An Ode To Leonard Nimoy, and To His Undying Character

Spock with a cat is basically the epitome of awesome.

Spock with a cat is basically the epitome of awesome.

Spock is still with us. He was brought back to life by the Genesis Device, after all. He’s out there somewhere, with pointy ears and one eyebrow raised, telling us the most logical course of action.

It is Leonard Nimoy, beloved to millions of people across the globe, that is no longer with us. But somehow, that doesn’t feel quite right to say.

I generally have a slight aversion to cheesy celebrity death posts, mainly because I have never had personal experiences with these celebrities, or did not feel like I was enough of a fan to warrant writing a eulogy for someone I’d technically never met. I was a fan of Robin Williams, for instance, and was very saddened to hear about his tragic death, but I did not feel I was the right person to write about what he meant to people.

This is different.

Leonard Nimoy did much more than play Mr. Spock on Star Trek (here is the proof). But for me, and for most people, I imagine, Spock is what he will be remembered for the most. It’s obvious why, and I don’t need to explain what made Spock such a good character. What I want to talk about is what Spock meant to me.

My parents are huge Star Trek fans, and one day the decided to order the first show from Netflix, CD by CD (back when people actually still ordered physical DVDs from Netflix), and watch it episode by episode with us. Since we had to wait for the DVDs to come in the mail, it was the closest we could get to watching it as a real TV show. In a way, it was even better because we were seeing every episode in order.

The show gets off to a semi-slow start, but by the time I saw “The Menagerie,” I was hooked, and much of it had to do with that intriguing pointy-eared science officer that was so different from everyone else in the show. And yet, he fit in perfectly. There would have been no Star Trek without Mr. Spock, and I don’t think I would have been drawn to the show as I was if not for him.

I’ve said numerous times, in discussion of TV shows like The X-Files and movies like Gravity, that what I personally look for in storytelling are complex characters. A good story is carried by great characters, and the emotional arc of any tale rides on a character’s conflict and development. But a great deal of it also rides on personality, which is something I haven’t discussed much.

Spock was – is – a logical, practical, calm person with two halves, a person split right down the middle between two kinds of being: the logical, and the emotional. The emotional is his human side, the logical is his Vulcan side. Or so the show claims. What was so, so special about Spock – and what really drew me to him, as a shy, lonely, awkward twelve-year-old – was the way he showed his humanity through his inhumanity. Some of Spock’s most emotional, noble, loving material is channeled through a being of logic – his Vulcan side cooperating with his human side, allowing it to drive his actions. And damn, there’s just something so relatable about that. We all feel like that. We all have problems that lead us in different directions. We all must find ways to make two conflicting sides of ourselves help each other.

I think Leonard Nimoy took this character that Gene Roddenberry created and gave him a depth, a layer, that Roddenberry had not anticipated. One raised eyebrow is funnier than any joke, one sincere sentence says more than a monologue ever could have. The contrast between Spock and Kirk is striking: Kirk, whose emotional material is delivered through passionate monologues and rousing speeches; Spock, who can do the same with a softly spoken sentence. Neither is better than the other; they go together, complement each other. Two halves of a whole.

I had to go out and do stuff today. I had to do normal things, like eat breakfast and go to class and buy food and talk to people. And all the while, I kept turning my head away, blinking back tears. I kept thinking back to when I was younger, sitting on my living room floor with a bowl of popcorn, watching a spaceship full of people wearing primary colors flying through space, boldly going where no one had gone before. To my young mind, Star Trek was the greatest thing I had ever seen, the most exciting, the most intriguing, the most creative. In many ways, it still is. In great part thanks to Leonard Nimoy and his character.

Spock, you have been and always shall be my friend. Live long and prosper. Thanks to you, I know I will.

spock

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Worldless, Part 2

Read Part 1 here

Link to all parts here

Read on Figment here

________________

Captain Malaa had many stunning qualities as a commander, but patience was not one of them.

“I don’t care if the thing belongs to the thirteen-year-old daughter of famous Earthling movie star, politician, and entrepreneur Donnie Rombasco,” she said. “Get it off my ship. We don’t allow passengers to keep animals on board.”

