Thursday, May 31, 2007

Superman of Two Worlds II

As we saw last week (see? DC Comics aren't the only ones who can provide weekly retconning fun!), barriers between Earths are breaking down. Will no character be spared?Already, we've lost the Superman of Earth-38 who so bravely put on greek sandals to free people from Nazi concentration camps during the war. Sadly, by taking a misstep through the space-time continuum (AKA Grant Morrison's fevered peyote dream), he's been transformed into the Superman of Earth-90 where he will have to struggle against the stigma associated with having unnaturally developped muscles.

Earth-38, with your clear lines and reasonable anatomy... We shall miss you.

Star Trek 174: Captain's Holiday

174. Captain's Holiday

FORMULA: Shore Leave + Samaritan Snare + The Last Outpost + The Voyage Home

WHY WE LIKE IT: Risa! All the horga'hn stuff.

WHY WE DON'T: Well, I never liked Vash, not even here. Weak villains overall.

REVIEW: I love the teaser and first act of Captain's Holiday. The interplay between Riker and Picard is particularly fun, and it's great how Lwaxana Troi is used as an incentive for Picard to leave the ship. Riker's horga'hn trick tickles equally, and Risa is luscious with beautiful women and greenery (whatever your tastes are). Picard's refusal to have fun on his vacation is well played, etc. Unfortunately, the episode has a plot...

Obviously, you can't have an hour of Picard sunbathing, so yeah, you need a story. It's not a terribly accomplished one, however, perhaps because it at once tries to have immense stakes, but also a light touch. So the MacGuffin of the week is an artifact from the future that can destroy stars and has 3 parties trying to get ahold of it (big stakes), but the villains are ineffectual so that Picard and Vash can pretty much beat them on their own, with only a little help from the Enterprise at the end. So they were going for a fun adventure over a tense one. Fair enough.

Let's look at those villains. Whenever the show's creator want a lighter villain, they will often go for the Ferengi. Having failed in making them dangerous, they've instead chosen to make them laughable. Sovak in his hawaiian shirt is just that, not very threatening at all despite a creditable performance by Max Grodenchik of later Rom fame. At least Picard has some fairly good confrontations with him. The Vorgons are far less interesting, limited to appearing, standing there delivering exposition, and disappearing again. The most damage they do is shoot Vash with a tractor beam. Ooooh.

I've kept Vash for the end, because I find her a very problematic character. Sure, she's written as this charming rogue, but I just don't find her that charming. I find her more annoying than anything. Jennifer Hetrick does a good enough job, it's not that. I guess I find it hard to believe a man like Picard would fall for a bad girl like her and do no more than call her "outrageous". She lies to him over and over, has stolen goods and information, plans on committing more crimes, and he just lets it slide. Evidence suggests he doesn't really leave the job at the office, so I guess he just hadn't gotten any noogie in a long while. They've got some good scenes together, and there is at least some chemistry there, but it's an offbeat pairing to say the least. It's all drowned in heavily plotted reversals however, and I'm not really sorry to see Vash go. Let summer camp romances stay in the past.

LESSON: Not what jamaharon is, certainly, but I remain curious.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Patrick Stewart has some fun playing the Indiana Jones part, and there is some humor here, but there's no real tension with those keystone cops baddies. Enjoyment of the episode may well rest in whether you like Vash or not.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

(De)canonizing Doctor Who

(The following most assuredly contains spoilers for Human Nature.)

Paul Cornell has gone to the well twice with astonishingly good results. For those who don't know, the latest episode of Doctor Who, Human Nature, is a remake of the author's New Adventures novel from the 90s. The book by the same name is considered a classic by fans, and Cornell was therefore asked to rewrite it as a script for the 10th Doctor. We'll see how Part II goes, but for the moment, it's been received as the best episode of the season, if not of the entirety of New Who.

And I wholeheartedly agree. Lovely episode, with added value for fans thanks to many little references. Being a story that also exists in another medium, one could almost see Cornell working those references into his original story as a wink to all such tales. Is canonicity one of Human Nature's themes? Aside from being a retelling of a New Adventure novel, we have:
-Scarecrows as per the last 2nd Doctor TV Comic strip;
-John Smith/The Doctor naming his human parents as Sidney and Verity, referring to Doctor Who's original producers, Sidney Newman and Verity Lambert (one schoolboy is called Pemberton, a possible reference to script editor Victor Pemberton). If we can consider "the real world" as an alternate source of Who lore, then Human Nature draws a link there;
-The 8th Doctor, as played by Paul McGann, appears as a sketch in John Smith's book of dreams, his first "canonical" appearance since his only appearance. Before this point, some maintained that the TV Movie was not canonical, having been produced for FOX-TV rather than the BBC, and contradicting a number of things from the classic series (a half-human Doctor, the Eye of Eternity inside the TARDIS, Skaro as cemitary planet, etc.). I would have thought the 7th Doctor's appearance and death would have been enough to canonize the TV Movie, but there you go.
But if the story confirms the 8th Doctor's place in canon, it also seems to decanonize Human Nature - the novel! After all, how could the Doctor have made himself a human teacher in a 1913 military academy and married a woman named Joan TWICE? Once as the 7th Doctor (with Benny) and another as the 10th (with Martha). There are notable differences in the plot (the Doctor's motivation, his featured enemies, the companion's role, etc.) but just enough similarities to make you ask some serious questions as to the novel's canonicity.
And if that novel isn't canonical, are any of them? This is an important question for Doctor Who fans, especially the classic series survivors. After 1989, the story continued, first as Virgin's New Adventures, then also as their Missing Adventures. Then came BBC Books' Past Doctor Adventures and Eight Doctor Adventures, as well Big Finish's many audio series. The latter continue to this day, supplemented by a new range of books detailing the missing adventures in New Who (as well as Torchwood). And unlike other tie-in series, these were considered canon. Some of the classic series writers worked on the New Adventures. Actors reprised their roles for Big Finish. And Russell T Davies slid references to the new novels into episodes (most notably Boom Town's mention of Justicia).

