Star Trek: Picard – Season 1, Episode 7 – “Nepenthe” – Exploring Home and a Mistake

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     “Nepenthe” is an episode that feels organic. This could have easily turned into fanservice with the reunion between Picard, Riker and Troi and I felt like it didn’t. The characters have all changed and grown from the people they were before, while still remaining true to their core selves. In lesser hands they could have easily been caricatures of the people they were before. This isn’t a favorite episode though due to two things that happen, that I’ll get into below.

The episode was directed by Douglas Aarniokoski and written by Michael Chabon and Samantha Humphrey.

The story picks up with Picard and Soji meeting up with Kestra, daughter of Riker and Troi. As they go to them for safety Elnor attempts to escape with Hugh from the Cube and Agnes Jurati begins to face what she did to Bruce Maddox.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Soji and Kestra – One of the relationships that shows us more of who Soji is, is her relationship with Kestra, the daughter of Riker and Troi. Kestra invents langauges and hunts and is very open. This openness and honesty puts Soji at ease and helps her sort through all she’s been through. Kestra is also Soji’s ally. Soji ends up being an older sister of sorts and I really enjoyed how their friendship grew.

Riker and Troi – Riker and Troi are awesome in this. They are supportive of Picard, while still holding him accountable. When Picard mocks Soji’s doubting of all she knows to be true Troi reminds Picard that as Captain he was better, while Riker said he just could have invited her to dinner. We see more of the people who they are as Troi is the glue of the family, we learn they lost a child and because of it she can’t go back into Starfleet again, while Riker is still on reserve within Starfleet. They are a contrast to Picard and help him only to grow. It was wonderful seeing them again.

Events on the La Sirena – On the ship Agnes is having mental breakdown as she accepts she killed Bruce Maddox and as the Narek tracks them with the tracking device Commodore Oh had given to her. It is very well done as her being treated as innocent is too much to take and she attempts to kill herself to get Narek off their trail. The episode handles this arc really well.

The Theme of Home – Home is a major theme of the episode. Soji realizes that was what the Romulans were using her for, and we see how home is safety for Riker, Troi and Kestra and in that adopted home is also a safe haven for Soji and Picard. This theme was beautifully handled.

The Cons:

Attribute Marina Sirtis as Guest Star – I don’t know why she wasn’t given guest credit, but it annoyed me. She is just as central to the episode as Jonathan Frakes and the producers should have known better.

Death of Hugh – Hugh is killed when he decides he is going to help Elnor get to the Queen’s Chamber. I wish he’d been leading the xB’s in revolt against the romulans who were controlling them at least. There is always the chance he could be brought back, Seven has resurrected the dead with nano-probes in the past and she is set to show up next episode. We’ll see what happens. Hugh is my favorite character on the show besides Laris and deserved a better death at the very least.

This was a good episode. Things finally come to a head with Dr. Jurati and what she did, we get some more time with Hugh and the reunion with Picard, Riker and Trio was beautifully written. This episode has a lot happen but doesn’t feel rushed and it is this pacing that helped it remain as strong as it did. I’m curious to see what will happen and if Riker will come to Picard’s rescue in the end.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10 My issues with the episode where elevated by the solid writing going on everywhere else but “The Artifact.”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 3, Episode 14 – “Heart of Stone” – Forging a Separate Identity

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  This is a review that was inspired to honor the life of Aron Eisenberg, who died September 21st, 2019 of this year. I know him largely because of his role as Nog, who is easily one of the most well rounded character in “Star Trek” to have one of the most well developed arcs. I’m grateful I got to hear more of his story and the lives he touched in the “What We Left Behind” Documentary. Aron was amazing in this role and his podcast he formed after is amazing too. The world lost an amazingly talented individual this year and my heart goes out to his family. I chose this episode because of how well it captures the arc Nog goes through and the choice he makes as well as the sheer range of Aron Eisenberg had as an actor. Before I get into spoilers, this is a good episode you should watch.

The episode was directed by Alexander Singer and written by Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe.

The story follows Odo and Kira as they pursue a Maquis Raider leading to Kira becoming trapped in a collapsing cave, as on “Deep Space Nine” Nog wants join Starfleet and finds himself up against his past and Federation prejudice.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Odo and Kira Plot – The Odo and Kira plot is really an exploration of Odo and one of the core reasons why he hasn’t rejoined his people in the Gamma Quadrant. It is here we see it is due to his deep friendship and love of Kira. At one point when he believes she will die he stays with her, willing to risk his own life because being with her matters that much. We can see how much their relationship has grown over the years too, as the episode starts out with them bickering like a married couple. It is a well done plot that is only made less by the reveal and us having to wait for the true payoff later.

