, but the little blue tang was always supposed to be a sidekick and comic relief. Her tendency to forget everything she knows in the blink of a fish eye and her propensity for hilarious one liners and endearing catchphrases made her ridiculously lovable. However, in terms of character, Dory is (understandably) a blank slate. Presented in the first twenty minutes of "Finding Nemo," Dory has no ties to the main family of clown-fish Marlin and his erstwhile son, Nemo. None, that is, except those that she establishes as the film progresses. Dory becomes one of the family as she helps Marlin along his Odyssey-like journey to find his fishy son, but her character history is a broad one and stays as such all through the first flick, and that's to the movie's credit, to be fair. Dory is not the lead in "Finding Nemo;" she need not be fleshed out and given a backstory to give her any sort of pathos (which she inexplicably has in spades even without any sort of history to ground her character). While the title "Finding Nemo" is a literal one--Marlin literally goes on a journey to literally find his son--"Finding Dory" takes a different approach. Dory does not need to be literally found; she's not lost in the traditional sense. She has a home and a family, albeit one of her own making, having taken up with Marlin and Nemo in their coral reef home at the end of the first movie. Dory is lost in a more metaphorical sense--she has no concept of who she is or where she came from. Dory's family is lost to her, along with her home and any sort of memories she may have once had about those two life defining things. While Marlin and Nemo provide her with a sense of belonging, all fish (and, really, everyone) need to know from whence they came, otherwise how can we really know who we are as a person? In this sense, "Finding Dory" is actually deeper than "Finding Nemo," though both touch on the same themes of loss and family. While Nemo centers on Marlin letting go of his son and learning to survive when bad things happen to his family, Dory focuses on the identities we build through our experiences with families---families that we define and create with all manner of peoples, be they of blood relation or not. While the adults in the room might get that message more than the little kids in the audience, it's never too early to start teaching said children the importance of communities and accepting those that are different than we are. We're all just fish in the ocean, looking for a place to belong. Disney/Pixar, it's not just about singing princesses anymore.
--I'm going to put likes and dislikes together because there are far more of one (likes) than the other (dislikes) as has probably become apparent with the above general review.
--While the new characters in "Finding Dory" aren't as memorable as the side characters in "Finding Nemo," they are still very enjoyable, if lacking in any sort of shading. Part of this is because of setting. The main action of the film takes place in an aquatic hospital and while that's a very intriguing idea, the film doesn't exactly go to any trouble or length to explain how many of those creatures ended up there. Yes, Destiny is near sighted but she's clearly grown up in the aquarium. Yes, Bailey has "hit his head" and lost his ability to perform echolocation and yes, Hank has lost a tentacle and is traumatized by the thought of the ocean but we don't get any indication as to how these issues surfaced, how they were noticed, and how the animals in question feel about these handicaps outside of sometimes melancholy but fully functional. It's an animated film that centers on three characters predominately, so I wasn't expecting a fleshed out story for each side fish (erm, whale and cephalopod) but it's worth noting that the film series has a tendency to give their side characters a certain trait that is clearly manifested (short term memory loss, nearsightedness, crazy as a loon, missing a limb,) without explaining it further. It's most disquieting in Gerald, a sealion that is drawn with wide, vacant eyes and give no dialogue as if he's mute and dumb and is simply played for laughs. While the movie is all about celebrating the differences in people, this one gave me pause, though I will be forgiving given how adorable Gerald is.
--With that said, if Dory stole the first film, then Hank steals the second. It's nice to know that Dory meets grumpy, cautious, orange sea creatures wherever she goes.
--No scene made me cry harder than the ending of the opening "flashback" when Dory literally runs into a frantic Marlin after swimming the length and breadth of the ocean looking for her family. Yes, it's the actual "Finding Nemo" scene but the major theme of the movie series is perfectly captured here: Dory needs Marlin and much as Marlin needs Dory. Families are built through love and trials as well as blood.
--Lots of callbacks to "Finding Nemo," including the return of several favorite characters like Mr. Ray and Dude Crush, the hippie surfer turtle. I do wish they had Bruce make a special appearance. Inquiring minds need to know if he's still living by his mantra that fish are friends, not food.
--There were a few too many fast paced action sequences of getting one fish (either Dory or Marlin/Nemo) to another place but that's to be expected when you have to fill in some time.
--"Follow me!" "...you're in a cup." "Okay, I'll follow you."