“Oh, come on, it won’t cause any harm!” whined the thirteen-year-old daughter of famous Earthling movie star, politician, and entrepreneur Donnie Rombasco, but Malaa shook her head and pointed to the door. She didn’t care how many bratty Earthling children brought Labrador puppies into the ship. The Labradors had to go, and if she had her way, so would the bratty children.

“I’m not going to do anything wrong!” screamed the thirteen-year-old daughter of famous Earthling movie star, politician, and entrepreneur Donnie Rombasco, and stomped her foot on the last syllable, which Malaa would have slapped her for if there hadn’t been people watching.

“I don’t have time for this,” said Malaa. “Passengers are simply not allowed to bring animals on board. It’s against regulations. If you want to know why, I’ll show you the video of what happened to the Lieutenant of the spaceship Comet Dust, who had a particularly nasty run-in with an Earthling passenger’s exotic Krimkusian sixteen-legged spitting spider.”

“Eeeew, no,” said the brat. “Besides, it’s not a sixteen-legged spitting spider! It’s a cute little puppy.” As if on cue, the puppy whined, wagged his tail, and looked up at Malaa with huge, pleading, chocolatey eyes.

“My order stands,” said Malaa, trying not to look at the cute little puppy, and turned away.

“Wait, Captain,” said a voice suddenly. It was Lieutenant Garah, looking more embarrassed and pathetic than ever. Malaa’s skin was crawling with irritation. The last thing she needed was Garah stepping in.

“Let me take the puppy,” said Garah. “It’s not against regulations for crew members to house animals. I can keep it in my room, and the girl can come visit and take care of it. Like I said, it’s not against regulations.”

“It should be,” Malaa muttered. She had decided not to waste any more energy on the damn puppy. She started to walk away.

“So is that a yes?” Garah called after her.

“Whatever,” she answered without turning around. She had a headache, and it certainly wasn’t being made any better by backboneless Lieutenant Garahs and thirteen-year-old daughters of famous Earthling movie star, politician, and entrepreneur Donnie Rombasco.

*     *     *

There were some days Malaa just wanted to slap some sense into everybody she met. She was the Captain of a freight vessel, for heaven’s sake. But wealthy Earthlings loved to send their relatives or friends to Krimkus for “vacation.” Since they usually paid high sums of money, small freight vessels like Malaa’s ship were often used as they were the only spaceships that went regularly in between planets. Most Earthlings hadn’t been to Krimkus, and vice versa. The two planets were not yet so trusting as to share their own worlds.

To visit the other planet, you had to become a space traveller, and you had to train for years and years, learn everything from how a spaceship works to what to do when you’ve run out of water on a vessel (if that should ever happen). Or, of course, you could be the bratty child of someone like Donnie Rambasco, and have everything handed to you on a silver platter. It made Malaa’s stomach turn. There were people like that on Krimkus too – wealthy people who had been born into a life of comfort and ease and fortune, and people like Malaa, who had grown up in the mines and the communities of the lost and orphaned, were left to dream and lose and suffer.

Garah had grown up similarly, which was part of the reason Malaa kept him around. Even though they got on one another’s nerves, there was an understanding between them that they had with no one else, and Malaa was grateful that there was someone close by who knew about the dirty side of Krimkus, had experienced it first hand and had risen to success anyway. She didn’t know the specifics of Garah’s story, but she knew enough, and she was glad for it.

Jena was from that scene too. Jena, who was the most talented young officer Malaa had ever met, was from Malaa’s world. Despite the horrors she knew Jena must have seen, Malaa couldn’t help feeling pleased about this.

Jena was still with the Earthling boy, Malaa thought. On Moonport. She hoped they were enjoying themselves, though not too much: even Malaa had noticed the way Jena looked at Nate. It was rare for Krimkusians and Earthlings to engage in romantic relationships, though not unheard of. There was even a small group of Earthling-Krimkusian hybrids out there somewhere, though Malaa hardly ever heard about them and knew neither planet viewed them with anything resembling pride.

Garah was suspicious of the Earthling boy. Maybe his suspicions were justified. Malaa went to her computer, logged into the ship’s database, and clicked on Nate’s personnel file.

