Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hell's Kitchen

In all of the Star Trek viewing and Dance with Dragons reading, I didn't get a chance to write about the new season of Hell's Kitchen starting up. I enjoy this show a lot more than MasterChef, so I'm glad to see it back on.

No clear favorites so far... on the men's side, I like Will and Paul, who at least have passion and sense, and Jonathon's okay. I'm a little reserved on him, to be honest. On the women's side, Krupa really knows what she's doing. I think Amanda, Natalie and Jamie have talent, too, but they haven't had a chance to emerge yet.

The men are already down Jason, Steven, and Brendan. Jason had a health episode, and Steven was predictable, because they always gang up on the older chefs first. I'm thrilled to see Brendan gone. He was an arrogant prick, and for once it was nice to see the arrogant prick go home almost immediately. His coupling with Carrie was... disturbing.

And how about Carrie? She's the season's girl who thinks she can coast by on her cuteness. I think the girls are doing better (obviously), but they need to drop Elise and her mouth. The constant aggressiveness is just off-putting. It's all attitude, right away, and it's irritating. And she's another one of those contestants who just comes on, fucks up, gets taken off stations, then goes after everyone else who makes mistakes by talking about how she has so much more talent. Then why did you get kicked off the fish station, imbecile?

The guys could probably stand to lose Tommy next. He doesn't seem good for much, teamwise.

Either way, Brendan's gone, so I'm happy.

Recent Trailers in the Order I Most Hated Them

9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Every single narrative point, in narrative order. An unnecessary remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, but without the benefits of Ricardo Montalban or Roddy McDowall. I would've called to complain about it earlier, but James Franco was tying up the line so he could phone in his performance. Decent-looking effects, which is why it didn't annoy me as much as some others.

8. The Thing
So, we make the exact same movie, almost shot-for-shot, but put a chick in it and call it a prequel. Profit!

7. Cowboys & Aliens
Kind of a cute concept, but the trailer is long and pompous and somehow when you put Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde together, they have even less charisma combined than they do individually. Boring actors in a boring flick.

6. Real Steel
What almost looks like an interesting premise is destroyed by a long trailer that's just Hugh Jackman and his kid crying. You just know this is one of those Spielbergian daddy issue cry-fests that's going to be an hour longer than it needs to be.

5. Hugo
I'm so disappointed in Martin Scorsese for making this, to be honest. Everything about this is obvious and lame, from the delicate kidlit tone too many movies go for, to the twee kids themselves, to Sacha Baron Cohen's unfortunate Roberto Benigni-ing all over the place. I hate it when men in their sixties make these damn things; through apparently no fault of their own, they seem to think kids are stupid.

4. Happy Feet 2
Everything I despised about the first movie, plus more wackiness. Gave me the runs.

3. Arthur Christmas
Stop it, stop it, stop making these things. I'm so sick of high-tech Santa Claus crap.

2. The Smurfs
The mere existence of this thing just makes me want to find the Earth equivalent of that planet-controlling switch they had on Mongo in the Flash Gordon serials and just turn the entirety of humanity off.

1. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
This trailer has everything--bad accents, action, bullet time, martial arts, thuddingly obvious gay jokes--except any evidence that there's an actual mystery. But I guess a mystery isn't the key element of a Sherlock Holmes story, right? *sigh* Looks like the same boring previous movie, but much more smug and full of itself. Pass forever.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

An Era Ends

And with that, the Space Shuttle Program is over. This mission has been going on since before I was born; it's weird to think that I now live in an America without NASA Shuttle launches. I wonder how much of our exploration future is in the hands of private companies vs. whatever they decide to pursue at NASA. I think this program went on far too long; it's past time for this to come to a close. But I can't stop thirsting for the next step. And since there isn't a clear direction, I can't help feeling like either we've been defeated, or our nerve has given out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Film Week

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

This one at least feels more like a complete movie than this first did, and the mercenary decision to split the film in half provides a good lesson in how impossible it is to get everything into an adaptation, even with the running time being what it is. (Despite some teases in the first part, the film never gets into the darker implications of Dumbledore's back story, cutting all of that out entirely.) It's a wonderful end to a wonderful series, though it leaves me with surprisingly little to say. I think you know exactly what you're going to get out of it going in, and it didn't have any of the intensely boring passages of its predecessor. I still don't feel like I can rate it or the first one... I guess I'd go ***1/2 stars for the entire five-hour epic.

