Category: television

Star Trek: Just Ad Nauseum

title

Here’s a script for a fan film that I wrote a few years back. The original intention was to do it as a cartoon, mimicking the style of the 1970s animated series. But animation is a hell of a lot of work. Also, I discovered that William Shatner is really hard to draw. Anyway I came to my senses and never made the film. But I always liked this script. Hope you enjoy it too.

FADE IN:

EXT. SPACE – THE ENTERPRISE

Orbiting a planet. A rather drab, grey, unremarkable planet. (The typical act-opening FANFARE MUSIC plays over this establishing shot of the ship.)

KIRK (V.O.):
Captain’s log, Star Date 2229.7. Our planetary mapping and survey project has entered its third week. The mission continues, without incident.
(pause)
Any incident. At all.

INT. BRIDGE – CONTINUOUS

CHEKOV and SULU at their stations. Chekov plays Tetris on his console. Sulu nodding off. SPOCK works at his science station. UHURA is out cold and SNORING. KIRK slumps in his Captain’s chair, chin on his hand. He stares up at:

THE MAIN VIEWER, displaying the planet – a colorless ball.

Kirk SIGHS.

KIRK:
Mr. Spock: report.

Spock peers into his sensor display.

SPOCK:
Surface is a rocky crust, primarily composed of silica as is typical in Type G planets. Atmosphere is thin and unbreatheable–

As his first officer rambles on, Kirk slouches in his chair. He puts both hands behind his head.

SPOCK (CONT’D):
–no volcanic activity, no life forms, no energy sources detected–

Kirk makes a MOTORBOAT SOUND with his lips. He pushes the deck with his shoe and his chair SPINS a complete 360.

KIRK:
Mr. Spock, we’ve discovered the dullest quadrant in the galaxy.

SPOCK:
Indeed Captain. This planet bears strong resemblance to the last five we’ve charted. If I may employ an oxymoron: it is strikingly nondescript.

Kirk stares at the planet. His chair arm console BEEPS.

SCOTTY (INTERCOM):
Captain: Scott here. We’ve got a wee problem.

KIRK:
Thank God.

INT. SHIP’S GALLEY – CONTINUOUS

SCOTTY presses buttons on one of the REPLICATORS built into the wall.

SCOTTY:
It’s the food replicators.

The little door opens. It’s a sandwich. Scotty frowns and hands it to a nearby crewman, and presses more buttons.

Unhappy CREW MEMBERS mill about behind him. All hold trays with identical sandwiches on them.

SCOTTY (CONT’D):
It dinna matter what you order for dinner, all ye can get off ‘em is a wee toasty.

KIRK (INTERCOM):
A what?

SCOTTY:
Grilled cheese sir.

The replicator produces another sandwich.

SCOTTY (CONT’D):
Och!

From the crowd: a disappointed SIGH.

EXT. SPACE – THE ENTERPRISE
Cruising through space.

INT. BRIDGE – DAY
Kirk nibbles unenthusiastically on a grilled cheese.

KIRK:
Alright. Lt. Uhura… let’s liven things up. Music!

UHURA:
Our computer has over 97 million selections, sir. Any preference?

KIRK:
Nah. Put it on shuffle.

Uhura presses a button. A surf-rock version of “TEQUILA” plays. Kirk bobs his head to the music.

SULU:
Captain, we’re approaching the next planet in the system.

KIRK:
Standard orbit Mr. Sulu.

SULU:
Aye sir.

ON THE MAIN VIEWER: the planet. Another drab grey ball.

KIRK:
Jeeeeeez! This sucks.

SULU:
It really does.

Chekov punches buttons on his navigation console. Meanwhile, the SONG that’s been playing ends (the band members shout “Tequila!”). The SONG IMMEDIATELY BEGINS AGAIN.

KIRK:
What’s happening.

Annoyed, Uhura hits a button. “TEQUILA” STARTS ONCE AGAIN, from the beginning.

KIRK (CONT’D):
A different song would be nice–

The SONG BEGINS AGAIN.

KIRK (CONT’D):
Or just turn it off–

UHURA:
I can’t even turn it down!

Uhura continues to press buttons to no effect. Spock moves over to assist. The turbo-lift doors SNAP open, and DR. MCCOY walks onto the bridge.

MCCOY:
Jim! What’s with the beach party music? It’s being piped all over the ship!

CHEKOV:
Captain! I’ve just been re-checking our navigation logs. They’ve been tampered with.

KIRK:
Tampered?

CHEKOV:
Yes sir. We’ve actually been going in circles for three weeks now.

KIRK:
No wonder the planets all look the same!

Spock, still at Uhura’s side, speaks up:

SPOCK:
Captain, the Lieutenant’s controls are not responding. Furthermore, the ship’s entertainment library has been completely deleted.

MCCOY:
Deleted?!

SPOCK:
Entirely. Except for one song.

KIRK:
Tequila.
(looks skyward, dramatically)
Te–qui–la!!!!

