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The episode that Stanley Kubrick stole his most important ideas from
for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Of course, that's not exactly true. The idea
of an artificially intelligent computer becoming a problem popped up in
science-fiction at least shortly after Alan Turing re-popularized the
idea of artificial intelligence in the 1950s via what's become known as
the "Turing Test" for just that property. Also, Kubrick's 2001, written
in conjunction with sci-fi novelist Arthur C. Clarke, began production
in 1965, and there are more ideas there than just AI gone haywire, as
there are in The Ultimate Computer. But this episode underscores that
Star Trek deserves consideration as "serious artwork", consideration
that it doesn't often receive outside of the Trekkie community. Even
though Star Trek didn't likely influence 2001, the reverse isn't the
case, either; rather, both works arrived at similar ideas due to
mindfulness towards relatively cutting edge ideas in science and
By this point, in case you're looking for a plot summary, you surely know that The Ultimate Computer has something to do with an artificially intelligent computer. It arrives on board the Enterprise courtesy of Dr. Richard Daystrom (William Marshall, soon after The Ultimate Computer to forever be best known as Blacula), a computer genius who long ago designed the basics of the system currently employed on the Enterprise. To test his new system, which is supposed to be able to run the ship more or less by itself, Starfleet orders all but 20 crew members off of the Enterprise and organizes a fairly elaborate war game scenario. Of course, we know as soon as we find out the premise that it's probably a recipe for some kind of disaster.
Aside from the usual AI kinda themes, writers Gene Roddenberry, Laurence N. Wolfe and D.C. Fontana use the episode for a nice exploration of ill-conceived idealism, more general technological skepticism and unease, overly fervent parental apologetics, and difficult utilitarian ethical decisions. The performances are excellent as always (and I always wished that Marshall would have had a more prolific career), and we get a bonus treat of a very Kirk-like head of another Starfleet ship, Commodore Robert Wesley (Barry Russo).
In my consumer guide mode, I should first mention one very simple way
to tell whether you might like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice--do you like
films that are almost all dialogue? If not, you should stay away from
this one, because that's 90 percent of it. It's very poignant and often
clever dialogue, but dialogue nonetheless.
A dialogue-laden film can't succeed without grand performances, and we get just that from the four principal actors. I was especially impressed with Elliott Gould, partially because I haven't always liked him in other films.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice deals with normal, middle class couples in the late 1960s who are trying to deal with and adapt to cultural spillover from the then-popular hippie movement. Bob (Robert Culp) is a filmmaker who wants to do a documentary on something of a "personal exploration retreat". While initially checking the retreat out, he and wife Carol (Natalie Wood) completely forget about the film and become wrapped up in the personal exploration taking place. When they get back home, they introduce their new approach to life and interpersonal communications to best friends Ted (Gould) and Alice (Dyan Cannon), who think that Bob and Carol have gone a bit looney. They really think that when later Carol suddenly announces that Bob had a brief affair with another woman and they're both happy with it. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice then becomes primarily an exploration of how average middle class folks deal with attempts to incorporate hippie sexual liberation beliefs into their lives.
It's a great idea, handled with aplomb by writer-director Paul Mazursky and co-writer Larry Tucker. Interestingly, Mazursky revisited the same basic ideas in Scenes from a Mall (1991), which enabled him to show how much popular cultural attitudes had changed between the late 1960s and the early 1990s. Here, the cultural clash between hippies and the middle class allows him to adeptly explore a number of themes, ranging from hippie ideals as a trend to be followed rather than ideals that are believed in for their own sake, to the psychological conflicts of intrinsic desires either against other intrinsic desires or against cultural conditioning and expectations. Mazursky employs an artful restraint so that these themes are only implicit, but they're definitely present.
The ending of the film is highly unusual but effective, although especially for me--as someone who champions extremely liberal sexuality and thinks monogamy isn't really a great idea--there was a contradictory one-two punch of being disheartening, then shortly after uplifting. The effect of the final scene was a bit enigmatically ambiguous. But I don't think that's a bad thing at all.
