Friday, July 15, 2011

Happy 35th Birthday, Diane Kruger!

I dig her. She's the same age as me, minus a couple of days. I'll be 35 (yikes!) on Sunday.

Happy Birthday, beautiful.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My New Rental Plan, Thanks to Netflix

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Five

You know the drill here.

1. Redemption II (my rating: 3 out of 5)
Bit of a letdown after the impressive buildup of the first part. I think the episode tries to do too much. It's like the producers said that they needed to make sure there was an Enterprise crew storyline, so they threw in all of that stuff about Data encountering prejudice on the Sutherland, which is really an episode in itself and doesn't fit in here. I wish it had been saved for a separate episode, as it really distracts from Worf's story, which is a real kick, and the Romulan intrigue. The ending, with Worf finally striking the balance between his two halves, is electric. It is nice, though, to complain about an episode of a TV show being too full, rather than too empty.

2. Darmok (4/5)
A very action-oriented exploration of the language barrier, with both races speaking the same language, but in a different manner. Thoughtful, and I always like Paul Winfield. I dig Picard's new jacket. It's snazzy.

3. Ensign Ro (3/5)
I like Ro Laren as a character; enough to be disappointed that she didn't wind up on DS9 (which apparently, was the original idea). An angry episode, and one where Picard sort of bends the Prime Directive to serve his own purposes, but in a very believable way. I continue to like the Cardassians as villains; and hang all of Rick Berman's talk of leaving the allegory open, it's very clearly the Israelis (Cardassians) and the Palestinians (Bajorans), it would just be too controversial to say so.

4. Silicon Avatar (4/5)
Another episode I didn't expect to like but was pleasantly surprised by. I think it balances the story of a woman's quest for revenge with her amount of grief and how much that could really be placated by Data (in fact, I think Data ends up accidentally fueling her thirst for vengeance). I love the conversation where Dr. Marr tells Data that since her son's memories live in him, her son will live on as long as he does.

5. Disaster (5/5)
Several disaster movie cliches happen on the Enterprise at once. But cliches be damned, this is a fun, character-driven episode. The only thing it gets wrong, for me, is that Ro gives in to Troi's point-of-view at the end instead of making the very valid point that everything still could have easily gone wrong. O'Brien and Ro are especially good on this episode (I'd like more of them--and Barclay--and less Deanna, to be honest), I love Jean-Luc and the children (even the sitcommy finale), and the Worf and Keiko scenes are about as funny as this show gets. Riker's "You want me to take off your head?" to Data is brilliantly delivered.

6. The Game (5/5)
Another episode that's heavy on cliches, but good enough to make me not care. It's basically Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but Wesley's flight from Riker and Worf is genuinely suspenseful, and when Data comes through that door I actually cheered a bit. An episode that gets me that involved can be forgiven some cliches. This is another episode that makes me wish they had just brought the older, more mature, less irritating Wesley Crusher back. I loved Ashley Judd as Ensign Lefler, and I found myself genuinely enjoying their flirtation.

7. Unification I (4/5)
Because this is a two-parter, the production team takes their time in the build-up. Maybe too much, if I'm being honest. I love all the stuff with Sarek--genuine sadness at his passing--and some of the back-and-forth on the Klingon ship is compelling, but there was an impatient part of me that was like Milhouse watching Itchy & Scratchy: "When do they get to the fireworks factory?" I admit to total impatience for Spock, my favorite Trek character.

8. Unification II (4/5)
After all of that build-up, this turns into something of a routine spy-game episode that is elevated by Leonard Nimoy. I love seeing him and Data together, and Picard is great as always. My favorite original series character and my favorite Next Gen character, and the lovely ending. Sorry we're never going to see Sela again, though. I don't think the Romulans were ever handled quite as interestingly as they might have been. Not sure why. But I love the ending, because I think if the original series really is a Western power fantasy of interference without responsibility or consequences, here we see a Spock who is older, wiser, and ready to devote himself to quite the opposite in the name of peace.