The song wraps up again. The band members shout “Tequila!”

SPOCK:
The obvious conclusion is sabotage.

“Tequila” starts playing again.

KIRK:
Forcing us to eat nothing but grilled cheese? And listen to the same song and map the same planet over and over?!

MCCOY:
What kind of sicko would do this?

A BEEP.

SCOTTY (INTERCOM):
Captain! I’m in the computer room. You’d better get down here.

INT. COMPUTER ROOM – A FEW MINUTES LATER

“TEQUILA” BLARES AWAY as KIRK, SPOCK and MCCOY enter. SCOTTY is already there. Everyone stares up at a GLOWING BLOB up near the ceiling. Its glowing energy-tendrils are imbedded in the ship’s computer processor.

Spock SCANS it with his tricorder.

SCOTTY:
Looks like my Auntie’s haggis.

KIRK:
What is that, Spock?

SPOCK:
A traditional Scottish dish made with the stomach and entrails of a sheep, haggis–

KIRK:
(pointing)
That!

SPOCK:
It appears to be a life form composed of pure energy.

KIRK:
Pure energy? Is that possible?

SPOCK:
Quite possible. You may recall our encounter with the Organians, who appeared humanoid but were revealed to be blobs of photonic plasma.

KIRK:
Oh yeah.

SPOCK:
Then there was the mischievous Trelane, an immature form from a race of energy beings.

KIRK:
Right.

Scotty and McCoy exchange glances. They look bored.

SPOCK:
–or the glowing creature that kept Zefram Cochrane alive on planet Gamma Canaris–

KIRK:
Got it. So why is it torturing us?

SPOCK:
Each step the creature has taken has maximized repetitiveness and monotony for the crew of the Enterprise. I can only conclude that it subsists on the emotional energy generated in humans by situations lacking in drama.

KIRK:
A creature that… feeds… on boredom? Is that possible, Spock?

Off Kirk’s question, McCoy and Scotty SIGH. McCoy crosses his arms and rolls his eyes.

SPOCK:
Indeed, Captain. You may recall the being that made us fight the Klingons with swords in order to feed on our anger.

Scotty picks his nose.

KIRK:
Right…

SPOCK:
–or the creature that framed Mr. Scott for the grisly murders that keep it sated on emotions of fear and terror–

KIRK:
Oh yeah…

SCOTTY:
(flicking booger)
How could you forget that?!

SPOCK:
The precedent is well-established. Only the emotion in question has changed. This being feasts on feelings of ennui.

MCCOY:
You’re laying out a spread for him, Spock.

Kirk regards the creature.

KIRK:
Alright. It had us for a couple of weeks. But now we’re on to it… so why doesn’t it leave? Isn’t the fact that we’ve discovered it enough to end the boredom? I mean, now we’ve got a problem to solve.

MCCOY:
But it’s kind of a boring problem–

SCOTTY:
Aye, it’s not very dramatic.

KIRK:
Then, gentlemen: let’s – get – dramatic!

EXT. SPACE – THE ENTERPRISE
Another stock shot of the ship in orbit, another MUSIC FANFARE to indicate passage of time.

INT. COMPUTER ROOM – DAY

KIRK has a phaser. He presses a switch on it and it emits a LOW HUMMING. (”TEQUILA” still plays in the background.)

KIRK:
Alright, this phaser is on overload. It should explode in about one minute… killing us all.

SCOTTY, MCCOY, and SPOCK look on. Kirk tosses the phaser to Scotty:

KIRK (CONT’D):
Hot potato!

SCOTTY:
Och!

Scotty, alarmed, manages to catch it and toss to Spock. Spock tosses to McCoy…

SPOCK:
Captain, I must point out you are risking the lives of all the command-level officers on the Enterprise.

Kirk catches and tosses back to Spock. The phaser’s WHINING SOUND LOUDER AND HIGHER now…

KIRK:
Keeping it interesting, Spock.

Kirk’s toss goes high, over Spock’s head. Everyone watches as the phaser CLUNKS off the ceiling and disappears behind a control console. Scotty reaches behind it… the PHASER SOUND SCREECHY LOUD NOW…

MCCOY:
Nice throw.

SCOTTY:
I can’t reach it!

MCCOY:
Try harder!

SCOTTY:
I need something – a broomstick maybe.

MCCOY:
Now when have you ever seen a broom on this ship, Scotty?

SCOTTY:
Shut yer gub, McCoy! See if you can reach it…

Kirk studies the creature as McCoy and Scotty struggle to reach the phaser. Spock operates his tricorder.

SPOCK:
(reading tricorder)
It’s working, Sir. The creature is losing energy.

Meanwhile: Scotty has McCoy upside down, holding his ankles. McCoy’s head and upper body are wedged behind the console.

MCCOY:
All the blood’s rushin’ to my head.

SCOTTY:
Ye won’t have a head if that phaser goes off!

