Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Aimee's BFF's Ultimate Star Trek Primer for People (Like Aimee's BFF) Who Don't Know Anything About Star Trek

My best friend recently saw Star Trek Into Darkness and loved it. Brace yourselves: this is a person who has seen no more than a handful of minutes of Star Trek anything. So, she approached me, Aimee, the big fat Star Trek nerd, and asked the question that we Star Trek fans are never asked.

"I don't know anything about this. Where do I start?"

I'm sure I don't have to tell you that people like me enjoy making lists about any obsessive interests we have, especially in the realm of comics, video games, or sci-fi. I collect knitting patterns, too, but no one asked me to make a list about knitting. Which is good, because I can't knit for beans, although I try. 

So below, you'll find the little write up I actually gave my BFF, with a few minor changes. It's probably rare to have an Electric Frankfurter reader who isn't familiar with Star Trek at all, but I had fun writing it, so you may have fun reading it. And for goodness' sake, what fan doesn't want to debate the merits of my list endlessly? I debated it for two days and I wrote it!

On the off chance that we have a reader (hi, dad!) and that reader doesn't know anything at all about the majesty that is Star Trek, maybe you'll find this helpful. But really, I doubt it. I don't know why I'm putting this up here. We need content, and I'm lazy. Read now:

The Ultimate Star Trek Primer for Aimee's Uninitiated Best Friend

The design of this primer is to guide you through the Star Trek universe in an easy-to-manage course that will afford you just enough understanding to tell if you might enjoy it, without also overwhelming you. The episodes selected include iconic episodes, typical episodes, essential episodes and personal favorites. Many amazing and many infamous episodes have been left off of this first course but can be found in the “further watching” list. 

Using a guide may be extremely helpful to you, as not every Star Trek episode is exactly, well, good. Some of the ones provided on your list are cheesy and some are very serious, but they are all fun. Star Trek fans know and appreciate that these are from the 1960s—it’s absolutely ok to find something unintentionally hilarious.

This is a real screenshot from “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” and it is absolutely ok to
think that this is absurd and amazing and in need of many captions.

Feel free after any phase has completed to drop out completely. Star Trek is immense and not for everyone, but intensely rewarding if you stick it out. And if you feel like you’d enjoy watching any part of it with experienced nerds, our door is always open (and we own all the movies.) And now, the lists.

1.       The Naked Time 

2.       Balance of Terror

3.       Space Seed

4.       A Taste of Armageddon

5.       The Devil in the Dark

6.       The City on the Edge of Forever

7.       Amok Time

8.       Mirror, Mirror

9.       Journey To Babel

10.   The Trouble with Tribbles

11.   Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

12.   The Mark of Gideon

If you are really into it, you may also want to take a look at the following episodes before moving on, but don’t feel obligated, you’ve seen enough to “get” anything that comes next.

1.       The Man Trap

2.       The Enemy Within

3.       Mudd’s Women

4.       What Are Little Girls Made Of?

5.       Miri

6.       The Conscience of the King

7.       The Squire of Gothos

8.       The Return of the Archons

9.       Alternative Factor

10.   Who Mourns for Adonis?

11.   A Private Little War

12.   Patterns of Force

13.   The Omega Glory

14.   Ultimate Computer

15.   Spectre of the Gun

16.   The Tholian Web

17.   The Savage Curtain

18.   All Our Yesterdays

Upon completing this list, it is the consensus of this team that you should proceed to the following movies in THIS ORDER:
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

After you have watched these movies, you may safely begin watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, in order, by season, if you wish. There are very few bad episodes and I regard this series as one of the finest sci-fi series ever made.

When/if you decide to finish Star Trek: The Next Generation, follow it up by watching Star Trek: First Contact.

After that, fill in gaps by watching the original series episodes that you skipped, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek: Generations, and Star Trek: Insurrection. If you’ve thoroughly devoured Star Trek in all forms listed, take a look at Deep Space 9.

DO NOT WATCH: Voyager, Enterprise, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, or Star Trek: Nemesis. At least not until you’ve become so well versed that you’d be comfortable picking them apart. These series and movies are just not very good at all and aren’t even that much fun to laugh at. No matter what anyone else tells you…these are NOT good. They just aren’t. No. No. No.

If you complete this list, you’ll know why this is one of George Takei’s favorite Star Trek memes. Stan and I can identify the episode from which this image was taken (out of context) and quote almost precisely what she’s saying here. Welcome to the club, we hope you enjoy.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

007 Project #18 You Only Live Twice

This poster represents everything that is terribly, terribly wrong (or right!) with this film.

Finally!  Dr. Evil, err, Blofeld revealed!  Like Dr. No with a budget, You Only Live Twice gives Sean Connery a spectacular send off and pits him directly against the nefarious leader of SPECTRE!  Much like its predecessor, YOLT makes full use of a big Hollywood budget and pulls out all of the stops.  Mini-personal helicopters, rockets blasting into space, ninja training, and a secret volcano base all prove that while it may be difficult to top the previous classic, Thunderball, it is possible to rival it for grand spectacle.

