Triple Scoop Reviews: Pipeline, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, and Dune

Pipeline

Year: 2021
Director: Yoo Ha
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Viki
Spoilers: Nope
Grade: Rocky Road

I’m a sucker for a fun heist story, and I have a soft spot for Lee Soo-Hyuk, so Mek and I decided to check out Pipeline. The movie is . . . fine, but also kind of oddly charmless, and a bit on the slow side for me. Oh, that sounds mean, doesn’t it? I didn’t hate this movie. The acting itself is fine (though I’m starting to wonder if Seo In-Guk has ever been in anything where he didn’t play the Arrogant Male Lead), and there were a few moments that did make me laugh; unfortunately, they weren’t very memorable because I can’t think of a single one now. I just never got very invested in the story, and that’s probably because I never grew to care about anyone on the team.

Heist stories usually go one of two ways: A) they’re grim little affairs, full of twists, betrayal, and murder, or B) they’re much wittier and light-hearted, often centering on the Team as Family trope. Pipeline is very much the latter (which is personally great for me), but none of the characters are very dynamic or interesting, and they just don’t have the platonic chemistry that really makes these kinds of stories sing. Honestly, we never learn much about any of them, not even our main lead. I kinda vaguely liked Counter (Bae Da-Bin), I guess, but that’s about it. Frankly, I found myself half-voting for the rich scumbag villain, because I didn’t really care about our heroes, and because Lee Soo-Hyuk wears the hell out of a nice suit. Like. I’m not always shallow, but yeah. I’m a little shallow.

Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings

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Year: 2021
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Disney Plus
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Vanilla

This was fun. I don’t quite love it, for a variety of reasons that we’ll get into shortly, but it was definitely an easy watch. The Final Battle is weirdly murky, but all the other fight scenes are great; I particularly like the chaotic Muni fight, and also when Ying Li kicks Wenwu’s ass at the beginning. (Not to mention, Ying Li’s whole look is fucking fabulous. Christ, I hope to see this cosplay the next time I actually go to a con.) I like how this isn’t quite your typical origin story; it’s a delight when we realize that Shang-Chi already knows how to fight. The music is fun. I am all about that dragon. (Also, the qilin, the huli jing, and all the other mythological creatures that I’m less familiar with.) And I enjoy pretty much the whole cast. I was especially delighted to see Michelle Yeoh and Tsai Chin, even if the latter was only there for a few moments.

Still, I don’t love this one quite as much as other folks, and I think that’s partially because the whole story is just built from one of my least favorite tropes of all time. Like, introducing this awesome, badass, immortal lady who just gives up all her powers because she falls in love (for God knows what reason) with this evil warlord who totally doesn’t deserve her? Yeah, pass. I found myself checking out a bit even before we got to associating tropes like Evil Man Changes His Ways Because of Romantic Love and Evil Man Goes Back To His Evil Ways Because His Love Died. Mind you, this has nothing to do with the acting; Tony Leung is perfectly good in the role; unfortunately, none of this interests me.

Also, for a movie with this many flashbacks, I think it’s completely bizarre to exclude the one where Young Shang-Chi actually decides to run away. It’s a Big Moment for his character, particularly considering the emotional conflict between him and his sister, and the only reason I can think not to include it is if we’re postponing it for a Big Reveal, namely, if it turns out that the man Young Shang-Chi assassinated is also Katy’s dead grandfather. I am desperately hoping this isn’t the case because, ugh, talk about tropes I’m not into. (I think it’d also be kinda cool if Katy and Shang-Chi did remain platonic, but that seems pretty unlikely, and I don’t hate them as a romantic ship. TBH, I kinda like their low-key, just wanna dance vibe. They could totally date and do late night karaoke and save the world without being all tortured and shit–that is, unless Shang-Chi’s lying to Katy about vengance-murdering her grandpa.)

Finally, I appear to be in the minority here, but Ben Kingsley in the role of Comic Relief didn’t do much for me. Like, I loved it when they brought up his character at dinner, absolutely, but the second we actually get him on screen for Kooky Fun Times? Nah. OTOH, seeing Benedict Wong join in on the karaoke? Excellent.

Dune: Part One

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Year: 2021
Director: Denis Villeneuve
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Rocky Road

So, I finally watched this movie, 20% because I was curious, 80% because Mekaela bribed me with a bottle of Moscato that we somehow ended up with. The wine was tasty. The movie was . . . okay? I’ve never read the book, and I have very mixed feelings on the David Lynch adaptation, so I doubt I was anyone’s target audience here. But sure, there are things I like about this. Exposition and worldbuilding are handled much better here than in the 1984 version. Rebecca Ferguson makes Lady Jessica a million times more interesting than I remember that character being. (Also, her costumes are just cool.) And some of Paul’s visions are intriguing, particularly the ones with Jamis, considering he’s set up to be this someday friend/mentor figure, but instead, Paul kills him. (Other visions are less interesting because, much as I like Zendaya, there’s a limit to how many times I need a quick flash of her looking all romantic/enigmatic. I’m definitely looking forward to her having more actual dialogue in the sequel.)

Still, Paul himself? Meh. I genuinely like that he’s a child of two wildly different lineages, but kid’s got all the personality of a celery stick, and I don’t care even a little about his whole Chosen One narrative. (Frankly, I kinda wish Lady Jessica was the Chosen One.) I continue to hate Baron Harkonnen, too, and I’m still royally pissed about the decision to put Stellan Skarsgård in a fat suit, especially while reading bullshit about how careful they all were to avoid using the fat suit for comedic effect in the film; meanwhile, in the very same article: “Stellan  just loved being naked as the Baron. We all used to kill ourselves laughing when Stellan would ask for more nude scenes. He felt, quite correctly, that the Baron appeared more frightening and dangerous unclothed than cloaked in robes or armor.” Cool. That’s way less shitty!

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The only positive thing I will say about the Baron is that at least Villeneuve cut the Depraved Homosexual shit because FFS.