9. A Matter of Time (3/5)
Matt Frewer is so much fun on this episode you just kind of want him to get away with his scam. Picard trapping him in the future is oddly fascistic.

10. New Ground (3/5)
I actually do like Alexander. I think it's interesting for the stolid Worf to have to deal with a new challenge like this.

11. Hero Worship (3/5)
That's two episodes in a row now where we've experienced how children experience the Enterprise (plus "Disasters" earlier this season). I find it very interesting, since the big deal here is that it's a ship full of families (which I think sometimes the writers either don't remember or don't care about).

12. Violations (3/5)
Some good mystery stuff, but I'm starting to get sick of seeing Troi mind-raped or controlled or the crew lose their memories or whatever. This is becoming the most tiresome of Next Gen's cliches.

13. The Masterpiece Society (1/5)
Smug, dull, and about as compelling as watching the rust process.

14. Conundrum (5/5)
Well, here we are with the crew losing their memory again. This one has a lot of fun playing with it, though (go Riker!), and about the only misstep is one detail at the end: Picard's apology doesn't really wash, since he doesn't just openly admit to destroying a ship... Still, good character stuff in here.

15. Power Play (1/5)
I've lost count of the number of times we've seen Data have to be another character, but I know I'm getting tired of that one. And there's Troi, being controlled by another consciousness. Silly attempt at a hostage episode, loaded with dull cliches, especially the stuff with Keiko and Miles (or the alien inside Miles or whatever). This feels like something the original series did, anyway.

16. Ethics (3/5)
The character stuff just makes up for a little too much preachiness about medical ethics. I was more interested in the ethics of Worf's right to die, especially his conversation with Riker about it. I think the episode wants to eat its cake and have it, too, by basically having Worf die and then not really die.

17. The Outcast (1/5)
Homo Panic, Trek-style. This episode insulted my intelligence so much that my brain actually hurts from watching it. If there's one thing this group of Trek producers should never have tried to tackle, it's gender identity and sexuality, since they obviously know nothing about either. Taking a race of asexual gender-neutral people (all played by women) and making a stand that one should be allowed to live as a female is not a reverse science fiction allegory, it's just a wrongheaded notion and it's incredibly awkward, since it so obviously can be read as taking the stance that gender-based stereotypes are preferable to alternative forms of sexuality. Soren can't even feel love until she begins to conform to Riker's ideas of what a woman is supposed to be, as if the episode is really trying to sell the idea love is only possible where gender roles and sexuality are clearly, homogeneously defined. To Frakes' credit, he did push for a man to play the role of Soren, which would've at least made a more progressive point, but one wonders why the producers and writers felt they needed to tackle homosexuality as an issue at all. Just a terrible, offensive, trite, patronizing, hollow episode.

18. Cause and Effect (5/5)
An amazing teaser, and one the episode not only lives up to, but surpasses. Proof that this show's constant themes of memory, the nature of reality, and the fluidity of time can work with an excellent script. Very well-directed, too.

19. The First Duty (5/5)
Finally, our first glimpse of Starfleet Academy, and it's a welcome one (I still want to see a series about this place). This is another great step in the maturation of Wesley Crusher--an episode that really humanizes him, shows us how much he can screw up, how far he's come from the boy genius into a human being. It balances Wesley's struggle with the truth by showing us that Picard made mistakes as a young man, too, and still grew up to be Captain Picard. The scene where Picard reprimands Wesley is amazing. Always nice to see Ed Lauter, and I adore Ray Walston.

20. Cost of Living (3/5)
Like most Lwaxana Troi stories, inconsequential but fun. Another actor I like: the late Tony Jay.

21. The Perfect Mate (2/5)
Famke Janssen is very good as what is basically a retread of Ilia from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (pre-V'ger). The whole episode itself is particularly ridiculous and dull, though.

22. Imaginary Friend (2/5)
Kind of a meh episode, but again, seeing the Enterprise through the eyes of children is interesting. Worf seems scary as hell to a child. This feels derivative of both the original series and a dozen other science fiction series.

