Monday, June 28, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation - "Heart of Glory"

Back when TNG was new, I was frustrated that the Klingon episodes were always about renegade bad-guy Klingons. It seemed that they just couldn't figure out how to write the Klingons as good guys. (And amusingly enough, fourteen years later in Star Trek: Enterprise, they couldn't remember how to write the Klingons as bad guys anymore.)

But rewatching this episode for the first time after having seen all the episodes that would come after it, it doesn't bother me at all. In fact, it works really well. After having seen Klingons like Martok and Gowron, seeing Klingons here who chafe under the alliance with the Federation actually feels like a different take on them.

It also makes them feel somewhat tragic; had they waited another ten years or so, they would have had all the battles they wanted.

I also found it interesting that the alliance between the Federation and the Klingons is treated as if the Klingons were practically members of the Federation. (Note, for example, how they display both the UFP seal and the Klingon Empire symbol, with the UFP symbol coming first!)

The episode also gets bonus points for the music: Ron Jones evokes the style and the first line of Jerry Goldsmith's Klingon theme without actually using the whole piece.

It's also cool to see how much of what was set up in the episode stuck, such as the Klingon death howl and Worf's half-brother on Gault. And of course, starting to set up the Klingons as honorable warriors. This episode actually makes for a good bookend episode to the ENT episode "Judgement." In that episode, Archer's Klingon attorney laments to him that the upcoming generation of Klingons cares more for glory than honor. And from there, the Klingons start to be more of bad guys, and become the Klingons we know in classic Trek. And here, Worf points out to Korris (the lead renegade Klingon) that for all his talk of reclaiming glory, he hasn't mentioned honor. It shows the pendulum swinging back, and the Klingons of the TOS era dying out to be replaced by the ones we know of in the TNG era.

Unintentional, I'm sure, but in watching Star Trek as a whole, it really works.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Doctor Who - "Vincent and the Doctor"

Spoiler Level: Low

Wow. That was really moving.

One of the things that I always loved about the old Hartnell historical stories was they really made the past come alive, and actually made me interested in learning about the Aztecs or the Romans or whatever time period they were set in. And I have to say, this is probably the first of the "new historicals" to recapture that.

Like all the other "new historicals" they've done since the show returned, there's the obligatory monster causing trouble, just like when the Doctor met Dickens and Shakespeare and Queen Victoria. But once Vincent Van Gogh comes on the scene I forgot all about the fact that the Doctor was monster hunting; his character is just that interesting. I really didn't know anything about Van Gogh before seeing this episode besides the fact that he was the artist who cut off his own ear and mailed it to the woman he loved. Well, that and the fact that the British pronounce it "Van Goch" while we pronounce it "Van Go." But if you put any of his paintings in a line-up, I couldn't have picked it out.

But now I find myself wanting to learn more about him and his artwork. I think the description that the art director made about him sums it up-- a man who fought such terrible inner demons yet transformed them into such positive and colorful artwork. That's very inspiring.

Oh, and I also learned that his name can also be pronounced "Van Gothf."

Kudos to Richard Curtis and Tony Curran for doing such a great job on making him feel so true to life and like a real person we could really relate to, and not just another name from some stuffy old history books. This episode is exactly what historical episodes should be.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Despicable Me

Spoiler Level: Medium

First let me thank Steve for giving me the free pass to the preview screening, and giving me the opportunity to take my daughter to see this movie! Thanks, Steve! (And thanks to Todd for giving the passes to Steve!)

I also wish I had scanned the free pass, as it had a great design for the movie on it, which I had assumed was the movie poster. Turns out I can only find the teaser poster online and can't find that design at all, so I'm going with this nice international poster instead.

I was really looking forward to this movie. The trailers look great: anti-hero evil villain Gru getting the snot beat out of him while trying to infiltrate rival villain Vector's HQ; Gru picking on little kids; Gru's minions beating the snot out of each other. This looked like a great slapstick comedy in the vein of Looney Tunes.

And all that's in there. There's some edgy humor and some great laughs. But there's also something far more scarier that I had no idea was in this movie:


And from the moment I realized they weren't just another bunch of kids Gru was being mean to, the whole story became exactly what you'd expect it to be. It wasn't bad-- just predictable, and not what I thought the movie was going to be about. The dad in me enjoyed it, but the 20-year-old who was looking forward to some good cartoon violence felt let down.