For me, the answer quite simply lies in the Time War. In the new series, it's been shown that history can be changed: The Doctor fails to recognize the Great and Bountiful Human Empire, the events of "Father's Day", his comments in "The Unquiet Dead", etc. If you wipe an entire species (or two) from history, that's bound to cause some changes. Changes like an adventure not happening when it was supposed to? Why not? I dare say it can explain away any inconsistency between the classic series and New Who, including the heretofore unknown role of Torchwood, the differences between the 21st century as represented in the 60s and the real deal.

If this line of reasoning opens the door to other adaptations of classic tales, I'm all for it. Which doesn't mean I don't want original material too.

Other thoughts on Human Nature:
-Remember the discussion on racism? Well, when the Doctor's not around with his telepathic aura of friendliness, Martha does get nasty comments directed at her on account of her being... a Londoner.
-Didja notice? The dance occurs on the same date as the Armistice (November 11th remains Memorial Day for Canada and the UK). Given that WWI is set to start the next year, I thought this was a nice touch.
-Speaking of which, Favourite line: "In a few years time, boys like that'll be running the country." "1913... They might not."
-The Ghost of Rose: She's in John Smith's book, but "disappears after a while". Note how Smith is ambivalent and matter-of-fact about this.
-References to actually televised Who, not counting all the stuff in the book: The childish music behind the school girl is from "Remembrance of the Daleks"; the Doctor does something impossible with a cricket ball, just like the 5th Doctor in "Four to Doomsday". Probably more.
Next week: I think I'll be watching Human Nature again, followed by the second part of this excellent story. I left a congratulatory message on Paul Cornell's blog. If you liked it as much as I did, pay him a visit, won't you?

Star Trek 173: Allegiance

173. Allegiance

FORMULA: The Empath + What Are Little Girls Made Of? + Lonely Among Us

WHY WE LIKE IT: The faux-Picard is very entertaining whether wooing Beverly or singing songs. The unusual direction.

WHY WE DON'T: Plot holes aplenty. The aliens are not credible.

REVIEW: Picard is kidnapped at the start of Allegiance, and his efforts to escape his cell take up most of the episode. Unfortunately, it's all pretty insubstantial, and we've seen this lab rat scenario before, and done better. Which doesn't mean there aren't some interesting things in this episode.

On the contrary, the best part is probably Picard's replacement putting the moves on Beverly, singing songs with his crew, crashing the ol' poker game and generally being very entertaining and pleasant. Since a telepathic scan seems to have been used to create this copy, it would seem that a measure of wish fulfillment was included. After all, this isn't Picard, it's really Picard's idea of himself. Patrick Stewart seems to relish the chance to play a subtly different Picard, not as stuffy, and even genial. It leads to such great scenes that you almost wish they'd happened for real. I also like the change of tack for Beverly, since I found her pursuit of Picard to be rather sappy.

The runaround being given Picard and his cellmates is less interesting, dealt in obvious reversals, but nonetheless, Esoqq the Chalnoth makes for an interesting character. Kova Tholl is less entertaining though. Picard is smart enough to figure it all out of course, leading to the introduction of the previously unseen aliens. And that's where I start to lose interest. Their not understanding certain concepts strains credulity, especially if they are telepathic, can create convincing copies of people (how about using the copies for study then?), and even had a plant in the room spouting the morality they're not supposed to understand. It doesn't work, and is further marred by some very silly technobabble about reproducing people via transporter technology, etc. The final solution with the intruder forcefield is well played, but unfortunately, this is the first time the crew is ever shown so in tune with one another, and the first time such a gadget is used on the bridge... and the last.

A lot of that material is saved, however, by some very cool direction. The weirdness of the faux-Picard and of real-Picard's situation is highlighted throughout using high camera angles and extreme close-ups. It really gives the episode a distinctive look. Also of note is the Lonka Pulsar, a very nice effect, translated well by lighting on the bridge.

LESSON: Picard's always wanted to renounce his winery origins by downing a stout mug of ale (if not a mug of stout ale).

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Inconsequential fluff. Quite amusing when it wants to be, and everyone involved does the best they can with a problematic script.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memes of the Week

From Facedown in the Gutters, the "Peter Parker, Worst Roommate Ever" meme:Featuring the true origin of the second Green Goblin!

And something topical via Chris Sims' "Dimestore Merlin" meme:
Oh Dimestore Merlin... you're so transparent.

Star Trek 172: Sins of the Father

172. Sins of the Father

FORMULA: A Matter of Honor + Heart of Glory + Court-Martial

WHY WE LIKE IT: The Klingon story arc is always good. Kurn making Wesley wet his pants.

WHY WE DON'T: Wesley wetting his pants. The word "discommendation" (huh?).

