Star Trek: Discovery Chapter 1

I’ve heard some Internet backlash about the newest Star Trek show, mostly centering around it being too dark.  However, since this is my first Star Trek experience (besides the J.J. Abrams movies), I found it really interesting and exciting.

It is, definitely, dark.  The first chapter of this show centers upon the Federation’s war with the Klingons, with the ongoing question of what sacrifices are worth making in pursuit of victory.  This includes animal cruelty, genetic modifications, and personal health sacrifices.  There is also the darkness inherent in acts of war.  Some of these, like a plot about sexual assault against a male victim, felt fresh and worth telling.  Others, like a throwaway line about what happened to central character’s corpse, went too far for me.

But this show isn’t all darkness.  Its characters are explorers and scientists who have been thrust into a war – they are still broadly optimistic and in awe of the world’s wonders.  While it does take a couple episodes for the U.S.S. Discovery’s crew to trust each other, they eventually become a really lovely team of diverse friendships and relationships.

Speaking of diversity!!  Star Trek: Discovery continues the franchise’s desire to show a better future world in AMAZING ways.  We begin with two female leaders of color, one Asian and one black, and it is a delight to watch them be smart and support each other.  Although one is soon replaced by a white man, it is worth noting that he is…the only straight white man in the cast?  At one point, I was shocked to see two straight white men sharing a scene together because that was such a rarity in this show, and then I later realized that one of them is actually of Pakistani descent.  It is so incredibly amazing to see such gender and racial (and alien) diversity played entirely normally.  That our show is led by a black woman is an incredible gift.

This first chapter is only nine episodes long, and each one is better than the one before.  If you are at all interested in the new series, I strongly suggest committing to this chapter in its entirety.  If you still don’t like it by the end of episode 9, it is not for you.  But for those that are turned off by the darkness of the first episodes…keep going.  I think you may come to love it as I did.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It has been over a week since The Last Jedi was released, so if you haven’t seen it by now I honestly don’t understand your priorities.  But for those of you who have not, STOP READING.  This post is pretty much entirely made of spoilers.

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I LOVE LEIA

Whereas the two men from the original trilogy deal with their problems by running away, Princess General Leia stays in the action, leading the Resistance and clinging fiercely to hope despite all evidence to the contrary.  It’s no wonder the world has fallen in love with Leia, and perhaps even more so, with Carrie Fisher.

So much of this movie plays as a love letter to her, which is astonishing since it was completed before Fisher’s death.  Clearly, the woman is beloved and this film wants to honor her properly.  Was I the only one who thought-screamed, “That’s my Bipolar Space Mom!!!” when Leia rescued herself by using the Force to draw herself back into the ship after an explosion?  And let’s not gloss over that:  LEIA USED THE FORCE.  I don’t care about anyone who thinks it was hokey – the Force was bananas in this movie, and I loved it, so please complain elsewhere.  Leia finally got to use some of that Skywalker bloodline in something other than feeling people’s deaths long-distance.

Another scene that felt weirdly prescient was Luke and Leia’s reunion.  By the end of the movie we realize that it was an opportunity for Luke to say his goodbyes, but in the moment it just felt like a goodbye to Carrie Fisher.  I can’t even remember the lines very well, because I was crying hard throughout.  All I could picture was Mark Hamill watching the scene after his friend’s death and my heart was shattered.

Unfortunately, Luke is gone and Leia remains.  I am heartbroken that we won’t get to see more of Leia in episode IX, which was supposed to be Her Story in the way The Force Awakens was Han’s and The Last Jedi was Luke’s.  I don’t know what they’ll do, and I mostly trust them, but nothing they dream up will compare with Carrie Fisher alive and performing once again.

I LOVE LUKE

Luke Skywalker was my first fictional crush, and even though at the time I loved him for his purity, I love him even more now that we see he’s turned into a cranky hermit.  Every scene he’s in is a delight, and I 100% bought that his youthful idealism, once broken, would result in what we see in this film.  I also adored the revelation that, if even for a moment, Luke considered murdering his nephew, and that this is what turned Ben Solo entirely to the Dark Side.  This is my kind of drama!

Of course, we don’t end the film with Luke the Cynic – fittingly, it’s being reunited with R-2 D-2 and seeing his sister’s hologram that reminds him that there is still hope.  WHEN HE SHOWS UP ON CRAIT!!!  His decision to take control of his narrative and use his legendary status as a distraction to save the Resistance is beautiful.  I noticed that his hair was different and that he wasn’t leaving red sand footprints, but I didn’t connect the dots to realize he wasn’t physically there.  My awe at his ability to withstand so much firepower turned into awe at his projection ability, and then…having believed in hope once more, Luke dies.  I love that he disappears like Obi Wan, and I very much hope he will be a Force Ghost in episode IX.