The only reason Malaa hadn’t done this before was because Nate had been placed on her ship by the Krimkusian Science Society, and Malaa, who worked for the KSS, was not at liberty to question their motives and usually saw no reason to. And she hadn’t, at least not until Garah had started making such a fuss. Despite what Garah felt about Nate, the fact remained that Nate had, so far, done nothing wrong or even out of the ordinary. But Malaa had long ago made up her mind to trust Garah’s instincts, and although she rarely did so openly, she usually followed through on his suspicious in private, like she was doing now.

Nate’s personnel file didn’t contain much – not even a last name. He was a nineteen year old from Earth, which Malaa already knew, and apparently he had a sibling, although there was no mention of who or where that sibling was. The file didn’t even mention when Nate had left his planet, and it certainly didn’t mention why. Malaa had heard that he was an outcast of some sort, but now she wasn’t sure.

“Hmmm,” she said to herself. Garah was right. This was strange.

*     *     *

Jena had never realized how exhausting fun could be. She’d experienced almost every kind of tiredness there was – tiredness from work, from pain, from grief, from boredom, but she had never been tired from fun before. She felt a strange mixture of energy at the same time, and tried not to show any exhaustion to Nate, who was insisting they go to the theatre.

“What’s in the theatre?” Jena yawned.

“Virtual m0vie,” said Nate. “Do they have those on Krimkus?”

“If they do, I haven’t been,” said Jena.

“There’s a lot you haven’t seen, Jena,” said Nate.

“There’s a lot I have,” she answered, and he said nothing.

Jena and Nate bought the tickets for the movie. They went into the building, where there were more bright, flashing lights, and suddenly Jena felt her enthusiasm begin to disappear, and exhaustion take over completely. She really didn’t want to go, but there was Nate, looking so happy and excited…Jena shook her head. You have to take care of yourself, Jena, she told herself firmly, and took a deep breath.

“Nate, I think I want to go back to the ship. I’m getting very tired.”

“But we just bought the tickets!” he said.

“We can get a refund. You don’t mind, do you? I’m still under evaluation, and I need my sleep.”

Nate didn’t like it, but he didn’t say so. “All right,” he said. “I know you have a test. Wouldn’t want you to mess up, though I don’t think you’ve done that yet,” he added, grinning. Jena gave a weak smile back.

They turned around to head back to the ticket booth, when suddenly, a Krimkusian man with crimson skin approached them.

“Excuse me,” the man said. “I was wondering if you’d seen a gold watch anywhere. I dropped it somewhere and I can’t find it.”

“We haven’t, sorry,” said Nate.

“Would you mind helping me look for it? My eyesight is terrible.”

“Sure,” Nate started, but Jena grabbed his arm. She had seen these people before, back home on Krimkus, and you couldn’t always trust them. In some places you couldn’t ever trust them.

“No, Nate,” said Jena softly.

“He’s just a guy who needs help, Jena. You have the StingSpray, don’t you? If he tries to hurt us, you’ll be prepared.”

“Be careful,” she muttered.

They walked around with the man, and after fifteen minutes of searching Jena began to suspect that there was no gold watch – why would a man dressed as simply as he own a gold watch, anyway? – and she felt the intense need to return to the ship as quickly as possible.

They entered the hallway near the bathroom, a very dimly lit space with only a few people lurking about. A couple was kissing in a dark corner. Jena’s eyes drifted towards Nate but he was looking intently at the ground.

“Nate,” said the man with the crimson skin.

Nate looked up, and the man smiled. “I don’t think we’re going to find it, what do you think, Nate?”

Jena’s hand drifted towards her phone, which lay in her pocket.

“What do you say we give up the search and have a talk – just you and me?”

Jena’s other hand went for the StingSpray.

“Talk about what?” said Nate.

“Oh – I don’t know. About life. Fate. Destiny. About what you’re doing on a Krimkusian ship.”

“How do you – ” Nate began, but Jena pushed him out of the way and held the StingSpray in front of the man’s face.

“I don’t know who you are or what you want,” said Jena, “but we’re leaving and you’d better not follow us. We’re not telling you anything else.”