--I have no idea what kind of bird Becky is (though, I suspect loon), but she's fabulous and if there's a third movie, I hope she's there to carry Marlin around in a bucket.
--Seriously, I'd like to have a stuffed Gerald, please and thank you. I'll give him his own rock.
--Baby Dory is the cutest fish to ever exist.
--Sequels have an annoying tendency to take little quirks from the first film and explain them in a way that fits into the larger mythos of a story. Finding Dory does this but doesn't try to make them salient plot points that hint at something larger. For example, in the first film the most famous scene is probably Dory speaking whale while Marlin looks on in horror. That quirk of Dory's is explained in the second film. But instead of it being something that is important to the entire franchise, it's simply because she grew up next to a whale. Props to the writers for not making this multi-lingual ability something mega important but simply a fact of Dory's multicultural life.
--The animated short "Piper" that opened the film is equally cute if a little schmaltzy.
--There is an adorable post-credits scene that is worth sticking around for!
Grab the family, grab the Kleenexes and go back home to the big blue one more time.
Monday, May 16, 2016
The above epigram is from "Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson and, if I'm being perfectly fair, the small novella is actually a perfect launching point for the sixth season of our fairy tale show. After all, it is also "Jekyll and Hyde" where "all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil..." is written. Is that not exactly how OUAT has defined all their multi-layered characters in the past few years? The villains are sympathetic and redeemable while the heroes can be selfish, myopic, condescending and, when you least expect it, they snatch a baby from its mother and fill it up with darkness! The point, though, is that darkness and light exist in all the characters, as if they are actually two separate individuals. Of course, they aren't and that's rather important to the Jekyll and Hyde novella. Jekyll and Hyde are not two people; they are different aspects of one person and when you defeat one, you defeat the other. Identity is such that you cannot squash or destroy one aspect of yourself. It's always there, lurking under the surface, be it a kindly angel telling you to behave or a mischievous devil wanting your id to take over. Regina got it right in the first hour when she tells Emma, "I'll never be at peace with myself." Coming to terms with all parts of your identity--be they Evil Queen, Dark One, Mother, Pirate, Hero, Princess, Bandit, Farmer, and/or Knight--is supposed to take work and hardship. It's supposed to be incredibly difficult and to be perfectly blunt, it may never happen. There may always be a war within you. For some, it's easier to give in to one aspect than to put in the effort it takes to lessen the darker tendencies of man. Think about Dr. Jekyll in the novella; he truly struggles with his darker half; it's a psychological thriller about the depravity of man when it's unleashed. So much of these two finales are about the two original villains of OUAT--Rumple and Regina--accepting or fighting with their other identity. Can Rumple be more than the Dark One obsessed with power? Can Regina ever truly be free of the Evil Queen? All of this, naturally, is paralleled with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and what appears to be a rather complicated but modestly respectable relationship (at least, while they are joined together). For Regina, the answer to her problem of the internal identity war is to destroy that one aspect of herself that keeps her up at night. This bothers me quite a bit, if I'm being honest. Regina, more than anyone, has had a pretty decent redemption arc. While the show may not be concerned with justice (ie: caring enough about the victims to allow them any peace), it has made Regina suffer time and time again and had her pay for some (not all) of her crimes. In this regard, Regina's character development has been one of the better stories on the show. It's been a five season long struggle, flitting back and forth between the Evil Queen with the ready-made fire balls and Regina, the lost and lonely little stable girl. The idea that all Regina needs to be really free of her evil self is a magical potion that allows her to kill the Evil Queen persona (literally) isn't really keeping with any of the above themes I've mentioned nor with her character arc thus far. Regina's worked for her redemption; unlike Rumple she didn't need a magical hat-suck to rid herself of the darkness; it was a part of her but controlled, Regina having learned her lessons and fought her instincts anytime they threatened to overtake her (like when Hook magically comes back from the dead but Robin doesn't). This magical serum is a cheat not only because it doesn't keep in line with the original source material (it is actually rather antithetical to it) but because it shortchanges all that Regina has accomplished over the years. Suddenly, she got a magical fix to her problems that really only creates more ills than it solves, undoubtedly, with the Evil Queen coming to play and make mischief inside Storybrooke. Regina might feel free without the Evil Queen persona, but she needs to learn that the Evil Queen is always a part of her, and that she needs that fierce strength and determination but in more moderation than the Evil Queen would like.