ODDS AND ENDS

  • The “hope against all odds” theme felt very much like Rogue One to me.  Watching character after character willingly choose to die in order to help their friends live for one more day was suuuuper depressing and suuuuper beautiful.
  • I love Admiral Holdo.  I love that she contrasts Poe’s impulsive heroism with the boring, quiet, consistent heroism that is also necessary in a fight against evil.
  • After the movie, one friend said, “I think true Star Wars fans will be annoyed at the humor in this one.”  My other friend replied, “Uh, I’m a true Star Wars fan, and I loved it.”  YES, friend #2.
  • I don’t WANT to understand the Rey/Kylo shippers, but ugh, I kinda do.  Their loneliness and connection was pretty fascinating, but wow is he a classic abusive boyfriend.  “You’re worthless to everyone!  Except me.”  As interesting as their relationship was, I’m so glad Rey left him.
  • Although I have since changed my mind, I was initially disappointed with the reveal that Rey’s parents were nobodies.  (My personal fan theory:  she was the daughter of Luke and Leia.  I was really leaning into the oops! incest plot of the original trilogy, and I figured that explained why she was Extra Powerful.)  I appreciate this story a lot more now, especially connected with the force-sensitive slave boy at the end.  I assume that’s the direction they will take the story – showing us that the Force can be in anyone.  Really, I just blame the two year wait and how the Internet makes everything seem So Big, which made a reveal like this feel more disappointing than it should have been.
  • I love Rose!  She is a perfect human being, and I hope she continues to be a big part of the series.  I definitely ship Rose/Finn, and Rey can…I dunno.  She’s a Jedi, so probably she will be single, huh?
  • All the animals were great, from fish nuns to porgs to crystal critters.  Love them all!
  • It did feel overlong, and I was genuinely surprised when the movie didn’t end with Snoke’s ship exploding.  But then I really liked the scenes on Crait, so even though I don’t think it’s Good Plotting, I wouldn’t change anything about it.
  • Ending with the slave kids retelling Luke’s story and then revealing that one of them can use the Force is 100% a shout out to Star Wars fans who find inspiration in the story to change their own worlds in big and small ways.  It’s kind of unfair to make me cry seconds before credits, movie!!
  • “It’s not about destroying what you hate.  It’s about saving what you love.”  PLEASE let this be the theme of the last movie!  It is the most perfect sentence in the whole series.

 

Podcast Recommendation List | PART 5

‘Tis the season…to recommend podcasts!  I’ve found a LOT of nerdy podcasts to binge-listen to, and I hope some of them will be of interest to some of you!

best-episode-ever1| Best Episode Ever

TV nerds discuss popular finished shows, deciding on best and worst moments, how the series has aged since release, and ultimately deciding the, you guessed it, best episode ever.  So far they have covered Friends, Adventure Time, and 30 Rock, so these are definitely my kind of podcasters.

948152| We Can Do This All Day

A husband and wife duo analyze Marvel superhero movies!  They’re both professional writers, so they bring a knowledge of storytelling to the show that elevates this beyond simply fangirling.  They also ran a lot of other podcasts together under the company Storywonk, and they are also well worth checking out!

eUny1NlQ3| Excelsior

Sadly, the aforementioned husband and wife duo divorced last year, so they no longer work together.  The husband joined two other people to continue analyzing superhero movies (now both Marvel and DC) in this podcast.

SASW-albumart4| Story and Star Wars

The divorced husband also runs several podcasts on his own, including this series analyzing the storytelling beats of each Star Wars film.  It’s nerdy and educational, and he’s also got ongoing series for Harry Potter (Dear Mr. Potter) and Lord of the Rings (There and Back Again) that I hope to get to soon.

1200x630bb5| Good Christian Fun

I am LOVING this podcast by two Christians diving back into the crazy Christian counter-culture of the ’90s and ’00s.  Sometimes scathing, sometimes fond, this podcast covers everything from Left Behind to VeggieTales to the OC Supertones.  If you listen through the entire episode, they have a running “What is the worst Christian song?” game to close that is a hilarious and horrific blast to the past.