Also, for a 2 1/2 hour film, I do think Dune, Part One has a couple of pacing problems. Like, I kinda feel there should be a little more time between “fuck, we’ve been set up to fail” and “Massacre Night.” And there’s been, what, five minutes between Paul whining that Lady Jessica made him a freak (dude, you’ve got bigger problems right now) and Paul deciding, “Well, okay, I guess I’ll just be Emperor, then!” The second half of the film feels especially off to me. I also kinda just miss how bizarrely weird the 1984 version looks in comparison, although obviously that’s a very subjective criticism. This movie is pretty; it’s just not very fun. Like, it’s been a while since I’ve watched a movie that takes itself SO seriously. Plus–and I know this is the most minor of complaints–I feel like the desaturated colors of this film are a bit at odds with this oppressive desert heat everyone keeps talking about. I never even once bought that heat.

So, will I watch Part Two? IDK, probably, though I suspect bribery will be involved again, and I don’t think I liked this one enough to see the sequel in theater, no matter how much Villeneuve abhors the idea of people watching his art on the small screen. (Yes, I’m petty. This shit pissed me off.) TBH, I’m a little surprised about how many people were apparently worried there wouldn’t be a sequel, like, I know every iteration of Dune ends up being divisive as shit, but also, this was a wildly anticipated film with a huge cast and well-respected white director, like, the kind of director who actually gets Oscar nods for his science fiction work. I just wasn’t quite sweating the sequel getting the green-light, you know?

World’s Worst Trekkie: The Omega Glory, The Ultimate Computer, Bread and Circuses, and Assignment: Earth

I know I usually tackle this show three episodes at a time, but with only four episodes left in Season 2, I thought it’d be best to lump them all together.

This is important because it means I have to adjust my very scientific ice cream based rating system. I will now be introducing a fourth flavor: mint chocolate chip. And while I know that many of you will be incorrectly thinking yum, mint chocolate chip is, in fact, the worst flavor–yes, even worse than strawberry–because mint is the devil’s food. There is no lower grade on this blog than mint chocolate chip.

“The Omega Glory”

Wow. Wow. I guess I know what’s winning the mint. “The Omega Glory” may very well be the worst Star Trek episode I’ve ever seen, which is saying something. I mean, it’s worse than the Nazi episode. The Nazi episode. It’s almost impressive, how awful this is. The fact that touch telepath Spock mind controls a woman from across the room simply by Intense Staring is the very least of this episode’s problems.

It doesn’t start so bad. The Enterprise discovers that nearly the entire crew of the U.S.S. Exeter were infected with some weird disease which essentially dehydrated them so badly that their bodies collapsed into crystals. Like, yikes. Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Red Shirt, also now infected, beam down to this planet where they’ll be safe so long as they don’t leave. Captain Tracy, sole survivor of the Exeter, pretends to be a good guy for a whole three minutes before vaporizing Red Shirt and holding our heroes hostage. Turns out, the people on Omega IV all live for centuries or longer, and Tracy wants to figure out this Fountain of Youth shit so he can leave the planet and live forever.

Tracy is a weirdly cartoonish bad guy, especially considering how he’s introduced as this legendary Starfleet captain. (It’s almost funny, just how few fucks this dude gives about his entire dead crew.) Of course, Immortality Seeker is a classic villain trope, but it feels bizarrely random here, like they picked it because it was classic, not because it actually makes sense for this character or this story. Still, the aliens are the real problem here: the Yangs (portrayed by white actors) and the Kohms (portrayed by Asian actors). The Kohms are peaceful and “civilized,” while the Yangs are the unreasonable “savages,” something that’s clearly presented as a surprise, like, isn’t it shocking how the brown people are the civilized ones? It’s definitely no accident that Sulu remains onboard for the majority of this racist ass episode.

It turns out that, somehow*, this planet mirrors Earth’s history to a ludicrous degree. Like, the Big Twist is that the Yangs are actually this planet’s equivalent of Yankees, complete with their own version of the U.S. Constitution, the Pledge of the Allegiance, and–I shit you not–a whole ass American flag. Meanwhile, the Kohms are communists, I guess, and unlike Earth (where a war was avoided), the Kohms defeated the Yangs way back when, pushing them out of civilization and taking over their lands. Which is why the Yangs dress, act, and speak the way they do–because they’re also supposed to represent the Native Americans in this world. It’s, whew. It’s real bad.

Honestly, there’s so much gross bullshit here that it’s hard to even know where to begin. Like, how this episode fully embraces several racist Native American stereotypes, or how Cloud William (the Yangs’ leader) speaks in what I guess is meant to be some kinda generic Native American accent? How the Kohms were secretly bad guys all along, kicking the freedom-loving Yangs out of their land, and how the poor white people were just trying to fight for their own home. How incredibly, ludicrously stupid these language parallels are, and how Spock refers to the Kohms as “Asiatics.” Like, dear God. I can’t even get into Kirk’s hypocritical treatment of the Prime Directive here, which is also garbage. I just . . . wow, there really is nothing good to say about this episode. It is appalling. My eyes are weeping blood.

*There are apparently explanations in some tie-in novels, but in the episode itself? Nope.

Chief Asshat: Gene Roddenberry, who actually wrote this shit

MVP: Scotty and Chekov, for having the good sense to not be in this episode

Grade: Mint Chocolate Chip

Line of the Episode:

(about the Vulcan neck pinch)
“Pity you can’t teach me that.”
“I have tried, Captain.”

“The Ultimate Computer”

We’ve already had a ton of supercomputers on TOS, so I may have facepalmed when I saw the name of this episode. Surprisingly, though, I enjoyed “The Ultimate Computer.” The Enterprise is ordered to install the M-5, a system so sophisticated that it only requires a skeleton crew, which very well may put Kirk out of a job. (And you know. Most everyone else on the Enterprise, but nobody really addresses them.) All the job anxiety stuff still feels pretty relevant now, TBH, and I love how the M-5 totally calls Kirk out for assigning himself and Bones to away missions when their presence is definitely not required. Not that this pattern will be changing anytime soon, alas.

