All these worlds can be yours (but will you want them?)

Last week we went to see the latest of the new Star Trek films, the one whose title is certain to trigger a Pavlovian response in any fan of the English ska band Madness. I’d greatly enjoyed the first of the reboot movies back in 2009, though Star Trek Into Darkness hadn’t done much for me, but I hadn’t given up on the franchise yet. Star Trek Beyond, though… It’s a competent enough film in some ways, the main cast is still the best reason to watch the reboot – but I simply didn’t feel it. Most of the time it wasn’t the plot that kept me engaged; instead I found myself distracted, not least by remembering the recent death of Anton Yelchin and thinking, wistfully, that he should have had his final appearance as Pavel Chekov in a better film.

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Until all that’s left over is the question mark

I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
— Tom Stoppard,
Shakespeare in Love

Remember the days when we were all wondering what was down that hatch and what the hell those numbers meant? (I sometimes can’t remember what I ate the previous evening, but I will be able to list those damn numbers on my deathbed: 4, 8, 15, 16…) Remember when we were itching to find out more about Jacob, or the Others, or what the hell that black fog creature was? And remember those last couple of seasons that basically mocked us for wanting to know by saying, “Answers? Answers are for dummies. Have a trite, saccharine scene in a church instead.”

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Reaping the whirlwind

Battlestar Galactica is an odd sci-fi series. On the one hand, it’s much more down to earth than any other series in the genre; in terms of the world it depicts and the atmosphere it evokes, it is remarkably un-SF. Life aboard the Galactica doesn’t seem to be that different from life on some 21st century aircraft carrier (except for the lack of blue sky, fresh air, water and a home port, that is).

At the same time, though, it is perhaps the series I’ve seen that is most interested in metaphysical issues, sci-fi or not. And at least for some of the fans, this element has become too dominant in series 3. I won’t say anything more, because not everyone reading this blog knows how season 3 ends (bode, bode)… but suffice it to say, things go in a direction that makes it impossible to ignore the metaphysical strains of the series as an aberration and that BSG is really about space warfare and about man vs. robot.

Cylon & Garfunkel

***Warning: Spoilers for “Maelstrom” to follow. If you don’t know what happens and are interested: all three seasons of BSG are available on DVD! What’s keeping you here? Go to Amazon and buy, buy, buy! Or get it on Netflix, if my cheap consumerist less-than-subliminal messages fail to do their dirty job on your synapses.***

“Maelstrom”, better known as “the episode in which Starbuck goes kablooey (and this time not in a metaphoric way)”, does something interesting with the metaphysical world of Battlestar Galactica. Are we watching a long, drawn-out suicide that is couched by Starbuck’s mind in spiritual/psychological gobbledegook, because she is too much in denial to face her death wish? After all, much of the series has shown us just how self-destructive she is. Or is there something to Leoben-or-is-he? and his allegations of Kara Thrace’s special destiny? Is there a Cylon Heavy Raider ducking in and out of the clouds – or is it but a Raider of the mind, conjured up by Starbuck’s constantly eroding psyche? (Good thing they didn’t throw Birnam Wood at her while they were at it.)

In search of a bad cover band

Either option is possible – but just like we don’t know about the Final Five, or what exactly Baltar’s mind-Six is (a delusion or a chip?) or the Cylon God, we are denied an answer about Kara, as her Viper goes kerSPLAT! right in front of Apollo’s eyes. Are the series creators intent on frustrating us? Are they, as the characters might put it, frakking with us? Or do they, as they claim about the Cylons, have a plan?

Do Cylons play “Trick or Treat”?

Her name is Bambi?

Nope, but it might as well be… Okay, what on earth am I talking about? Grey’s Anatomy season 4, which just started over here.

I’ll get it out of the way first and foremost. I basically like Grey’s Anatomy. I like watching many of the characters, and usually, when it gets too soppy, I just bite my tongue until the next time Christina or Bailey are back on screen and then I’m okay. However, I got very tired of the non-medical soap opera in season 3. And the season 4 starter didn’t much convince me that change was inevitable, however much Meredith rambled on about it in her voice-over.

And what I really mind, not specifically about this series but about so many soap operas in general: I don’t want to be told who to like and who to dislike. I want to figure that out for myself. And I especially dislike being told (implicitly, of course, but not very subtly) that I’m supposed to like character A when I’ve just come to the conclusion that character A is an idiot and is wasting my time. And no, just because a character is made out to be all cute and adorable doesn’t mean that I can’t dislike her.

Yes, I’m looking at you, Lexie Grey.

Yes. She’s cute as a button. I hate her.

(Warning: If you’re tired of my “I love HBO” sermons, this is where you go and read that other blog. You know, the one by that guy who writes about these things. And there are pictures and stuff.)

That’s one of the things I love about Six Feet Under, The Sopranos and Deadwood, or even Battlestar Galactica (okay, that one isn’t HBO). No one tells me that I have to like Tony Soprano or Alma Garret or Nate Fisher. In fact, it’s absolutely okay for me to dislike Starbuck (which I don’t – but I could!) or Claire or Carmela. And, what is more important, the characters are deeper, more real – they can’t be reduced to Good Guys and Bad Guys. You may feel understanding for them, but that doesn’t stop you from shouting at them in the next scene, telling them to stop being so fucking stupid, goddamnit, cocksuckers!

Okay… perhaps I should try to reduce the weekly dose of Deadwood.

Those cheating so-and-sos at the Sci-Fi Channel

I’m back from my Christmas break, with lots of new DVDs to watch and not enough time… Sad, sad, sad.