MCCOY’S HAND QUIVERS, inches from the phaser – he GROANS, straining… the PHASER SOUND SQUEALING, HIGHER and HIGHER…

ON TOP OF THE COMPUTER PROCESSOR, the creature QUIVERS. It releases its tentacled grip on the computer and floats free.

KIRK:
…did it!

MCCOY grabs the phaser.

MCCOY:
Gotcha!

Scotty hoists McCoy up and they both fall to the ground. McCoy SWITCHES OFF the phaser.
The creature passes through a bulkhead like a ghost, leaving behind a spot of glowing goo on the wall.

The TEQUILA PLAYBACK finally STOPS. Spock scans with his tricorder.

KIRK:
Where’d it go?!

SPOCK:
Unknown. But logically, we can assume it will seek shelter in whatever part of the Enterprise is the least exciting.

KIRK:
The “least exciting…” Suggestions, Mr. Spock?

EXT. CORRIDOR – A FEW MINUTES LATER

A CABIN DOOR, marked with a nameplate:
“NURSE CHRISTINE CHAPEL”

INT. NURSE CHAPEL’S CABIN – CONTINUOUS
The shelves are populated with cute Hummel figurines. A needlepoint sampler with a picture of the Enterprise on it hangs on the wall, captioned “Home Sweet Starship.”

NURSE CHAPEL sits in a chair, quietly HUMMING “Tequila” and working on another embroidery project. Her door BEEPS.

NEW ANGLE: Chapel answers the door. It SNAPS open to reveal MCCOY, KIRK, and SPOCK.

MCCOY:
Hi Christine, sorry, but we’ve got to search your cabin.

The men enter, start looking under pillows, etc.

NURSE CHAPEL:
What? Why? What for?

MCCOY:
(trying for casual)
Oh, a… alien.

Spock opens the closet.

SPOCK:
Here, Captain.

Sure enough: it’s up on the shelf above the coat hangers. Nurse Chapel looks shocked.

NURSE CHAPEL:
That’s not mine!

MCCOY:
Now what?

SPOCK:
Clearly we can chase the creature from place to place by creating localized disturbances. Our only hope of forcing the creature to leave the Enterprise entirely will be to generate excitement throughout the whole ship.

KIRK:
Throughout the whole ship, huh?

Nurse Chapel has been standing behind the three men. Now she’s frowning:

NURSE CHAPEL:
Wait. You came looking for it in my cabin because you think I’m boring? Whose idea was that?

MCCOY:
Nobody. Well… it was kind of a consensus thing.

NURSE CHAPEL:
Right. Somebody brought up my name.

Kirk looks around. McCoy is already looking at Spock, and Kirk glances his way as well. Spock stiffens.

NURSE CHAPEL (CONT’D):
I see.

ANGLE from behind Nurse Chapel. She hides her new needlepoint project behind her back. It says “I (heart) Spock” on it.

KIRK:
Say something, Spock.

SPOCK:
Since the creature is in fact here, clearly my supposition was correct.

McCoy winces.

MCCOY:
Smooth.

NURSE CHAPEL:
I’ll have you know I have a rich and vibrant inner life!

EXT. SPACE – THE ENTERPRISE

Once again: the ship in orbit, another MUSIC FANFARE.

KIRK (V.O.):
Captain’s log, Star Date 2229.5: We’ve devised a plan we hope will drive the creature off the ship. To deprive it of any source of sustenance, our plan will have to excite every single crew member at the same time.

INT. BRIDGE – DAY

KIRK sits in his chair. CHEKOV and SULU are at the helm, UHURA and SPOCK at their stations as usual.

KIRK:
Helm, report.

SULU:
Course laid in, sir.

KIRK:
Stand by.
(punches a button)
Attention everybody, this is the Captain speaking.

INT. CORRIDOR – INSERT

A bunch of MISC. CREW mill around, listening to Kirk on the intercom.

KIRK (INTERCOM):
The ship’s engines have lost power and we’re spiraling out of control toward the planet. I’m very sorry. There’s really nothing we can do at this point, and, we’re all going to die. It’s been an honor serving with all of you, thank you, and goodbye. Kirk out.

The crew members stare at each other blankly for a moment. Then everyone starts running around, SCREAMING in panic.

INT. BRIDGE – RESUME

KIRK smiles, satisfied.

KIRK:
Now, Mr. Sulu.

Sulu presses a button.

EXT. SPACE – THE ENTERPRISE

The ship PITCHES over to one side.

INT. CORRIDOR – INSERT

MISC. CREW all stagger and hit the wall. They SCREAM more.

INT. BRIDGE – RESUME

Grinning, SULU hits another button. He laughs… one of those freakishly deep-pitched George Takei LAUGHS.

EXT. SPACE – THE ENTERPRISE

The ship LURCHES over the other way, and dives down toward the planet.

INT. CORRIDOR – INSERT

MISC. CREW stagger and hit the other wall. They all SCREAM again.