I haven't looked at other reviews of A Cinderella Story yet, but
especially because it's a Hilary Duff film, I'd expect there to be a
lot of scathing comments. That's because Hilary Duff is, or was, at
least, popular with tweens and teens, and lots of slightly older folks
have a tendency to hate commercial or popular stuff just because it's
commercial or popular. Of course, they find other ways to justify their
effectively institutional hatred of this stuff, and I'd guess that the
main complaint would be the clichéd and predictable nature of the
And that's true. A Cinderella Story is clichéd and predictable, but that's not a great reason to dislike it. It is a Cinderella story, after all--it tells you right there in the title--retooled as a contemporary Los Angeles-area high school romance-comedy. We all know the Cinderella story fairly well. And any film fan at least old enough to almost be through with high school is surely familiar with the clichés of rom-coms and high school films. Most of us could write the basics of A Cinderella Story's plot without even seeing the film's trailer. So for adults, at least, A Cinderella Story is going to be successful or not dependent on how well it hikes its well-trodden path.
For me, the best material was the more traditional Cinderella-based stuff. Jennifer Coolidge (voluptuously) fills the role of the wicked stepmother. I like Coolidge a lot. She has tremendous charisma and performs her infamous, quirky sarcastic act here with verve. I also like Duff. The two actresses playing Duff's stepsisters were new to me, but just as charismatic as Coolidge. Director Mark Rosman quotes some of the cartoonish visual gags of Disney's Cinderella (1950) more than I expected, and it works amazingly well. It's one element that pushes the film into a welcomed, absurd-surreal territory.
What didn't work as well for me was the material when Rosman and credited writer Leigh Dunlap forgot about doing a pumped up remake of Cinderella. Too much of A Cinderella Story deals with Sam's (Duff) budding cyber-romance, her typical high school problems and the caricatured, stereotypical high school cliques. It's not that these other segments are bad, exactly, but they just don't have the spark or humor that the Cinderella material has, and especially for something like the cliques, we've seen this tens of times before. These scenes would be right at home if we edited them into any of those other films or television shows--sometimes I had to remind myself that I wasn't watching, say, a Cordelia scene from the first season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1997).
So A Cinderella Story has a bit of a split personality--as a funny and wacky remake of Cinderella and as a far less humorous, pretty generic "getting through adolescence and finding yourself" message film. That After-School-Special-styled message may be a worthy one, but intercut with a great version of Cinderella, it doesn't quite fit, even though Rosman does finally start to find a unique and admirable groove while still alternating modes towards the end of the film.
This is the episode that somewhat undermines my theory that a lot of
the cheesiness and campiness of the series was unintentional.
Roddenberry and company get very serious in Patterns of Force, and
understandably so--this is the episode about Nazism.
Nazism is broached through a very common theme for the series--an alien culture has been corrupted by an outside force. In this case, as in many others, the outside force was a previous explorer from the Federation, one who chose to ignore the Prime Directive of non-influential interference.
For most of the episode, Star Trek doesn't have anything very unprecedented to say about Nazism. It's a fairly literal presentation/examination, with a race from a neighboring planet serving as a barely veiled representation of Jews. Towards the end of the episode, however, there is a pretty controversial stance taken towards Nazism--it arrives in the justification for breaking the Prime Directive. Scripter John Meredyth Lucas and Roddenberry are clever enough to wrap their controversial point in an undermined character who is potentially interpretable as a villain for his decisions.
