08 February 2016

I think I'll stick to apple juice (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.23, "A Taste of Armageddon")

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here!
When I saw the trailer for this on my DVD, I thought the hats were going to be the most ridiculous thing in this episode. I was wrong.

****

The Enterprise is on approach to an alien world with the aim to establish diplomatic relations with it when it receives a message telling it to stay away. However, they are ordered by the Ambassador on board to ignore that message and find themselves drawn into a very strange war indeed.

****

Much of science fiction, especially Star Trek, aims to make comments on our own society and times via the activities of fantasy worlds. How well it manages to do that varies; it can be subtle and brilliant... or it can be like having a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick applied to your head, to quote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Unfortunately this is a bit of a Gargle Blaster of an episode, intended as a commentary on the ongoing Vietnam War and coming across to me as one on the Cold War as well (remember this is five years after the Cuban Missiles Crisis) which comes across as heavy handed to me... also, a bit implausible. The central premise of the episode revolves around people willingly killing themselves because a computer has told them to do so. While I would agree that people have engaged in mass murder because someone told them it was the right thing, most humans do have a sense of self-preservation and surely some would have refused. Anyway, even the 'fake war' of the episode has real humanoid costs that would have an impact... and the length of time it has been going on is ridiculous. In short, the entire scenario falls apart at close examination.

Spock and Kirk don't have a great episode at all; Kirk is very unsubtle in his approach. The best of the crew is in fact Scotty, who refuses an order from Ambassador Fox that could get them all killed; reflecting a real incident in James Doohan's life where as an officer in the Royal Canadian Army, he refused to do something in a training exercise that would kill his own men.

Ambassador Fox (played by Gene Lyons, best known as the police commissioner on Ironside) is a complete and utter idiot; he clearly failed Common Sense. He ignores the message from the planet and overrides sensible decisions by the crew of the ship on the grounds of diplomacy, failing to realise (to quote Scotty) that sometimes the best form of diplomacy is indeed a fully armed phaser bank.

The planet is led by one Anan 7, played by David Opatoshu, a man with a suitably evil goatee and a slightly swarthy look that got a lot of roles as Middle Eastern characters over the years. He's clearly quite, quite insane. Apart from the guards in silly hats, the main other character on the planet is Mea 3, one of the few credited and on-screen appearances by Barbara Babcock (who mostly did uncredited voice work in the original series), who wears a classic female costume of this sort of era... or rather half one, which is pretty distracting.

The ending sees Kirk engage in some very reckless behaviour - basically risking a nuclear exchange between the two sides in order to force them to talk.

Finally, can we please stop these 'comedy' final scenes? They're getting irritating.

****
Conclusion

This is supposed to be a metaphor on the madness and stupidity of war. Unfortunately, it comes across as just stupid.

5/10

01 February 2016

Mystery Science Theater 3000

In the not too distant future, somewhere in the US, a new series of Mystery Science Theater 3000, funded by fans to the tune of over $6 million, will go into production and I for one am very much looking forward to it.

The show can be summarised simply as "guy and two robots watch bad movies while making jokes about them"... but they're very good jokes. Indeed, it's influenced the whole way that people watch regular TV (including me) and the original remains a cult classic.

While you're waiting for the new lot, an array of episodes from across the eleven seasons can be watched here with others available for a small fee on the Rifftrax website (which of course was set up by former host Mike Nelson).

Now if you excuse me, I've got movie sign.

Crow: Hey, isn't he supposed to put his own riffs in here?

31 January 2016

Sir Terry Wogan 1938-2016

The renowned broadcaster has died from cancer aged 77.

Sir Terry was a highly genial and entertaining presenter, loved by millions and for many years the host of Children in Need, something he would do (like nearly everyone else involved) without taking any money for it; helping that worthwhile cause to raise many, many millions.

He will be deeply missed. Rest in Peace.

Things What I Have Watched - January 2015

In this first of a new series, I do a brief look (a paragraph each tops) on some of the things I watched in the previous month.

Sherlock - The Abominable Bride

I have on more than one occasion wondered what Steven Moffat takes to come up with his strange ideas. This was a pretty weird instalment of the show that is the televisual equivalent of a bus (you wait ages and then three come along at once, although not in this case). Lot of humour and knowing references to the Holmesian canon, with one of the better twists I've seen, but flagged badly in the middle.

Tyrant - Season 2

While perhaps not the greatest series about, it does have a superb performance from Ashraf Barhom as Jamal al-Fayeed, the paranoid leader of Abuddin who is conflicted and yet pretty terrifying, notably killing a general with a model oil rig. This has got a Season 3.

Castle - Episodes 8.1 - 8.3

I was in fact spoiled for this by a website I won't name that slated the entire opening story. Well, the first two-parter was... not that good. Castle has never done international conspiracy well. That said, it was a strong Alexis episode. Fillion and Katic did the best they could with some pretty bad material - the ending of that story was drama for drama's sake. Episode 3 was a good deal better, but still, this will probably be axed come May and it's probably had its time now.

War and Peace

A sumptuous adaptation of Tolstoy's novel (which I reviewed here) that is pretty easy to follow once you've learned everyone's names, has a great cast and also has a truly superb display of hats. Seriously great hats of the sort you just don't get today.