For a while, things go great. Then the M-5, having difficulty distinguishing between a real threat and a false alarm, obliterates an empty freighter. That’s enough for Kirk to call the whole thing off; unfortunately, as he insists on saying this out loud, it’s no real surprise when the M-5 easily locks them out of control before killing a dude who gets in the way and then starts attacking Federation vessels for good measure. Bunches of people die. The M-5 is desperately trying to protect itself because its whole purpose is to keep people from dying in space; when Kirk points out the obvious logical inconsistency, the M-5 self-destructs–a logic bomb that works better than others, I think, because it’s actually written as the M-5’s decision, rather than an inability to compute some paradox it would totally be able to compute. Then Kirk saves the day by relying on human intuition, and everything ends happily . . . except for Dr. Richard Daystrum, that is, who created the M-5 and has a full breakdown.

Some things I enjoy: the M-5 was created with human engrams and is, for all intents and purposes, an AI, which is kind of neat. And Daystrum (who will be referenced in multiple other Trek shows), is played by William Marshall, AKA, Blacula. Marshall was a very, very tall man and had a rather nice voice, so I just like listening to him talk–usually to insult Kirk. He has a few moments here I enjoy: his whole “men no longer need die in space” monologue and when he’s trying to reason with the M-5. Also, I think we see a space station for possibly the first time? Oh, and when Kirk is feeling low, Spock tells him, “A starship also runs on loyalty to one man, and nothing can replace it or him.” Which is obviously Vulcan for, “Dude, I love you, and I’ll follow you anywhere.”

My only real problem here is that I’m not wild about how Daystrum’s motivation goes from “saving people” to “no one thought I was relevant and cool anymore, so I made this (ultimately terrible) thing.” It’s not that the latter motivation can’t work (or that Daystrum couldn’t feel both simultaneously), but the bitter childhood prodigy angle felt a bit forced to me, a bit too late in the game for my liking. I’m much more interested in Daystrum as this tragic figure who simply tried his best to help people and failed. Still, overall, this is a pretty solid episode.

Chief Asshat: Oh, Commodore Wesley, no doubt. He needles Kirk by calling him “Captain Dunsel,” essentially saying Kirk serves no useful purpose anymore, and then immediately assumes Kirk is responsible for the attack when it makes way more sense for it to be an M-5 malfunction.

MVP: William Marshall. Could listen to that man all day.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode:

“Please, Spock, do me a favor and don’t say it’s fascinating.”
“No, but it is . . . interesting.”

“Bread and Circuses”

“Bread and Circuses” makes a lot of Top 10 Worst TOS Episodes lists, and I get why: it’s pretty dumb, and it’s dumb in a lot of the same ways that “The Omega Glory” is. This is yet another world that’s basically just alternate Earth, only here we have 1960’s tech in a world where Rome never fell . . . which means we get gladiator fights on reality TV. Honestly, that part was great; I laughed out loud when they pulled back to reveal the Hollywood set. Unfortunately, it also means that we have to learn about Hodgkin’s Bullshit Law of Parallel Planet Development to explain budget problems, ethnocentrism, a criminal lack of imagination how these people could possibly speak English, amongst other nonsense. I guess that’s better than not explaining it at all?

Despite this, “Bread and Circuses” is considerably less offensive than “The Omega Glory” and far more fun to watch. For one, Kirk isn’t the guy engaging in (seemingly unending) fisticuffs! Bones and Spock get that honor this time, facing off against a pair of gladiators, and it’s delightful. Spock gets a new undercover beanie, too; this one is tan and, per usual, he loses it almost immediately. Let’s see . . . I immediately and correctly predicted Evil Roman Dude would stab Last Minute Redemptive Bad Guy in the back, so yay, me. And there’s a really interesting scene between Bones and Spock, where Bones tries to thank Spock for saving his life and ends up accusing him of being afraid to live. I don’t know if the whole scene works for me, exactly–I don’t think it has quite enough space to breathe–but it is, well, fascinating.

Of course, it’s not all fun fight scenes and antagonistic heart-to-hearts. I can forgive the bad guy, I guess, who doesn’t exactly have a firm grasp on the concept of “incentives.” (“Beam your whole crew down so that most of them can die, or else I’ll . . . kill only these two officers?”) The Prime Directive stuff here, too, is pretty ridiculous, and I’m not sure why we’re only clearly defining it now, anyway, at the very end of the second season.

But the worst bits are definitely these: A) it’s heavily implied that Kirk sleeps with the pretty sex slave who, while apparently “willing,” definitely cannot give actual consent, and B) our heroes save the day by . . . running away, leaving behind the last few survivors they actually came to rescue. They don’t defeat the bad guy or end slavery or any of that good jazz, but it’s okay, see, because it turns out that the rising rebellion of Sun worshippers are actually Son worshippers, which means we don’t have to feel bad for abandoning the planet because Christianity is coming to save everyone.

Chief Asshat: Kirk, no question

MVP: Scotty, who basically saves the day by interpreting Kirk’s orders as guidelines

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode: Ooh, difficult. There’s Bones taking the time to yell at Spock, even as he’s poorly defending himself in the gladiator fight. There’s also Spock dryly agreeing with Kirk that the people shooting at them do, indeed, seem to mean it. But I think I have to go with Bones’s somewhat relatable anti-Prime Directive wish:

“Once, just once, I’d like to be able to land someplace and say, ‘Behold! I am the archangel Gabriel!”

“Assignment: Earth”

“Assignment: Earth” is the season finale of S2 and kind of an odd episode all around. For one thing, our heroes have intentionally time-traveled back to Earth 1968 for, I guess, historical research? Which is just not how time travel usually works in Trek. (It also remains unclear how they were gonna conduct said research, as Kirk and Spock make it seem like the initial plan was not to leave the ship, which seems . . . counterintuitive?) More importantly, however, our heroes are largely absent for half the episode and mostly just manage to fuck things up when they are around. (Spock insists they actually helped history play out as it was supposed to, but he’s just trying to save face. Kirk absolutely almost gets everyone killed.) Instead, the action mostly focuses on this mysterious dude, Gary Seven, and his pet cat, Isis, who have come to stop a missile launch that will doom everyone. The setup is so strange that the whole episode almost feels like a backdoor pilot, except did they even have backdoor pilots in the late 1960’s?