Nog and Starfleet Prejudice – The B Plot involves Nog and his coming of age. It begins with him in Ferengi custom giving his earnings to in Ferengi society would be his mentor to train him in whatever art of business he is seeking. In this case Nog gives his gold pressed latinum to Commander Sisko. Sikso at first doesn’t believe him and it isn’t just him. Even Jazdia who is one of the more open minded members of the crew even doubts now genuine Nog is and it not being some trick. It is sad given that Federation prejudice is so strong that even a culture that is open minded isn’t trusting someone who is giving everything to be a part of them. For Commander Sisko this is explored deeper as we learn that the reasons behind Nog wanting to join Starfleet is because he wants a future and he knows he “doesn’t have the lobes” for business, like his father Rom. After this confession he is accepted and Nog’s story in Starfleet begins.

Forging a Separate Identity – The theme of this episode is one of forming a separate identity beyond what is forced upon you. The Founders want Odo to join but he constantly rejects them. It is here where the reveal is Kira was never in danger is discovered and it was the Female Founder all along. Odo’s denial of his people’s desire to control and his attachment to solids is the point of his arc, where in the case of Rom it is his rejection of Ferengi business society and him seeking to be appreciated for his talents for the greater good are there. He forges a separate path, but unlike the Founders who reject Odo’s path…Rom is proud of Nog for the path he chooses.

Nog and Rom – The best arc in this episode is Nog’s arc as we see someone already judged for the mistakes he made as a child and for being a Ferengi opening up and forging his own future. He is the first Ferengi to join Starfleet and this is the episode where it happens. All of this is driven by his father. Rom is abused by his brother Quark and though he is a genius when it comes to tech. Quark doesn’t admit or see it at this point. Nog, is the only one who does and in turn Rom sees the potential that exists in Starfleet for Nog so supports his choice. It is a small scene but the scene Nog and Rom have together when Rom supports his choice is just as powerful as when Commander Sisko does after Nog tells him why he wants to join in the first place. This is the heart of the episode and what makes it so great.

Okay:

The Reveal – The Founders do so much manipulation and this felt like another base Founder Plot. It wasn’t bad but they must have known that Odo cared for the crew as his family too. Making the love for Kira makes sense given what we saw in prior episodes but I fail to see how that is useful to the Founders unless they are going to use Kira to bring Odo back to them. During the “Occupation of Deep Space Nine,” I didn’t see that level of thinking things through. Kira was used but it seems like Odo staying played a bigger factor in them influencing him than Kira. That is why this reveal is fine, but it isn’t great. I would have preferred Kira saying she loved Odo being real. Once you have that confession it just gets weaker when it is the real thing. Don’t do fake outs in shows unless it means you’ll do it in a better way.

If you are a fan of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” you probably loved this episode. This is a great ensemble piece that develops Odo and Nog as well showing that the Federation has prejudice that this episode never really addresses. Why can’t a Ferengi join Starfleet? It makes me think that Worf probably experienced similar prejudice because of the Klingon and Federation Wars. I enjoy episodes that critique the Federation and show that it still needs to grow. This is true to human nature and part of what made “Deep Space Nine” work is because of how it did call out xenophobia, racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry, even as the show itself was still maturing in that growth and did vary by writer. The progressive future of “Star Trek” is one of hope and where I hope someday humanity can be, even if won’t be within my lifetime. “Star Trek” is about the goal of the better future and within the show we see that in the individual fights our characters face, such as what Nog faced in joining Starfleet.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10 This was a great episode in “Deep Space Nine.”

R.I.P. Aron Eisenberg. You touched so many lives and this review is to honor you and the amazing life you lived.

Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019): A Worthy Adaptation of the Comic

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This was a solid adaptation of the comic. The comic is better, but this was DC Animation showing that they know what to do with their stories. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman teaming up is such a camp concept and I have so much joy over the fact that the concept works. Comics are so supposed to be creative and think outside of the box and the comic and film both do this.

The film was directed by Jake Castoreno and written by Marly Halpern-Graser.