23. I, Borg (5/5)
Excellent science fiction that humanizes the ultimate inhuman. I don't think it weakens the Borg at all to see one of them given some kind of understanding; especially powerful is that both Guinan and Picard are forced to confront their own prejudices. One of my favorite episodes this season.

24. The Next Phase (4/5)
Interesting idea, carried off well with Ensign Ro and Geordi. I like the action sequences (damn, Geordi kicks a Romulan right out into space!), even if this episode never completely catches fire for me.

25. The Inner Light (2/5)
If there's one thing I know from old age makeup: everyone's neck will one day look like a vagina. This episode has some lovely moments, and Patrick Stewart's performance is undoubtedly one of his best... but I just didn't love this episode as much as everyone else seems to (including the committee who gave this episode a Hugo Award). I just couldn't get past what a terrible violation of Picard's mind and soul this was (and there again, the writers go to mind rape), and I feel like I've seen other shows do this better (such as Farscape).

26. Time's Arrow (4/5)
A fantastic set-up for a time travel saga, and Brent Spiner is very enjoyable in this episode. I love getting to see Guinan in younger days, apparently just traveling around the galaxy, and including Samuel Clemens in on the action is a nice touch. Whoopi Goldberg really is wonderful on this show. And as usual for the TNG season-ending cliffhangers, the scope is nicely cinematic. On to the second part!

If I have a problem with this season (and what I've seen so far of the next), it's this homogeneous quality, as though the staff has been at it too long and has a problem coming up with interesting ideas. I don't think they're bored of the characters, exactly, but you kind of know going in now how every character is going to react to everything that happens. There aren't as many surprises anymore, and the show seems to have settled into a routine. I'll see if things pick up in season six. I still like the characters, so I'm not in the mood to quit or anything.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Don't Rape Her

My hope and respect for humanity has been hanging by a thread, and that thread finally snapped the other day when I read a horrifying news story about an 11 year-old girl who was picked up on the street by a 19 year-old man who took her and raped her, and then took her to another location and continued the rape in the company of 17 other rapists, some of them middle school-aged. I do not root for the survival of a race capable of this. And, with terrible predictability, the apologists started coming out and admonishing the girl for what she was wearing.

This video is a great anti-rape PSA. I'm glad we're starting to see more people who think rape prevention is not the sole responsibility of women who should live in fear and get in line with how men apparently think they should dress and conduct themselves.

Instead, teach men and boys that rape is wrong, inhumane, and intolerable.

An Open Letter to James Franco

Dear James,

Shut up now.

Yer fan,

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

THE SHEIK (1921)
The rape fantasy that won the heart of millions--but it's okay, because he was white all along! Very much a product of its time, almost casually racist and sexist. But I always love Valentino. *** stars.

I despised this movie with every fiber of my being. Privileged white guy doesn't want to get a job, decides he can live by himself in Alaska despite not knowing anything about how to survive or hunt or camp, basically acts like a criminal and has no interest in reality, then starves to death because he feels guilty about killing a moose for food. And according to the movie (and to millions of young people everywhere), being a selfish dick and dying because of your own ignorance is terribly, terribly romantic. What a joke. I'm actually offended by the whole notion that I'm supposed to feel anything for anyone so stupid and so caught up in their own bullshit. I feel nothing but contempt for this person. No stars.

TV Report: Midsummer Blah

I haven't been watching too much current television lately, and a lot of what I have been watching, I don't have much to say about. MasterChef is just as self-serious as it was last year, Teen Mom is as whiny yet oddly compelling as ever (by the way, did you know teen pregnancy is down to its lowest levels in a couple of generations?), and for some reason I'm just not enjoying Futurama as much right now.

I do, however, very much enjoy True Blood. I just can't help it. Somehow, the dumber this show gets (and it keeps managing to), the more I love it. It's like a gay redneck supernatural sex soap opera written by children, but I love the damn thing. I think I've really crossed over into liking something ironically, which I'm not really comfortable with, but oh well. I dig it. And I just want to say that the new, post-witch's-spell Eric is as lovable as a puppy dog. I don't care about anyone else, I just love this guy.