In any case, we continued with Battlestar Galactica season 3 yesterday, watching “Exodus”, a double episode that ends life under Cylon occupation for the poor denizens of New Caprica. (Who’d have thunk, with a title like that?) The episode was exciting, with some fairly tough scenes in between – but the way they continued from “Precipice” was a disappointing cop-out.

 Last thing we’d seen was Callie, running away after Jammer cut her restraints and told her to get out of there, and then we heard the sound of gunfire… Of course it was unlikely that the guns firing were actually the Cylon executioners cutting down, among others, Tom Zarek and Laura Roslin. It was unlikely that they’d kill both of them off in one fell swoop lifted more or less directly from The Great Escape. But they completely cheated with continuity and editing – when “Exodus” part 1 finally arrives at the scene, it’s plain to see that a) Callie isn’t running next to bushes or trees and b) by the time the guns start firing, she’s already been thrown to the ground by Chief Tyrol. There’s only one thing to say to such blatant cheating:

Your dirty, dirty birdy!


Anyway… While the episode fumbled on that one, it was very strong on characterisation. Especially Starbuck and Tigh get fantastic scenes. I never really liked Ellen Tigh as a character, finding her annoying more than anything else, but her last scene with Saul was quite heartbreaking; as was the expression on Kara’s face when she arrives on the Galactica with kiddo Kacey, whom she’s been made to believe is her daughter – and then Kacey’s real mother turns up, sees her child and takes it from Starbuck, crying and thanking her. You can almost see something inside Starbuck breaking.

It’ll be very interesting to see how (or indeed whether) the people who’ve escaped from New Caprica will re-integrate into life aboard the starship. Chances are there are fairly deep psychological scars, and it’s doubtful they’ll heal from one episode to the next.

P.S.: You gotta love Gaeta’s bitter quip to the quivering Baltar: “He believed in the dream of Gaius Baltar. The good life. Booze, pills, hot and cold running interns…”

He say you Brade Runner!

When I was a teenager, I loved Blade Runner. I loved the atmosphere, the plot, the characters, the lines.

I am still very fond of the film, but after watching the Final Cut (which came out recently) yesterday, I am sorry to say that the original magic isn’t there any more. The film still looks absolutely gorgeous, even more so on the new DVD release, which almost makes you wonder what all the fuss about BluRay or HD-DVD is about if DVDs can look this stunning. The atmosphere is still there. But somehow I can no longer get into the faux-noirish plot and characters. Deckard is a dick, but not a very complex one; Rachael is, well, Sean Young, not the most exciting of actresses at the best of times; and most of the characters, including the replicants, remain one-dimensional. Much of what I originally found intriguing and evocative now strikes me as a tad too facile: “Ooh, we’re being vague here!”

Sushi, that’s what my wife used to call me. Cold fish.

This probably sounds worse than it ought to, because as I said, I used to love the film, so it came as a bit of a shock to find that my feelings had changed. Nevertheless – the film still looks amazing. Judging from the DVD quality, chances are it never looked better. And somehow the coherence of the visual design even makes the ’80s booboos work: Pris’ and Rachael’s hair, the shoulder pads, the neon. Although, after first seeing the film in the late ’80s or early ’90s, the intro sequence with its caption “Los Angeles, 2019” made me think that we’re probably still not much closer to flying cars than we were back then. Well, we’ll see in twelve years or so…

What was fun, though: spotting the actors from series I’ve been watching since. I’d never realised that I’d first seen Brenda’s mom wearing some artificial snake scales, a transparent raincoat and very little else. (Helloooo, Mrs. Chenowith!) And for some odd reason, I’ve only seen William Sanderson in parts where his first name consisted of double initials: E.B. Farnum, J.F. Sebastian. (Perhaps he should next try his hand at P.T. Barnum.) Finally, even though I know that Gaff is played by Edward James Olmos, but apart from the pock marks I simply don’t see it – Gaff looks and sounds so much creepier than Admiral Adama. If President Roslin ever gets hold of a Blade Runner video (probably with the corners cut off), she’ll get quite a shock…

The best laid plans of machines and men

I’m sure there were blog entries like this one back when Battlestar Galactica season 3 premiered in the States. So, once again, I’m a year or so late with my reactions. Well, you know what? If you’re looking for cutting-edge reviews you’re in the wrong place anyway. Sorry… should’ve told you earlier, I guess.

Together with Firefly, it’s Battlestar Galactica that has revived my interest in sci-fi. After an overdose of bad Star Trek spinoffs, I’d really given up on the genre, but these two series show that there’s interesting stories to be told in outer space. What I like especially about BSG is the ambivalence of its characters – and that has never been as plain to see as at the beginning of season 3. The references to Iraq are obvious – lines about “insurgent uprisings” and “capturing their hearts and minds” are almost a bit too in-your-face – but the interesting thing is that it’s our protagonists who are strapping on bombs, killing the enemy as much as their own people.

And what other series could manage such a sick, compelling “Honey, I’m home!” moment as when Leoben is stabbed through the neck by Starbuck, only to come home a little later, freshly downloaded, telling her that it’s her choice whether she wants to sleep in the bedroom – but either way (nodding towards the Cylon corpse on the floor) she’d be spending the night with him.

Almost feeling a bit sorry for Gaius Baltar…

I must say I’m even feeling a bit sorry for Gaius. He’s in a situation where he can either do the wrong thing or get a bullet in the head. He’s never been heroic, exactly, but he’s in a place where he’s screwed, no matter what he does. It’ll be interesting to see where the season will take these characters. But I’m sure that wherever we’ll end up, it won’t be predictable.