The animation is wonderful, with a lot of breathtaking scenes. Hans Zimmer delivers yet another fantastic musical score. The 3D effects were more hit and miss: there's some great moments, especially in the opening and closing credits, but the rest of the movie they were pretty unnoticeable.

So all in all, it's a fun little family film with a some funny edgy moments.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi - Allies by Christie Golden

Spoiler Level: Medium

OK, this is a little more like it. Now things are really moving.

The book says right out of the gate-- pretty much as a recap-- that Abeloth, the being that the Lost Tribe of the Sith encountered two books ago in Abyss, is the evil presence that people have been sensing in the Maw, and she's what's been driving the Jedi crazy. Well, thank goodness for recaps, because I hadn't connected those dots at all. It may be because I'm reading these books months apart as they're published (instead of all in a row like I did for Legacy of the Force and New Jedi Order) and my memory's just not that great so I didn't remember enough details to make the connection. Or it could be just that I'm not that bright. Either way, I'm grateful for them spelling it out for me right at the start of the book.

So the Lost Tribe of the Sith allies with Luke & Ben to try to take out Abeloth together. And it's the kind of uneasy alliance you'd expect it to be, with the Skywalkers always on their guard and waiting to be double-crossed. But the real fun comes with Ben and Vestara, who are seriously falling for each other. Ben entertains hopes that maybe Vestara is only Sith because she was raised that way, and that if she were given a chance she might turn to the light. Vestara, on the other hand, wants to turn Ben to the dark side just so they can be together as much as for any other reason. It's a romance that Vestara's father encourages her to use to their advantage, and makes Luke worry for Ben. He has no fear of him turning to the dark side, but doesn't want to see him hurt. I can't help but root for Ben and hope he gets to reform his bad girl.

And as to why Abeloth has a special interest in Luke, all I can say is man, poor Luke can't catch a break.

Daala's lost all her compassion in this book; she almost feels inconsistent with the Daala we got in the previous book, Backlash. In the last book she was starting to question herself and her methods; in this book, she's resolute in the rightness of her methods. But both books are consistent in that they portray her as wanting to do the right thing for the Galactic Alliance but just not understanding the right way to go about it.

Tahiri also finally goes to trial for her actions while serving Darth Caedus. I have to admit, I'm glad I'm not on the jury. On the one hand, yes, Caedus played on her feelings and manipulated her into something terrible, and now that he's gone she's found her way back to the light. On the other hand, she still did commit those terrible acts, and should be held responsible. Tahiri's lawyer is a great character, and the trial scenes are some great drama.

Considering this is Book 5 out of 9 there's a lot more major plot points resolved than I expected there to be, which is part of what makes the book feel so satisfying. But there's still some key unanswered questions, and some new questions as well.

Here's hoping I remember them when Book 6 comes out in December. ;)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Doctor Who - Cold Blood, Episode 2

Spoiler Level: High

Aww, man. I guess all Silurian stories have to have unhappy endings.

Geez. Not only did Rory not break through the "second companion can only be here for three stories" glass ceiling, he got the harshest exit of any companion since Sara Kingdom. On second thought, his was even worse. Sara may have got aged to death, but poor Rory gets erased from history so even his own fiancée doesn't even remember he existed.

And it's a real shame, because I really liked the interplay between Rory, Amy and the Doctor. Having two companions that were an actual couple was totally new for Doctor Who, and I think they really missed an opportunity by getting rid of him.

I suppose there's a chance The Crack might bring him back or something like that at the end of the season to give him & Amy a happy ending, but we'll still be without him in the TARDIS for the rest of the season. And I have to assume he won't be coming back, and that this is really it for him.

I'm guessing the military class Silurians used the masks for the same reason the Judoon and Sontarans use helmets-- this way they only have to do face make-up for the main characters. But I think the masked Silurians looked much cooler.

I also liked the idea that humanity and the Silurians were actually reaching an accord, and that they finally will in the future. In addition to giving the story a silver lining, it creates some good opportunities for potentially using them again.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation - "Coming of Age"

I'm out of new shows. I still have nearly all of the second half of the season of SGU to watch, but Syfy stopped streaming the early episodes, so I'm out of luck there. And besides. I can't watch that show with Mylene in the room anyway-- you never know who'll be having hot sex. So I thought this was an excellent chance to go back to watching TNG.

