Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Lost In Space And Nowhere To Go

“Fear of death is illogical.” ~ Spock  
“Fear of death is what keeps us alive.” ~ Bones

“Our captain will come for us. Mercy will be the last thing on his mind.” ~ Uhura

“Unity is not your strength. It is a weakness.” ~ Krall 
“I think you’re underestimating humanity.” ~ Kirk

The rebooted Star Trek franchise continues with a third film in the series, Star Trek Beyond, sending the crew out into the great unknown of space with a new adversary, pairing off characters in unexpected ways, and leading to plenty of destruction along the way. It also gives the director’s chair over to a new face after two films done by J.J. Abrams, and the new director, Justin Lim, might make a questionable choice (at least to me) after his previous work, but in such cases, the franchise and the script can make up for a questionable director.

When things open up, we find the crew of the Enterprise three years into a mission in deep space. Kirk (Chris Pine) and company arrive at a new Federation starbase for some shore leave, but as is to be expected with such a movie, things of course go awry. An escape pod emerges from a nearby nebula, carrying a woman who says her ship is stranded on a planet in the nebula. Kirk and his crew are sent as a rescue party, but not all is as it seems- and a fleet of ships wrecks havoc with the Enterprise, led by Krall (Idris Elba), a man with secrets, agendas, and a significant grudge.

The story, it seems has two credited screenwriters, though more of a convoluted history in its development, with previous writers involved. Simon Pegg and Doug Jung are credited with the screenplay; the former, of course, plays the eccentric chief engineer Montgomery Scott through the film. The story is part western, part sci-fi, and part heist film (with a proverbial mcguffin, as Hitchcock would have called it) as some of its influences, with a strong dose of Trek nods and unexpected buddy partnerships along the way. On the one hand it finds the main characters divided up instead of as a team for a substantial amount of that time. On the other, in dividing them up and making these characters work to come to terms with the harshness of the land and the direness of the situation, the story works quite well, particularly in giving us partnerships that we might not otherwise see.

Kirk, for instance, finds himself paired off with Ensign Chekhov (Anton Yelchin). Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) interact a good deal as they try to manage their way through a tough situation. Spock (Zachary Quinto) must rely on Doctor McCoy (Karl Urban) to survive- a particular treat to watch them bicker with each other, given that this aspect of the two characters has been downplayed in the rebooted movies, but was one of the fun qualities of the original series and movies. And Scotty finds himself a proverbial fish out of water having to trust an alien woman, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella); her aid is absolutely essential in driving the plot forward. In breaking up the crew and having these one on one dynamics, it gives the film a fresh take that still feels relatively true to the Trek universe, even if this is an alternate timeline.

The script, in fact, compensates for the director. Lim is primarily known for directing several of those pointless Fast & Furious films, and you can see his style through the film. Rather than the distracting lens flare techniques of J.J. Abrams (honestly, what was with that?), we get a whole lot of quick cut edits, which is one of those things I really don’t like, along with the expected pyrotechnics of a blockbuster movie. Too bad we can’t really travel through time- it would be nice to strangle the first director who thought quick cut editing was a great idea.

I digress. The film makes up for the flaws of its director, and that’s through the work of cast, crew, and the story itself. The look of many aspects of the film appealed to me- the polished starbase, the nebula itself, and the alien world in which much of the film takes place. The look of the aliens, too is visually interesting- from Krall and his people to their technology, this is something we haven’t seen before in Trek lore; with good reason, for all is not as it seems. Production design on these aspects show imagination and thinking outside the proverbial box. There’s even a ship out of its own time that seems to fit in with Star Trek history- I found myself thinking of the Enterprise television series in terms of its design and history. Michael Giacchino returns from the first two films to compose the score for the third film. The result works well, taking some of his themes and moving the music into new directions.

The cast serve their roles well. Sofia Boutella is memorable as Jaylah, and the actress plays her as tough, independent, and quite resourceful. Her interactions with Scotty work well, and the character’s history has its own ties to the villain. She's even a source of humour as the film unfolds. Idris Elba, always such a good actor in whatever he does, menaces in an appropriate way as Krall, even if the character's motivations are a bit suspect. He’s a man of secrets and more than one name, bent on revenge, albeit out of misguided reasons. And he’s thoroughly ruthless as he goes along through the film.

As fate would have it, this is one of the last films for the actor Anton Yelchin (one wonders if they make a fourth film in this series how they’ll deal with the absence of Chekhov), who died in a bit of a freak accident after filming was done. Through the film, he continues to bring the eager wide eyed quality to the role that he started with in the first film of the series, and I like that we get to see him working with Kirk on the whole survival thing- while I haven’t seen a whole lot of the original television series, it doesn’t strike me that the two characters really spent much time around each other. John Cho returns as Lieutenant Sulu, once again the steady helmsman, and he gets his moments through the film to shine. This time a good part of the character’s time is spent in the company of Uhura, in a situation where he has to maintain a sense of calm.