REVIEW: A sequel to A Matter of Honor was an excellent idea, and the first act is great fun as Kurn is introduced as a real tyrant. Riker should know better than to challenge his authority though, and I'm not sure we're given enough of a reason for Wesley to start running scared like he does. But overall, it's fun to see a "real" Klingon on the bridge and Tony Todd creates a fun, very primal character. We're even given parallel scenes to A Matter of Honor, such as the caviar dinner. Is it really worse than gagh? And then, the whole thing switches gears... and actually gets better.

Kurn turns out to be Worf's brother (should've known with those identical foreheads), which plunges us into TNG's first political Klingon story and our first visit to the Klingon homeworld. It's all very moody, and the Klingon government turns out to be highly hypocritical, though it IS attempting to prevent a civil war. The various Klingons we meet are well drawn except for Duras, which I always found either badly cast or badly acted. I guess he shouldn't be too Klingon since he is a traitor from a line of traitors, but his portrayal has never been all that great to me. A minor point, since he isn't meaningfully Worf's adversary here. The situation is. The Empire is. All of Duras' machinations are behind the scenes.

What we learn about Klingon honor, tradition and values is all interesting with the lone exception of the word "discommendation" which I find to be totally un-Klingon. The ceremony itself is pretty dramatic though, and Worf taking one for the team is an excellent moment, though defused a little by taking Worf out of an Empire he never really belonged to. Still, Sins of the Father is quite well-written, with memorable characters and loads of new information on the popular Klingons and Worf specifically.

LESSON: My dad can implicate your dad in an act of treason.

REWATCHABILITY - High: The Klingon stuff is as close as TNG ever really got to multi-part stories, and though you could say it all begins with The Emissary, that show was more of a prologue. This is chapter one, and it's excellent, with a downbeat resolution and the introduction of three important characters.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Star Trek 171: The Offspring

171. The Offspring

FORMULA: What Are Little Girls Made Of? + The Measure of a Man + The Child

WHY WE LIKE IT: A real heartbreaker. Most of the regulars are wonderful, as is Hallie Todd.

WHY WE DON'T: Starfleet seems to have forgotten all about The Measure of Man.

REVIEW: One of my favorite episodes of all time, The Offspring very much hinges on Hallie Todd's performanc as Lal. And it's top notch. She manages to makes us care a great deal for her character, creating both comedic and tragic moments effortlessly. Her mime work is also good and helps make Lal very believable. And she's well surrounded. Brent Spiner offers some of his better work, despite some redundant dialogue on his part reminiscent of Pen Pals. There's immense subtlety in his final expression at the ops station. Patrick Stewart and Gates MacFadden are very naturalistic in their scenes, and I love their reactions throughout. Crusher's surprise at Data coming to her for advice and Picard's smiling nod when he admits to Haftel that, yes, he's jeopardizing his career, are two of many great character moments. By making Lal a girl, the show seems to have more for the women of the cast to do, with Crusher being joined by a lightly comedic Troi and a totally mischievious Guinan. This was Jonathan Frakes' first episode as director (he certainly pulled a winner script), so Riker isn't in it much. His one real scene ("What are your intentions toward my daughter?") is quite memorable, thank you very much.

Starfleet does come off rather badly here, since they seem to have forgotten about their allowing for android rights in The Measure of a Man, but that's par for the course, and it is revisited differently enough. Haftel, just like Maddox, isn't really a bad guy, and he comes to respect Data by the end. And what an end. When Lal suffers from cascade failure, it's wrenching. A real tear-jerker that doesn't fail to get me to break down every time.

I must take note on the writing, which has a number of wonderful touches, from the childish question "Why is the sky black?" to Lal's last words regressing her through her life lessons. Every scene with Lal has something special about it: Her discomfort after serving a drink (as Haftel watches), her not wanting to be different and Data not really knowing what to say, I could go on and on. A wonderful episode that makes you wish Hallie Todd could have joined the cast right then and there.

LESSON: Data now knows how it feels to kiss Riker.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Funny, touching, well-written, and more than able to overcome it's retread of the android issue. Gushing applause for the guest star.

This Week in Geek (21-27/05/07)

Sorry about the lateness, my internet crapped out last night.

Buys

I purchased the first two seasons of Slings & Arrows, a Canadian program about a Shakespeare company in Ontario and clocking in at 6 episodes per season. It came highly recommended and I *am* a Shakespeare nut. See "Accomplishments" for my reaction. Yes, already.

"Accomplishments"

So Slings & Arrows, eh? I sat down the day I got them through the mail to watch a single episode over dinner. 6 hours later... The damn thing sandbagged me but good. The show had me shedding tears and breaking out in laughter seconds later. They had me at hello by concentrating on a production of Hamlet, then actually illuminating the text in new ways for me (not that easy at this point), and making the characters' lives somewhat mirror the play without ever being predictable. What can I say, I was totally sold.

So the next day? Slings & Arrows Season 2. Again, extremely well-written stuff, though the comedy was more clever than laugh-out-loud this time around. Though it explores more than one play, the A-plot stages the cursed "Scottish play", MacBeth. A difficult play which I'd read the first time to help a friend prepare for the role. He couldn't get his head around it, and I wasn't sure either. I eventually came up with the interpretation that MacBeth was an anti-Hamlet. Where the Danish prince delayed action through thought, MacBeth acts without thinking about the consequences. To my astonishment, the show bore all of this out. They made a big thing about Mackers being hard to stage, and the character just being a psychopath, but when our hero director has his breakthrough, it's really about humanizing MacBeth, presenting him as a man buffetted by the winds of fate. Very interesting, and I can't wait for Season 3, out in early July.