The story follows Batman as he investigates mysterious robberies of Wayne Industries Technology by mutant beings. Batman than investigates congruently with Batgirl and Robin to unravel the mystery.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action in this film is quite enjoyable. We get some good face-offs with characters and who they team up with. For example at one point we have Michelangelo loving Mr. Freeze while Damian is more serious, Batgirl and Donatello team up and Leonardo and Batman. We also get to see Batman face off against Shredder a few times and the team against Joker and Harley Quinn. This was easily the thing that kept me drawn into the movie the most and I’m glad the action meant something.

The World – This is the multi-verse world where the Shredder and his Foot Clan are in Gotham stealing technology and where Batman where Batgirl as Barbara Gordon and a Damian Robin are Batman’s team. It is a fascinating place to explore as from the team-up you expect a more grittier era but the world is balanced because there exist mutant turtles hunting down an evil ninja clan. Gotham and the world of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” work really together and I think that is due to both having gritty initial roots but having so much camp and crazy exist as well. This whole idea wouldn’t exist without being open to possibilities.

The Turtles – The Turtles are great and aren’t overused. Donatello forms a friendship with Batgirl, Raphael forms a friendship with Robin and a respect for Batman and Michelangelo grows into a greater hero with Batman’s help. The dynamic between them is classic with Raphael wanting to go rogue and I do love this version of Donatello, which plays up his smarts. Michelangelo even has moments of heroism and is the key to the story, which is rare in most “TMNT” stories I’ve watched.

Batman and Team – Troy Baker does an excellent job voicing both Batman and the Joker in this. He’s voiced the Joker before in “Arkham Origins” and this film really shows just how much range he has. The Batman is the perspective we first see and in a way they drive the story as the action largely takes place in Gotham.

The Ooze and Gotham – The Ooze is used after Ra’s al Ghul and Shredder team up and the inmates of Arkham Asylum are transformed into animal forms. We have Baine as a Jaguar, Mr. Freeze as a Polar Bear, Scarecrow as a crow, Harley as a Hyena (Voiced by the amazing Tara Strong!) and the Joker as a Cobra. In the comics there are more rogues transformed (also honorable mentions to Two-Face as Two-Faced cat and Poison Ivy as a Venus Fly Trap) but the core fights are the ones mentioned first. The ooze drives the story (as it is what turned the turtles into mutants) and at one point Batman is changed into a mutant bat that is against all things. It is only Michelangelo who saves him with the cure. This whole sequence was solid action and I liked that Batman needed help and also the fact it was the most underrated Ninja Turtle helped. Michelangelo saves Batman after he is transformed. It was a moment you rarely see in most Turtle films as Mikey is usually there only for comedic relief. Also major props to Troy Baker for voicing both Batman and the Joker beautifully.

Shredder – Shredder is really the guy in charge this time around. Ra’s al Ghul does ally with him and uses infecting the inmates of Gotham as a distraction but Shredder double crosses him and admits he plans to invade this universe and conquer it with his Foot Clan. He never stops being a threat and Batman is fought to a draw with him quite a few times before he is finally beat. The cool thing is his story doesn’t end there as the Ooze mixed with Joker Venom infects him and he transforms into Joker Shredder setting up a sequel. Giving they did this it better payoff.

Okay:

The Animation – The animation flows but you can also see how it is working with a budget. The comic has a level of detail that this animated feature simply does not have. It isn’t bad animation but the simplification hurts when the turtles are on screen as they feel less realized than the detail that was put into any human character on screen. Again, it wasn’t bad but I cannot put it as a pro.

Ra’s al Ghul – Ra’s al Ghul is not as compelling as the Shredder in this. The biggest reason is he is introduced late and we never have any worthy face-offs with Batman. In the first volume of the comic was far more compelling and essential. I like him facing off against Michelangelo but he never becomes a great villain. If anything he would have fit sticking around to fight in Arkham Asylum as it would have made him facing off against Damian and Batman mean more and give more power to Shredder’s inevitable betrayal.

The Cons:

Not A Complete Story – Volume 1 of “Batman vs. TMNT” was a complete story that did not need a sequel. This one is setting up a sequel, which is cool but I’ve seen enough shows and films crash and burn to know how arrogant that is. I loved that Shredder transformed but I hate the assumption that there will be a sequel when that is never a given.