CREWMAN:
Mommy!!

INT. NURSE CHAPEL’S CABIN – SAME TIME

Everything VIBRATES. The GROAN of the Enterprise’s straining engines is loud in the room. NURSE CHAPEL ignores it. She is crying, and talking to the energy creature in her closet.

NURSE CHAPEL:
I don’t blame you. It’s not your fault he thinks I’m dull. No. There’s only one person I can blame for that, and that’s–

The energy creature quivers, and disappears through the back wall of the closet. Chapel frowns:

NURSE CHAPEL (CONT’D):
Oh I’m sorry, was I boring you?!

INT. CORRIDOR – CONTINUOUS

Her cabin door opens, and NURSE CHAPEL strides out. She spots the ENERGY BLOB and follows it as it floats down the hallway. She staggers a bit as the ship LURCHES in its death-spiral.

NURSE CHAPEL:
Hey! I was talking to you! You low-budget-lookin’ piece of crap energy creature! You think I’m boring!?

Chapel follows the creature into the turbo-lift.

NURSE CHAPEL (CONT’D):
I’ll show you how boring I am… uh, not!

The turbo-lift doors SNAP shut.

INT. BRIDGE – MOMENTS LATER

The grey landscape of the planet hurtles past on the viewscreen. The Enterprise is losing altitude. Loud ENGINE SOUNDS and RATTLING.

SULU:
Impact with planet surface in 2 minutes Captain.

KIRK:
Maintain course and speed, helmsman. Uhura: buzz Nurse Chapel and see if the creature is still in her closet.

UHURA:
It’s not…

Kirk turns. In fact, the creature is emerging through the closed doors of the turbo-lift. It hovers near Uhura’s console. Everyone stares.

The ENGINES ROAR, ever louder. The PLANET SPINS PAST on the viewer…

SPOCK:
Depleted energy readings from the creature. It’s working, Captain!

UHURA:
Then why doesn’t it leave?

SPOCK:
The rest of the crew is terrified. But those of us here on the bridge know the danger is not real.

SULU:
Impact in 90 seconds. Unless I press this little green button, of course.

KIRK:
OK, we need something really exciting to push it over the brink. Everybody think!

The turbo-lift doors SWOOSH open. NURSE CHAPEL walks out, a crazed look on her face. She glares, fiery-eyed, at Spock.

ANGLE ON SPOCK: one eyebrow goes up.

Chapel strides toward Spock and takes his hand. Spock rises to face her.

NURSE CHAPEL:
Kiss me, you big dummy.

Chapel plants one on Spock. Spock breaks it off.

SPOCK:
Nurse, this is highly–

NURSE CHAPEL:
–Interesting?

She embraces Spock with both arms, dips him, and passionately resumes kissing him.

Kirk stares. So do Uhura, Sulu and Chekov.

The energy creature QUIVERS, and visibly CONTRACTS. Kirk gets up and approaches it, to get a better look.

KIRK:
Keep it up you two. It’s working!

SULU:
Impact in 30 seconds.

KIRK:
Everybody, kiss each other. That’s an order!

Kirk begins kissing on Uhura, seated at her console. Uhura’s earpiece falls out.

Sulu looks over at Chekov.

SULU:
Orders are orders.

Chekov and Sulu start making out.

For a moment we just cut back and forth between the three kissing couples and the quivering creature, as the RED ALERT KLAXON BLARES and the planet surface rushes ever closer…

WIDE SHOT – everyone on the bridge is kissing.

THE CREATURE IMPLODES, splattering glowing goo on the walls. Kirk breaks from his clinch with Uhura:

KIRK:
Press that button, Mr. Sulu!

Sulu reaches over to his console, while continuing to kiss Chekov. He presses the button.

ON THE VIEWSCREEN, the planet surface RECEDES as the ship gains altitude…

Everyone stops kissing.

Kirk wipes a bit of goo from his face.

KIRK (CONT’D):
Nice work everyone.

Kirk smiles at Uhura. Sulu gives Chekov a wink.

KIRK (CONT’D):
Nurse! Very inspired!

NURSE CHAPEL:
Thank you, Captain.

Chapel and Spock are quite drenched in goo, since they were closest to the creature.

KIRK:
You two, go get cleaned up.

As the two exit via the turbo-lift, Kirk returns to his command chair and punches a button:

KIRK (CONT’D):
All hands, this is the Captain. Forget what I said before, about the crashing and the dying. False alarm. Sorry.

INT. TURBO-LIFT – A MOMENT LATER
SPOCK rides in goo-covered silence with NURSE CHAPEL. He looks at her. Chapel smiles back, confidently.

NURSE CHAPEL:
So. Still convinced I’m the dullest member of the crew, Mr. Spock?

SPOCK:
I am… pleased to re-assess my views, Nurse. Your solution to our dilemma, while unorthodox, was also completely logical. And quite innovative. My congratulations.