But the reason this episode is so good and unusual isn't because it has profound things to say about Nazism. It's because it does a lot of typical Star Trek things--like Kirk and Spock being held captive, having to bluff their way out of jams, and so on--in a very unusual, very serious way. We usually have little worry that Kirk and Spock will be shortly out of a locked cell, but here, director Vincent McEveety films a very familiar scene so that it is very suspenseful. Likewise, Spock in incongruous disguises or modes often causes laughter, and frequently the threat of him being revealed when he needs to be disguised is just as promising of humor as tension. Here, there's nothing funny about it, it's instead nail-biting. With laudable help from the make-up department, McEveety also manages to truly make Spock feel alien. Even Shatner gives a serious, intense performance rather than hamming it up this time around, and the same goes for DeForest Kelley. In fact, McEveety so successfully achieves a weighty mood that even the typical, somewhat comical bickering between Spock and McCoy takes on an edge of nastiness in the final scene.
I love Star Trek's normal campiness and cheesiness, but Patterns of Force goes to show that it's just as excellent when they try to keep everything on the straight and narrow.
This is the third Cheech and Chong film, coming after Up in Smoke
(1978) and Cheech and Chong's Next Movie (1980). The films are a series
in the traditional way--characters continue, and there is something of
a linear development per the films' chronologies of the characters, but
as with the plot of this film in isolation, the threads holding it all
together are pretty thin.
In Nice Dreams, Cheech and Chong are selling dope from a barely disguised ice cream truck. They may have struck it rich by this point, or maybe Cheech just doesn't know how to read numbers very well. At any rate, they do not seem to be hurting for money--they have a bag of it, after all, which they have to pursue later in the film--and somehow, they're living in a very expensive, big house on the beach outside of Los Angeles, although it seems that maybe they're just crashing at a friend of a friend's place while he's away (he's a musician on tour).
A lot of it is pretty unclear, because the last thing that Cheech and Chong as writers and director (only Chong in the latter case) are concerned with is telling anything like a traditional story. Instead, it seems like maybe they were high while they wrote and filmed this. That's usually meant as a negative--the idea is to denote how little sense the work makes, or how little coherence it has. I don't mean it that way here. I don't mean it as a knock, necessarily. I mean it literally, and consequently to underscore a kind of stream-of-consciousness, absurdist and surreal flow. Those can all be very positive qualities, as they are occasionally here. But maybe Cheech and Chong were just looking for the easiest way to string together a number of sketch ideas, and not enough sketch ideas, because some of them are drawn out or reprised past their freshness date. And that probably goes for the whole premise of Cheech and the Man (Chong) selling dope and getting into wacky situations while being pursued by Sgt. Stedanko (Stacy Keach). Nice Dreams feels too much like Cheech and Chong are just coasting--vamping while waiting for the next soloist to start. Although I love experimentation as much as anyone else, this is a film that would have benefited from a stronger focus on telling a story in a traditional way. I don't always think that something different is better just because it's different.
So this is definitely a step down from the first two films, although there are more than enough funny moments to keep a fan of the first two films mildly entertained, and most of the supporting actors, including the returning ones, are enjoyable and had even more potential. Some skits (that word fits here better than "scenes"), like the crazy house and the fiasco at Donna's apartment, and even the "Save the Whales" song, are as good as most of the material in the first two films. But overall, it just seems like their hearts, and maybe their heads, weren't as much into making a film this time around.
As in the previous episode in production order, By Any Other Name, we
again encounter superior aliens, but this time, they're slightly more
benevolent--or at least they appear to be--even though they've been
existing merely as disembodied energy (Star Trek getting mystical
again) for 500,000 years.
Like usual, the ideas of the premise are interesting, although the reason for this episode not getting a "perfect score" from me is that the premise remains just a bit unexplored by the time the final credits roll.
The main attraction of Return to Tomorrow is the opening for William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy to stretch their acting chops a bit. Shatner, as we'd expect, hams it up, but that's what I like. It's sublimely enjoyable to watch him writhe in agony, build up to an eventually shouted, crazy monologue in even more bizarrely stilted speech than normal, and sweat like an overweight nerd on his first high school appointment with the backseat of a car. As good as that is, Nimoy's performance is even more fun, because he has another excuse to wallow in emotions, and he takes advantage of it to treat us to one of the most twisted but cordial and smiling psychopaths ever. Other performances in this episode are just as entertaining, even if they're not stretching as much. DeForest Kelley has many opportunities to fly off the handle as McCoy, and Majel Barrett gets to play the ultimate "wooden" towards the end of the story.
