Saturday, October 24, 2020

Book Review: Star Trek: Best of Klingons by S. Tipton et al.

Star Trek: Best of Klingons written by Mike W. Barr, Scott Tipton, and David Tipton, art by Tom Sutton, Richard Villagran, and David Messina

This collection has two Klingon stories of unequal strengths.

The first is from DC Comics in the early 1980s. The story is set right after the events of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. A conflict on a border threatens to turn into war between the Federation and the Klingons. The Klingons have a secret base from which they are attacking Federation colonies and ships by the Neutral Zone. The Enterprise, with Kirk but no Spock, goes to investigate. They are caught up in events that bring both sides to the edge of war. More is going on than meets the eye as events unfold. The story is a fairly typical Star Trek story--it's fun and plays to the strengths of the characters. The art was sub-par and obviously the story does not fit with the film continuity.

The second story is Klingons: Blood Will Tell, a story of Klingon High Council official Kahnrah, who is debating about a significant vote he has to cast. Praxis (the Klingon moon) has exploded, condemning their home world to annihilation in thirty or forty years. The Council is deadlock on whether to ask the Federation for help or not. Kahnrah reflects on various historical encounters between humans and the Klingons, though most involve Captain Kirk. Kahnrah has to decide if the humans are trustworthy and, more importantly, if the Klingons can retain their identity by making such a decision. Seeing events like the Tribbles story from a Klingon perspective is very interesting and well-told by the authors. Even though the decision is a foregone conclusion for Star Trek fans, the narrative makes an interesting exploration of Klingon attitudes and general character. The art is good and the story does fit in with the film continuity, so those are pluses too.

Recommended, though the second story is much stronger and more interesting than the first.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Movie Review: Death Becomes Her (1992)

Death Becomes Her

Death Becomes Her (1992) directed by Robert Zemeckis

Helen the writer (Goldie Hawn) and Madeline the actress (Meryl Streep) are childhood friends who are really more like competitors. In 1978, Helen brings her fiancee Ernest (Bruce Willis) to Madeline's Broadway show. The musical is a flop to everyone but Ernest, who falls for Madeline and marries her. Seven years later, Helen is an overweight couch potato who obsesses over Madeline. Meanwhile, Madeline and Ernest's marriage is on the rocks. His work as a plastic surgeon has morphed into work as an undertaker in Beverly Hills making the dead look good at their funerals. Madeline's acting career seems to be over. Seven more years later, Helen has slimmed down and written a best-selling book. She invites Ernest and Madeline to a swanky event in Los Angeles to meet for the first time. By this point, Madeline is extremely insecure about her looks--her quack of a plastic surgeon recommends she visit Lisle (Isabella Rossellini), who can make Mad's dreams of youthfulness a reality with a magic potion. Meanwhile, Helen seduces Ernest and convinces him to kill Mad with an elaborate scheme. The scheme never goes off because Ernest in an opportune moment pushes Madeline down their big marble staircase, breaking Mad's neck in several spots. While on the phone with Helen to celebrate the "accident," Madeline stands up with her head on backward and berates Ernest. The potion gave her eternal life along with eternal youth, but no protection from bodily harm. She's very mad about the situation. When Helen shows up, Madeline shoots her in the stomach. Helen doesn't die either, because she's had the same potion. They work out their differences and start plotting on how to keep Ernest in their lives since he can patch up their wounds. Even with Ernest's mousy cowardice, he's ready to leave because he can't handle the situation. Can he escape the fate worse than death that Helen and Madeline have fallen into?

The movie works on several levels. The special effects were top-of-the-line (Zemeckis had just finished the Back to the Future trilogy and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) and for the most part still hold up. The age make-up is effective and the injuries are playfully used in the story. The dark comedy works as a satire of people's obsession with youth and beauty, but mostly themselves. The ending is set another 37 years later, with Ernest having lived a fulfilling life after leaving Helen and Madeline. The preacher says that Ernest achieved immortal life by having children and leaving behind benevolent institutions, a surprising insight into the nature of the person and the value of a good legacy. In addition to the dark comedy/special effects extravaganza there's a bit of philosophy thrown in. What's not to like?


Thursday, October 22, 2020

Book Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti is a 16 year-old girl who has been accepted to Ommza Uni, a prestigious university off-world. Binti is also a member of the Himba, a people from Africa who live in a desert by a lake. Locally, they are a minority and looked down upon by the Khoush. Binti runs away from home because she thinks her family will not let her leave. The Himba don't interact with the outside world on Earth, much less the rest of the universe. Binti's interplanetary flight is hijacked by the Meduse, an alien species once at war with Khoush. They kill everyone on the ship except the pilot and Binti. She has to figure out how to survive.

I found the story interesting if a little slow at the beginning and too quick at the end. The themes of cultures clashing and people adapting to new situations are classic science fiction fodder. A new person is often introduced so that other characters can explain the context and what's going on. Binti has to find out on her own since she has no other humans to help her (she doesn't get help from anyone else on earth and on the ship the pilot is unreachable). The Khoush, the Himba, the Meduse, and Binti herself all have some tribal/ethnic/racial/planetary assumptions which are the rough edges that need to be smoothed so that all these people can get along with each other. Taking off those edges is hard, risky work, but necessary work. The resolution of these problems happens too quickly and not quite convincingly.

Slightly recommended--the writing is imaginative but the ending uses too many cliche shortcuts to get to its resolution.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Terrapin Adventures October 2020

For another birthday celebration we went to Terrapin Adventures for some thrilling fun. We signed up the kids to go on their own. We parents were happy to watch from the solid ground.