FAT HEAD (2009)
This homemade documentary does two very necessary things: it debunks the lipid hypothesis as a basis of nutritional science, and it refutes self-serving jackass Morgan Spurlock and his asinine character-piece-masquerading-as-a-documentary Super Size Me. The former is the important bit here, since Spurlock's self-aggrandizing idiocy and the way his film stretches credibility in a naked bid for stardom should be obvious. Filmmaker Tom Naughton here focuses on not only the science behind the modern diet industry, but the politics as well, highlighting a number of health-detrimental decisions the government has made based on either faulty research or scientific claims made for purely financial reasons. And I do appreciate Naughton's focus on personal responsibility; anyone who says the government needs to step in and regulate fast food and wasn't forced to eat cheeseburgers at gunpoint by Ronald McDonald needs to stop assuming everyone in the world is an infant. (Another point the film brings up that I found interesting: an anti-poor and even racist bias in the denouncement of fast food.) A fascinating, well-made, very funny, very necessary documentary. **** stars.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Can't Talk, Busy

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Six

I'm going to be honest: this season, the episodes are running together just a little bit. It seems like every episode the writers are messing with time or the perception of time or the minds of the crew or reality itself, and it's starting to feel more and more like slight variations on the same theme. Jonathan Frakes was pretty vocal about how the real money was being spent on the first season of Deep Space Nine instead of TNG, and it kind of shows. Now it does feel, on some level, like the writers aren't as interested in the characters.

But I still like the characters. I don't want to give up on the show yet. But I am kind of glad there's only one season left after this one, because it's getting a little fastidious here.

1. Time's Arrow, Part II (my rating: 2 out of 5)
Fun, but there are plot holes in this thing big enough to fly the Enterprise through. I guess when you have an episode like this it's more fun to give Mark Twain dialogue than it is to bother with explanations. Probably more fun to watch, too.

2. Realm of Fear (4/5)
Transportation is taken for granted on Trek, so it's nice to see that some people might have a perfectly natural fear of it (not a cartoony gruffness towards it, like Dr. McCoy or Dr. Pulaski). The sequences inside the transporter itself are fascinating--definitely a view we've never seen before--and as always Dwight Schultz is tops. Colm Meaney is great on this episode, too.

3. Man of the People (1/5)
So frigging ridiculous. Basically it's another Deanna mind-rape story, only with her ridiculous growth into a cougar and then more of that terrible old-age makeup. To quote my old mentor, why isn't Michael Westmore on welfare where he belongs? It tries to wrap itself up in terms of being a story about the greater good, but it's silly and self-righteous in the worst ways. And the solution to this puzzle is beyond ridiculous.

4. Relics (3/5)
It is nice to see Scotty again, but I wish it had been something more. You almost didn't need the action subplot here; it was interesting just to see Scotty interact with the crew, even though they're kind of dicks to him most of the time. Geordi is particularly insufferable here. I like that the episode manages to hold off from being overly sentimental; just hearing the ambient noise of the original Enterprise bridge on the holodeck was touching enough. Also, Scotty doesn't seem to bothered that everyone he knows is dead... Good callback to Scotty's "It's green" in "By Any Other Name."

5. Schisms (2/5)
Another episode with the crew being abducted by aliens. It's more chilling than "Clues" (they cut Riker's damn hand off and reattach it!), and there's some real suspense, but the ending just goes nowhere. Were they trying to leave it open for the return of the aliens, or did they just not come up with anything?