If you think that's a lot of TV, I also flipped the first season of Murder One. I guess when I'm feeling down, I'll just crawl into a big DVD and crash there. 16 episodes in one day, the rest the next. I'd seen it when first aired, of course, but the plot twists so much it kept up the intrigue. Murder One only lasted two years, but it was probably ahead of its time. Looking at it now, aside from the huge cell phones and some dodgy hairstyles, etc., it feels like something that would be done today, on HBO even. I certainly didn't watch 23 episodes in one go because it couldn't sustain interest. Two episodes had commentary, but largely on the gushing side. I preferred the 25-minute documentary.

My other projects suffered in comparison. Only 7 cards for the WhoCCG, finishing up my work on Boom Town and starting on The Armageddon Factor (6 episodes is a lot of material to weed through). Over on Warcrap, Lynda only went up 1 level, from 46 to 47, but playing allows me to listen to Big Finish audios at the same time. I went through two this week: Project Twilight, an atmospheric but rather violent contemporary vampire story (not a fan), and Wildthyme at Large, starring the Doctor's postmodern homologue, Iris Wildthyme. As quirky as usual, with some clever bits and incorporating rather than rehashing the Big Finish book of the same name. Katy Manning and that panda are a hoot, though Ortis Deley is a little flat as her companion Tom.

Website finds

With all the hoopla going on about misogynistic portrayals in comic book art lately, prizes were bound to be awarded. Presenting the Manstream Awards! Share the outrage and pay them a visit, won't you?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Star Trek 170: Yesterday's Enterprise

170. Yesterday's Enterprise

FORMULA: Mirror, Mirror + The City on the Edge of Forever + Skin of Evil + The Undiscovered Country (which wasn't out yet)

WHY WE LIKE IT: The first real alternate universe episode in TNG. A wonderful way to bring back Tasha. Excellent acting. An Enterprise we'd never seen.

WHY WE DON'T: The Yar-Castillo romance. Uninspired space battles.

REVIEW: A bona fide classic, Yesterday's Enterprise still comes across today as a very mature story, throwing us in the deep end without the usual endless technobabble explanations. Patrick Stewart carries the piece with some of his best work to date on the show, bringing great drama to all his scenes, especially as he struggles with his faith in Guinan, his duty to history, and his wish not to see friends erased from it. If he trusts Guinan, it is surely in part due to desperation, as he admits the Federation will likely lose the war.

Part of Picard's dilemma is Tasha Yar. She know she's not alive in the other timeline, and that sending her with the Enterprise-C is just as much a death sentence. While I didn't like Tasha in Season 1, and I still don't like her here, I must say the scene where she asks for her death to have meaning is the strongest Denise Crosby ever gave or got. The music underplays it here, and I think to good effect. Up to now, some of the "moving" music on the show has been overpowering. On the other hand, there's really nothing to Tasha's implausible romance with Richard Castillo, which really wasn't necessary to motivate her transfer to the E-C. You just know you're in television land when people fall in love so rapidly and for no discernable reason.

I'm really glad the creators didn't give in to the temptation of putting Worf aboard one of the Klingon ships. Shows like this already strain credibility by having everything the same yet different, when in all likelihood, the cast would be much different, as would the ship's configuration. I won't go into the details of how, on a ship without families, Wesley would not have gotten his shot at being an ensign, etc., since this is immaterial. We want to see all the same characters in a different context, and so we accept things as they are. Worf's present might have stretched credibility too much, so he isn't here. He still gets a decent scene, in which prune juice is (perhaps unfortunately) introduced.

Rachel Garrett makes a good showing as the doomed Enterprise captain, and her death is nothing short of shocking. Riker also kicks the bucket, but this isn't as effective since we know he'll be back. Great details on the Enterprise, including stiffer uniforms, Ten-Forward as a mess hall, and the ship being packed with people (it's incredible how much value this adds to the show). The space battles are pretty dull however, with ships usually treated as sitting ducks. Shaking bridge scenes aren't great, but they don't call attention to themselves as much. After the model work in The Defector, I might have expected more. The budget must've been maxed out already. A minor niggle, since the drama is excellent regardless.

LESSON: It makes me wonder if Guinan senses something's amiss because of her experience in the Nexus. Is she in contact with herself there? Does the Nexus impart some impression of the true timeline?

REWATCHABILITY - High: Yesterday's Enterprise manages to gives us great acting, an acceptable return for a dead character, a lot of bang for its buck, some intense scenes, a cool alternate universe story, and fills in a blank in the Star Trek universe's history. Quite excellent.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

20 Things I Love About Geekery

Sometimes the blogosphere is full of outrage and criticism. That's a given. Whether it's misogynistic superhero wife statues or crossover fatigue, people are more likely to write about things that piss them off or that they find ridiculous. Perhaps that's why there's a sort of not-always-acknowledged meme going on about lists of things bloggers love. I'll append a list of those I've seen at the bottom of this post, but while most are about comics alone, I'm going to have to throw my net wider, as per my mission statement.

So here are, in no particular order, things I love about Geekery with a capital "G":

1. Just how many old comics are being reprinted cheaply through Showcase Presents and Essentials.

2. New Doctor Who!!!

3. The laughs to be had around the table in a role-playing session. I have the best players, you know that?

4. The wealth of comic book blogs out there that consistently make me think or laugh. (See links in side-bar.) And the chance to participate.