The turbo-lift stops, and the doors snap open. Chapel leans in close to Spock before disembarking:

NURSE CHAPEL:
(softly)
Glad you liked it, Spock.

Spock swallows and TURNS SLIGHTLY GREEN.

Chapel turns and exits. The turbo-lift doors shut.

Spock puts a hand to his forehead, wiping away a spot of goo. He raises one eyebrow.

EXT. SPACE – THE ENTERPRISE

TEQUILA plays once again as the Enterprise leaves orbit and sails off into the stars…

ROLL CREDITS

 

THE END

Consumption: 2018

A moment from Leigh Whannell's UPGRADE

Leigh Whannell’s UPGRADE

I keep this list every year, for fun and for reference. The list only reflects films seen for the first time.

I don’t do a numbered ranking, but my #1-most-fun-I-had-at-the-movies award goes to Leigh Whannell’s UPGRADE. Visually inventive and spectacularly violent, this rough-and-ready cyberpunk B-movie felt like a return to the days of ROBOCOP, or peak John Carpenter. Bravo!

Kudos, too, to the makers of SPIDERMAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE. It’s got heart, it’s got style (more than one, actually) and it’s so smart, fast, funny and original it makes all the other superhero movies look kinda stupid by comparison.

Have you ever been watching a movie when a moment comes along that suddenly shifts your entire sense of what it is you’re watching? I LOVE that. It’s rare to get even one of those in a film, and it happened to me twice while watching Ali Abbasi’s BORDER. This one’s about a Swedish customs officer who can literally smell fear. That’s all I knew going in, and all you need to know too. Don’t read the reviews.

I’ll buy that for a dollar! Boots Riley’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU takes place in the same universe as ROBOCOP and Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL. That’s just my theory. But it’s true.

Other 2018 theatrical standouts for me included ANNIHILATION, A QUIET PLACE, THE FAVOURITE (seen in 2019 so it’s not on this list) and (sniffle) WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?

On the TV series front, favorites at our house included The Crown, The Good Place, Better Things, Travelers, and Killing Eve.

The rise of Netflix streaming is very much in evidence in this year’s list. Standouts include Tamara Jenkins’ note-perfect PRIVATE LIFE (Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn as a middle-aged couple racing against their biological clocks), and writer/director Macon Blair’s 2017 release I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE. By turns funny and violent, the latter stars Melanie Lynskey as Ruth, a woman in way over her head as she tries to recover her grandmother’s silverware from some burglars. Ruth’s simple, heartfelt plea is one for our times: “For people to stop being assholes.” Amen, honey.

Linked titles take you to my review, or more info on the film.

MOVIES ON THE BIG SCREEN
Coco
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Post
Annihilation
Black Panther
Darkest Hour
A Wrinkle In Time
Isle Of Dogs
A Quiet Place
Finding Your Feet
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Upgrade
Incredibles 2
American Animals
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Bohemian Rhapsody
Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse
Roma
First Man

MOVIES ON THE SMALL SCREEN
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping*
Double Indemnity
Dr. Strange
Hunt For The Wilderpeople
The BFG
My Happy Family
Beauty And The Beast (2017)
All That Heaven Allows
Mute
The Secret Life Of Pets
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Table 19
For The Love of Spock
Mad
Don’t Breathe
The Florida Project
The Informant!
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Battle Of The Sexes
Dredd
Blockers
The Endless
Take Me
E Il Cibo Va
Henry Fool
The Land Of Steady Habits
Game Night
Private Life
The Trip To Italy
Book Club
Sorry To Bother You

TELEVISION
The Crown
Rick and Morty
Travelers
Modern Family
The Good Place
Supergirl
Better Things
Mom
The Orville
Big Little Lies
Abstract: The Art of Design
The Great British Baking Show
Killing Eve
The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes
F*ck That’s Delicious
Black Mirror: U.S.S. Callister

BOOKS and OTHER READING
Spill Zone – Scott Westerfeld
The Best American Short Stories 2009 – ed. Alice Sebold
Orfeo – Richard Powers
Creatures of Habit: Stories – Jill McCorkle

*Surprise, Motherfucker!

Consumption: 2017

logan-casino2

I make this list every year, for fun and as a reference. As always, it only reflects things seen for the first time. “POLTERGEIST on TV, 14th viewing” doesn’t make the list. Nor do films not viewed in their entirety, for example, Guy Ritchie’s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, which got ejected from the Blu-Ray player after 15 minutes. I’d never seen Henry Cavill in anything before but he seems to emit some kind of anti-charisma particle.

I didn’t bother making a numbered best-of list this year. But if I had, LOGAN would be at the top. It’s perfect. Damn you James Mangold, for making me cry at your Wolverine movie.