When I think of "Coming of Age" I only remember the Wesley bits; I totally forgot that this was also the episode with Admiral Quinn and Remmick. I remember loving this episode at the time, because it was the first time Trek got heavy with continuity-- not just with referencing the season so far, but in laying the ground work for "Conspiracy" as well.

And on top of that, it's a great character episode. Remmick's interrogation of the bridge crew makes for some great dramatic moments. (Although I did notice that Tasha didn't get any. No wonder she left.)

I watched this episode with an eye on Remmick; is he already taken over by the Parasite Queen, or did that come later? I'm inclined to believe it happened between the two episodes. But we'll see if "Conspiracy" sheds any more light on that.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Doctor Who - Cold Blood, Episode 1: "The Hungry Earth"

Spoiler Level: High

Wow, talk about a Pertwee love fest! A giant drill digging deeper into the Earth than ever before! A giant forcefield put over a small town! And best of all... could it be? Is it really?!? Wait for it.... yes, yes it is.... the return of the Silurians!!! [::Fer does the Returning Monster Happy Dance::]

As soon as I heard the episode titles I thought of the Silurians. Then I saw a few preview clips and I really, really hoped it was Silurians. Then I accidentally saw a photo and got a look at their faces-- and my hopes fell. Oh well. Not Silurians. Maybe a similar-to-Silurians-but-not-really-Silurians situation like last week's Valeyard-but-not-really-the-Valeyard situation. Then while watching the episode I thought, come on, these have to be Silurians! And then... finally... yes, he said it, they ARE Silurians!!!!

Okay, I would have preferred for them to not have human looking eyes and noses, or for them to at least have had their third eye, but I can dig that these are an offshoot of the classic Silurians. It's not a bad update design.

I also loved the pacing of the episode... the two-parters really are working best for me this season. I especially loved the scene between the Doctor and Rory after Rory realized that Amy was missing. "I need you to stand by me." And he does. Good stuff.

Mylene doesn't like having to wait for Part Two next week; you'd think that since she started with Hartnell she wouldn't mind the cliff hangers so much, but with those she's used to having the next episode at her fingertips on the DVD. But I'm glad it's a two-parter. Not just because of the pacing, but because it helps capture the feel of the original Silurians stories as well.

As to the story title, I'm inclined to go with "Cold Blood" over "The Hungry Earth," because (1) The Earth eating people seems to be exclusive to Part 1, but "Cold Blood" fits both parts, and (2) the episode title for Part 1 changed from "The Ground Beneath Their Feet" to "The Hungry Earth," while the title for Part 2 has been "Cold Blood" all along.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Brightest Day #2 & #3

Spoiler Level: Low

I really am interested in exploring the mystery behind why these characters have been resurrected, and I love the bits with the White Lantern ring and Deadman. But now that the series has settled down into its regular format, I realize that I've been tricked into reading an anthology book for characters who can't carry their own books.

Which isn't bad, per se. I'm enjoying all the stories. I simply realized that the real reason all these characters were resurrected was so that they could all be put in the same book with a Green Lantern wrapping on it, thus giving DC hope that Green Lantern readers like me and readers who are into the big events like Darkest Night will be sucked in. It worked for me; I'm certainly not a fan of a single character in this series, but I am enjoying it and intend to keep reading it. I like anthology books, and I like weekly comics, so this being a bi-weekly semi-anthology satisfies both those interests for me. I'll stick with it.

But I wonder how many other people will. These are characters who are usually lucky if they see issue 50. Rich says this is an ongoing book, so being bi-weekly they'll get in 26 issues a year, but if enough people end up going "Hey wait a minute, this isn't really a Green Lantern book or an Event, why am I reading this?" then they may find themselves without a book again by issue 50.

The other thing it has going for it is that Geoff Johns is both a good writer and a hot writer, so his name may be enough to keep it selling, and he may have bigger things planned that will keep people interested. And as long as the people who were buying Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Hawkman and Firestorm in their own books were different people, and they're all buying it now to follow their individual favorite, then it might add up to enough sales to keep it afloat.

But still, this was very sneaky of you, DC. ;)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Vampires of Venice" and "Amy's Choice"

Spoiler Level: High

Finally got to see this one! I've been traveling a lot the last few weeks, and the disc has been taunting me. I finally had a quiet night where my daughter and I could sit down and watch it together.

I liked the Doctor's mentality that if Amy & Rory's relationship was to succeed, then Rory needs some TARDIS time. It's just a shame that the Doctor and Rory were in a blatant competition, and that poor Rory so blatantly doesn't come close.