5. DVD commentaries. Just like going to film school.

6. Knowing words like "omnipotent" and every god in 3 or 4 pantheons by 5th grade.

7. Having lived to see a number of comics/SF/fantasy properties brought to the silver screen APPROPRIATELY.

8. That in my head can be found many versions of history. Our own, obviously, but also those of DC Comics (more than one there actually), Marvel Comics, Doctor Who, Star Trek, etc.

9. Anyone can be a fan of Batman, but it takes a special, dedicated soul to love Aquaman.

10. James Kochalka.

11. Board games no one wants to play with me. Like Cosmic Encounter.

12. Photoshop ('nuff said).

13. Blade Runner Special Edition is coming out this year.

14. Super-Powers action figures. Squeeze Dr. Fate's legs and he casts a spell!!!

15. Rolling a "critical". Is there anything more viscerally exciting?

16. Deep Space 9.

17. The Grand Comic Book Database. Best blogging tool EVER.

18. Neon Genesis Evangelion.

19. Being part of a working World of Warcraft guild almost exclusively composed of people I know in real life.

20. "Geek cred". Being a geek is a lot cooler than it used to be.

Other lists:
50 Things Kalinara Loves About Superhero Comics
50 Things Ragnell Loves About Mainstream Superhero Comics
30 Things Jon Hex Loves (platonically!) About DC Comics
30 Things Jon Hex Loves (platonically!) About Marvel Comics
10 Reasons Kevin Church Really Likes Star Wars, despite...
27 Things Right (Again or All Along) with the DC Universe (by Devon)

If I've missed your love along the way, let me know!

Friends From Different Sides of the Track

Comics Oughta Be Fun celebrated its 2-year anniversary, so congratulations to Bully! His is one of my first stops on the blogosphere every day. Indeed, I could myself part of his Posse!
Last night I entered other celebrant Hergé in Friday Night Fights using a fight between a monkey and Tintin wearing the skin of another monkey. But it wasn't my first choice. From the same album, Tintin au Congo, a veritable animal massacre, here's what I didn't use in deference to my friend Bully:
Is a friendship possible between an -oid raised on such fare and a little stuffed bull who loves Star Wars? I'm going to have to say yes!

Star Trek 169: A Matter of Perspective

169. A Matter of Perspective

FORMULA: Court-Martial + Rashomon

WHY WE LIKE IT: An interesting way to structure an episode. A cool scene where Riker passes behind his holographic double.

WHY WE DON'T: The technobabble solution to the mystery. Mark Margolis is essentially wasted.

REVIEW: When Riker is accused of the murder of Nel Apgar, the holodeck is used to recreate various versions of the events leading up to the man's death. An intriguing notion, but the episode could have been a lot better. There's some fun to be had in seeing Riker squirm so much (as when he almost follows Data into the ready room), and there are some cool "split screen" effects, especially when Riker manages to walk around himself, but aside from that...

If the various versions of events were less biased, there would have been more room for ambuiguity, but as they are, I simply can't believe Troi could detect nothing on Manua Apgar. Fine, she chooses to remember her dead husband in a good light, and that it was Riker who was flirtatious, but a sexual assault? Come on now. I really like Mark Margolis who plays Apgar, but I find him wasted here as a one-note character being beaten up by Riker or beating Riker up. It quickly falls into the category of caricature. It doesn't matter anyway, since the solution to the mystery is clunky technobabble, starring an invented particle wave that acts differently from time to time, based on what the plot demands.

Cute moment when Data criticizes Picard's painting, though I wonder if we really needed the butt shot if everyone was going to paint chellos, etc. The scene has an all-too-obvious relationship to the episode's title, and from thereon, it sinks into a sea of drivel.

LESSON: Everybody's got a version of events. Probably, someone likes this episode to death.

REWATCHABILITY - Low: At best described as harmless fluff, I might've given it a Medium, but I think by this point, TNG should strive to be more than inoffensive.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Star Wars vs. Hergé

Both celebrating this week...

Star Wars' 30th anniversary...
...and Hergé's 100th birthday.
Winner: Hergé.

Brough to you by Bahlactus and Friday Night Fights.

Catching up with Mr. Peeps*

In response to Postmodern Barney's Buns of Steel Meme:
Last time we saw my cat, he was sitting on Darkseid, and before that, Hal Jordan. Well, what can I say, it's what he does.

And no one is safe.

*Mr. Peeps is his fancy name. According to T.S. Eliot (or Logan's Run, depending on where you get your culture), cats have many names. Gazou is his actual name. Gazou Maltais, his full name (he has his mother's surname, not mine). Shinji, his japanese name. Coter, the name the SPCA had given him (I don't even know how to pronounce it, is it like Kotter, or Coater?). And I won't reveal here his "True Name", i.e. the name he has for himself.

Star Trek 168: Déjà Q

168. Déjà Q

FORMULA: Q Who? + The Squire of Gothos + The Paradise Syndrome + Lonely Among Us - Where No Man Has Gone Before

WHY WE LIKE IT: Quite funny. Guinan forks Q. Data's belly laugh.

WHY WE DON'T: The tetryon field effect. Ugly aliens of the week.

REVIEW: Never mind the MacGuffin plot about pushing a moon into orbit, it isn't really important, and the Bre'elians are bone ugly aliens with unworkable make-up and odd voices. That's just background to the real story of Q's few hours as a human being. And it's an excellent one! Comedy can be hard to work into the Star Trek format without seeming forced, but when it comes out of the characters, there's nothing to worry about. Here, Q's unfamiliarity wtih the human condition produces a few laughs, but the really funny stuff comes up when he's being sarcastic with the crew. "Eat any good books lately?" He and Worf make a great pair, don't they?