Simon Pegg brings to the role of Scotty a general eccentricity that certainly fits the character. Scotty is over talkative and occasionally exasperated, but also reliable and resourceful at the most pivotal moments, and that’s something that has come across in the performances of both Pegg and James Doohan before him. Here he spends a good deal of time in the company of an alien woman, a job that in the television series would have been Kirk’s. I like the interaction there, as it gives us a chance to get to know Jaylah while also seeing Scotty in a different way. You could actually have a whole film with these two actors in costume and in her case prosthetic makeup, just talking, and it would be enjoyable.

Zoe Saldana has been playing Uhura since the first film, and the character’s peculiar romance with Spock, which has played out in the previous instalments, is not so much a factor this time out- that being a good thing, because it’s always seemed off. Not to say it’s not an element of the film, because it’s there, but it’s not at all emphasized. Instead, like Sulu, the character finds herself in a crisis where she has to maintain her calm, mindful of the crew looking to her for leadership.

Karl Urban gets more to do as “Bones” McCoy this time out. In the first two films, the character seemed to be marginalized a bit. Here he finds himself in peril alongside Spock, which is a good thing- the two characters have always been argumentative in their own ways, and that plays out more here than we saw in the first two films. Spock’s logic clashes with McCoy’s instincts as a doctor and an officer to leave no man behind, and while we can see both sides to the issue, McCoy’s stubbornness is true to who he is, and it’s fun watching the two actors bicker and spar. Urban’s performance respects what’s come before him, but also gives the role his own touch.

Zachary Quinto returns as the highly logical Spock, who finds himself considering his future as the film begins, particularly given some news about his alternate future counterpart. Should he stay in Starfleet or take his place among Vulcans? He plays the role as more centered- the occasional outbursts of the first two films are replaced by the cold logic of a Vulcan who places the needs of the few ahead of the needs of the one. In having him alongside McCoy for a good part of the film, that shows good sense by the writers, as it restores an aspect of the franchise that’s been neglected- the perennial bickering of the two characters.

Chris Pine continues to play the young Kirk in a good way. There’s a layer of charm and bemusement to the character, but the cockiness that was there when we first met him has been tempered with maturity and responsibility of command. His take on the character appeals to me- like Shatner before him, Pine’s angle is that of a man who refuses to give up, even when things seem to be at their darkest (Pine wisely refrains from the Shatner style of this, which helps). He handles the physical side of the action well, and conveys the sense of authority you’d expect out of a starship captain.

Where does Star Trek go from here? Time will tell, particularly given the untimely death of a key cast member. This instalment takes the crew out into the great unknown, puts them through an ordeal to end all ordeals, and yet shows them at their most capable. The script and the cast make up for the director, whose personal style can be grating- I find myself thinking how relieved I am to have avoided that entire Fast And Furious nonsense all together. And the film manages to continue to convey that sense of sci-fi wonder so integral to the franchise.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Gollum And The Precious Nomination

Since I had my take on Donald Trump's speech last week, fair's fair and so here's a take on Hillary's acceptance speech this week. 

“I must say, basking in triumph like this is very, very satisfactory. It will only be all the more so in November when we’ve won and I finally get to call myself President Hillary Rodham Clinton. And then rub it in the face of that oompa loompa.

Thank you for your confidence in me. I’ve wanted this for many, many years. Longer than anyone can know. We’re so close to the mountain top. It’s just there, that much closer after all the work we’ve done for years and years and years on end. I’m ready to plant the flag on the top. Which reminds me of the stories about who I was named after. You know, you can go on for years thinking you’re named for Edmund Hillary because of his great triumph in reaching the top of the highest mountain on earth... before you realize you were born a few years too early. Oh well, that’s a detail, and sometimes details are things we overlook.

Where was I? Oh yes, wanting this for many years. The presidency is something I’ve been close to for a long time. And I wanted it. Oh, did I want it. I needed it. I had to have it. It was mine, my own, my precious...

I’m getting carried away with myself again.

My point is when I was growing up I already decided to myself that I wanted to be in the White House. And not just as a First Lady or as a Cabinet member or whatever. As the one person making the big decisions. No, not the court jester. Which reminds me, what’s Carville doing these days?

I wanted to be the President. Not just the President, but the very first woman President.