If you like DC Animation, of which I am a fan this is a film well worth your time. It isn’t as great as the comic which I’d argue is a near perfect adaptation of the premise. This is film with decent animation and action with a compelling overall story. It i is overall faithful to the original comic while focusing in on the core fights. Initially this did annoy me but I like how it lead to the bonds forming between Batgirl, Robin and the Turtles. This is also an acquired taste. For me it was solidly good cause I like both of these universes, but for others it might be a bit more out of the bag. Regardless this film was so much fun.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solid adaptation that could have been great.

Juni Taisen: Zodiac War – A Solid Battle Royale Anime That Tackles Meaning and Purpose

    I’m a fan of complete stories, and stories with consequences. This goes for shows, books, films, etc. If I start something, I want to finish it. That is what lead me to this series, and one of the reasons I love Battle Royale animes. Battle Royale is a style of anime where a group of characters are in a tournament, fighting to the death, and there can only be one team or one person left alive. Think “Hunger Games” in terms of scale.

“Juni Taisen: Zodiac War” is an anime based off a light novel (interactive book), by Nisio Isin, which was illustrated by Hikaru Nakamura. It takes place in the modern day where a war rages between 12 families, named after the 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac fight (Ox, Dragon, Snake, Monkey, etc.). World Leaders bet on who will win, and the winner has a wish granted as their reward.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – The world is full of magic and technology, and each family has a power or ability that is passed down through blood. This makes the wars between them fascinating and adds a darker element to it all, as each ability is used to maximize killing. The world is full of constant war and political intrigue, and this plays into the characters chosen to fight in the tournament.

Characters – Not all the characters are strong or interesting. I couldn’t stand Snake and Dragon as they were just like Beavis and Butthead. Horse needed more character development. How women are objectified ends up taking away from a few backstories, too. There are a few characters that do manage to carry this 12 episode series though.

Boar – Boar is our introduction to this world. She is the daughter of the winner of the last tournament. She wants to be the best more than anything and to be loved by her father. This leads to her driving her sister insane when her father chooses her sister over her. The reasons behind this are never fully explored, but given how sociopathic her father is, he turned sister against sister to see who he could make the most ruthless. She’s a broken character, but she loves the rage of battle. We see how her father’s views shape her, making her vulnerable, which is contrasted by the hard, collected exterior she presents to others.

Monkey – Monkey is the peacemaker, driven by the desire to bring about world peace. She is a planner and has a way of disarming people with her kindness. She is one of the most powerful members in the tournament, as she controls the elements. She only dies when Rabbit uses the others he has killed to catch her off guard. Monkey is the only good person in the tournament, as many are driven by much more selfish means.

Tiger – Tiger fights in a drunken rage. Having to fight in the wars that the families take part in breaks her spirit, and makes her a nihilist. This leads to her drinking and fighting, which leads to her forgetting herself, getting kicked out of her family and living by instinct. Her arc is about finding herself again, as when Ox rescues her one of the days she is drunk prior to the tournament, and that drives her to be better. Her story is touching. In the end she sacrifices herself to save Ox from Rabbit, and is the only member of the tournament to die happy.

Ox – Ox is the Samurai archetype. This is a man who fights for honor and in defense of others. He has no abilities, but is methodical in his killing, becoming known as the “Genius of Slaughter.” He chooses not to kill in the end, in regards to Tiger. We see him as someone who has lived his entire life killing and found no purpose beyond how he kills. It is in his final act of risking his life, so Rat can defeat Rabbit, that we see that he finally finds purpose, just as his friend Tiger did.

Rabbit – Rabbit is an insane necromantist whose soul desires to make everyone his “friends,” as in kill them and make them his minions. He is unpredictable and the main antagonist of the series, as he outmatches every single character. His winning means the end of the world. It takes multiple characters working together, starting with Monkey and ending with the actions of Ox and Tiger, that lead to Rat finally being able to defeat him. The final fights are amazing, and that is mostly due to just how impressive Rabbit is as an enemy.

Shaped by Trauma – One of the major themes of the series is how trauma shapes you. Chicken was abused as a child so they learn to use vulnerability as a tool, Tiger’s trauma shapes her into a weapon, Horse’s trauma leads to him pumping himself full of drugs to be the strongest, and Monkey’s trauma drives her to try and bring about peace. These are a few examples of what makes the characters, who drive the story, so compelling. All of them were born out of conflict and their actions are shaped by it.