Apparently, yes. They did because that’s exactly what “Assignment: Earth” is, a backdoor pilot for a show that nobody picked up. It’s unfortunate, too, because although the pacing of this one is a bit off, I actually really enjoyed Gary Seven and Isis. Seven is sort of an understated character, but he has a dry sense of humor that appeals to me, and I had fun watching him deal with his delightfully snotty computer, the Beta 5, and communicate with his cat. (Isis has a human form too, of course, but we only briefly see it at the end of the episode.) All of Isis’s cat attacks are hilarious. Also in one scene, Seven clambers up to the missile to sabotage it, while Isis helpfully hangs out on his back. It’s fantastic. I’d have watched the holy hell out of this show.

Teri Garr is fun in this, too. She’s playing Roberta, the secretary who accidentally gets wrapped up in all these secret agent/time travel shenanigans, and she feels like the rare female character in TOS who, by God, actually gets to be funny. The new characters all click here; it’s mostly that the action, itself, isn’t terribly interesting, particularly in the second half. Plus, yeah, the characters you actually showed up for are kinda twiddling their thumbs a lot. Still, I had a decent time watching this episode.

Chief Asshat: I mean. Kirk doubting Seven totally makes sense, but it also nearly starts World War III, so . . .

MVP: The Gary Seven, Isis, and Beta 5 trio.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode: “That’s why some of my generation are kind of crazy and rebels, you know? We wonder if we’re gonna be alive when we’re thirty.”

World’s Worst Trekkie: Return to Tomorrow, Patterns of Force, and By Any Other Name

There’s a lot to discuss today. Big, glowing balls. Weird speeches. Leonard Nimoy smiling. Whiskey as a resistance strategy. Tonal inconsistencies. Logic problems. And unfortunately, Literal Space Nazis.

Let’s twist this.

DISCLAIMER

There will be SPOILERS for these three episodes and probably also the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.

“Return to Tomorrow”

Hey, this is one of the TOS episodes with Diana Muldaur in it! Hi, Young Pulaski!

I enjoyed watching this one, although I’m itching to tweak a few things, particularly the ending. Let’s begin with Sargon, Thalassa, and Henoch, three super advanced beings made up of pure energy who’ve survived half a million years in these big glowing balls. They want to temporarily possess three people (specifically, Kirk, Spock, and Mulhall, our Pretty Woman of the Week) so they can build themselves android bodies and roam around freely. Sargon seems pretty shifty at first, but ultimately, everyone agrees to the plan, in part because of Kirk’s, uh, impassioned speech, which TBH, would only have convinced me that he’d been brainwashed during the earlier Spirit Swap Demo, like, that monologue is so overacted it passes over “passionate” and skips straight to “alarming.” (Also: the Spirit Swap Demo? Funny as hell.)

Quickly, it becomes clear that Sargon actually isn’t a shifty motherfucker; unfortunately, Henoch, possessing Spock, absolutely is. Possessed Spock smiles a lot. He’s a flirty, evil little shit, and it’s delightful. These scenes absolutely make the whole episode for me. Henoch wants to keep Spock’s body, of course, and temporarily sways Thalassa (Sargon’s wife) to the Dark Side; however, she feels guilty after torturing Bones a little and decides possessing a living body is too great a temptation. Meanwhile, Sargon and Spock briefly seem to die, but they’re both fine, as the former escapes into the Enterprise itself, while the latter escapes into Nurse Chapel’s body.

Conceptually, this is totally awesome. In execution, definitely a letdown. Spock-as-Christine is disappointing because Majel Barrett never gets the opportunity to act as Spock, which is a huge missed opportunity. Meanwhile, it’s not that I expected Sargon to permanently become the Enterprise (although that would have been, in a word, fascinating), but it could’ve been really interesting to see him and Thalassa living as other ships–or they could’ve gone with the robot plan, whatever, maybe worked to create androids that would’ve been able to experience sensory pleasure. Anything, really, would’ve been preferable to Let’s Disperse Into Oblivion Together. It’s the most obvious possible ending, emphasizing all the usual morals: it’s wrong to live past your time, your humanity will be lost if you try, death is how it’s meant to be, etc. I get why it’s a popular SFF trope, immortality not actually being in the cards for any of us losers, but I still find it dull and predictable, particularly here where it feels like Sargon and Thalassa suddenly agreed to doom themselves just because Henoch is a big jerk.

Chief Asshat: Henoch. I mean, you can’t just be brainwashing Christine; that’s rude.

MVP: . . . but also Henoch, or really Leonard Nimoy, because he’s a lot of fun here.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode: Oh, I can’t choose. It’s either this surprisingly good line in the otherwise terrible monologue: “Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about.” Or it’s, ah: “Your captain has an excellent body, Dr. McCoy. I compliment you both on the condition in which you maintained it.” I mean, what in the fanfiction hell?

“Patterns of Force”

Oh, boy. So, this is Nazis in space, literally, and it’s just about as bad as that sounds. There are, admittedly, a few bright spots. Like, we get the (very brief) return of Spock’s undercover beanie. There’s some dude who kinda reminds me of a 1960’s Tom Holland. At one point, Kirk and Spock are flogged, and their “blood” is pretty clearly just red and green paint. (Which I have to admit, I do so love the juxtaposition.) And at one point, Spock has to stand on Kirk’s back, which ends up being amusingly difficult for Kirk. I now desperately want to read a 5+1 fanfic where Kirk and Spock have to boost the other up, er, platonically. (The +1, of course, is less platonic.)

Unfortunately, the rest of the episode is kind of a mess, and not just because Kirk pronounces Nazi like he’s Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds. The reason we’ve found literal Nazis halfway across the galaxy is because, while observing the people of Ekos, revered historian John Gill became disturbed by how fragmented and divided the planet was. The only way to save everyone, he decided, was to bring in some fascism, but like, nice fascism, I guess. You know, they’re the good Nazis.