In fact, I quite enjoyed all the characters being mean to Q. As evolved 24th-century people, they don't often get the chance to show this much remorseless animosity and pettiness, but it's pretty fun to see them in that mode. Beverly's bedside manner, for example, or Guinan stabbing him with a fork, or even Geordi thinking he is in command ("and he is correct"). All great moments. And we can always count on Q to break the fourth wall in a sense, and make comments a fan might make, since in essence, he has been observing this crew just like we have. The one about Riker's beard stands out in my mind.

There's one character who cannot be mean to Q, and that's Data. So naturally, he becomes Q's only friend. Q telling the android that he's a better human than the former entity would ever be is a fine dramatic moment giving a bit more oomph to the episode, and Q's final gift of laughter is very well played by Brent Spiner and a wonderful ending. Fun to see Corbin Bernsen in an almost ADD performance as well. The Calamarain are a necessary plot point, though there's not much to say about this race. I liked Q blowing on them, but that's about it, and their tetryon weapon effect was pretty coarse compared to the series' usual standards. Still, the plot's fine, the actors are having fun, and the zingers fly.

LESSON: The only way to prove your mortality is to die. In effect, it has not yet been proven that you or I are mortal.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Q can be menacing, and Q can be funny. He can also be a little tragic. A fine showcase for both John de Lancie and the main cast. Loads of fun.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Iris of Two Worlds

Last thursday, we saw how worlds were now crashing together. But what happens when the border between Earths starts to disintegrate? Will the Huntress be relegated to Earth-2? Will we lose Captain Atom to Earth-4 forever? Or more importantly......will Iris West become a hooker on Earth-69?!?

Not if the Flash can help it!

Octopus Looking for New Employment Opportunities

Hi, my name is Topo and I am a versatile octopus. Having been the trusty sidekick of the late, great Aquaman for a number of years, I am now looking for new employment and believe I would be perfect for any position offered by your fine company. I hope you will look at my resumé and immediately see how well I might fit in at __________ Co.

WORK EXPERIENCE

Paramedic

Lie detector

Knife sharpener

One-octopus-band

Archer

Boogie board

QUALITIES
Understanding, kind and good at teamwork

REFERENCES
Aquaman, Aqualad, and a few stiff eels

In the hopes that we will get to work together soon,
Best regards
Topo

Star Trek 167: The High Ground

167. The High Ground

FORMULA: The Hunted + The Vengeance Factor + Angel One + Wink of an Eye

WHY WE LIKE IT: An intriguing exploration of the terrorist mindset with no real resolution.

WHY WE DON'T: Alexana's sanctimonious speeches. The Prime Directive is ignored.

REVIEW: For the second time in a row, we get a show that is an allegory for current events, and military-type current events at that. Again we have the sympathetic guest-star who's killed people. Again he befriends a member of the crew, and again, the Enterprise seems to be working with the authorities who are at least partially in the wrong. Aside from that, The High Ground is a very different episode, but I still wonder why they aired this and The Hunted back to back.

The High Ground is much more topical than The Hunted, and was even banned in Ireland for being too close for comfort (though technically, because of the reunification date given by Data). Today, it reads more as a commentary on Palestine-Israel than on the PLO, but it means to comment on all terrorism. It's a complex issue, and while I think there's something to be said for showing the terrorists in a sympathetic light (they too have children, they may have reason to fight an oppressive regime, etc.), we also have to acknowledge that this is a very specific kind of terrorism after all. Finn's separatists use terrorism, yes, but their goals are those of freedom fighters, whereas we well know that this isn't always the case. A complex issue thankfully not given a resolution here.

Beverly is uncommonly strong in this episode, giving Finn the silent treatment at first, but eventually succumbing to Stockholm syndrome. When the separatists target the Enterprise (and Wesley) she does get a bit more weepy, but it's well-played with only shades of the first season's constant mothering. I have a harder time with the scene in which Wesley is told of his mother's kidnapping, as Wil Weaton is usually out of his depth with this kind of thing.

The episode is a let-down whenever we're on the "other side". The character of police chief Alexana Devos is grating in the extreme. She spouts rhetoric at an incredible rate, making all these terrible, clichéed speeches about the "enemy". It's just dreadfully boring and hits us over the head with the message that no matter how sympathetic Finn can be, terrorism is still wrong. Well, duh! The music supports this cheesiness, as does the ending with a boy putting his weapon down. Actually, my biggest problem with the ending is that the crew really does break the Prime Directive and side with the apparently oppressive government. How? By allowing police forces to come with the rescue party where they kill a separatist leader, find the hidden hide-out, etc. Like that won't change the course of this culture's progress? Worse still, the issue isn't even addressed.

LESSON: If you didn't get it the first time...

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Yes, a worthy episode, but marred by all the sermonizing. The Finn-Crusher stuff is excellent though.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

24, 52, 42... Who has all the same ideas?

(The following post will surely contain spoilers for the most recent Doctor Who episode, "42".)

42 was Doctor Who's take on 24's realtime gimmick. Where 24 does 24 episodes in 24 "real time" hours, and where the recent comics series 52 published a weekly issue for 52 weeks, Who put a 42-minute countdown in the episode and respected it to the second. I checked. With my watch. That's just the kind of anal geek I am.