Character Contrast – Each of the characters has another aspect about themselves that is contrasted with the face they wear during the tournament. Ox is a brutal unfeeling killer, yet dies for another. Tiger is reckless and violent but her final actions are driven by love, Rabbit brings people back to life because he is lonely and wants to be with people, Horse is a powerful soldier but in the end dies afraid and trapped, unable move past his fear.

The Cons:

Dragon and Snake – I hated Dragon and Snake. These two are thieves who present themselves as helping the poor, but will take any contract, even killing the very people they were helping. We never find out why though. They have no clear motivation in their actions, and it just makes them bland. These characters just act bored or crazy, and it does nothing to develop them. These two received two episodes to explore their backstory, which really should have gone to Ox or Rabbit. The writer didn’t care about these characters, and in the end, we don’t either.

How the Show Presents Women – Women in this are presented as victims only. Monkey is a victim of failed treaties she made, Chicken from abusive parents, Tiger from War, and Boar by her father. On top of this most of them are presented as sexual objects. Where the men get outfits that would function in combat or cover most of their body. With the exception of Boar and Monkey, everyone else is in underwear or less. This was so stupid, especially in regards to Tiger, who is a soldier, and Chicken, who is a spy. This is a common trope in anime and one I really hope is changed. Every character deserves full development and respectful presentation. Objectification does nothing but cheapen the character.

The Ending – Rat wins because of his ability to see up to 100 different possibilities and choose the best path to take. So what does he do? What did he learn from all these characters, their motivations, and wishes? Nothing, seriously… the ending is awful. Rat chooses to forget he ever took part in the tournament, which is problematic given it makes all the deaths meaningless, and it doesn’t keep him from being put back into another tournament. He doesn’t help anyone and he doesn’t solve the problem of the tournament’s existence. I hated the ending, and it is one reason I can’t really call this series good.

If you are fan of Battle Royale animes you should check this one out. It is entertaining and there are some great character moments, the animation and action are fantastic too. What brings it down is the common anime trope of the objectification of women, and certain character arcs having no payoff; as well as, an ending that isn’t worth your time. Seriously if you want the best of this anime, watch everything but the last episode, and skip the Dragon and Snake episodes. Besides that, this was entertaining but extremely flawed.

Final Score: 7 / 10

 

“Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1 – An Exploration of Identity and the Cost of War

      “Star Trek: Discovery” is enjoyable, but not without its flaws. It is a very different kind of Trek and feels like a mixture of the Abrams Reboot Universe meets DS9. DS9 is the far better show but this show explores a lot of similar themes, such as the cost of war and issues of identity. These are the core reasons why I enjoyed the show, beyond the characters of the main cast.

The show was created by Bryan Fuller (of NBC “Hannibal) fame) and Alex Kurtzman (who co-wrote the first to Abrams Trek films.

The story follows Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) a human raised by Vulcans and a member of Starfleet responsible for starting the Klingon-Federation War, while a new Religious faction lead by T’Kuvma seeks to unite all the houses against the Federation. It is up to her and the crew of the Discovery lead by Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) to find a solution to end the conflict she started.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – I am a Trekkie, and this is a universe that at the core enriches what already exists in a Universe that spans The Original Series (TOS) to Voyager (VOY), from other universes like the Mirror Universe and Abramsverse. It is filled with countless aliens, conflicts and self-discovery. Star Trek: Discovery takes place 10 years before TOS and explores the details of the Klingon-Federation war. Characters are forced to take risks and pushed to their limits.

The Crew of Discovery – The crew is a diverse band of misfits. You have the Chief Engineer Stamets (played by Anthony Rapp) is gay, the ruthless Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) the fearful First Officer Saru (Doug Jones) and Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is autistic. To say nothing of a human raised on Vulcan, the main hero Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the conflicted Klingon sleeper-agent Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif). Their journeys drive the show and make it worth watching.

Cadet Tilly – As someone on the autism spectrum (aspergers) it was wonderful finally seeing a character explicitly like me on “Star Trek.” Tilly is a character whose arc involves growing into confidence and taking risks, as so much of what drives her is the safety of her environment. Which for the longest time, was what I needed. Getting out of one’s comfort zone is how a person grows and Tilly faces that challenge multiple times…from going undercover as her Mirror Universe counterpart (who is an evil Captain) to dangerous away missions. I think someday she will achieve her dream of becoming a Starfleet Captain.