Amidst the incredible sets and exotic locales is a fairly straightforward plot.  The film opens with the very interesting premise that Bond is killed while on assignment.  This sets up the idea that Bond can work covertly to do some serious spying.  Sounds great right?  But then the whole thing is dropped and Bond just goes on as normal.  It is later referenced by Blofeld, but all along the way it is an intriguing, but scarcely used device.  A shame since it could have led to some far more suspenseful moments.  On the flip side, this film also seems Bond undergo “cosmetic surgery” to impersonate a Japanese laborer.  While I applaud the avoidance of a potentially highly racist interpretation of this transformation, James comes out looking more like a Romulan than a Japanese laborer.  If you aren’t going to change him dramatically, why not go ahead and work the cosmetic surgery into the “Bond is dead” device and pull the whole thing together?  The movie misses chances to increase the suspense to the story’s overall detriment.  The rest of the plot is standard fare.

Blofeld and his iconic cat give us the eye.

Connery is solid as always, but is given slightly less Bond-esque things to do in this film.  The romance is toned way down and the opportunities for his somewhat corny sense of humor are few.  Connery delivers a great performance, but it is clear that he is not having the same amount of fun as in previous films.  Great moments like his face-to-face confrontation with Blofeld pale in comparison to his intellectual sparring with Goldfinger or even Dr.No.  This should be a bigger moment, but it just doesn’t feel as big as it should.

Bond girls are another area that is found lacking in this film.  The main reason is a lack of clarity or focus.  In previous Bond films, the main Bond girl is fairly obvious and usually ends up with Bond in some capacity by the middle or end of the film.  In YOLT the movie casts about for a proper Bond girl, but never seems to land on one that it really likes.  Is it Number 11?  Seems like an obvious candidate, but no, she goes to the piranha after only a brief tryst with our hero.  Maybe it’s Kissy.  She certainly has the name of a Bond girl and she’s his ally and love interest at the end of the film, but no, she is introduced way too late in the film and there are never any real sparks between her and Bond.  Furthermore she’s almost Honey Ryder-like in her usefulness to the plot.  So, I guess if it is anybody, it’s Aki.  She doesn’t have a double-entendre nom de plume and she dies at the mid-point in the film, but overall she has the best love affair with James and she is the closest thing he has to an accomplice in the story.  Three possible Bond girls, two of them rather fetching (sorry #11, you look like man, baby!), but none terribly well defined.

As villains go, you’ll not get much bigger than Blofeld!  He’s King SPECTRE after all and he deploys everything from a devious Japanese version of Colonel Sanders to a brawny German to a green pond filled with vicious, invisible piranha to thwart Bond’s advances and see his master plan reach fruition.  He may lack the hands-on approach of a Goldfinger, but more than makes up for it in resources.  He’ll throw the kitchen sink at you, literally, before he’ll give up his plan and if you defeat him, well he’ll just blow up the whole damn volcano.

Commander Tomalok, you seem to have mistakenly wandered into this James Bond movie. 

You Only Live Twice is a good Bond movie, but it suffers in some key Bond areas.  A good, but not great performance by Connery can be accredited to him being given less to do as well as a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the actor.  Indefinite Bond girls do not help.  The whole thing feels like Dr. No done better.  A lot like the Death Star battle in Return of the Jedi feels like the battle they wanted to do all along, but slapped together a Death Star battle for Star Wars just in case ROTJ never got made.  We’ll make Dr. No, but if we get a budget and a following, we’ll do it better in You Only Live Twice.  Huh.  I guess the name has a deeper meaning that perhaps intended.

Aimee here:

I originally lobbied to have this film come in much, much higher. I thought it was 1960's Bond at his Bond-y best! I loved the super-spectacle, I loved the fake death scenario, I loved the Asian setting, and I loved the ninjas fighting in a volcano. I liked the opportunity they almost took advantage of to show Bond as an accomplished linguist. I can't not love seeing Blofeld and his freaked-out cat. (Seriously, that cat was going bonkers. This was before the days of considering whether or not a cat should be on a set that is exploding.)

Aki is a cute girl Friday... who gets killed too soon.

There were a lot of ladies flying in and out of view, but the girl we want to look at was definitely Aki, who I think Bond really cared about. I found her competent and helpful, which is definitely how I like my Bond girls.

Let's be honest. When a movie is this much fun, the plot doesn't matter, which is good, because if you're looking for the plot to matter, having an honest-to-God ninja battle in a freaking volcano may be troublesome.

But I'll concede a few things. This movie is very overblown. Like, Moonraker overblown. It is weighted by some excellent and very appropriate Bond-movie magic that keeps it from becoming a complete wreck, but since the plot matters a little, I guess I have to admit that the volcano battle is a little... much.

It's all just a bit forgettable, now, which I think diminishes its greatness. I wouldn't readily assign it to the bottom of the list, it's just not top-shelf material. The bits of truly nice Bond work come early, before the plot is lost in epic volcano battles and pointless internal monorail systems.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

007 Project #19 Licence to Kill

Sloppy.  I think the word describes this movie perfectly and Dalton’s portrayal of James Bond as a whole.  There isn’t anything glaringly wrong with LtK, but there isn’t anything exceptional about it either.  The greatest departure from the classic Bond formula thus far, Licence to Kill pits Bond against his own government, and several other nations, as a rogue agent bent upon revenge.  I think that is where the film goes wrong and sadly that is where the film starts.