Now, the whole point of making the clock a character in any film or television show is to create suspense. 24 certainly popularized it, but I might cite a number of movie moments, my favorite being Barefoot Gen's use of clocks and calendars to increase the tension, since you know the bomb is fated to drop on Hiroshima at X time. Heck, even that stopwatch in 60 Minutes is unerving. It also works for 42, creating a sense of urgency throughout, but I think the episode succeeds by also managing some quieter moments, such as with Martha in the escape pod.
But it's still a gimmick, isn't it? A technical feat taking center stage, while the plot settles for being run-of-the-mill (your classic run around corridors while people are being possessed/killed by some unknown creature). Which is fine as long as the character moments are there, as I've said before. And they are. Possibly the best Martha episode yet, managing that tricky juggling act between adventure hero and damsel in distress. The guest characters are very human with nary a false note, and the Doctor has his moments too, though the gimmick forces him to rush and shout a lot.
The main issue troubling fans seems to be that the episode outright rips off 24. But you know what? That's what Doctor Who has always done. When we watch classic Who today, we don't often realize that it was copying stuff that was popular in its day. We tout the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era as producing some of the very best of Who, but they're mostly riffs on Hammer horror films. The 2nd Doctor's dive into Victoriana came on the heels of a popular Dickensien drama. Pertwee's UNIT stories... shall we dig up James Bond and all the spy programmes of the time?

On his blog, author/expert Lawrence Miles likened Doctor Who to "the Morecambe and Wise Show with monsters", which I guess is a sort of variety show they have/had in the UK (I'd give you the link, except Miles deletes his reviews of/rants about Doctor Who episodes within days of posting them). The point being that Who was in part designed to be a sort of variety showcase for the whole family. Its spot in schedule, its place in the UK's consciousness, its need to appeal to every demographic, has led it to be many things. I can't stand it when fans say "Doctor Who shouldn't be about X", because it always leads to the same question: "Which Doctor Who are you talking about?" As a bit of comedy, a bit of action, a bit of satire, a monster to frighten the kids, a girl for the dads, etc. all wrapped into one, that's how Who can be a "variety showcase".
Now, Miles pans "42" for being boring SF, which Doctor Who shouldn't be (see my question above). Basically, he says "42" straightlaces Doctor Who by being what people think it is: An SF series. He holds up "Love & Monsters" as the perfect example of proper Who, with its knowing comedy, askew point of view, musical numbers, etc. And I agree. I love L&M. But I disagree that 42 (or The Impossible Planet, also mentioned) are any less "showcasy" than L&M. First, if you take Who as a series rather than singling out episodes, they're using SF in SOME stories, but not all of them. It's part of a showcase over time. And then there's the idea of ripping off other shows or films. A variety show might easily parody a show and include its style within the parameters of its format. I wouldn't call 42 a parody, but it is the same kind of lift as the reality TV stuff in Bad Wolf, only with Doctor Who tropes (a bit of SF, a bit of the mundane, a bit of comedy, a bit of emotionality, a pretty girl, some nice effects).

I often find myself looking at my DVD collection and imagining the TARDIS arriving in any one of them. It can go anywhere, it can do anything. The Abyss? Elizabeth? Groundhog Day? It's not even a matter of using the right Doctor.

Other thoughts on 42:
-The Saxon subplot is proceeding well. Love the idea of Martha's mum allowing him to wiretap her phone, surveillance that also reminds one of 24. I wonder if they're using Time Lord technology or if it's hopeless to trace such a call.
-Go on Martha, call your lifeline!
-The Ghost of Rose: Finally gone, purged during that long trailer two weeks ago, it seems. Well, until Captain Jack mentions her at least.
-Scene I could have done without: That first girl who gets killed should have seen it coming, cuz I sure did. It's the only scene I really felt was clichéed.
-Favorite line: "Anytime you want to unerve me, feel free."

And feel free to leave a comment, as always!

Star Trek 166: The Hunted

166. The Hunted

FORMULA: Space Seed + Up the Long Ladder + The Conscience of the King + Where No Man Has Gone Before + Symbiosis

WHY WE LIKE IT: Roga Danar is a smart and sympathetic antagonist.

WHY WE DON'T: A preachy ending. Most of the cast makes a poor showing against Danar.

REVIEW: The Hunted is meant to be about the Vietnam veterans, and how we don't welcome as readily the soldiers of a lost war, and their difficulty adapting to normal life after the hardships of war. It works within that context, with Roga Danar a sympathetic character who has committed atrocities and is deeply disturbed by them, but it achieves more as well. It's also a good action episode featuring an opponent that's both strong and smart. Danar's various misdirections are sometimes inspired, and he shows up the main characters throughout.

It's unfortunate that the bridge crew isn't a little smarter, because it would make Danar look even cooler. And there are other problems, such as the usual laughable hand-to-hand combat that looks a lot like pushing and shoving to me, and the "magic" powers attributed to Danar, such as invisibility to sensors (but Beverly can still scan him) and the ability to escape a transporter beam! The latter is a bit much, isn't it? Data and Troi, the two that make friends with the super-soldier, do a lot better here, anticipating his moves and also driving the human rights issues.

Finally, the end is a good bit of fun, with Picard washing his hands of the matter thanks to the Prime Directive. Funny, but it does make the Federation appear smug and sanctimonious. The Angosians may well decide never to reapply after that little scene. This won't really be addressed properly until The Maquis in DS9, of course.