Chief Engineer Stamets – Stamets is the first openly gay character in any Star Trek. He is also the core of the ship, when in the end, he is the only one who can work The Spore Drive…a device that can warp the Discovery through space, time and even between dimensions. His heart is torn out when his boyfriend is killed, but he finds balance and closure in one of the most beautifully executed arcs of the show.  He is my favorite “Star Trek” engineer at this point besides O’Brien and Scotty.

First Officer Saru – Another of my favorites out of “Star Trek” lore at this point is Saru. This character is a Kelpien. He is part of a prey species on his world, and was hunted by the larger beings. How they advanced so far has yet to explained but his arc is finding the strength to be Captain. Doug Jones who I loved as the creature in “The Shape of Water,” once again shows why he is the monster master. He gives so much expression with his inflection, and eyes. Saru is my favorite character on the show and the one person who isn’t morally compromised. He is Starfleet and I hope he can Captain the Discovery next season.

The Spore Drive -The discovery in Discovery is all tied to the Spore Drive. The Drive is infinite possibilities as the ways of riding the Spore Network are discovered. It also provides conflict too as to use the Drive, it has to be controlled by a living organism (who is at risk everytime they make a “jump.” The discoveries are what drive the action and they are all tied to the Spore Drive. Whether it is Stamets in the network talking to other versions of himself, jumping to the mirror Universe or jumping to many locations in an instant…these are only some of the countless possibilities created by this device.

The Mirror Universe – At one point we cross over into the Mirror Universe…a world familiar to Trekkies where our heroes are villains. This is a 4 episode arc with tons of twists and reveals. We discover darker sides of characters we didn’t know before (as they have to pretend to be their evil counterparts so the Terran Empire doesn’t discover them), and get some wrenching emotional payoffs. This arc is later in the show, but has easily some of the best storytelling.

War and Loss – The other theme of the show, beyond discovery that the Spore Drive grants is the cost of war. We see this in the Klingon-Federation War, and how it starts, when Burnham’s anger martyr’s the Klingon leader T’Kuvma, after he had murdered her Captain. We lose a lot of people in the war, from Voq (An undercover Klingon sleeper-agent on Discovery) killing Stamets’s boyfriend, to the destruction of the Klingon Death Ship (the flagship of their fleet), to near obliteration of Qo’noS (The Klingon homeworld). The war makes the Federation ruthless and we see just how destructive the Klingon Empire can be.

Exploration of Identity – Identity is a major theme of the story, with the characters who best represent this being Michael Burnham (a human raised by Vulcans) and Ash Tyler (a Klingon pretending to be human). In both cases it involves finding balance within themselves and letting go of anger. These two identities are the main arc of the show beyond characters dealing with the actions of their Mirror Universe counterparts. This exploration starts in the beginning at the Pilot and never stops until the end of the season as it is in the Finale that Burnham and Tyler find the inner peace they are looking for.

Okay:

The Pilot – The pilot is long and boring. Though it is beautiful and has great action it could have been one really long episode or revealed and flashbacks, which would have served the story better. All it really does is set up Michael Burnham’s backstory and the reason why she is now on Discovery. Beyond that, we knew this show was about the Klingon-Federation War and didn’t need every detail as to why the Federation was now fighting it, especially the war’s resolution is not played out within the first few episodes.

Ash Tyler – Voq is Ash Tyler’s true self. He is  the Torchbearer of the Klingons and he imprints Ash’s identity upon himself as to get the secrets on Discovery I liked the romance with Burnham, but I felt their needed to be more knowledge on both whom Tyler and Voq were. They are useful plot devices, but they never grow beyond that. They both deserved better given each is compelling in their own way but in them being 2 separate identities the exploration they both needed is never received.

Fanservice – Captain Lorca has a tribble (no payoff), we see Andorians, Tellerites and Vulcans (founding members of the Federation), Burnham’s adopted dad is Sarek and in the end we see the original Enteprise with Captain Pike. Some of this was good, the other species showing up was something I wanted when I heard about this show, but ending it with Pike was total fanservice and was like the Khan reveal in “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” It was not needed and only hurt the story.

The Cons:

The Klingon Scenes – Klingons only speak Klingon and in turn we get no time to know the characters, because we are reading the subtitles. Because of this, we are told how the Klingons are but we rarely get to see their actions beyond the fights with Discovery.