Some of my other favorite releases of 2017 include THE BEGUILED, COCO, ATOMIC BLONDE, THOR: RAGANOK, and THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES. Of course, DUNKIRK was impressive – but cold, as is Christopher Nolan’s way. MOTHER! is a movie, alright. Darren Aronofsky swings for the fences. And whatever you think of the film, Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Pfieffer were very good. The BLADE RUNNER sequel was amazing, and very nearly great: only Jared Leto’s messianic super-villain seemed out of place, like a character from a different, dumber movie. THE LAST JEDI: wonderful, about 50% of the time. The compelling Rey/Kylo/Luke storyline almost makes up for how they couldn’t find anything interesting for Poe, Finn, or Rose to do. (Yeah I get that the casino plot is a critique of capitalism and arms dealers and yes intellectually that’s interesting for a Star Wars movie but dramatically it was a big bag of nothing and visually it looked cheap & reminded me of the prequels and like this sentence that movie is too long.)

Linked titles take you to my review, or more info on the film.

MOVIES ON THE BIG SCREEN
Manchester by the Sea
Elle
La-La Land
Logan
Get Out
Life
Pollyanna
Colossal
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (live from the Old Vic)*
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Baby Driver
The Beguiled
Dunkirk
Atomic Blonde
Dave Made A Maze
Dawson City: Frozen Time
The Big Sick
mother!
Blade Runner 2049
Spoor (Pokot)
Suburbicon
Thor: Ragnarok
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Lady Bird
Coco  (saw it January ’18)

MOVIES ON THE SMALL SCREEN
The Jungle Book (2016)
The Nice Guys
Shadow of a Doubt
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
The Handmaiden
The Trip (Steve Coogan, not Dennis Hopper)
Back To The Future III
Eat Pray Love
The Meyerowitz Stories
Hidden Figures
Passengers
Bullitt
The Godfather (pretty good! why didn’t anyone tell me about this flick sooner?)
Personal Shopper

TELEVISION
Travelers
Westworld
Orphan Black
Modern Family
Incorporated
New Girl
The Good Place
The Expanse
Supergirl
Better Things
Game of Thrones
Girls
Mom
Downward Dog
I Love Dick
Odd Mom Out
The Orville
Star Trek: Discovery
POV: What Tomorrow Brings
Big Little Lies
Abstract: The Art of Design

BOOKS and OTHER READING
Other People’s Trades – Primo Levi
Broken Frontier (graphic novel) – Various
Lightspeed Magazine – Various
A whole bunch of screenplays

*I am calling this a movie. I saw it at a movie theater. Harry Potter guy was in it. It counts.

Consumption: 2016

Hell Or High Water posterI’ve kept an annual list of films, TV and books every year since 2014. This year I’m going to add a ranked list of my favorite films of 2016 as well. My list is better than all the other “top 10” lists, because… mine goes to eleven.

1. Hell Or High Water
2. Manchester By The Sea
3. Moonlight
4. Arrival
5. American Honey
6. Certain Women
7. Deadpool
8. Toni Erdmann
9. Don’t Think Twice
10. Zootopia
11. Moana

The above ranking obviously doesn’t include pictures I haven’t seen yet, and that’s a list of its own that includes THE HANDMAIDEN, SILENCE, SING STREET, PATERSON, HIDDEN FIGURES, FENCES, and JACKIE. I’m working on it.

Below is a complete list of everything I saw in 2016. As always, the list only reflects things seen for the very first time. If I came across JAWS or GROUNDHOG DAY or YOU’VE GOT MAIL already in progress on TV and sat there like a zombie through ’til the end, well, that’s not considered worthy of note. What is worthy of note: ZOOLANDER 2 is so very, very bad it makes you feel stupid for having liked the first one. THE LOBSTER is the other movie I regret having made the effort to go see in the theater. I’ll give it points for originality, I guess. Then I’ll take those points back for being a miserable, cruel, misbegotten thing.

Linked titles will take you to either my review or more information on a particular film.

MOVIES ON THE BIG SCREEN
Room
Hail, Caesar!
Anomalisa
Creed
Zoolander 2
Deadpool
My Name Is Doris
Don’t Think Twice
The Lobster
Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words
Star Trek Beyond
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Pete’s Dragon (2016)
Hell Or High Water
Toni Erdmann
American Honey
Arrival
Certain Women
Moana
Moonlight
Rogue One
20th Century Women

MOVIES ON THE SMALL SCREEN
What We Do In The Shadows
Spotlight
Amira & Sam
Today’s Special
Prisoners
Captain America: The First Avenger
Shaun The Sheep Movie
The Libeled Lady
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Amy
Jodorowsky’s Dune
Zootopia
Jack Reacher
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels
The Visitor
Finding Dory
Sicario
Lassie Come Home
Chappie
The Shop Around The Corner
Swiss Army Man

TELEVISION
Orphan Black
Togetherness (RIP)
Archer
Modern Family
New Girl
Jessica Jones
The Expanse
Supergirl
The Mindy Project
Odd Mom Out
Moone Boy
Stranger Things
Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
Better Things
The Good Place
Game of Thrones
Girls
Westworld

