Archive for April, 2017

Disappointed and thrilled: Memories from 1979’s premiere ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’

April 29, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 29, 2017

The original Star Trek series debuted on Sept. 8, 1966, some five years after Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. On July 20, 1969, about six weeks after NBC aired the show’s final episode, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin became the first men to set foot on the moon. It would be more than 10 years before any further live-action Trek appeared, in the form of 1979’s beautiful but ponderous Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

The show did have some new on-screen life over this fallow decade. Twenty-two episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series featuring the original cast were broadcast over a 13-month period spanning September 1973 through September 1974.

But the franchise mainly flourished in other forms during the interregnum: Through print and reruns. A variety of comic books generally chronicled new adventures that hadn’t been produced for television, while a passel of prose books mixed adaptations of TV episodes with original stories. Reruns — aired in New York City and beyond by WPIX for years and years beginning shortly after Star Trek was canceled by NBC — presented the show more or less as it had been originally produced. (The “less” part came from two things — wear and tear on the film prints, which WPIX replaced with tapes in the 1980s, and editing to accommodate more commercials and other promotions.)

Information in 1979 wasn’t as easy to obtain as it is now, when lifetimes’ worth of video, audio and other content can be accessed nearly anywhere with a lap- or palmtop device. Still, newspapers, television and magazines — I particularly remember drooling over issues of Starlog — did an ample job of spreading the word about upcoming movies. And believe you me, I was very excited for the premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in December 1979.

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The 2016 ‘Star Trek’ movie urged viewers to tolerate and embrace differences even as some Americans sought safety in homogeneity

April 28, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 28, 2017

Author’s note: I am once again on a bit of a Star Trek kick. Having just written, respectively, about the most recent and the first Trek movies, I now intend to discuss the cultural and political implications of the latest Star Trek and Star Wars features (that’s the purpose of this post). Be on the lookout for a vignette about going to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture in the movie theater, after which I’ll return to more varied subjects. MEM

The Star Wars franchise is a largely apolitical one. Creator George Lucas conceived of his space saga in largely black-and-white terms. The color lines were literal in some cases, as when the towering evil black-clad Sith Lord, Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones), menaced the elfin, virtuous white-clad rebel, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) in 1977’s Star Wars (retroactively retitled Star Wars: A New Hope).

Lucas later introduced some more nuance and ambiguity, with moody protagonist Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) donning dark-colored apparel for the latter half of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and most of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. And to his credit, Lucas attempted to explore what happens when peaceful societies are overtaken by complacency, greed and corruption in his prequel trilogy.

But even in the prequel trilogy, Lucas was pretty light on specificity; other than “Don’t vote to establish a standing army” or “Don’t entrust leadership of your enfeebled and embattled republic to a creepy politician who is also secretly a master manipulator and skilled warrior with awesome telekinetic powers who can shoot death lightning from his fingertips,” he offers no solid prescriptions for preserving peace and democracy. This is, perhaps, no surprise: The franchise is called Star Wars, after all, not Star Governance.

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The flawed but beautiful ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ successfully launched a pioneering TV show onto the silver screen

April 25, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 25, 2017

A strong case can be made that 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the most ambitious movie in the Trek franchise, as well as the one that holds truest to the science fiction tropes of peaceful exploration that were famously embodied by Gene Roddenberry’s original television series. And an equally strong case can be made that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is among the least watchable of all the Trek films, both on the franchise’s own terms as well as those of cinema in general.

(Reader beware: Mild spoilers ensure.)

Before I dive into either argument, a plot summary: An presmense and incredibly powerful energy field of unknown origin is flying toward Earth after having erased three Klingon battle cruisers without breaking sweat. Strangely, although Starfleet is headquartered on Earth, the organization has only one ship capable of intercepting this vast cloud, which we eventually learn calls itself V’ger. That vessel, naturally, is one U.S.S. Enterprise. She is fresh off a two and a half year long refit without having undergone a shakedown cruise, she’s assigned to an untested captain, and her crew is young and largely untried.

Enter one Admiral James Tiberius Kirk (the one and only William Shatner), who has (it is strongly implied) spent the interim period serving as chief of Starfleet operations. He persuades his boss (the unseen Admiral Nogura) to restore Enterprise to his command, usurping the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Capt. Willard Decker (Stephen Collins). As the crew struggles to prepare the starship for its upcoming encounter, and as Kirk comes to grips with the challenges of the situation, the starship finds itself facing a powerful entity that regards humanity as an infestation. Life on Earth could be exterminated unless Kirk and his top officers — Decker, a cranky Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and an incredibly remote Spock (Leonard Nimoy) — find a way to work together and satisfy V’ger’s desire to unite with God.

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An adolescent explores frontiers within and without in Jonathan Lethem’s ‘Girl in Landscape’

April 21, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 21, 2017

Jonathan Lethem’s 1998 novel Girl in Landscape is a coming-of-age tale set on an alien world.

The story unspools from the point of view of 13-year-old Pella Marsh. Her father, Clement Marsh, a New York politician, recently lost an election and is planning to move to an alien world with his wife, daughter and two young sons. Their preparations are interrupted when Caitlin, Pella’s mother, suddenly falls ill in a prologue set on a future Earth.

The old world is a dire place. Most humans (at least in New York) have retreated underground because the sun’s intense radiation has made the outdoors deadly. But the city’s infrastructure is failing, and morale seems to be terrible. Indeed, the deadly collapse of a subway tunnel combined with the specter of mass suicides — Raymond, the 10-year-old middle child, calls this “that lemming thing” — are two major reasons why Marsh’s party lost the election in a landslide.