6. True Q (3/5)
Olivia d'Abo is always beautiful and I love Q; I find it hard not to enjoy his appearances. It's nice that we get two Q episodes and two Barclay appearances this season, since neither of them appeared in season five. I like the references to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and d'Abo's crush on Riker is cute.

7. Rascals (3/5)
Well, it does seem to me that this is the kind of episode you do when you're running out of ideas and losing interest fast. It's very cute, though, and I like the angry kid version of Ro. I also like Alexander being involved with the action, and they handle the Ferengi invasion without doing too much of a Home Alone rip-off. The boy playing Picard--also the boy who played Rene Picard on my favorite episode, "Family"--is perfect, even duplicating Picard's cadence. This almost, almost made me want to watch a series for kids about the kids onboard the Enterprise. It would be like TNG's version of The Sarah Jane Adventures.

8. A Fistful of Datas (3/5)
From the "they-turn-into-kids" episode to the "takes-place-in-the-Old-West" episode. Fun, and well-directed, and I got a kick out of Deanna as Durango, the Mysterious Stranger. And I really do like Alexander. But I don't know why anyone even goes on the holodeck, since all it does is malfunction and nearly kill everyone.

9. The Quality of Life (2/5)
It's interesting to see what lengths Data is willing to go to in order to protect what he thinks may be a nascent life form, but it also feels like covering old ground. I don't think this episode is anyone's favorite.

10. Chain of Command, Part I (5/5)
Cinematic in scope, and the fragile peace with the Cardassians is really explored here. I love Ronny Cox as Captain Jellico; a very military sort of guy, but one who isn't wrong, even though he runs the Enterprise his own way and clashes with others. The break in to the Cardassian lab is something I was less interested in, but the cliffhanger is amazing.

11. Chain of Command, Part II (5/5)
One of the most powerful episodes any Star Trek show has ever done. The interplay between Patrick Stewart and David Warner is too compelling to look away from, and the torture is almost too realistic to take. Ending on a note of uncertainty instead of wrapping everything up... we're a long way from Captain Kirk here, and it's fascinating.

12. Ship in a Bottle (5/5)
Finally, we have the return of Professor Moriarty. They turn him into a bit more of a super-villain in this episode, but the labyrinthine twists and turns--holodecks within holodecks within holodecks--are astonishing and fun. It's more of a mystery than the new Sherlock Holmes movie is going to have... The final twist is great; I like the way they let Moriarty think he's won and go along rather than discussing him into defeat. And Barclay's final line is note-perfect.

13. Aquiel (1/5)
And creepy Geordi the creeping stalker is back. Terrible.

14. Face of the Enemy (4/5)
Interesting to a point. I love the interplay between Deanna-as-a-Romulan and the Romulan commander. Marina Sirtis is so good in this episode you feel bad she's had so little to do for the previous five years.

15. Tapestry (5/5)
My second favorite episode of Next Gen, and even though I think I said before that "Deja Q" was my favorite Q episode, this is really it. It's a fabulous episode for Picard, my favorite character, and I love that we see the story he told Wesley about way back in "Samaritan Snare." Just a perfect episode.

16. Birthright: Part I (2/5)
The inevitable crossover with DS9. I had forgotten all about Dr. Bashir's existence, I'll be honest. I liked Worf on this episode, but his story here isn't that interesting, and I found Data's dream even less interesting. That seemed like filler in order to stretch this to two parts. And hey, didn't Worf used to have a kid? For an episode so centered on Worf's family history, it seems strange not to have him around.

17. Birthright: Part II (2/5)
Boy, I really wanted to like this one, because I find the Klingons so interesting. What do you think: black Muslims? I read something the other day where the Klingons in TNG moved from the original series' Soviet counterpart to black separatists who needed to be confronted from within instead of from without. I think TNG has missed the mark a little on trying to confront the issue of racism with the Klingons, and this episode tries too hard. Worf is like an unforgiving racist in this episode. He destroys peace in a community of Klingons and Romulans simply because it's his culture's tradition to be racist about it. Sadly, it's completely in character for Worf, but he never really, really has to confront that racism. It's like he refuses to accept Klingons who don't adhere to his vision of traditional Klingon culture. The show is completely uninterested in pursuing how Worf himself must strike the balance between his culture and his duties as a Federation officer, but instead just forgives him his fascist streak on this episode.