The vampires weren't too dull. Between the preview questioning if they really were vampires and the fact that they had a lot of fanged teeth, including some on the bottom, the reveal that they weren't really vampires but aliens wasn't too much of a surprise, but them looking like crustaceans was. And the fast pace of the episode helped keep them from getting dull.

As soon as we finished this episode, Mylene asked if we could watch the next one, and it just so happens I discovered that iTunes has been putting them up for sale as soon as they air on BBC America. So without further ado...

Spoiler Level: High

This was a great character episode. I absolutely loved the Dream Lord. I was wondering if he might really be the Valeyard or the Celestial Toymaker. Turns out he was neither, but he has the best qualities of both characters. I doubt it's possible, but I'd love to see him used again.

The fact that Steven Moffat jumped around with Amy's timeline so much in "The Eleventh Hour" made me actually consider that the future-pregnant-Amy-and-Rory scenario could have been the real one. The idea that the TARDIS scenario was the real one seemed a little too obvious, which also made me lean towards the future pregnant one. I had considered the possibility that they were both dreams, but had disregarded it. Go figure.

And best of all, I like that Amy has come the realization that Rory will be there for her after the Doctor is long gone. I hope he stays as a companion for the rest of the season. Having a couple as companions is a great idea.

As to the quality of the iTunes download: On the plus side: it leaves the original British "Next Time" and end credits!! Woo-hoo!! YES!! Awesomeness!!!!! On the negative side, it kept jumping and occasionally freezing. I purchased the HD version since I now have an HD TV, but in retrospect I think that was a mistake; I think my computer just couldn't handle it. They also offer a standard version (for a dollar less, to boot) so if I end up doing it again I'll try that version instead.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Star Trek Online: The Needs of the Many by Michael A. Martin & Jake Sisko

Spoiler Level: High

We've reached an interesting intersection in Star Trek continuity.

The original (or "Prime" timeline) is done, with its curtain call being the destruction of Romulus and Spock being pulled into the alternate (or "Abramsverse" or "nuTrek") timeline. So now the Prime Timeline is being continued via novels, comics and the new Star Trek Online MMORPG video game.

But with Trek being Trek, it's got to be messy.

Pocket Books' novels already continued ahead after Nemesis, and even though they haven't reached the point where Romulus has been destroyed yet, they've still had The Amazingly Massive Final Borg War from the Star Trek: Destiny books which has totally changed the Star Trek universe.

However, at the same time, the folks at Atari & Cryptic were making the Star Trek Online video game, and had to come up with their own timeline to set their game in, without knowing the plans that the novels had in mind. And they came up with The Undigne War, which also totally changed the Star Trek universe.

Meanwhile, IDW published their Countdown and Nero comics, with stories given to them by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the guys who blew up Romulus and thus totally changing the Star Trek universe in the first place.

Star Trek Online: The Needs of the Many
ties it all together very, very nicely. Basically, this book says the Prime universe also has two separate universes: The Pocket Books version (which is generally referred to by fans as the "TrekLit" timeline, for Star Trek Literature) and the Online & comic books sharing another version (which is generally referred to as the STO timeline, for Star Trek Online). And pity poor Department of Temporal Investigations agent Dulmer, who has looked into the face of the vortex, seen all the different timelines, and been driven mad by it all. Or at least as far as the people living in the STO timeline believe.

The book itself is told as a series of interviews done by Jake Sisko after the Undigne War (also referred to often as "The Long War") has ended. The Undigne are the real name for Species 8472, and I for one am very happy for them to have a real name! It turns out that Janeway's treaty with the Undigne we saw was only with one small faction, and the rest of the Undigne consider all life outside of Fluidic Space as a threat to them, since Voyager allied with the Borg. So the Undigne have begun a war with the Federation using both straight forward attacks and more subtle infiltrations. And when the Undigne copy you, it's not like the Changelings; they make exact copies of every cell of your body right down to every neural pathway in your brain, which means not only do they have your memories, but you could believe that you're still yourself while really being an Undigne sleeper agent.

The concept itself works great. It's similar to NuBSG's Cylons, only creepier-- in Galactica, you wondered if you might be a Cylon with fake memories. With this, the fear isn't that your life is fake, but that it's been stolen.