“I wasn’t talking to you, my dear,” said the crimson man. “I’m sure Nate feels differently – don’t you, Nate?”

“What do you know about me?” said Nate.

“I can’t be sure I know anything about you at all, really. Information can be so unreliable sometimes.” The man grinned. “How about you correct my mistakes?”

“Don’t say another word, either of you,” said Jena. She whisked out her phone and dialed the transporter’s number. “This is Jena and Nate, requesting to enter. Immediately.”

A hiss of static, and then a reply. “Sorry, officer, we can’t transport you from a building. You’ll have to go outside.”

“Come on,” said Jena, grabbing Nate’s arm. The crimson man struck Jena across the face and reached for her StingSpray, but Jena pulled it out of his reach. She kicked him, hard, and aimed the spray at his face, squirting twice. “Run!” she shouted, grabbing Nate’s hand, and they dashed for the exit.

TO BE CONTINUED

Movie Review – X-Men: First Class

This is a film. And I am going to spoil it. If you wish to see this film someday, I suggest you go no further.

X-Men-First-Class-20111

After the horror of X-Men 3, this film is very much a breath of fresh air. In fact, I think this might be the best X-Men film in terms of how it works as a film. Meaning, if I were to choose out of the X-Men films a representation of what good filmmaking can do, then I would pick this movie. But that’s only out of the X-Men films, which really doesn’t say much.

I feel that First Class would have been a better prequel if the characters in the original trilogy were more clearly defined. There’s not much of First Class’s Charles Xavier that I see in the original films’s Charles Xavier, and the same goes for Mystique and Beast. The only exception to that is Magneto, whose character traits I could recognize in both films, and he was by far the best character in First Class in terms of being a prequel character.

On their own, though, the characters are much better than the ones in the original movies, even if their superpowers aren’t quite as cool. Even though the movie was total shit I still enjoyed seeing Jean Grey wreak havoc on the world in The Last Stand, and Wolverine is always very much a badass, even if he is put in the spotlight too much. I’ll talk about the prequel cast vs. the original cast more in my next review, but the prequel cast is much more complex, even if the superpowers are kind of lame.

I especially like what they did with Mystique. I didn’t at first, but now I think it adds a very interesting dimension to her character, as well as makes The Last Stand all the more reprehensible. Seeing the relationship Mystique formed with both Charles and Magneto makes Magneto’s casual dismissal of her in The Last Stand even more terrible than it was on its own. But I digress.

The reason I didn’t like all this characterization for Mystique at first was because we don’t see enough of her personality in the original films to have any context with which to witness this character’s growth. But I realize now that may be the point. First Class does what the original X-Men films didn’t do – actual characterization. And, after seeing this movie, I love what they did with her character. Plus, Jennifer Lawrence = yes.

The casting is very good, too, especially in the case of Magneto. If I were to look at the old Magneto and wonder what he was like in his younger days, the Magneto in First Class would probably be very close. One thing I wish they had done more of, however, was establish a stronger friendship between Magneto and Charles. In the original films, it was hinted that the two had been great friends divided by opposing goals. I still felt a great divide between them in First Class, and I would have liked to see them closer. In addition, I would have liked to see Mystique establish a clearer, more defined relationship with Magneto.

First Class’s other problem is that besides Charles, Mystique, and Xavier, the other characters are rather boring. I wasn’t a fan of Emma Frost, and I can’t even remember anybody else’s name. Oh, Beast was fine. He was cool. But not as much as the first three I mentioned.

All in all, First Class is definitely the best movie in the franchise so far. But I do wish they hadn’t ruined the original cast’s chance at a good movie. Despite the lack of characterization, I do think the original cast has a lot of potential, in particular the whole Jean Grey/Phoenix thing, which they should have explored WAY more than they did (see Confused Matthew’s review for the reason why). But there’s no denying that this prequel film is by far the smoothest in the series.

Movie Review – X2: X-Men United (2003)

You know those things you don’t want to find when you’re reading a review of a movie you haven’t seen? I think they call them spoilers. Anyway, you’ll find a lot of them below, so if you haven’t seen the movie, go do something else.

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Okay, so this is the second installment in the X-Men movie franchise. How was it?