Unclear what that even means? Me, too. But TOS isn’t gonna bother with specifics here. Instead, we discover that everything went swimmingly until this one Bad Guy decided to make the Nazi party evil again, drugging John Gill to, heh, the gills, and secretly taking over. With his dying breath, Gill confesses that he was wrong, that non-interference is the only way, but bitch, non-interference isn’t even the problem here! You could have introduced any political philosophy to try and stabilize this shit, and you chose the Nazi party?! Sure, Spock agrees that Nazi Germany was the “most efficient state Earth ever knew” (uh, really? In ALL of human history?) and suggests that Gill must’ve assumed “such a state, run benignly, could accomplish its efficiency without sadism.” But seriously, what the fuck does it even mean to be a Nazi without sadism? Cruelty is a feature, not a bug. Nazis didn’t solve divisions between people; they widened them, preying on existing prejudices and fears to make a convenient scapegoat out of an entire ethnoreligious group, and then–and this is key–murdered about six million of those people. Not to mention that, so far as I can tell, the conditions which led to the Nazis’s rise to power bears no resemblance to anything happening here, so this whole “plan” makes no sense on either a logical or ethical level.

It’s also just very strange to watch Kirk and Spock go undercover as Nazis when William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy are, and were, both Jewish. Of course, I have no idea how they felt about this episode, and perhaps they didn’t have a problem participating in it. Honestly, I hope that’s the case. But even if it is? “Patterns of Force” is poorly written and just all around ill-conceived.

Chief Asshat: Holy shit, John Gill. WTF, my dude?

MVP: Um. Spock’s beanie?

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode: “To the logical mind, the outlook is somewhat gloomy.”

“By Any Other Name”

When I saw the title of this episode, I tried to prepare myself for some tragic nonsense between Kirk and The Pretty Woman of the Week, but we go a different way here. The Enterprise responds to a distress call; unfortunately, it’s a trap, and the ship is easily (too fucking easily) captured by four Kelvans. The Kelvans are these super advanced aliens from the far-far-away Andromeda galaxy, and they need the Enterprise to get back home. (It’ll take 300 years, which means only their descendants will actually make it.) In their original bodies, the Kelvans are gargantuan, with “a hundred limbs which resemble tentacles.” (I can only assume this means they’re secretly Old Ones.) But to survive in this galaxy, they’ve taken on human form, which means they’ve begun reacting like humans: enjoying physical sensations, feeling emotions, etc. Thus to retake the ship, our heroes have to exploit these weaknesses. Which means:

Bones keeps giving one guy Irritation Hypos.
Scotty eventually drinks one dude under the table (before quickly passing out himself).
Kirk (sigh) seduces the Alien Girl. (Who, BTW, is a dead ringer for Sansa Stark.)
Spock manipulates the Alien Leader’s jealousy of Kirk and Alien Girl.

Scotty’s scenes are probably the funniest, considering just how much alcohol he has to sacrifice to, er, complete the mission. (TNG will later pay homage to this scene in the episode “Relics.”) Kirk’s part is predictably the worst, especially because Alien Girl doesn’t even seem all that seduced at first–it’s pretty great, TBH–before having a sudden and inevitable change of heart. All in all, though, the episode ends on a relatively light note: the bad guys aren’t killed or imprisoned; instead, they decide to stay in this galaxy, having fun in their new human forms, which is all well and good until you remember Yeoman Thompson.

See, the Kelvans like to turn people into porous rocks; they do this to literally everyone on board (except our four previously mentioned heroes). After a failed escape attempt, Yeoman Thompson and Lt. Shea are the first to be transformed. To discourage further resistance, Alien Leader crushes one of the rocks, and I admit, I was very surprised when we discover that it’s Lt. Shea who survived, as I definitely assumed the writers would kill off the one Black man and save the one white woman. It’s a good surprise, honestly, but it does rather feel like poor Thompson’s murder is completely forgotten about in the second half of the show, when the tone noticeably shifts from “suspense” into “wacky hijinks.” This is especially true of the ending, considering the Kelvans experience absolutely no consequences of any kind for their terrible actions.

You know what I’d like to see? A spinoff show where a bunch of unjustly murdered Starfleet officers come together to haunt their respective captains. It could be bloody. It could be animated. We could call it . . . Star Vengeance.

Chief Asshat: Probably the Alien Leader. He’s the one who murders Yeoman Thompson, and also, jealousy is just not a good look on anyone.

MVP: Scotty, for his out-of-the-box thinking.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode:

Alien Dude (about the bottle of alcohol Scotty is holding): “What is it?”
Scotty (drunk off his ass): “It’s, um . . . It’s green.”

World’s Worst Trekkie: A Piece of the Action, The Immunity Syndrome, and A Private Little War

All right. I have a sinus infection. I’m running on caffeine, antibiotics, Ibuprofen, and not nearly enough sleep, and we’ve got roughly three hours of Star Trek to discuss. Let’s just dive into it, shall we?

DISCLAIMER

There will be SPOILERS for these three episodes and probably also the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.

“A Piece of the Action”

Oh, God. Folks. Fellow humans. I can’t with this episode. I was so bored.

“A Piece of the Action” is about Kirk, Spock, and Bones beaming down to 1920’s Mobster World, and I know it’s supposed to be funny, but good lord, it’s like a ten-minute gag that’s stretched, kicking and screaming, into a full episode. I’d watch it again, maybe, but only as a drinking game. The first and second rules are obvious: 1) drink whenever Kirk, Bones, or Spock get the drop on any of the gangsters, and 2) drink whenever any gangster gets the drop on Kirk, Bones, or Spock. I cannot emphasize enough how often this happens, and if that sounds somehow exciting or action-packed, let me assure you that it is not. This episode is like watching someone playing Hot Potato with a Tommy gun, only somehow boring. There is simply a limit to how many times one can get and lose the upper hand before any sense of tension or stakes are annihilated; this episode surpasses that limit by a wide and wild margin.

Another rule: drink whenever Kirk shows off all the noir slang he’s picked up. You will be drinking non-stop for the last 10 minutes straight.