On a smarmier hormonal note, I know I just commented on how gorgeous Barbara Bouchet was in By Any Other Name, but holy cow, Diana Muldaur is just as breathtaking here. I guess Star Trek had more clout by the middle of the second season to snag unbelievably beautiful actresses for one-off parts.
By the way, am I the only one who thinks that the Kiss song, "100,000 Years" may have been influenced by this episode? I'm probably the only one who cares, at any rate.
While testing out Grandpa's television-based invention that allows them
to spy on others in the house, Herman overhears a snippet of
conversation between Lily and Marilyn that he interprets as Lily being
pregnant. We know from the start, however, that Lily and Marilyn are
simply discussing watching their doctor's child as a favor for him
while he's on vacation.
That sets the stage for the episode, which primarily consists of Herman trying to subversively gain more information about his expected child while he attempts to leave himself open for Lily to drop the bomb. It's a classic sitcom scenario based on misinterpretation, which stems back to pioneering series such as "I Love Lucy" (1951) and "The Honeymooners" (1955).
"The Munsters" often had subplots, and the writers obtain one here in a subtly unusual way--by instead having characters trying to achieve conflicting aims while in the midst of an interlocking main plot. While Herman is trying to position himself into receiving full revelations about his new son or daughter, Lily is trying to prepare for his birthday. Herman's birthday present is a doozy--what we later came to know as the Munsters family car; it's probably my favorite car from the entire world of film and television.
In addition to containing a very funny cameo from comic actor Paul Lynde, Rock-A-Bye Munster features Fred Gwynne at the top of his Herman Munster game, as he demonstrates just how humorously and bizarrely out of it Herman can be.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In which Captain Kirk and crew finally find themselves being conquered
by a superior alien race.
Lots of episodes have had Kirk and company almost conquered in some way or another--heck, it seems like they're prisoners of some twisted personality in just about every other episode. And we know that it's unlikely that they'll be conquered with any finality. The show must go on. Or at least it did for another season and a half.
But there's a tasty, palpable sense of doom in By Any Other Name, moreso than in just about any other episode. Surely this is amplified by the fact that the aliens can zap humans into little, brainy sugar cubes. But it also helps that the writers made the aliens hail from another galaxy--it makes them more exotic and in the context of the series to date, unpredictable.
As doomy as it gets, however, this episode isn't without an enjoyable sense of humor, and most admirably, Scotty gets a longer turn in the spotlight, as we learn what we've always suspected--no matter who you put up against him, he can drink them under the table.
Kirk's love interest is also a source of humor on many levels, including when you keep in mind what Spock said about the aliens' true physical nature. On the other hand, when you look at her in her "disguised" form, courtesy of actress Barbara Bouchet, she was some knock-out--one of the best in the whole series, so I'd gladly forget about the tentacles, too.
It's good to see Kirk not always easily triumph, and he's in a quagmire he almost can't bluff his way out of here. The writers also get to explore human flaws and assets in a fresh new way.
Not as good as the first film of the trilogy, Angels in the Outfield
(1994), but nowhere near the dire mess of the second, Angels in the
Endzone (1997), Angels in the Infield is a moderate success that even
shows occasional flashes of brilliance.
The film works best when all involved concentrate on being funny. Director/writer Robert King and co-writer Garrett K. Schiff's teleplay has a lot of hilarious moments, especially in the hands of actors Patrick Warburton, as a down-on-his-luck pitcher for the (now dubbed) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Kurt Fuller, as his eager beaver agent. There are smaller roles that are just as good, such as Peter Keleghan's, as a cynical and smarmy broadcaster, and some that are not as good as you'd expect them to be, such as David Alan Grier's, as the angel who must lend a helping hand this time around. But overall, when King's directorial timing is on and he's not being too toddler-style silly (but even those few moments almost work), this is the funniest film by far out of the trilogy.