Also, so happy to see the start of another season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. And Louie.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Homosexuality and Star Trek

Referencing a small discussion I was having in the comments section of my latest Star Trek: The Next Generation post, I ended up running across this article about the distinct lack of--and even rejection of--homosexuality in the Star Trek universe. It's a much more thoughtful article than I could have put together, and I agree with the author that the issue with this is not the issue (or non-issue) of homosexuality, but the way the rejection of any homosexual influence in the future damages the moral credibility of Star Trek's utopian vision.

Very thoughtful, on-target reading.

Netflix's Value Is Over

via Deadline:

Netflix is about to become less compelling bargain for people who want to stream videos and also watch DVDs: The company's abandoning its $9.99 a month plan that enabled subscribers to watch unlimited video streams and also have one DVD out at a time sent via mail. The price for that combo service will jump to $15.98 as Netflix requires consumers to separately order unlimited streaming for $7.99 a month or 1-at-a-time DVD rentals for $7.99. The new pricing begins immediately for new customers, and on Sept. 1 for existing ones. Netflix already offered the streaming-only service, and is spinning this as a price break for DVD-only subscribers. "By better reflecting the underlying costs and offering our lowest prices ever for unlimited DVD, we hope to provide a great value to our current and future DVD-by-mail members," Chief Service and Operations Officer Andy Rendich said in a release.

A 60% price hike is a price break? Interesting logic. And by "interesting," I mean "fucking stupid." Netflix is continuing its mission to keep downloading popular. Especially if this price hike isn't coupled with a much larger selection of streaming content.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Four

Overall, the show's still going strong. I think there's a sort of... Europeanism that's taking hold of the show here, and I really like it. I've heard the criticism where the original series is, in its way, a Western power fantasy of being able to interfere and then running off to the next adventure before interference leads to responsibility. What I find interesting at this point in Next Generation is that the show is willing to admit that, sometimes, the answers aren't easy. That some things are beyond the power of Starfleet to control or fix. I think it's a balance the writers have a hard time with, to be honest, but it's interesting that they're even trying to find it. We're seeing flaws in Gene Roddenberry's perfect future, and it's very human. I think it's because of Patrick Stewart, honestly. His style as an actor is very thoughtful; he was given some lines in the first two seasons that were meant to be more bullish, more direct, but instead pondered with them, reflected with them. I think he changed the tone of Star Trek, and writers began writing for his more interrogative style. It seems like now the show is willing to explore the idea that the Federation can and does fail to address things. It's very interesting, and very human.

1. The Best of Both Worlds, Part II (my rating: 5 out of 5)
An exciting and personal climax to last season's tremendous cliffhanger. It's a continuation of the same cinematic scope as its predecessor, but I think the final scene is what really changes Star Trek forever. It's that moment when Jean-Luc Picard, after essentially being raped and traumatized by the Borg, stares out the window of his ready room into space... and he's nervous. He remembers. This isn't simply defeating the Borg and everything's back to status quo and off to the next adventure. This is an acknowledgement of the dangers inherent in exploration, and an admission that what happened to Picard is not something that can be shrugged off. He's changed. The show has changed. Impressive.

2. Family (5/5)
This is my absolute favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. To slow down and show Picard's need to reconnect with his humanity, just how deeply he's been traumatized by his assimilation by the Borg, is astounding. Not every science fiction series would attempt this. Honestly, even this show might not have attempted it a year earlier. And balancing it out with the humor of a visit from Worf's foster parents keeps the episode from being too soapy, too indulgent. And that magical coda... "Let him dream."

3. Brothers (5/5)
More family themes, this time with Data and a returned Lore confronting their creator/father, Dr. Soong. Brent Spiner is excellent in all three roles, and even if his Soong makeup isn't a triumph, at least it's better than that horror show Admiral Jameson back in the first season. I love the suspense of Data taking over the Enterprise and diverting its course. It's so engrossing that even the hoary device of putting kids in danger to ramp up the suspense doesn't feel so cheap.