There exists, we are told, a Land of Untold Stories, a safe haven where all the lost and forgotten stories can find refugee. First off, does this mean that the people living there are aware that they are story characters? Because why else name your little corner of the world a land of untold stories if you're not aware of your own fictionhood. Do they think/know they are considered fictional in other realms? How does that mess with identity? Think about it--you know that you're considered fictional in other corners of the universe and that your story is unfinished or forgotten. Wouldn't it make you wonder about what your end is? Do you get to decide your own end? Does this new found agency make you non-fiction? See, this is almost smart of the writers (almost because I'm not sure if they intended these very meta questions). In a way, the writers are assuaging any doubt that the show has run out of steam. Nope, they say, look at all these random characters gathered in one realm. We're gonna tell their stories now; maybe we've used up most of the famous Disney-cache but we've still got more tricks up our sleeves! Aren't you just dying to hear all about these untold stories? See; they got me there cause I totally answered "yeah!" I'm actually really intrigued how these stories/characters are unfinished or undeveloped. What happened to them? Are they all part of the forgotten novels left on people's desks, abandoned because the writers couldn't make their plot bunnies work? Are they legends or myths? Are they Western stories or might we hope for other cultures? Are they fairy tales or science fiction (cause so much of the makeup of that world looked pretty Jules Verne meets H.G. Wells). Do they get to decide their own fate or do they need a Savior/Author team-up to finish their stories (which I'd be totally down for since the past season was way too lite in terms of Emma and Henry working together). I wonder if Cthulhu lives in the oceans around the Land of Untold Stories. Right now this land is pretty intangible because it's fresh and new and not even remotely like any fictional universe we've seen before--Wonderland, Neverland, the Underworld, and Arrendale were all familiar through our experiences with their original source material. What isn't so intangible, though, are Jekyll and Hyde; not unexpectedly, Hyde seems better fleshed out and developed and more likely to receive the bulk of the narrative next season. Here's a query: if Hyde brought all the forgotten stories to Storybrooke to get their happy endings, does that make him a hero? Is he writing his own story to cast himself as a hero? Is season six about him helping the Untold Stories complete their stories, even if the heroes are trying to stop his wicked ways? I know I'm asking a lot of questions, but that's how season finales are designed--to entice you into watching next season. Well, I'm a sucker because I'm here to stay. See everyone in September!
--"When you're upset, we follow you to Hell!" Regina slayed so much of this episode, especially her anger toward the unfair resurrection of Hook while Robin remains 6 feet under.
--How did all those OUAT book get into the library? That's actually a fascinating idea and I hope we explore that next year.
--Really Henry? Operation Mixtape?
--Regina doesn’t say goodbye to Roland. Mmkay. But Zelena, who raped Roland’s father and who pretended to be his mother, gets to. I repeat…Mmmkay.
--Neal, the guy with no unfinished business, had an unfinished quest to destroy magic and kept it all in a journal. And never mentioned it. Ever. Mmkay.
--“To be clear, I was fine running”
--Really great to see the Dragon again; continuity many years after the fact.
--Using the power of a wish to bring your family back invokes a certain Disney song: “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires can come to you….” That’s powerful. It’s one of the most powerful messages in the Disney-verse. I actually kinda teared up a bit thinking about this. Along with this, Henry encouraging everyone to believe using the idea of nostalgia, the idea that when we were younger and less jaded we were capable of belief the likes of which can change the rules of the world. Isn’t that what drew so many of us to OUAT in the first place? That nostalgia for our childhood stories, for a time when we believed in the possibility of magic and hope and happy endings? I don’t get sentimental about this show a lot (not anymore) but that’s powerful stuff.
--Violet’s dad is a Yankee from Connecticut who found himself in Camelot. That’s hilarious.
--Henry destroyed magic in 5 seconds flat. Like he literally held up a cup for five-ten seconds and POOF. ALL of magic is gone. LOL Okay. (Also, Ghostbusters much?)
Final Rating for S5B: B
Final Episode Ranking for S5B
12. Last Rites (5x21)
11. The Brothers Jones (5x15)
10. Ruby Slippers (5x18)
9. Labor of Love (5x13)
8. Firebird (5x20)
7. Souls of the Departed (5x12)
6. Her Handsome Hero (5x17)
5. Only You (5x22)
4. Devil's Due (5x14)
3. An Untold Story (5x23)
2. Sisters (5x19)
1. Our Decay (5x16)