BOOKS and OTHER READING
Devotion – Dani Shapiro
60 or so screenplays for the Austin Film Festival competition

My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend

Mike Birbiglia, from MY GIRLFRIEND'S BOYFRIEND

Just a quick recommendation for you today. We went to see Mike Birbiglia’s excellent new feature DON’T THINK TWICE and afterward my buddy Jared suggested I check out Birbiglia’s 2013 TV special. MY GIRLFRIEND’S BOYFRIEND is something halfway between stand-up comedy and a one-man show. It’s just Birbiglia onstage with a microphone – amiable and self-effacing, as is his way – talking relationships, love, sex, and commitment. It unfolds like a garden-variety stand-up set, but eventually it dawns on you that everything he’s saying is part of one big story. In the telling, Birbiglia makes multiple leaps back and forth in time, ping-ponging between years and girlfriends in a story structure that might make Quentin Tarantino envious. It’s funny and thoughtful and finishes on a sweet up-with-love note. Currently available on Netflix streaming.


I’m @giantspecks on Twitter. Occasionally Yelling About Movies #YabtM with my friends. Come say hi. Or yell back!

That time Supergirl made me cry

supergirlbig1

Melissa Benoist as Supergirl

Currently I’m watching two very different TV shows: SyFy’s The Expanse and CBS’s Supergirl. The differences between them, and how I find myself reacting to them, is making me think a lot about what’s really important in storytelling.

The Expanse is SyFy Channel’s prestige programming. It’s complex. It’s dark. It looks expensive. It takes itself very seriously. It tries very hard, but often to little effect. Supergirl, on the other hand, doesn’t hardly seem to be trying at all, but the emotional payoffs have been surprisingly powerful.

The storylines in Supergirl are your basic, primary-colors comic book stuff. No gritty re-imagining here. It’s not a perfect show: dialogue can be clunky, and effects and production design are often pretty cheesy as well. The stories are quite simple. But they resonate, because the writers are working basic, relatable themes: family loyalty, prejudice, anger vs. self-control.

The character of Supergirl (aka Kara) illuminates how important backstory can be to creating a relatable character. Like her more famous cousin, Kara was rocketed to Earth in a little space capsule by parents who stayed behind to die on doomed homeworld Krypton. The big difference between the two of them: Kal-el (Superman) was a baby when he left Krypton. Kara was 12. This simple fact makes Supergirl a much more interesting character than Superman, and has been driving the best story moments all season. Kara remembers her home, and her parents, and she misses them terribly. At times, torn between her human and Kryptonian identities, she literally feels alienated from the human race. She has anger issues. Think about that one for a minute: Supergirl has all the powers of her cousin. If she really came unglued, she could do a lot of damage.

We got a glimpse of that in the episode where Supergirl was temporarily turned bad by some red kryptonite. It revealed an inner life full of resentments, and made me think about her in a way I never had with Superman. (This hour also featured some of the best acting ever seen on the show, and yes, this is the one that made me cry.)

Ultimately, Supergirl’s corn and goofiness don’t matter: I understand the characters and I want to know what they’ll do next. I am entertained.

“Entertainment,” I imagine, is probably not a word that comes up much as often as it should in The Expanse writers’ room. To their credit, it feels like they are smart people working very hard at the 10,000-foot level to honor the big story arcs of the books (I haven’t read them).

SyFy's The Expanse

SyFy’s The Expanse (Photo by: Jason Bell/Syfy)

The show plays a long game, over the course of the first season setting up political tensions on an interplanetary scale between Earth, colonial Mars (now an independent state), and the Belters, roughneck denizens of the industrialized asteroid belt. But big things are made up of little things. And The Expanse is rarely compelling at the smaller scale, the scale of viewer engagement – that is to say, individual scenes and episodes. (See Game of Thrones to observe how a show develops big story arcs while simultaneously making things work moment-to-moment. Personally, I’m not much into swords-and-sorcery stuff, but I’ll make an exception for GoT because… well, because that shit is undeniably gripping.)

The weaknesses of The Expanse are instructive to me because as a sci-fi guy I’m enamored with all the things it counts as virtues: the detailed world-building, the realistic hardware, the getting the physics of space travel (mostly) right. Yet, all through season 1, I struggled to stay with it because I didn’t much care about what was happening. There was a glimmer of hope in episode 2, when space-freighter guy Holden logged a distress call in direct violation of captain’s orders, forcing them to change course & try to help. Stakes! Conflict! Characters are what they do, and I saw Holden make a hard choice to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences. So now I’m in his corner. As the show has progressed, it’s been interesting to see Holden become the de facto leader of the Rocinante crew, despite the fact that they all rightly blame him for the pickle they’re in. I hang onto Holden and his gang to stay afloat in a sea of I-don’t-care.