4. Suddenly Human (3/5)
So, why has no one ever called this episode out for ripping off Stranger in a Strange Land? Seems a bit obvious to me. I think Picard and crew are a bit imperious here in their assumptions of child abuse, but I'm willing to concede that may be the point.

5. Remember Me (4/5)
Finally, a truly enjoyable Beverly Crusher episode. Great performance from Gates McFadden in this one, and I like how the episode balances the drama with the science fiction premise (Wesley with another experiment gone wrong, this time only imperiling his mother instead of the entire ship). I like how the episode plays with the premise, too, not telling you until halfway through or more that Beverly is in a pocket universe and not simply losing her mind. Also, it's nice to see the Traveler back.

6. Legacy (2/5)
Surprisingly misogynistic attempt to tell a story about gang violence (or something). Feels more like filler. The actress playing Ishara Yar is okay.

7. Reunion (5/5)
How is Suzie Plakson even sexier on this episode than she was in "The Emissary"? Man... Fantastic episode, bringing into play Worf's feelings for K'Ehleyr (and the son they now have together, Alexander), as well as continuing the story of his discommendation from the Klingon Empire and his feud with Duras. And so, so satisfying when Worf finally has his revenge. This episode also introduces Gowron, who I think is just awesome.

8. Future Imperfect (5/5)
This episode is brilliant, with a great performance from Frakes. Another episode that plays with the twists and turns in a way that never feels cheap, but is genuinely suspenseful. And the ending is touching.

9. Final Mission (4/5)
A little indulgent, but I'll let that go because by this point I like when they touch on the dynamic between Wesley and Picard. Maybe it was right to let the father-son thing go nowhere and instead reconstitute them as mentor and pupil. A nice sequel to the good part of "Samaritan Snare," and a nice send-off for Wesley who, honestly, I think I'm going to miss. Never would've thought so in the first season.

10. The Loss (2/5)
Wow, when Deanna loses her empathic powers, she turns into a real prick, doesn't she? Very unlikable.

11. Data's Day (5/5)
What could've been simply a charming "day in the life" episode--and it does have a lot of charm--raises the stakes with Romulan intrigue. It almost feels for me like this is the first time the entire Romulan threat is elevated into something interesting. (No, the second, because "The Defector" is wonderful.) And, of course, the wedding stuff is very cute. I love seeing more of O'Brien. Also, now I wonder who was in charge of the bridge when Captain Kirk was asleep? Never thought about that before.

12. The Wounded (5/5)
And now we're introduced to the Cardassians, who are very interesting villains indeed. It's an interesting episode; we see how tentative peace accords can be, especially with someone you are trained to see as only an enemy. Colm Meany is really fantastic in this episode. The scene with him and his old captain singing is touching, and the scene where he tells a Cardassian about the first time he had to kill in a war with the Cardassians is chilling. "I don't hate you, Cardassian. I hate what I became because of you." Astounding.

13. Devil's Due (1/5)
Marta DuBois is kind of fun as a woman claiming to be the devil, but she's on the wrong show. This is silly as hell, and very stupid, displaying all the worst excesses of the original series. It's no surprise to discover that this script was basically in Gene Roddenberry's slush pile since the mid-sixties, because it plays like a particularly smarmy Kirk episode. Picard is totally out of character here. Not good at all.

14. Clues (2/5)
An interesting premise that doesn't get handled well and isn't really pulled off in the end. Picard's solution is genuinely stupid; how are they going to "get it right" the second time when the last scene is of Picard ordering the Enterprise to a starbase? They're just going to discover that the ship has now lost 48 hours instead of 24! Ridiculous. Also, Picard essentially threatening to disassemble Data on suspicion that Data is lying is disheartening; c'mon, Jean-Luc, you're supposed to be the one who champions android's rights.

15. First Contact (2/5)
A great premise that doesn't come off. It feels like a real missed opportunity. Great teaser, though, despite being something of a Twilight Zone rip-off.

16. Galaxy's Child (3/5)
Two halves that never quite reach a whole. And Geordi's attempt to romance the real Leah Brahms is uncomfortable. This guy is the strikeout king when it comes to women.