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

The Young Pope is Both Sillier and Deeper Than You Heard

How did a television show that featured a pope dressing in medieval garb while “I’m Sexy and I Know It” played in the background end with me sobbing at the beauty and hope of it all? This series combined giddy camp (the fictional Pope Pius XIII infamously looses a kangaroo in the Vatican gardens and often tests his spiritual powers by commanding it to jump) with heartbreaking humanity (the selfsame pope struggles throughout the series with his pain at being abandoned and orphaned by his parents at age nine).  Perhaps most beautifully, The Young Pope insists that both the giddiness and the heartbreak are necessary to tell a story about humans and their relationship to God.

This is a show about hypocrisy without condemning that hypocrisy.  Our titular pope is a tyrant, determined to return the Catholic Church to an isolationist stronghold that needs no one while simultaneously desperate for the approval of his spiritual father and mother.  One of the arguably few “good” men in the show is a cardinal who participates in a graphic threesome (this is an HBO show), and the unarguably best “good” man is a self-confessed alcoholic homosexual.  On the other hand, our worst men are never allowed to be fully villainized.  The Secretary of State, though a political weasel, genuinely cares for the Church.  Even the most odious of characters, a cardinal accused of pedophilia, is humanized in a way that does not condone his sins but demands our compassion all the same.

A running theme in the show is the fear that the pope does not, in fact, believe in God.  This is a fear that he himself admits to, but it is not meant to lead to mockery or scorn.  Instead, it asks viewers to consider questions of doubt and faith, saints and sinners, and whether God smiles upon us at all.  Faith is messy, and that is something our pope learns when his commitment to law without mercy has devastating consequences.  It is only when he accepts the mystery of faith that he is able to let go of his past and find peace at long last.

The Young Pope is a beautifully evocative and highly stylized ten-episode series, full of symbolism that is equal parts cheesy and stunning.  The acting is incomparable, and the whole thing is a work of art, inspiring emotion long before thoughts can be ordered.  It is a show of contradictions, offering its audience a unique opportunity to step into the mystery of life, of doubt, of faith.

Ranking Toby Stephens’ Work

When I was a teenager and checking out every Josh Hartnett movie from Blockbuster, I thought my obsessive celebrity love would be something I would outgrow.  Yet here I am over a decade later, watching as many things with Toby Stephens in them as possible.  For (probably only my own) your enjoyment, a ranking of everything I’ve seen Toby Stephens in!

1. Black Sails

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This is the show that brought Stephens’ genius to my awareness (and through my inability to shut up – to many other people’s awareness as well).  As James McGraw turned Captain Flint, Stephens is electric.  He is the personification of “hurt people hurt people,” and throughout four seasons we see him wrestle with the trauma of his past while he steps all over people in pursuit of a better world.  He is my sweet murderous baby, and there is no contradiction.

Watch on Starz or Hulu

(If you want to read my episode reviews and essays, head on over to my separate Black Sails website.)

2. Mangal Pandey: The Rising

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One of the great joys of searching movies by actors is that you wind up finding treasures that would otherwise have eluded you.  Such is the case with Mangal Pandey, a Bollywood movie about the British empire/comany’s influence in India and the uprising against them.  Stephens is a Scottish officer who befriends Mangal and questions his allegiance when Mangal rebels.  It’s glorious, and I’m so glad my obsession led me to such a beautiful film.

Watch on YouTube

(make sure you use Closed Captioning for English subtitles)

3. And Then There Were None

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This is a deliciously moody adaptation of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, and while it is FULL of excellent British actors, my eyes were only on Toby Stephens (okay, and Aiden Turner).  His increasingly anxious and paranoid Dr. Armstrong is a delight, and the scene in which the final four have a cocaine-fueled party?  MY FAVORITE.

4. Jane Eyre

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As an adult, I know that Mr. Rochester is all shades of sketch, but he plays right into my “sassy authoritative man who would die for you” fantasy, so Teenage Tricia is very gratified to see Stephens playing one of her longest lasting fictional crushes.

5.  Vexed

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God bless Twitter for letting me know that this comedy police procedural starring Toby Stephens is now available on Netflix.  Unlike everything else on this list, Vexed is Toby at his silliest.  It’s pure British comedy, which is sometimes painful and other time hilarious.  Toby’s character is a lazy asshole who is still somehow charming (perhaps I am blinded by his Toby-ness), and the crimes are very much secondary to the interpersonal conflict and humor between him and his amazing partner Kate.  Just how I like it.

Watch on Netflix

6. Die Another Day

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This movie is TERRIBLE, but Stephens is a wonderfully sneer-y villain that would have defeated Bond if I’d had my way.  I mean, I can’t stress how bad this movie is – horrible action sequences, 90s filming techniques, painful innuendos, everywhere sexism – but I also cannot stress how gratifying it was to see Stephens running around sword fighting in a white tank top with suspenders.