The Ending of Captain Lorca’s Arc – Lorca is the “ends justify the means” Captain. We learn how he killed his crew to keep them from being taken prisoner. We see that ruthlessness again when he saves Federation colonies and how he will do anything to save the Federation. Well, he’s a Mirror Universe rebel who just wants to be Emperor. That was such an awful payoff as they just made him a creeper villain. All complexity was erased so that his arc could be simplified. I hated it.

In future seasons I would like to see much less fanservice, more focus on discovery, more problem solving that isn’t through violence and some of the characters who left at the end of this season returning. The core of this show is great and even with all the flaws that brought it down, this a show that I will rewatch when it returns to Netflix. If you are a fan of “Star Trek,” chances are you will enjoy this show as much as I did. At the end of the day it captures the core ideas of “Star Trek,” and even the worst of the cons didn’t take way from my enjoyment of this season.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great even with all of the flaws.

Coco (2017): An Amazing Pixar Epic That Explores Family and Love

     Pixar has done it again. “Coco” is easily the best film their studio has put out since “Inside Out” and is definitely in my  Top 5 films made by the studio. This is film full of beautiful creativity, action that matters, a powerful message and enthralling characters. For my non-spoiler thoughts, this is Pixar and it isn’t a sequel, go and see it. Hopefully “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” will have been taken out before you see it too, I’m doing that as a separate review but it was the worst part of the viewing experience.

The film was directed by Lee Unkrich, written by Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich and produced by Darla K. Anderson.

The story follows Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) a young boy who wants to be a musician but whose family has abandoned music after their ancestor left his wife long ago and never returned to become a musician. From here he finds himself pulled into the Land of the Dead as he seeks his ancestors blessing in order to return to the Land of the Living before he a curse he brought about sets in on himself and his family.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Animation – This is easily one of the best looking Pixar film since “Inside Out.” Like “Inside Out” it is colorful and full of contrasts and our characters are each distinct both in look and the voices portraying them. This is also Pixar, so great animation isn’t too much of a surprise, it just really stood out in this film.

The Family and Their Dynamics – The main drama that drives the story is Miguel’s relationship to his family and the relationship between his last known living ancestors. The story starts out with Miguel wanting to be a musician and believing the famous celebrity who died named Ernesto de la Cruz is his ancestor because of the picture on his mantel and the fact that he was from his village. His family does all they can to keep from music (his grandmother even breaks his guitar), leading him to go the Land of the Dead where he seeks de la Cruz’s blessing (as his ancestor Imelda will not give it). The story unfolds from here as the ancestors try to get him back to send him home so they won’t be cursed and as the story unfolds we learn more about Imelda’s relationship to music and her missing husband as the family comes together over the course of the film.

The Land of the Dead – The Land of the Dead is wonderfully done. It is a mixture of eras and technology and they even have a travel system on Day of the Dead where your face is checked to see if someone has put your picture up in the Land of the Living. It is all creatively done and built on popularity (with Ernesto de la Cruz being the star). I wanted to see more of this place as we get to see the entrance and the city but also the underbelly where Hector lives where those who are forgotten live before they pass away forever.

Hector and Imelda – These two were my favorite characters and their drama is the core of the story as Hector went off to be a musician and was killed by Ernesto when he tried to return home. Because Imelda was living on her own supporting Coco she started her family’s obsession with shoes as that was how they built a livelihood. Their arc is coming together again and taking down de la Cruz as Imelda discovers her love of singing again and Hector becomes part of the family once more as they are both reunited with Coco a year later after she dies.

The Coco Scenes – Coco is an ancient old woman and Miguel’s Great Grandmother. For much of the film she doesn’t interact at all, except for calling out her father’s name. It is this way until the end when Miguel returns and plays her song, “Remember Me,” that Hector used to sing to her before he would travel and do concerts. We learn she held onto his songs and a portion of the photograph her mother had torn and through remembering Hector he is remembered and doesn’t die in the Land of the Dead, with Coco joining her parents a year later. It is powerful and I teared up when Miguel sings her the song that Hector always had.

Okay: Ernesto de la Cruz – Benjamin Bratt voices a great villain as Cruz is one who only cares about seizing the moment and holding onto his station in life. He killed Hector and nearly kills Miguel, all to keep his power. I wish he’d been more complex, but as a villain you think might be a good guy at first, he was fun, so not a con.

Entering the Land of the Dead – Miguel enters the Land of the Dead when he plays his father’s guitar. There isn’t a reason given minus the border between worlds being thin, so I wish we had been told more. It wasn’t bad but it just kind of happens and he becomes a ghost.