Here are a few things I did enjoy: the origin of fizzbin. How absurdly large The Book (AKA, Chicago Mobs of the Twenties) actually is. It’s basically a giant Bible, like, it’s gotta be the size of Kirk’s whole torso at least. I also enjoy Kirk and Spock in their respective suits, and the irrefutable fact that, in the Prime timeline, Kirk absolutely cannot drive. (Obviously, he learned how to do this at a very young age in the Kelvin verse. These are the important canon divergences to analyze, people.)

Unfortunately, that’s about all I really enjoyed here. The whole concept of this episode–an alien society so imitative that they rewrote their entire culture just to mimic one (ridiculously gigantic) book–is ludicrous, of course, but ludicrous can be entertaining. This, however, mostly struck me as tiresome and grating, particularly the slang, (which I found too cartoonish to be convincing) and the constant Tommy gun Hot Potato.

Chief Asshat: All the mob bosses, mostly for the crime of being annoying.

MVP: The kid who briefly teams up with Kirk and Spock, I guess.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode:

“But the odds of getting a Royal Fizzbin are astro–Spock, what are the odds in getting a Royal Fizzbin?”
“I’ve never computed them, Captain.”
“Well, they’re astronomical, believe me.”
*Spock silently mouths astronomical and looks away, resigned*

“The Immunity Syndrome”

“The Immunity Syndrome” is unlikely to make it to my personal Top Ten, but it’s not a bad episode. The stars disappear at some point, which is always creepy. There is a giant amoeba (and not a “giant glowy space fish with one eye,” which was my immediate impression). Kirk has to decide whether to send Spock (Friend/Lover #1) or Bones (Friend/Lover #2) on what’s almost certainly a suicide mission. (He picks Spock, and I desperately hope that there’s fanfic about all of this.) And Spock essentially senses a great disturbance in the Force when 400 Vulcans die, because his touch telepathy will forever and always be dependent upon what the plot requires. (I now find myself wanting to see Spock in Star Trek 2009 psychically reeling from the collective death of basically everyone on Vulcan, which would admittedly be a lot on top of killing his mom. But since Winona Ryder played the only version of Amanda Grayson I’ve ever liked . . . yeah, let’s save her and do this scene instead.)

There are things that don’t totally work for me here. Spock’s idea that the dead Vulcans could not have conceived of their doom because Vulcans, as a species, have never been conquered feels like incredibly sketch logic. (Also, it’s a retcon, at least if Bones in “Conscience of the King” is to be believed–which, to be fair, I never really did.) I don’t know if I entirely buy Bones actively campaigning to go on the suicide mission for the sake of Science, either. I can absolutely see him sacrificing his life to save others, but that’s not quite how this is framed. Like, I bought Bones helpfully interrupting to say “I recommend survival” (without any suggestions as to how, natch), much more than Bones asking Spock, “Do you think that I intend to pass up the greatest living laboratory . . .” when the cost of going is near-certain death.  I also wish someone at least brought up the possibility of trying to save the giant amoeba, too.

I remain amused, also, about A) how quickly Bones resorts to just drugging everyone with stimulants–space cocaine definitely feels like a solid medical treatment–and B) how both Bones and a nurse personally come to the Bridge to administer, like, six adrenaline shots, when 2/3 of the ship have also been affected and are waiting on treatment, goddamnit. All this aside, “The Immunity Syndrome” is a totally decent episode, and much better than what came before . . . or what’s coming next.

Chief Asshat: Actually, no one’s really terrible here, but I’m giving this to Kirk anyway, for not slamming those breaks early.

MVP: Spock, maybe, for verbally bitchslapping human history.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode:
“Shut up, Spock, we’re rescuing you!”
“Why, thank you, Captain McCoy.”

“A Private Little War”

If you look very, very carefully, you might be able to find a good episode hiding somewhere in the depths of this one, but boy, it would be a long and arduous excavation. I do have some suggestions, of course. Buying better wigs is probably not the most important one, but holy Jesus, these wigs are awful–not to mention that the subtle symbolism of Good Blond Aliens vs. Evil Brunette Aliens leaves something to be desired.

A bigger problem is Nona. The Good Blond Aliens are led by Pacifist Tyree, who is Kirk’s friend; Nona is his duplicitous brunette witch wife who drugs men with aphrodisiacs and heals them with plants, blood, and sexy writhing. I hate literally everything I just wrote. Nona potentially could be interesting, if you altered her ridiculous healing process and straight-up cut the gross non-con behavior. See, this planet used to be a very peaceful one, but a Klingon spy is giving the Evil Brunette Aliens superior weapons, and Nona wants Kirk to give the Good Blond Aliens the same weapons (or even better ones) to defend themselves with/wipe out their enemies.

This is a perfect setup for a morally ambiguous character who advocates for terrible things but for pretty understandable reasons, which is so much more interesting than Sexy Evil Chick who tries to sell out her husband’s people and inevitably gets killed for it. A better episode, IMO, would still have Nona knock out Kirk and steal his phaser, but this time she’d die after successfully assassinating the Evil Brunette Leader. It would be a much more satisfying/badass death for her personally, but would still be tragic overall–because while Nona would die thinking she sacrificed her life to save Good Blond Aliens, the audience would see how her death actually served as a catalyst for Pacifist Tyree’s transformation into Vengeful Tyree, thereby only extending the war.

You see how bad this episode is? I’m basically just pleading for this show to fridge women better. And I haven’t even gotten into how this episode is also somehow a mangled Vietnam War allegory, or the whole side plot where Spock gets shot and must literally be slapped in the face, like, twenty times to properly heal. (Okay, this is hysterical, actually, but I can’t help but feel that Plot A and Plot B have been horribly mismatched here.) Or how the Klingon spy is is basically just dropped from the story–and why was this guy getting involved, anyway? These people are unlikely to be a big asset to the Klingon empire. And yeah, that whole serpent of Eden metaphor, too. Ugh, guys, enough is enough. Please leave Eden alone, I am so tired of it.

Oh well. At least we got the introductions of M’Benga and this dude, I guess.