LESSON: We better treat Captain America right. Oh wait, too late.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Very close to high, with a solid antagonist and a worthy subject. The episode keeps us guessing, but I can't really get behind the poor portrayal of the heroes' abilities.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I didn't know Superman was into Tintin...

But I'm not surprised!
Happy 100th birthday to Hergé!

Meme supplied by the Invincible Chris Sims.

Star Trek 165: The Defector

165. The Defector

FORMULA: The Enterprise Incident + 100 years of isolationism

WHY WE LIKE IT: James Sloyan puts in an excellent performance as Admiral Jarok. Unpredictable double-dealing. The model ship photography.

WHY WE DON'T: The rabbit-out-of-a-hat ending.

REVIEW: I'm glad to see the Enterprise is still near the Romulan Neutral Zone and the Tomalak gets to return to dog our heroes, but if The Defector works, it's really thanks to James Sloyan's Admiral Jarok. What a great character. He's haughty and superior, but manages to be sympathetic at the same time. Desperate not to betray his empire, but as Picard reminds him, in for a penny, in for a pound. His final betrayal at the hands of what can only be the Tal Shiar (gotta be!) is painful, destroying the man before our very eyes. He's done the right thing and paid dearly for it. I love how duplicitous it makes the Romulans, how very smart an opponent they can be. Also loved that they knew about Data and would love to get their hands on him. Imagine The Measure of a Man if Data had been found by Romulans instead!

And the creators did the episode justice, whether because they were inspired by the script and performances or not. That initial battle between the scout ship and Tomalak's D'deridex represents probably the best model ship photography we've seen outside the movies, with real motion and energy. A sign of things to come, hopefully. The rest of the cast is as good as ever, with the mounting pressure of possible war looming over them, and while the Henry the Fifth scene seems an amusing aside at first, it really does inform the rest of the piece.

The Defector is similar to The Enterprise Incident in a number of ways, with a standoff in the Neutral Zone with multiple warbirds, and the idea of someone defecting to the other side (but can they be trusted?). The parallel gets a bit more obvious when the birds-of-prey appear at the end of the episode, looking like the uncloaking battle cruisers in that original series episode. This is a low point in the episode, since the Enterprise gets bailed out by the Klingons coming out of left field. Deus ex machina if I ever saw one.

LESSON: We know a lot more about Romulus than we're willing to say (note the holodeck scene).

REWATCHABILITY - High: A real winner that builds on a Romulan arc with strong performances and doing a lot more for the race than The Enemy did.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Fashion Nightmares: Who's Who vol.4

After peeking at the Marvel closet, I find I much prefer DC's. Who's Who is just not as ashamed of its characters as Marvel Universe Deluxe seems to be. MU leaves out a LOT of stuff, whereas Who's Who just gooes for broke. And you know, volume 4 has a lot of characters I happen to like, but I still have to call them on their costuming choices.

Case in point, Captain Boomerang. Man, the Suicide Squad wouldn't have been such a cool title without this guy, but look at him! The tiny cap, the untucked shirt/skirt, the white scarf... wind gusts were not his friend. That said, somebody should call Gene Hackman and tell him to let his hair grow out in case they call him about a Flash movie.Another example is Calendar Man. I don't really love the character (anyone? anyone?), but I like the costume. But let's be practical about this. Does he take sheets out of his cape when he commits a crime in a month that doesn't have 31 days? Why is he wearing casts on both his arms? (Answer: Guy fights Batman.) Does anyone ever think he's Bingo Man? One thing is clear, I can't get behind a bead necklace and that silly tail on his hood.
Here's a conundrum: What do you do when you're not in as good a shape as most superheroes seem to be? Well, you could go the Michael Keaton route, and get a bodysuit with a built-in six-pack, or... Go the Chlorophyll Kid route and just wear baggy, baggy, baggy! Hmm... really looks like he's playing a tree in a school play, doesn't it?
FutureWear! Chris KL-99's duds are pretty non-descript, but if you're gonna look like Jimmy Olsen, have the decency to wear a mask. It's all I'm sayin'.

BONUS: DC UNIVERSE FASHION EVOLUTION!

Times change, and fashions with them. Here to illustrate that point is Wonder Woman villain, the Cheetah! In the Golden Age, the Cheetah might have passed for the Squirrel, or possibly the Honey Bear (but those names were already taken, I'm sure). Note the absence of real cleavage and the skull cap covering her hair.
In the Silver Age, the Cheetah sported a plungeing neckline and non-negligeable cleavage (I'm not sure that would distract Diana, but whatever). Sexy kitty ears complete the ensemble and make it as appropriate for waitress-work as it does crime.
In the mid-80s, the Cheetah got yet another makeover, and this time, she's NAKED! (Welcome, furry fetishists!)
Having scraped the bottom of that barrel, the 2000+ Cheetah wears a more sensible tank top and gym pants number. Note the midriff which is so popular nowadays. But is that where we're headed as a culture? Back to fully-dressed characters? A Witchblade with pants?

BONUS: PRETTY WOMAN

Remember the top-heavy Catwoman of the 90s? Here's a reminder:
Jim Balent's take on the character is everything a cat is not. She isn't slinky, she doesn't look like an acrobat, or as someone who could fit in air vent on her way to a priceless museum piece. I much prefer the Golden Age Catwoman as depicted in Who's Who vol.4. Manages to be wildly sexy without resorting to helium enhancements. Incredible legs, anatomy you can believe in, and a costume that reveals and hides just the right things. Meow!!!
No wonder this is the version Batman married.