I wanted to be that trailblazer, showing the way to the future, showing young girls that hey, you too can grow up to be the President of the United States. Eventually. After you’ve married a governor who ends up being President himself. After you’ve done time... in the Senate, people, in the Senate! Not the big house, despite what Chris Christie and the oompa loompa think should happen to me. Honestly, Governor Christie, how do you live with yourself?

Where was I? Right. After time in the Senate. And then Secretary of State.

But before that came my first run at the nomination. Eight years ago.

Of course the party didn’t see things my way eight years ago. Instead they gave it to the President.

They stoles it from us! Nasty filthy little hobbitses, it was ours! Ours! And they stoles it!

Ahem. Sorry about that. I got a little off track.

So everything I did was about getting myself in place for this great day. Well, this great day and the election day, which will be even greater.

Yes, we managed to get through the Sixties. Like Bill, I didn’t inhale. Though it might have been okay in retrospect if I had inhaled. I might have ended up being a bit more mellow and laid back, and well, kind of human in the way I interact with people. Oh well, at least I don’t come across like a complete robot, unlike a certain Republican I won’t mention.

Marco Rubio, I’m looking at you.

So there we were, getting ourselves established, living like the other half lived, or whatever that expression meant. Making our bona fides known and having a daughter we’re so very proud of and all that. And have I mentioned how pleased I am to be a grandmother? It really works well with the focus groups, even if I can’t knit so much as one of those adorable baby socks you see in all the nostalgic magazines about grandmotherhood.

Aren’t babies precious?

My precious, my precious... we wants it!

Oh, there I go again. Bill calls it my Smeagol moment. I kind of drift off into imitations of that character, that’s all. And that’s all they are. Imitations! I am not overly obsessed with the Ring of Sauron and I am not deranged and having conversations with myself all the time. There is no Ring of Sauron, and I’m not obsessed with it.

The Oval Office, on the other hand...

Anyway, I know what the polls say. That I’m one of the most unfavourable candidates in American history. Rest assured, though, that the oompa loompa is even more unlikable than I am. So to the voters out there who haven’t decided, ask yourself this: do you want someone who brings experience and wisdom and the occasional streak of being a bit terribly unlikable in the Oval Office? Do you want someone who’s from time to time been investigated by the FBI like I have? Do you want someone whose party has perpetually asked, are we sure it has to be her?

Or do you want a tiny handed oompa loompa with zero political experience, business disasters, and no social skills?

America, let’s move forward together. We’ve done it before. I’ve done it before, what with forgiving my husband every time he’s gone astray. Which reminds me, to the White House interns of the female persuasion, you won’t have to worry. I’m having Bill fitting with an electro-shock collar that gives him a jolt any time he gets turned on.

Oh, sure, Bill, laugh now, but you won’t be laughing the first time you get shocked.

My fellow Americans, I look forward to serving as your President. I look forward to leading this country forward past all the division and the rancor. I really look forward to sitting in the Oval Office making all the big decisions.

Because it’s mine. Mine! My own! My precious! We needs it! We wants it! It’s ours! Nasty Bernies Sanderses standing in our way! It’s ours!

Ahem... there I go again. Sorry. I get carried away sometimes.

Thank you for your support. To those members of the party who wanted Bernie up here, I will do everything I can to gain your trust, even if I have to name the cranky old guy to my cabinet. To the oompa loompa, I say this: Donald, everyone knows it’s a combover.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I see that Bill’s sniffing around the barely legal daughter of the governor.”

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Extra Short Orange Running Mate

Washed Up Reality Television Star Expresses Ambitions While Being Oblivious To Reality

New York (AP) With the Democratic National Convention getting started this week, and Hillary Clinton often going on and on about what she calls “her precious”, all eyes are on Philadelphia, where the party will be giving the former Secretary of State what she has always wanted- the nomination for the presidency and her ticket to power. There has been much speculation as to who Clinton would be designating as her Vice President. Some more cynical observers have noted that the Vice President would be far more important than usual given the inevitable impeachment of President Clinton (the Second).

Numerous Democrats have been jockeying for the position, while party operatives have been trying to push other names. Elizabeth Warren has been set aside, given concerns by the candidate that she would be constantly upstaged by “someone more likable than me.” Bernie Sanders, who gave Hillary a run for her money throughout the campaign before finally throwing in the towel, has been set aside as a possible contender, given the fact that the two dislike each other. Ultimately the task- and perhaps the future presidency- was given to Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.

It wasn’t just Democrats trying to get the job. Last week, in the midst of the Republican convention, members of the press were summoned to a press conference in New York by an enigmatic invitation alluding to the Democratic Vice Presidency. Gathered together in a hall at the Javits Center, reporters speculated as to who might be trying to make their own bid at the proverbial second chair. Might Joe Biden be making a second go at the job? Or even odder, did Bill Clinton himself want the job? 