Chief Asshat: Kirk, who continues to be an asshole about Klingons, snaps at Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov, and justifies giving the Good Blond Aliens rifles with some pretty shaky logic. But M’Benga is also a candidate, as he’s a bit of a condescending dick to Nurse Chapel when she asks for some pretty reasonable clarification.

MVP: Definitely the mugato.

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode: “This man believes the same thing we believe in, that killing is stupid and useless.” (A great quote from Bones, but I’d hardly call it a consistent TOS philosophy.)

Triple Scoop Review/Year of Monsters: BONUS VAMPIRE ROUND – Drácula, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Dracula 2000

Drácula

TFW you have to improvise because there aren’t any GIFs or trailers for the 89-year-old movie you’re reviewing.

Year: 1931
Director: George Melford
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Vanilla

In 1931, Dracula (the English language film starring Bela Lugosi) was shot during the day, while Drácula (the Spanish language film starring Carlos Villarías) was shot during the night. Earlier this year, I’d wanted to watch Drácula to compare and contrast; alas, I wasn’t able to find the film streaming anywhere online. Fortunately, I have an incredibly sweet friend, Rob, who bought me a special edition DVD copy of both films because he is the absolute best. Thank you, Rob!

In regards to which film is better . . . honestly, I like both for different reasons. On one hand, I think Pablo Álvarez Rubio makes for a fantastic Renfield. I didn’t have any particular problem with Dwight Frye, but Rubio is the superior choice as the bug-eating lackey, and delightfully, this film gives him a little more screen time to work with. (At least I’m pretty sure it does, but admittedly, I have watched like four different adaptations of this novel now, and they are starting to bleed together a bit.) I like this version of Mina (named Eva here) a little better, too, specifically when she’s all dark and vampire-influenced. And this version actually bothers to give Lucía’s story an ending, unlike poor Lucy in Dracula, who is pretty much just forgotten about between scenes. There are some particularly nice shots in this film, too, specifically the last one where Eva and Juan Harker ascend the staircase, leaving Van Helsing below with Renfield’s body–although to be fair, I like some shots in the English language version, too, like when the vampire brides back away from Dracula and Renfield’s unconscious body.

OTOH, I’m afraid I can’t take Carlos Villarías as Dracula seriously at all, like, he’ll have an okay moment or two, and then he’ll smile, and I’ll just start cracking up. Dude’s just so damn goofy. Bela Lugosi is very stagey, but somehow that feels more stylized, theatrical. This is different. This just feels absurdly cartoonish. And I prefer Van Helsing in the English language version, too, probably because this one seems shocked by things that just aren’t very shocking. Like, he’ll present some hypothesis (for example, Dracula is a vampire, and therefore must not have a reflection), and then seem flabbergasted when he immediately proves himself correct. He also has a hilarious reaction when Dracula threatens to kill him; likely, he’s supposed to seem scared, but it comes across more like, “Whaaaat? You’d . . . you’d really kill me?”

Watching both of these movies is absolutely fun, but my perfect film would be some unholy combination of the two, with Bela Lugosi and Pablo Álvarez Rubio and, most especially, the Philip Glass score from the 1990’s.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Year: 1992
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
First Watch or Rewatch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon, I think? TBH, it’s been a few weeks.
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Strawberry

Look, there are some amazing things about this movie. The opening music, for instance? Fantastic. And the fashion? Oh my god, the FASHION in this film. Dracula’s costumes alone, like, we’ve got the grey suit and top hat pictured above, his memorable Transylvania look, the red armor he wore as a human (which is basically just what J-Lo wore in The Cell,) etc. Then, of course, we have Mina’s lovely green dress and hat, as well as Lucy’s hilariously anachronistic red dress. And then, of course, Dead Lucy, which is the absolute cream of the crop. God, I’d love to cosplay the hell out of this someday.

So, yeah. I’d watch the hell out of this movie as a series of well-made fanvids; unfortunately, as a whole ass film, I have . . . problems. The entire prologue, for instance: like, the BS reincarnation love story I don’t care about (I was so baffled by this addition the first time I watched this movie), or how Anthony Hopkins is playing this ancient priest dude for no apparent reason. The fact that someone apparently fetched Mina’s perfectly undamaged corpse out of the river just to throw her ass on the floor, even taking the time to grab her suicide note and artfully tuck it into her hand. (Oh, apologies, there was physical damage: a single trail of blood from the corner of her mouth. Holy shit, that just makes it even funnier.) And Gary Oldman’s rage freakout, like, don’t get me wrong, I know the guy is a good actor, but also, dude sometimes makes some ridiculously over-the-top choices that I just cannot take seriously. I was giggling like mad throughout this whole prologue, which I really don’t think was Coppola’s intent here.

If the whole movie was like that, I could happily enjoy Dracula as a so-bad-it’s-great film. But those kinds of movies are generally best appreciated when they’re under two hours; this film is 2 hours and 35 minutes, and unfortunately, its dreadfulness isn’t always the sheer delight that is this gloriously terrible train ride into Hell scene. Which is to say, some of the bad stuff just drags, particularly in the second half of the film, where I slowly became consumed by boredom. And honestly, there’s a lot of bad to go around: Dracula as a wolf-troll-thing raping Lucy? Nope. All the orgasmic vampire shit and the plethora of relentless boob shots? Thanks, pass. I’d love to know whose idea it was to make Dr. Seward a morphine addict for, like, a scene. Also, why, in a movie with such fantastic costumes, does Keanu’s gray hair look like someone just threw flour over his head? And while I’m genuinely delighted by the current Resurgence of Keanu Reeves–he seems like a nice dude, and I enjoy a lot of his movies–like, this is easily his worst performance, and I’m including Much Ado About Nothing in that. (A film I have a huge soft spot for, honestly, but there is more than one woeful miscasting in that movie.) It’s not just that Reeves’s accent is terrible, though it is; it’s more that he’s so damn stilted here. Winona Ryder’s accent isn’t winning awards, either, but at least there’s some flow to her dialogue.