When Felix is nearly murdered by a crazed drug lord, Bond takes the law into his own hands and seeks to make him pay.  This is not Bond.  I can see where the character might be pushed to the edge, but I cannot see him going over it as strongly and guns-ablazing as he does here, particularly when it turns out Felix has not been killed.

The remainder of the film is Bond, out of his mind and out of character, relentlessly pursuing the drug lord irrespective of whom he has to hurt or how many international laws he has to break.  While it might be fun to put Bond on the run as a rogue agent, the character is too smart to take that tact to the extent that Licence to Kill does.   

It also doesn’t make much sense.  There is a bigger story at work in this movie, and Bond has several opportunities to hitch his vendetta wagon to it, but he is so blinded by his fury that he not only fails to take those opportunities, but he actively works against other characters in the film who want to help him.  This is a man whose wife was brutally murdered Corleone-style on his wedding day.  A man who waited 5 movies to get his revenge upon her killer.  Am I supposed to believe that this same man now flies off the handle at the apparent and then near death of his friend?  I have no doubt there is a body of fan fiction that will support a much closer relationship between Bond and Felix than I am aware of, but with what I’m given in the history of this character, this does not wash.

And while I have a pretty big qualm with the premise the film, the remainder does little to salvage it.  Bond is sloppy and the plot goes all over the place with him.  The story seems to have trouble focusing and wanders all over the place.  Characters are introduced and dropped, others shift importance and function, until finally the whole thing pulls together at the end like a high school play.  I could do three pages on the unnecessary and bizarre Wayne Newton cult sub-plot, but at this point I think my point is clear enough to avoid the redundancy.

While The Living Daylights was able to carry Dalton and make up for some of his deficiencies, Licence to Kill is too scattered to give him much help this time around.  Dalton’s Bond is sloppy.  From his hair and general appearance, to his goofy smiles and strangely awkward demeanor, he is in no way the suave or clever character crafted by his predecessors.  I don’t know that it is entirely his fault, but he just comes across as a generic 80’s action hero.  Very little in this film or the previous one is distinctly Bond.  The good news, like Lazenby, Dalton’s tenure is short and will likely be forgotten.

Pam Bouvier may be the consummate 80’s Bond girl.  She is thin, pale, fiercely independent, and sports a pixie cut that works.  She looks too young to be CIA and yet has enough spunk to pull it off when the story lets her.  Carey Lowell does a solid job in the role and at times is more engaging than an often wooden Dalton.

On the flip side, Franz Sanchez is one of the worst Bond villains to date.  He’s not even a good 80’s crime movie villain.  This guy is supposed to run one of the most brilliant and brutal drug syndicates in the world.  He is meant to be feared and respected.  And yet he is captured by Felix and Bond almost by accident whilst trying to reclaim his girlfriend from a rival paramour.  Sloppy.  He is also easily manipulated by Bond, who infiltrates Sanchez’s organization without any more effort than showing up at the front door.  This guy is no mastermind and Roger Moore or Sean Connery’s Bond would have made short work of him like a second class henchman.  The best I can say is that this villain lives at the level of the film he inhabits.

Licence to Kill is a low point in the franchise and I can see why it kicks off the longest dry spell in the timeline of the series.  The entire film is sloppy and never recovers from its poorly executed premise.
I kept hoping the iguana would shoot lasers or poison or something.  Anything

Aimee here:

This is really just a bad 80s action movie. "Bad" is relative, since we've obviously seen a lot worse, but this movie veers away rather quickly from the formulae that make Bond... well, Bond.

The story, as Stan so meticulously points out, makes little sense. I like seeing some slight character development. Having Bond care about and work to avenge his friend Felix (who is NOT killed, it turns out) is nice, and it could serve as an anchor to an off-kilter vengeance-seeking Bond. However, it does not. Bond doesn't go this crazy when his own wife is murdered--why would he take it so hard when Felix's wife is? I suppose it could be salt in an old wound, but still, Felix doesn't even take it this hard. He's all smiles by the end of the film.

I wasn't really enamored of Pam Bouvier. I found her role in the film to be boring and predictable--but after so many earlier films, all finding ways to shoe-horn a desirable young woman into an international espionage plot, I suppose that's both understandable and unfortunate.

The main villain is goofy and ridiculously stupid. He trades all his credit and reputation in the underworld because he is insanely jealous. How did he even get this far? The tele-church plot with Wayne Newton was laughable at best and poorly elaborated upon at worst; the whole thing leaves me feeling as though I have wasted my time. Bond works best when he's a real company man--in all our movie viewings, "Bond goes rogue" has been a weak plot across the board.

At the end of it all, I'm not sorry to see Dalton go--he had the look but was ultimately forgettable. The "darker" portrayal he meant to bring to the table simply doesn't work; possibly as a function of bad plots and meandering action sequences.