Ready for action

The first part of the adventure was climbing walls and towers.

Hooking in

On the ropes

On the tire

Almost to the top

Good enough

Rock wall made of wood

Tire or ladder?

Definitely the ladder

Another high adventure did not involve any climbing--the big swing!

The high ropes adventure course is the main attraction at Terrapin Adventures. I had done it maybe ten years ago. It doesn't look different now--still fun and terrifying.

Walking on a wire

Another wire man

A higher wire

Almost across

Too many wires to choose from

The course ends with a big drop from the highest level. An employee on the ground belays the climbers so they don't drop to fast.

Going down

Back to the ground

The finale was the zip line through the woods. If only I trusted the kids with the camera, we could have gotten an awesome video. 

Walking to the zip line platform

Our youngest was happy just to hang out on the ground.

Good, safe fun

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

TV Review: Glitch Season Three (2019)

 Glitch Season 3 (2019) created by Tony Ayres and Louise Fox

Click the links for reviews of Season One and Season Two.

Out of curiosity, I came back to the Australian zombie series Glitch. The first season was okay and the second was disappointing. My memories have gotten a little vague so I was more than willing to give the show another try.

This season opens with one character hoping his girlfriend will rise from the dead. Meanwhile, in another part of the cemetery, two other people come out of their graves. Belle is the daughter of some religious fanatics. She died 15 years ago and her family thinks she's possessed by a demon, so not a happy homecoming. Chi is a Chinese opera performer from the 1800s who came to Yoorana as a laborer in search of gold. He and Belle help each other throughout the show.

Their story intertwines with that of the main cast. Some people leave Yoorana hoping never to come back. Noregard, the chemical company that is involved with the resurrections, has some new bad guys running the show since the original ones were offed in the last season (and early this season). So all the characters get pulled back to town. Phil, who thought his purpose was to kill all the risen, has a change of heart and decides to be a family man. At the same time, William (who turns out to have been a pirate in a previous life) and local cop James decide that they do need to kill all the risen. They have a much more humane reason--since the resurrections violate the rules of nature, nature itself is unraveling and the world will end. Their zombie existence will cause the apocalypse. Signs are already appearing, like power outages, freak storms, earthquakes, and massive bush fires. 

The new reason for the risen to be rekilled is a bit of a stretch of credibility. Why didn't disasters start happening two seasons ago? The movement to the resolution of the series feels forced. The human drama of the characters is okay and more convincing than the larger apocalyptic picture.

Slightly recommended--I'm glad I finished the show but I'm not really interested in rewatching it.

All three season are currently (October 2020) streaming on Netflix.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Book Review: My Hero Academia Vol. 18 by Kohei Horikoshi

My Hero Academia Volume 18 by Kohei Horikoshi

The battle to save Eri finally wraps up as the villains try to hang on to her for her quirk-ending abilities. The heroes save the day, naturally, and then have to head back to school. The story shifts to some of the characters who have to do make-up work for their provisional licenses. They face one of the most challenging tests ever inflicted on high school students--try to get a group of early elementary students to behave for a day!

After a lot of big drama, it's nice to have a light-hearted diversion. Some new characters are introduced (as if the series needed more characters) and things end with a return to regular school time and a potential new drama.

Mildly recommended.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Movie Review: The Lighthouse (2019)

The Lighthouse (2019) co-written and directed by Robert Eggers

An old salt of a seaman (Willem Dafoe) and a young wanderer (Robert Pattinson) are left for a month to tend a lighthouse on a remote island. The old salt vacillates between a domineering Ahab and a sympathetic father figure. The young wanderer is a bit frustrated and withdrawn. Both have their secrets and the audience initially sympathizes with the young man, especially when weird things start happening. Seagulls provide the young man with problems; the old salt warns him not to harm a seabird or else disaster may strike. In a moment of anger, the young man kills a gull. A storm blows in just before they are to be picked up and returned to civilization. By this point, the young man's sanity is slipping and he has a hard time telling what's real and what's wrong. He is clearly going mad; it's unclear whether the old salt is also going mad or has been mad the whole time or is something else entirely.

The film is shot in black and white with a 1:1.19 aspect ratio, making the image almost square. The lighting is very evocative, pulling out details in their faces and eyes and making light sources flare eerily. The look is visual impressive and distinct. The score is fairly low-key except for certain moments; other sounds, like an omnipresent fog horn, give the movie a lot of atmosphere. The dialogue is also unique, with language mimicking Herman Melville and other 1800s New England patter. Dafoe is especially good at delivering long speeches in the old language and he looks the part of a salty old seaman.

The descent into madness starts gradually and picks up as the movie progresses. Both characters start losing track of reality, making it difficult (though not always impossible) for viewers to know what is real and what is imagined/dreamed/hallucinated. It's as if the filmmakers want the viewers to share the characters' experience of going mad. For me, it went on too long--I lost my sympathy for both characters and was hoping for the movie to end ten minutes before it did. As a depiction of going mad, it does the job a little too well.

Eggers is the same writer/director of The Witch, which has a similar attention to period detail and dialogue, along with a distinct visual style. In The Lighthouse, everything is turned up to eleven. If you liked The Witch, this is even more so. If you thought The Witch was overdoing it, this is even more overdone.

Not recommended--I did rewatch The Witch once, but I am not going to rewatch this.