Stan Lee's Lucky Man

Not too bad from the first episode, but does James Nesbitt do anything apart from snark in a Northern Irish accent?

16 January 2016

Fringe 1.10: Safe

This episode features Amir Amirson, later to appear in The Blacklist and the plot here is actually more crazy than an episode of that show, which starts with a man getting literally stuck in a wall and ends with someone being teleported.

Speaking of crazy, Walter Bishop is definitely very funny in this one - his mind works in his own distinct way and no-one else can quite grasp how. However, Olivia and John are both very good in this - the scene in the bar with the card tricks in particular.

Jared Harris appears in this again and it's clear that he's doing what British actors do best - play bad guys. This also has an appearance by James Frain, a British-born actor who has turned up in quite a few American works, as a lawyer who has to get some unusual things for his client... and won't sadly appear again.

There's even a good cliffhanger as Abrams can now have his cake and eat it by putting the female lead in peril... which she will course get out of by herself in style.

Conclusion

A very good episode indeed - the show appears to have finally got fully going.

9/10


14 January 2016

Alan Rickman 1946-2016

For the second time this week, the entertainment world has lost a legend, the British actor Alan Rickman.

While I've never seen Die Hard, I have watched all the Harry Potter films and can imagine no-one else as Severus Snape. In addition, he was great in Galaxy Quest. His death of cancer - a horrible condition - at only 69 leaves another void that can never be filled.

Rest in Peace.

12 January 2016

The Moderate Irritation of Khan (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.22, "Space Seed")

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/memoryalpha/images/0/0f/Khan_wearing_Starfleet_uniform.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20130506195140&path-prefix=en
He once ruled a quarter of Earth... but the British held it for longer

Yes, we're reached one of the most famous episodes of the entire show - the one that got a sequel in one of the best movies of the franchise (let's not mention the other one, shall we?) and inspired William Shatner's hammiest line ever.

****
The Enterprise locates a derelict vessel floating in space broadcasting Morse code... a spaceship launched in the 1990s. One with life on board...

****
I'm going to start by saying that I wouldn't be seen dead, let along spend over two centuries asleep, wearing that net thing that we discover the crew of SS Botany Bay wearing. William Theiss was definitely a man who liked his bare flesh, that was for sure.

The triumvirate (now there's a word that I don't get to us every day) are very firmly established at by what today would be near the end of the first season instead of three-quarters of the way through; 29 episodes in the first run would be unthinkable today. Kirk's emotion versus Spock's logic makes a good mix, with both him and Bones having fun bantering with a guy who doesn't do 'banter'. Or irritation for that matter.

 It's interesting to note that this year, 2016, is the 20th 'anniversary' of Khan's departure in the first major bit of back story added to the Trek universe; another 'World War' would later get added to the continuity by the time Star Trek: First Contact was made. With not that many lines of dialogue, the rich seeds (no pun intended) were laid for many licensed works covering the 'Eugenics Wars', the first point where the prime universe diverges from our own in a big way. Of course, the creators of the show at the time did not think there would still be Star Trek being produced in 1996... let alone 2016.

Khan Noonien Singh, escaped former tyrant is deeply compelling and played superbly by the late Ricardo Montalbán who in his long career was also a strong advocate for improved representation of Latino actors in television and actually spent much of his life working with a severe back injury that would eventually put him in a wheelchair - including this role. His chest is definitely very impressive (and the director insists that was his real one in the The Wrath of Khan) and he comes across as very manly despite long hair... not to mention eyeshadow! It's also clear that Khan is a ruthless ruler; he's perfectly willing to suffocate Kirk et al to get what he wants.

Also, I'm going to have to add my annoyance at the depiction of near-suffocation in any fiction; you don't just end up walking off after losing consciousness from lack of oxygen (notable recent exception - The Librarians, in an episode that starred John de Lancie aka Q and was directed by Jonathan Frakes aka Riker).
 
Then we get McGivers... who doesn't really do much for feminism at all. Uhura does more in one glance after being slapped than McGivers, who falls head over heels in love with Khan. Her scenes with him are reminiscent (at least to someone who has never read them) of a Mills & Boon novel. Sigh...

Since Khan hasn't actually killed anyone, Kirk decides to put him and his crew on a barely hospitable planet where they can survive with their ingenuity. He's going to come to regret that later.

****
Conclusion

While Khan is a highly memorable villain, there is a fair bit wrong with this episode, namely the entire McGivers plot for one thing. Perhaps I would have ranked this higher on a first watch, but I can only give it...

7/10

11 January 2016

David Bowie 1947-2016

The death of this musical legend came as a surprise to most of us considering his comeback in recent years - he'd only just released another album. It seems that he chose not to let his cancer stop him from producing and to go out still swinging as it were.

And he was definitely swinging. Going through multiple musical personas and genres over the years, he produced a big number of classics over 51 years in the business; "Life on Mars?", "Major Tom", "Ashes to Ashes" and "Let's Dance" for one thing. He even did acting.

He will be considered one of the all-time greats and will be deeply missed.

Rest in Peace.