But those scenes aboard the Rocinante are only about one-third of the show. The UN/Earth scenes are all talk. I just wait for them to end. The Ceres scenes are tough going too, but for different reasons. Sorry, maybe I’m a bad person, but I don’t care about the downtrodden people of Ceres. Oh, hey, you know who I cared about? Those mutants on Mars in Paul Verhoeven’s TOTAL RECALL. The Ceres scenes kinda bring those guys to mind. Again, stylistically far goofier than the grimness of The Expanse, but in TOTAL RECALL the basic requirements of drama had been met: I got to know the mutants. Early scenes introduced some of them to me as individuals, so when their oxygen got cut off, it hurt. The people on Ceres, by comparison, are an undifferentiated bunch of rabble. They are a symbol. And because they are a symboI, it doesn’t much matter to me whether they have air and water.

Furthermore, I didn’t care about the missing girl – the other part of the Ceres storyline – because again, I’ve been given no reason to care. Onscreen for maybe 10 seconds, at the beginning of episode 1, what we were shown of her was totally cryptic. I understand we were building a mystery, but if I can’t be told any info about the girl because it’s a mystery, I better damn well care about the guy who’s trying to solve the mystery for 10 episodes… but I come up empty there too. I don’t know why he’s working on this case except that his boss told him to. Oh, and I think he fell in love with a snapshot of the girl. Really?

There’s also the problem of uniformity of characters. Personalities in The Expanse range in disposition from “tough-but-fair” to “mass-murderer,” so inevitably we’re steeped in hard-boiled dialogue, all delivered with unblinking stares. It gets old. To differentiate the characters, some of them have accents, and a few of them are women (UN lady and mohawk girl*). This is the same flaw – wall-to-wall second-rate tough talk – that very nearly made me bail on season 1 of Netflix’s Jessica Jones, before that show was redeemed around mid-season by virtue of its terrific villain.

There are other things about The Expanse that make watching something of a chore. There’s a triple-whammy of accents, slang, and an invented language, compounded by characters who mumble, or whisper, or struggle with English pronunciation (UN lady). I’m not sure how much a crummy stereo mix has to do with it, but I for one am constantly rolling the DVR back trying to tell what’s being said. I should just turn on the subtitles I guess.

Finally, The Expanse is sometimes hobbled by what seems like indifferent direction. There are fumbled opportunities to build suspense and pay it off with action. Setups are poor, so when action comes, I’m surprised or confused. Moments that should have visceral impact slip by because I’m trying to interpret them. Hey, somebody in a spacesuit (can’t tell who) just did something! A gun went off! Whose gun? Which way was it pointed?

Happily, there are exceptions to this. Most notably, a terrific scene in the season’s final episode, set in the lobby of a seedy space hotel. Pretty much every character in the show arrived there at once, all of them looking for the mystery girl. What transpired next was a long, wordless scene as the suspense built, and built, and built… and was finally paid off with a shootout that was absolutely bananas. I was grinning.

The Expanse is telling a complicated story. For that, it should be applauded. I’ll bet I’ve been more patient with it than your average viewer, but, like an average viewer, I am tuning in for entertainment. I want a payoff. So far, The Expanse’s payoffs have been kind of meager. I’m hanging in there, hoping it will get better. Rooting for it, really, because on many levels The Expanse is just what I always wanted in a sci-fi TV show. It’s been renewed for a second season, and I’m glad. It would be a shame to see it go away. There’s a lot of potential there.


*After an entire season I can’t remember anybody’s name except Holden’s. For that I’m not going to apologize… or Google, for that matter.

Consumption: 2015

Comparing 2015 to last year’s list only makes me appreciate the films of 2014 more. Following a year that brought us UNDER THE SKIN, HER and BOYHOOD, this new batch looks pretty weak. Even worse when you consider that the best film I saw on the big screen last year was Bennett Miller’s tremendous FOXCATCHER, and that was a late 2014 release. That said, I did enjoy most of these titles quite a lot. 2015 from my perspective was a year with a lots of very good movies, lacking in any great ones. Linked titles will take you to either my review or more information on a particular film.

MOVIES SEEN IN THEATER
Into The Woods
Foxcatcher (Wow.)
It Follows
While We’re Young
Burnt In Memory
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
Tomorrowland
Jurassic World
Inside Out
Pather Panchali
Trainwreck
Ant-Man
The Martian
I Want To Be A King
Bridge Of Spies
The Good Dinosaur
The Heart Of A Dog
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

MOVIES ON BLURAY/DVD/DVR/TV
Chef
X-Men: Days of Future Past
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ender’s Game
The Lego Movie
Grey Gardens (1975)
Nightcrawler
Frances Ha
Another Earth
Paddington
Tangerines
Je, Tu, Il, El
Two Days, One Night
Defending Your Life
American Ultra

TELEVISION
Orphan Black (Tatiana finally got her Emmy nom. Yay! Didn’t win, though. Boo.)
Archer
Cougar Town
Modern Family
New Girl
Louie
Married (RIP)
Mr. Robot
Jessica Jones
The Expanse

BOOKS and OTHER READING
World War Z
Quantum Deadline