17. Night Terrors (2/5)
Some decent stuff, but for the most part it's highly ridiculous, especially Troi floating in bad dream sequences. What the hell am I watching here?

18. Identity Crisis (2/5)
Interesting idea, but again, it just doesn't come off for me.

19. The Nth Degree (4/5)
I love Barclay, and I love the idea of confident, superintelligent Barclay. Picard actually kind of disappoints me in this episode; it's like he almost immediately fears Barclay because Barclay's smarter than usual. Wait, now people are afraid of intelligence in the 24th century? You know, still? Geordi seems immediately jealous, too, which isn't a surprise, as he can be something of a smug prick at times. This episode saves itself from being typical science-scare stuff, though, by remembering to make it about Barclay and not just the situation. I need more Barclay and more O'Brien, please.

20. Qpid (3/5)
Is that Qpid as in Cupid or Qpid as in Stupid? Both apply here, I think. It's a cute episode, sure, and there are some funny moments in Sherwood Forest, but it's not a great Q outing by any means. Half of the impetus for this episode seems to be that Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was about to come out. Also, the return of the dreaded Vash, who I find very irritating.

21. The Drumhead (5/5)
A very compelling episode, indeed. This episode--a near-witch hunt for Romulan spies which even finds Picard among the accused--is much more interesting to me than the first season "Conspiracy" of aliens invading the Federation. This is so much more real, and shows what to me are realistic cracks in an organization where peace is tentative (with the Cardassians definitely, and to a large extent with the Klingons) and where the threat of Romulan or Borg invasion must be dealt with daily. The stress is tremendous. Jean Simmons is excellent as Admiral Satie.

22. Half a Life (4/5)
TNG tackles the question of the right to die, with the always-good David Ogden Stiers. Interesting to see Lwaxana Troi so toned down, but it's done in a few stages so that it feels organic and not gimmicky. It ends on a mature viewpoint, too, I think.

23. The Host (2/5)
Frakes and Gates McFadden are both very good on this episode, but I can't get over the disappointing ending. What happened to that 24th century enlightenment Gene Roddenberry was always on about? Apparently homosexuals need not apply. It plays like an outright rejection of the possibility of gay relationships in the Federation. It's a disservice on a show that is basically a metaphor for an idealized cooperative (Western) vision. When Beverly says humans aren't ready for bisexual relationships, she means American TV in 1991. Lame.

24. The Mind's Eye (5/5)
It's The Manchurian Candidate, but it's very well done, and manages to make Geordi a very sympathetic character (for a change--I really haven't liked him a ton since the first season, when he was more relaxed). Also a great Worf episode, seeing how the Klingons relate to him now with a civil war looming. The end, with the Klingons taking away their traitorous ambassador, is very satisfying.

25. In Theory (2/5)
Bizarre. Cute in places, but it doesn't quite work, although the whole "You aren't my mother scene" is absolutely hysterical (intentionally or otherwise). And Data, really? Going to Geordi for advice on women? That's as bad an idea as going to Joe Piscopo to learn comedy was.

26. Redemption (5/5)
Fantastic. We have the Klingon Civil War in full swing, with Worf actually leaving the Enterprise to fight for Gowron and reclaim his honor. Very tense, even Shakespearean, with the cliffhanger ending leaving lots of room to develop both the situation and the characters. Picard is excellent here, too, acting as arbiter for the Klingon succession. It's also nice to see Picard following policy and staying out of the war instead of just doing whatever the hell he wanted. Very reasoned.

Well, this season did get somewhat muddled for me in the middle, but overall I still enjoyed it very much. And even when I don't love the episodes, I tend to love the characters (especially Picard, my obvious favorite). On to season five.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sandy West!

You are missed.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Song of the Week: "The Greatest Love of All"

I don't know. I just... well, I just thought of this on a whim. But you know what? I like this song. Maybe it's cheesy, but I like it. This specific version--the original, by George Benson, from the 1977 film The Greatest. It's just so happy and sincere. I never liked the Whitney Houston version at all (someone whose style I've always considered mannered and insincere). So why the hell not, eh?