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Two reporters search for truth in the nation’s capital in the taut 2009 thriller ‘State of Play’

April 18, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 18, 2017

State of Play, the 2009 feature starring Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams as Washington newspaper reporters, is a well-paced political thriller with some conventional notions about power and some curious notions about journalism.

The movie, co-written by Matthew Michael Carnahan (World War ZDeepwater Horizon), Tony Gilroy (Michael ClaytonDuplicity and Rogue One) and Billy Ray (BreachShattered Glass and Captain Phillips), is based on a 2003 British miniseries of the same name written by Paul Abbott. But it feels thoroughly American, despite having a New Zealander (Crowe) portraying a blue-collar Pittsburgh native and being directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland), a Scotsman who’s mainly helmed documentaries.

The film opens with a stone-faced man (Michael Berresse) pumping bullets into a teenage junkie (LaDell Preston) who had the misfortune of crossing him and a pizza delivery man (Dan Brown) who had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Later that morning, as a Washington Globe crime reporter named Cal McAffrey (Crowe) begins investigating why an unknown single shooter has apparently attacked two very disparate targets, a young congressional aide named Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer) dies after being pushed into the path of an oncoming Metro train.

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The inventive comedy ‘Colossal’ shows what happens when a woman’s life becomes a disaster, both literally and figuratively

April 15, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 15, 2017

Minutes after the start of Colossal, Nacho Vigalondo’s quirky, entertaining new comedy, the protagonist’s life has crashed to a halt. Party girl Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is thrown out of her tony New York apartment by her exasperated boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), who says he can no longer put up with her joblessness and drinking. The chronically directionless 30something woman, now suddenly homeless, retreats to the unfurnished vacation house her absent parents own in the small town of Mainhead, where she grew up.

Little does she know that her ordeal is about to get even worse. On the plus side, she reconnects with a solicitous old school friend, bar owner Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who offers her a job, jump-starts her interior decorating, and gives her a set of instant buddies in the form of his pals Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell). On the minus side, she soon realizes that her intoxicated early-morning forays through a local park are linked with the manifestation of an immense monster that has begun terrorizing Seoul.

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The Enterprise crew takes an entertaining but inessential voyage in ‘Star Trek Beyond’

April 13, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 13, 2017

Star Trek Beyond, the third entry in J.J. Abrams’s reboot of the venerable science fiction franchise, is a pleasant but ultimately inessential way to pass two hours.

As the picture begins, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the intrepid crew of the starship Enterprise are roughly three years into their five-year mission. But Kirk has grown weary of deep-space exploration (there’s an amusing shot of him opening his closet to see several hangers displaying identical uniforms). Meanwhile, his first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto), feels compelled to break off his relationship with the human communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) because of his wish to help propagate the Vulcan species. This longing is only magnified when he learns of the death of Ambassador Spock (the late Leonard Nimoy, glimpsed in stills), his counterpart from and link to the original Star Trek TV series.

When Enterprise puts in for resupplying, rest and recreation at the remote (and oddly named) Starbase Yorktown after an unsuccessful attempt to broker peace between two warring alien races, there’s a distinct air of discontent about the ship. And yet Kirk remains up for a challenge; when the alien Kalara (Lydia Wilson) rockets toward Yorktown on an escape pod spinning a tale about how her crew has been marooned on an even more remote planet named Altamid, the captain gathers his crew for a voyage through an uncharted nebula.

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Cheeps and Chirps for April 10, 2017

April 10, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 10, 2017

Spring is here. What better time than now to revisit my tweets? (Since we haven’t done this since January, and since I can’t bear to squander any precious gems, this installment will run from late January through the end of February; I’ll catch up on the rest later.)

 

• Donald Trump tackles immigration

 

• Donald Trump makes dubious personnel choices 

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March 25, 2017, mall Scrabble recap, part 3

April 8, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 8, 2017

Two straight defeats had dropped my record to an unremarkable 3-3, and my seventh game would hardly be a walk in the park. My opponent was to be K.L., the event’s second-highest-seeded player.

Playing first, K.L. began the game with IODINE 16. My response, PEONY, garnered 15 points — and that was as close as I would get in the contest.

K.L.’s second move was WHIM 45, which scored 13 points more than my biggest play of the game. I answered with MOB 22 to put me behind, 61-37, after two full turns.

We traded standard plays in turn 3 — MOURN 14 for her, RUIN 6 for me — before things really got out of hand. K.L. dropped AHOYING, a 96-point bingo. That put me in a 171-43 hole. (Much later, I would learn that this word isn’t valid in Scrabble, or probably anywhere else. Alas, ’twas too late.)

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March 25, 2017, mall Scrabble recap, part 2

April 7, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 7, 2017

Coming out of the lunch break, I was pitted against my friend D—, whom I’d beaten 395-344 in Delaware in December. (Our only other previous official encounter had been a 355-310 decision in his favor in September 2012.) Playing second, he took a 51-42 lead in turn 3 with MUTER 25, which I considered challenging but ultimately opted not to.

Things got worse for me in turn 4, as D— bingoed with OVERrUN 72. I was able to make up a bit of ground in turn 5, however, with QUIRT 48. (As in game 1, I got the Q on a double-letter-score bonus and the T on a double-word-score bonus.) Alas, D—’s follow-up was RELAX 47, so I ended the turn trailing 170-106.

Neither of us knew it then, but the tide was about to turn in my favor. My sixth move was WINCE 39, which spotted the W on a triple-word-score bonus and the C on a double-letter-score spot. (The E was helpfully provided by the second letter in RELAX.) I added to my score in turns 7 and 8 with THEY 23 and GOUDA 22, respectively.

Meanwhile, D— fell into a slump, at least compared to how he’d opened the game. His lead — just 200-168 after seven turns — was further cut to 200-190 after I put down GOUDA. That word proved to be pivotal, although neither of us knew it at the time.

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