18. Starship Mine (5/5)
Refreshingly unpretentious and straightforward action thriller, which Picard is more than game for.

19. Lessons (4/5)
I usually prepare for a dull episode when Picard falls in love, but I thought this one was very in-character and poignant. I wasn't a fan of "The Inner Light," but the existence of that episode adds so much depth to this one, as Picard touches on the same feelings he lived and is able to express it not just through his music, but by joining his music to someone else's. It's all very lovely. Of course, Picard wasn't going to be allowed to remain in a relationship, but the way this relationship is taken apart is very organic, mature, and realistic.

20. The Chase (1/5)
It's like they just did this episode to explain why nearly all of Michael Westmore's alien designs look like humans with forehead rashes. After the build-up--during which Nu'Daq is hilarious--the end feels like an anticlimax.

21. Frame of Mind (5/5)
This episode takes some of the overdone themes on this show of how we perceive reality and the capabilities of the mind and really makes a great episode out of them. Frakes is excellent in this episode, and each twist and turn is truly suspenseful.

22. Suspicions (1/5)
Nothing about this episode works for me. And why is Beverly Crusher leading a science symposium? Geordi or Data, sure, but a medical doctor?

23. Rightful Heir (2/5)
I love Kahless, but I don't like the message of this episode. I think it's patronizing about religion, and it almost feels like an apology for the staunchly atheist message of "Who Watches the Watchers." See, we're not against your religion. Kahless is like Klingon Jesus or Klingon Mohammed, and we all have to respect that because it's Klingon culture and tradition and so on. The argument for faith and spirituality feels especially contrived at the end; when Kahless gives his parting speech to Worf it feels like an argument against rationality and for nonsense.

24. Second Chances (4/5)
Frakes is very, very good on this episode giving two performances as two different versions of himself. It's brave of the show to basically throw into doubt whether or not the Riker we've known all these years is "real" or not. And it's a brave, interesting ending, too. I like the point being made that the "real" version of ourselves is made from experiences and choices. This is another episode where they do it right.

25. Timescape (5/5)
I love the mystery aspect of this episode: that Picard, Data and Troi beam aboard the Enterprise to discover what looks, stuck in time, like a Romulan attack on the ship, only to discover the truth of the incident while trying to deal with a causality that keeps repeating itself. Also, I like how we see more and more peace being made possible between the Federation and the Romulans.

26. Descent (3/5)
This season's cliffhanger is a bit underwhelming, which is a shame since it figures rogue Borg, the return of Lore, and the repercussions of letting Hugh go back to the Borg after reclaiming his individuality last season. I did find Data's sudden development of emotions very organic, but I wasn't so involved in the story. And why beam 99% of the command crew on an away mission?

Well, one more season left. I think I've seen almost none of the episodes. Looking forward to it, but cautiously so.

Kristen Bell Mondays on Kristen Bell's Birthday

"Mr. Danson, I’m a really big fan… like a really big fan. The problem was this: he plays Arthur Frobisher on Damages, that’s his character’s name. I decided to make my alias Holly Frobisher, his wife. So when I saw him in the lobby, I said ‘I’m such a big fan’, he said that’s really sweet, I said you don’t understand. I’m currently checked in this hotel as Holly Frobisher, your wife. And I think he was flattered, he might have been freaked out, but he was flattered. And than he said oh thank you so much, I’m a big fan too. And I said, are you? Really? Are you checked in this hotel Sarah Marshall? Because that’s what fans do Ted, that’s what big fans do."

Happy Birthday, beautiful.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Song of the Week: "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me"

I've never had the Song of the Week fall exactly on my birthday before. So here's my favorite song.