This is a film that might have you tearing up by the end, as it did me. Films like this are why Pixar is so loved and I can’t wait to see what they do next. I’ll be buying this film when it comes out and it is easily one of my favorites of the year, even if it may not make the Top 5. The main story is solid, the emotional core is strong and the world is amazing. The only things they could have improved on were the villain and how Miguel entered the Land of the Dead.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

What Happened to Monday (2017): An Amazing Sci. Fi. Thriller That Explores Identity and Human Value

  “What Happened to Monday” is the type of dystopian Science Fiction that I love. It feels like a Philip K. Dick novel, which has lead to some of my favorite films adapted from his work…from “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report” and the original “Total Recall.” The films give us future tech. but also a world that is fascist and dehumanizes it’s population in some way, this film is cut from that same cloth and is executed so well it has become one of my favorites.

The film was directed by Tommy Wirkola, written by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson and produced by Raffaella De Laurentiis, Fabrice Gianfermi and Philippe Rousselot.

The story takes place in a overcrowded, polluted dystopian future where families can only have one child. When Karen Settman (Noomi Rapace who also plays her daughters) has 7 identical twins her Grandfather Terrance (Willem Dafoe) hides their existence by having them adopt their mother’s identity and pretending to be one person. When Monday goes missing years later it is up to her sister’s to solve the mystery and keep their secret safe.

The Pros: Self and Identity – One of the major themes that the film explores is the issue of identity, given that the 7 sisters have each adopted the identity of Karen Settman and can only be themselves when they are trapped in the house. This leads to some of them to fully embrace the idea of the character and believe they are them, forgetting the day of the week they are as each of them deals with it in different ways by either escaping (Tuesday is a druggy) or embracing their roles outside of the identity of Karen as we have the one always in training to protect and the tech. who is tracking all the events that happen in the search for Monday. Each of them express who they are in different ways and in the end we see how that connection to identity shapes the survivors as there are a few name changes at the end tied to the history of the characters.

Individualism, Collectivism and Human Value – The film starts out showing how global warming has been leading to mass destruction and starvation and the steps the government takes to make sure the overall human population can survive. This is most scene in the one child policy and how C.A.B. takes the siblings when that happens so that they are out of the competition for food. At one point Glenn Close’s character debates with one of the sisters on that very question and points out how if more people had been like their mother the world would be dead given the lack of food. This question is never fully answered and the fallout of the finale leaves things open as far as what will happen to humanity. Glenn Close’s character was a villain whose intentions were good but we see how in going collectivist it misses the point of the value of the individual contrasted with the beginning that showed how individualism taken to the extreme with no thought of the world and future lead to the dystopia in the first place. The film comes out on the side of individualism but given the opening, I believe it leaves things open enough as to what the future of this world and ours hold.

Okay: The 7 Sisters and the Danger of Stock Characters – Noomi Rapace is an amazing actress. We see her play 8 characters, each with different levels of depth. Honestly this film would have worked better as a show as a few of the sisters I couldn’t even place in regards to their motivation, they only existed as a stereotype (the tough woman, etc.) She did give a lot of depth to certain characters though, the greatest being Saturday, Friday. Monday and Tuesday. We can see where their conflict comes from too as Dafoe’s performance as their grandfather is amazing given he is willing to go any length to protect them (if one loses a finger, they all have to if they are continue playing the role of Karen Settman so suspicion will not occur) to keep the lie going, even though that leads to harm to them all and shows just how broken this world and he himself is. Each of the sisters carry that damage with them as well as carrying the lie of Karen Settman, the role each must play during their day of the week. The stock types make the reveal a little predictable at the end but it still managed to surprise me in other ways in regards to who lives and dies when the government is hunting them and in regards to what happened to Monday after she goes missing.

This is a film I highly recommend. I’m staying away from spoilers because it is an easy film to catch, as it is on Netflix currently. I was never bored during this film and the action and ideas kept me waiting to see what would happen next. I don’t know whether it will make my Top 5 at the end of the year, but it is certainly one of my favorite films. Dafoe and Rapace owned the roles they played and the ideas of identity and human value are explored so beautifully through the world and the sisters that I can’t help but recommend this film. This is an original and isn’t based off any prior property. I really want to see more sci. fi.’s of this level of quality in the future, that pull from themes and show the different costs of existence, society and identity.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10