Finally a spokesperson came out on stage, calling for the attention of the assembled media.  “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming,” the woman said as she stepped up to the podium. “Without further ado, well, here she is. She really needs no introduction, because everyone knows her and loves her.”

The spokesperson stepped aside. Music started to blare- some sort of house music or hip hop; this reporter really can’t tell the difference. And out onto the stage walked a short woman with big hair and orange tanned skin. Reporters gasped, rolled their eyes, and found themselves wondering how a washed up reality show star from Jersey Shore could have managed to assemble them all together under false pretenses.

She was Nicole Polizzi, otherwise known to the world as Snooki.

Waving to the crowd, totally oblivious to the eye rolling, sighs of dismay, and shaking of heads, Snooki strode up to the podium, only to find that she couldn’t see over the top. “Damn it!” she blurted out, reaching up and managing to grab the mike. “Who the **** didn’t put a step stool here like I asked?”

Snooki came out from behind the podium, glared at her spokesperson, who stood at least a foot taller than her, and then faced the media, pasting on her vacant grin with the dimwitted expression in her eyes. “Hey there!” she called out, waving again. “Thanks for coming!”

“Are you just wasting our time?” one reporter inquired of her.

Snooki looked confused. “Why do people keep asking me that?”

“Because it’s a pretty reasonable assumption,” this reporter said.

“Look, no, no ****ing way,” she assured the reporters. “Am I the sort of person who’d waste your time? No, of course not. I mean, what am I, a Kardashian?” This reporter rolled his eyes, wondering what would be more tedious and annoying, sitting through this or sitting through a drunken ramble by one of the Kardashians. “By the way, are we broadcasting live?”

“No, we’re not,” one of the television reporters replied for all of her colleagues, looking at her watch, no doubt wondering, as this reporter was, how long she might have to put up with this sort of nonsense from a washed up MTV star.

“Well you’ll wish you were,” Snooki promised. “Because I’m here to announce my candidacy for the Vice President of the United States, on the Democratic ticket with my BFF Hillary.”

Reporters stifled laughter. One asked, “BFF? Have you ever actually met her?”

Snooki shrugged. “No, but what the **** difference does that make anyway?”

This reporter spoke up. “First of all, under the rules, a Presidential candidate and their team select a Vice Presidential candidate. A person doesn’t just come out of nowhere and say they’re going to name drop themselves as a Vice Presidential candidate. Second, you’re not known for politics. You’re known for a multitude of bad reality shows on a network that used to run music videos, for getting drunk and in trouble, and, to put it mildly, for being an idiot.”

“Hey, guido, don’t you call me names,” Snooki replied.

“Guido?” this reporter challenged the idiot.

“That’s what I call everybody. Guido, wop, douchebag, whatever slang term comes to mind,” Snooki explained. “That doesn’t matter. What matters is that I can bring the young beach going Jersey vote to Hillary for the big win in November. All she has to do is say pretty please, Snooki, and promise to let me be president one day out of every week. ‘Cause I’d like to send the Navy SEALS to bust up the Situation’s ass.” She was grinning with maniacal glee, in a way that suggested she wasn’t quite playing with a full deck.

“You can’t be serious,” another reporter objected.

“Of course I am,” Snooki declared. “And you know what else I can do as Vice President. Say Hillary needs Bill outta her hair? I can keep the First Dude distracted. Pretty much the same way Monica kept him distracted. I really am the perfect choice for the job. I’ve got attitude, street smarts, a great rep with all the hip people, and I’ve got orange skin. I can be the anti-Trump. Anyway, that’s my announcement. Hillary, have your people call my people, and we’ll do lunch!”

She left the stage, and reporters found themselves snickering, sighing, shaking their heads, and wondering if they’d woken up in some pocket universe where reality had gone haywire. Of course, with the other party fielding a candidate who’d spent his own years in reality television, the world had already gone haywire long before now.

The last word goes to an unnamed member of the Clinton campaign, a distinguished older fellow using the codename El Cigaro. He laughed off the offer by Snooki. “You know, as much as I’d enjoy being distracted... I mean, as much as Bill would enjoy being distracted by Snooki in that fashion, her bein’ the Vice Presidential candidate? It just isn’t gonna happen. Hillary, or the ol’ ball and chain as I like to call her, shook her head, said something like, Hell no, and then started muttering, my precious, my precious, it’s mine, they stoles it froms us. You know, between you and me and Monica, she might be gettin’ a little bit obsessive about the whole thing. Don’t tell her I said that, okay? She’s got me by the short hairs.”