The problem is that far too often, his timing isn't on. It's hard to pinpoint the exact source of the pacing problems--they probably stem from a confluence of factors, but sometimes we travel through a wide morass of unfunny, somewhat weak sentimental material, sometimes scenes just go on too long, and sometimes the dramatic "beats" seem to be following a broken metronome--quite a few times my wife or I felt the urge to push the actors into their next lines or actions.
Of course, the film isn't exactly original--the first film was a remake of an MGM vehicle from 1951, and as another Angels film where baseball is the sport of choice and the driving force is a child trying to win the love of a father, this has a large number of parallels to the 1994 gem. But as a sequel, especially, it doesn't have to be overly original. It's familiar enough to fit the series (whereas the second film was almost too different), while still fresh enough to hold your attention. King infuses Angels in the Infield with a successful, more irreverent attitude--not too far removed from two other films that featured Warburton to great effect, The Emperor's New Groove (2000) and its sequel, Kronk's New Groove (2005). He also adds a nice, new dramatic twist, and features a lot of attractively stylized sets and cinematography.
It's a shame that those pacing problems are present. Without them, this could have easily been the best of the series. I'm anxious to see what King might have in store for us as a director in the future.
Star Trek is often very cheesy and/or campy. That's part of what I and
many other fans love about it. But it's difficult to say how aware Gene
Roddenberry and crew were of just how cheesy/campy it often was,
because occasionally, they did a show, like A Piece of the Action,
where they're clearly trying to be cheesy/campy, and on top of the
strong dose that's ordinarily there, these shows become very over the
top--and very fun. A Piece of the Action may not win the award for the
campiest show of the lot, but it at least ties--no other episode could
trump this one. Well, not unless it's holding three Queens on a
Wednesday night in October when the moon is full.
The Enterprise responds to a call from another ship 100 years after the fact, because the call was made from "old fashioned" radio. One hundred years ago, there was no Prime Directive (the Starfleet philosophy of putative non-interference with explored cultures), and the previous ship left a large tome behind--a study of the Mafia in Chicago in the 1920s. Unfortunately, the culture they left to deal with this alien text was highly adaptive and imitative. When the Enterprise crew happens upon them, they're in a near-anarchic state, ruled only by warring gang bosses.
The idea of such a highly imitative culture is an extremely interesting one with a lot of clout philosophically and scientifically, which makes it surprising that it's not been explored more in science fiction. Here, in addition to weightier ideas, it also provides a perfect staging ground for a wacky episode of Star Trek where Kirk and Spock get to don flashy pin-stripe suits, tote around machine guns, and for the coup de grace--speak in ridiculous, affected gangster accents. It's particularly funny to see Spock try to fit the act, although not surprisingly, Leonard Nimoy doesn't ham it up as much as William Shatner does.
The amusement doesn't end there. There's a running-down-the-hallway-in-and-out-of-closed-doors-styled cat and mouse game as Kirk, Spock and McCoy bounce back and forth from the Enterprise to the planet surface, and in and out of custody of two different gang bosses. Kirk, who is always amusing for off-the-cuff scheming, comes up with some doozies here, including a very funny card game. The make-it-up-as-you-go-along aesthetic permeates the episode, all the way to what's probably the most ridiculous jokey closing banter of the series.
Although it has influences and precedents, including Star Trek itself--in the Season 1 episode, City on the Edge of Forever--and it has maybe influenced other, later works--I couldn't stop thinking of the computer game, Mafia, which I just finished playing a couple weeks ago, A Piece of the Action has a very enjoyable, unusual, tongue-in-cheek and slightly crazy approach to this material. Even if you don't watch every episode of the original series, make sure you see this one for a taste of comic relief.
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