 

*TO BE UPDATED AS I CONTINUE TO WATCH TOBY STEPHENS’ FILMS*

Recommendations welcome!

Podcast Recommendation List | PART 4

It’s been almost a year since I last recommended podcasts that I love, so let’s do this again!

FathomsDeep-Logo1| Fathoms Deep

As reported elsewhere, I am currently obsessed with the absolutely amazing (four seasons and finished) television show Black Sails.  Run by two women who understand how important it is to overanalyze every character, line, and scene, this podcast became so popular with its episode reviews that the hosts were able to interview actors and actresses from the show!  If you love Black Sails, this is the podcast for you.  If you don’t love Black Sails, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?  Go watch it immediately!

170x170bb2| The Kind Rewind

A husband and wife duo rewatch awesome 90s and 00s television shows, and since their tastes align with mine, I’m recommending it!  Each 45-minute(ish) podcast episode covers three television episodes, so the pace is fast and mostly designed to make you say, “Yeah, that WAS awesome!”  So far they’ve covered season one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season one of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and they just started watching Firefly!

Screen Shot 2017-08-08 at 9.22.54 PM3| Slate’s Dear Prudence

Mallory Ortberg won me over with The Toast, so when I heard she had an advice podcast, I was in.  With rotating guests, she answers written-in questions about all sorts of topics while regularly reminding her listeners that we’re nosy for wanting to listen in on other peoples’ dirt.  Which is very true, so keep the episodes coming!

uploads_2F1489438262024-854z1cbidexe1unj-67d64498cb7e5c5ca56e495c53d040ea_2FBytheBook_FINAL4| By the Book

I am about equal parts intrigued by and skeptical of self-help books, and this podcast indulges both impulses with two hosts with very different approaches to the self-help books they read, test, and report on for two weeks.  So far I’ve mostly been interested in how they report on the books they didn’t like, though I did fall hard for The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up after they described the joy of a gigantic material purge.

typology_1600px5| Typology

For anyone who is mourning the end of The Road Back to You, never fear!  Ian Morgan Cron continues its same format, interviewing someone with a different enneagram type each episode, helping us to learn more about ourselves and others via personality types.

 


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

More Black Sails Feelings!

Did I honestly say that I wouldn’t write more about Black Sails after watching the final series of the show?  Don’t listen to that idiot from three days ago, she was delusional to think that there wouldn’t be More Feelings to share at the end of it all.

Less than 24 hours after spending a week devouring 38 hour-long episodes, I have a thesis statement for the show:  Oppressed people groups are easily villainized, because the only options they have to claim their freedom are so often monstrous.  The pirate world we are shown – full of orphans, criminals, lower class men and women, queer men and women, and slaves – all just want to get away from the civilization that abused them.  But the only way they can escape is with money, and the only way they can get money is by stealing it.  And when “civilization” tries to remind them of their place at the bottom of the world, well, there just might be some bloodshed.

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This also leads to one of my absolute favorite parts of this show:  it tells the story of history through the eyes of the oppressed.  In the 1700s, if you were queer, you either married someone of the opposite sex and pretended you weren’t, or you were put in an insane asylum, or you were hung.  In the 1700s, if you were an African in the New World, you were kidnapped and chained and forced to work for men and women who wanted to avoid the cost of hiring laborers.  In the 1700s, if you were crippled, you were consigned to begging or relying on the care of your family.

But in the pirate world of Nassau?  Queer men and women can be business moguls and pirate captains.  African slaves can be princesses and revolutionary leaders.  Crippled men can be pirate kings.  And working together, they might just threaten to topple the regime that ostracized, shamed, and punished them.

I found this fanvid that perfectly summarizes the beauty of Black Sails.  While “We live in a beautiful world” is hauntingly sung, we see all the moments of pain and violence that our beloved characters go through.  That contradiction is the core of the show – that horrors must be endured, or even perpetrated, but all in the desperate hope that there is a beautiful world of possibilities and freedom worth fighting for.

I still cannot believe that a Pirate Show chose to make THIS a central premise of their story.  Oh my word, Black Sails went so far beyond any of my expectations.  If anyone reading this does decide to start watching, please know that season 1 is the equivalent of an M&M: tasty, but whatever.  Seasons 2-4 are a 64-oz chocolate bar that will change your world.

Even though I had to watch a lot of it through my fingers…wow.  What an astoundingly lovely television series.