Finally, a few random things:

A) Everyone’s kind of an asshole in this movie, including Jonathan, who doesn’t like Mina staying with her BFF cause Lucy is rich, and what if Mina wants a rich boy now? Jonathan, you’re a tool. Van Helsing, though, is probably my favorite asshole because of hilariously casual lines like this: “Yeah, she was in terrible pain; we cut off her head. She’s dead now.”

B) The Texan suitor, played by Billy Campbell, is shockingly the least objectionable character, which is presumably why he dies.

C) Wow, I forgot there are so many other people in this movie! Cary Elwes! Richard E. Grant! Tom Waits as Renfield, what?

Renfield’s hair, at least, is properly fantastic.

Dracula 2000

Year: 2000
Director: Patrick Lussier
First Watch or Rewatch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Chocolate

Okay, sure, this isn’t a great movie, but unlike Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it never really pretended to be, either. Dracula 2000 is so incredibly of its time, and I have all kinds of silly nostalgia for it. Ton of people in the cast, too: Jonny Lee Miller (the hero), Justine Waddell (the heroine), Christopher Plummer (the dead meat vampire-hunter mentor), Vitamin C (the dead meat BFF and vampire bride #1), Jennifer Esposito, (the brief fake-out love interest and vampire bride #2), Jeri Ryan (the random hot reporter and vampire bride #3), Sean Patrick Thomas (a thief), Danny Masterson (a thief who gets a leech to the eyeball), Lochlyn Munro (a thief and also the First to Die), Omar Epps (the Thief Boss who very suavely wears glasses), Shane West (the cameraman who dies very, very quickly), Nathan Fillion (a young priest who shockingly doesn’t die), and, of course, Gerard Butler (the Big Bad, AKA, Judas “Dracula” Iscariot).

Miller and Plummer probably do the strongest work here, but I enjoy pretty much everyone except maybe Jennifer Esposito, who I never quite buy–although to be fair to the actress, she does get some of the worst dialogue. Like the “all I wanna do is suck” pun or the “how does one become a lover” exchange, ugh. There’s some bad dialogue to go around, though: JLM’s “never ever FUCK with an antiques dealer” is beyond awful, like, as a blooper line? It’s hysterical. I’d have laughed my ass off had I seen this in the blooper reel. As an actual line in the movie? NO, GOD, WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS, NO.

OTOH, I do genuinely enjoy a lot of the humor, even the very on-the-nose stuff. I’ll admit to laughing at the “sorry, sport, I’m an atheist/God loves you anyway” exchange; also, Masterson’s hilariously petulant “I said I was sorry.” The sheer outrage in Miller’s delivery when he says “undead–UNDEAD!” cracks me up every time. I’m also very amused by Dracula calling the Bible “propaganda” as Simon tries to defend himself with it. And when Dracula perfectly describes Mary’s Mom’s interior decorating style as “Catholic,” yeah, I laughed pretty hard at that.

And while Dracula’s secret origins as Judas are kinda unbelievably silly, I suspect someone could actually make this work in a miniseries or TV-show, something with a serious, historical bent and plenty of room to focus on the themes of evil, forgiveness, and redemption in a universe where choice and action are presumably predestined. Dracula 2000 was obviously never gonna be that story, as it’s a campy ass horror film, and its reliance on Dracula’s origins as a twist means it only has about 15 minutes to even remotely address the philosophical and theological ramifications of this identity reveal, while also wrapping up the entire main plot. So, yeah, that was kinda doomed to silly failure. But credit where credit’s due: this is the first and only time I’ve ever seen a vampire die by hanging.

Finally, a couple last thoughts:

A) I owned a fair amount of horror and SF movie soundtracks in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and you better believe that Dracula 2000 was one of them. (See also The Faculty, Scream, Queen of the Damned, and The Matrix.) I still listen to songs from it, too, especially System of a Down’s cover of “Metro.”

B) Remember in The Last Jedi, how Rey and Kylo spend a lot of time psychically gazing at each other from separate locations? Well, Dracula and Mary Heller-Van Helsing did it first, only with Godhead (and Marilyn Manson) playing in the background, so, obviously, they kinda win.

Shit. Now I just wanna see TLJ with the Dracula 2000 soundtrack. SOMEONE MAKE THIS HAPPEN.

Year of Monsters: Dracula

Dracula is one of the rare Universal classics I’ve actually seen before; it was many years ago, though, and at the time, I found the film rather boring. Watching it again, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, while the story is undeniably chaotic, I enjoyed Dracula quite a bit. There are multiple reasons for that, but the most strikingly obvious one is the fantastic score.

And if you’re thinking, Wait, I’ve seen that movie, and there IS no score . . . well, you’re right. Until the late 1990’s, at least.

Let’s get into it, shall we?

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“Say Goodbye To Classical Reality.”

I have something of a hit-and-miss relationship with John Carpenter’s work. I adore The Thing. I like Big Trouble in Little China. Escape from New York is enjoyable enough, but ultimately, I liked Snake Plissken more than the actual movie itself. Halloween is a classic that I don’t love nearly as much as I’m supposed to, and The Fog, unfortunately, really didn’t much for me. All I remember about Vampires is that it was goddamn dreadful.

Today–as my first reward essay for the Clarion West Write-a-Thon–we’ll be discussing John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, which, I can tell you right now, is not destined to be one of my favorites. But there are aspects of this movie that I find really intriguing.

Let’s talk about them, shall we?

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World’s Worst Trekkie: Carlie Takes On “Operation–Annihilate!”

Over a year ago, I made a resolution: to watch and review the entire original series of Star Trek. Considering it’s only three seasons long, I figured I had a decent shot of finishing it all by 2019; I certainly assumed I’d at least finish the first goddamn season by then. But of course I am easily distractible, and over the past 16 months or so, I have found numerous distractions: working on my novel, working on other MGB reviews, marathoning Netflix, doing various life stuff, and–of course–binge-reading fanfic, which is obviously the highest priority of all.

Anyway, it’s nearly April now, and I’m here to review the last episode of Season One: “Operation–Annihilate!”

I wish I could say we ended on a high note.

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