The STO timeline still incorporates a lot of elements from the novels, but since they're not beholden to the TrekLit timeline they occasionally happen in a different order. For example, Ro is still security chief aboard DS9, but she doesn't get the job until after Nemesis. Other things in the STO universe are the same as in the TrekLit universe, like Riker & Troi's daughter being named Natasha Riker-Troi. (And while I like the idea of her marrying the son of Picard & Crusher, I really hope his name doesn't end up being Rene Jacques Robert Francois Picard. I'd like to see a kid not be named after a dead character for once.)

The interviews themselves are captivating. It's great to see how many of the characters have grown and changed in "the future," especially Data and B-4. While the books have deliberately avoided the obvious trap door left in Nemesis for bringing back Data in B-4's body, the Countdown comics went ahead and took it. This book fleshes it out nicely, delving into the ethical issues that would be involved in such a resurrection. I also found the Undigne War to be as interesting to learn about in a bits-and-pieces way as the Time War has been in Doctor Who.

The only two things that really bothered my about this book are:

(1) Despite having the "Road to 2409" appendix in the back, there's nothing to state when this "Long War" actually happened. I'd be willing to believe it was a clandestine war if it wasn't so heavily emphasized how much it impacted an entire generation. I imagine it's deliberately kept vague to give the game-creators room to expand on it, but it makes it frustrating for me to get a grip on the timeline.

(II) There's a heck of a lot of WAR going on here for Star Trek. In this book alone, the Federation's at war with the Undigne, the Romulans are at war with themselves, and the Klingons are at war with everybody. The Dominion War and The Amazingly Massive Final Borg War in the TrekLit universe already felt like a lot, but it came across as much more final. The stories there are now dealing with rebuilding and getting back to exploring strange new worlds. But here in STO, the galaxy's been in constant war for decades, and it all seems to be building up to even more war.

So I'm guessing that Star Trek Online is not going to be Club Penguin for Trek fans, it's going to be World of Warcraft for Trek fans. Which is fine. But it's not really what I'd want from a Star Trek game. If I want a space combat game, I'd rather go with something that's meant for combat, like Star Wars Online or Worlds of Starcraft or whatever's really out there.

But for a one-off alternate-alternate-timeline story, it made for a great book.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Spoiler Level: High

Pretty cool. The visuals are stunning of course, and I especially liked the Playing Card soldiers and how the White Rabbit always ran on all four feet.

A few elements felt forced; being a post-Lord of the Rings fantasy film, I knew as soon as we had the army of Chess Men and the army of Playing Cards facing off against each other, there was no way they were going to actually not fight each other and leave the fight to Alice and the Jabberwocky.

Which is, I suppose, another modern movie element required of the film; Alice has to be a fighter, even if she doesn't want to be.

But those aren't really complaints, just observations. I actually found the plot that the Jabberwocky poem was meant to be all about Alice a nice twist. I liked that Alice wasn't proper anymore and just a little bit off. And the Cheshire Cat was actually cute!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Star Wars: Darth Bane - Rule of Two by Drew Karpyshyn

Spoliler Level: Fairly High

In the first book we saw how a lowly miner became Darth Bane, the most fearsome of the Sith, how he came to the conclusion that the entire way the mighty Sith Brotherhood of Darkness worked was flawed and should be reduced to only two, and how he brought it about. Now in the second book, we see how he puts it into practice, being the last remaining Sith Lord and training the only apprentice.

None of which stops Darth Bane from becoming even stronger and getting into more ferocious battles, literally striding out of the flames having cheated death. In other words, there's still a lot of cool battles with Bane being a bad-ass.

But in many ways, the book is the story of his apprentice, Darth Zannah. Introduced as Rain in the Jedi vs. Sith comics, this book shows her decline from the sweet yet traumatized little girl that Bane found at the ending of those comics and the last book, and her struggle to actually shed any of her remaining goodness for the sake of the power to never be hurt again. The book also quite heavily uses Darovit, the young boy who was barely mentioned in the last book but the lead in the comics. Darovit keeps coming in at key moments in Zannah's life, offering her a chance to turn away from the dark and back into the light.

It works really well, because we already know there's no saving Darth Bane, but we have no idea if Zannah will be the apprentice who eventually takes his place or if she'll be redeemed in the end.

This book was just as intriguing and exciting as the first one. It succeeds not only in interesting characters, but in getting to see how everything was put into place for both the Sith and the Jedi as we know them in Episode I. Looking forward to Book 3!