Pretty good, I’d say. It was definitely better than the first movie. It was more fluent, the action was better, and I felt better acquainted with all the characters. More importantly, I actually enjoyed watching this one. It was kind of fun.

At first, though, I thought it was just going to be the first movie all over again, since the two start in similar ways. And yes, the central conflict seems to be the same, except that there’s another conflict inserted in and the two are really going on at the same time. It sort of works, though, because they do the exact same thing with the villains. Magneto is still there, but there’s another villain, William Striker, who takes center stage in this movie, with Magneto waiting in the background ready to strike again. The main heroes even enlist his help for a few scenes, which was really fun to watch, especially since they make frequent use of Mystique, who is, I fully admit it, very badass.

There are also several other subplots going on at the same time. Wolverine is trying to find out his past. He doesn’t find out much beyond the fact that William Striker was apparently the one who gave him his metal claw things, and that he was, according to Striker, an “animal.” I’m not going to go too much into Wolverine’s story as I’m sure it will be greatly explored in the TWO WHOLE MOVIES that are dedicated to him. Seriously? He got two movies? Couldn’t you have given Mystique one? Or Magneto?

One part of Wolverine’s story that I will discuss, however, is the stupid love triangle between him, Jean Grey, and Cyclops. Love triangles rarely make your movie better unless they’re the main focus, and this movie was no exception. The love triangle is so completely useless that I want to punch the screen whenever they bring it up. Here’s why it’s not effective. We hardly ever see Cyclops and Jean together, so we don’t know the nature of their relationship. The movie tells us that Jean needs to be with Cyclops and not with Wolverine, but I honestly would rather see Jean and Wolverine together because they actually interact. I don’t see how anyone could prefer the Cyclops/Jean pairing over the Wolverine/Jean pairing because there’s not enough with which to compare the two. Until they give me more screen time with Jean and Cyclops, Jean and Wolverine belong together. There, I said it.

Rogue isn’t in this movie much, which is a shame because I actually liked her character from the first movie. She has a new boyfriend, and that’s about it. We’ll talk about her new boyfriend, though, whom I’ve started to call Ice Boy because I can’t remember his real name. Sorry about that, but there are so many goddamn characters.

All in all, the story in X2 flows a lot better than the one in X-Men. There are themes that are brought up in the beginning of the film which are brought back, giving a nice fluency and coherence to the story. An example is the conversation Storm has with the teleporting guy at the beginning of the movie. The two discuss different ways of facing discrimination and prejudice. Storm is very bitter about the years of oppression put on mutants by normal people, and chooses to face her battles with an attitude of anger, but the teleporting guy, who is very religious, instead chooses faith. Towards the end of the movie, the conversation is referenced once again when Storm tells teleporting guy she has faith in him. It may be cheesy, but it’s nice and well-structured at the same time.

Patrick Stewart is great as always, but I think the real star of the show is Magneto, who does some really badass, horrible, and creative things in this movie. Probably my favorite scene, and certainly the most creative, was Magneto’s escape scene. Magneto is trapped in a plastic prison, and he escapes by – get this – extracting all the iron from a security guard’s blood, turning that iron into three metal balls, and using those metal balls to wreak havoc and bust out of there. I rarely wince when watching mild gore, but I did wince at that scene. It was gross, but really cool.

The whole movie was kind of like that, cool. It was fun to watch. That is, except for the stupid goddamn ending.

This is the part where Jean is trying to get the ship working while attempting to stop a giant wall of water from crashing down on everyone at the same time. I’m sure if you gave me time, I could think of a dozen more ways they could have gotten out of that situation. While I was watching the movie, I was thinking to myself, they have a freaking kid who can freeze things. Why the hell aren’t they using him? While Jean got the plane working, Ice Boy could have been freezing the giant wall of water and, the second before it cracked, teleporting guy could have gotten them out of there. Also, was there any reason Jean couldn’t have done what she did from inside the plane? Or couldn’t Storm have made a huge wind current that blasted the plane out of there?

I don’t know. It was just hard for me to invest in the emotional impact of the scene when I was thinking of so many alternatives. “There’s no other way” and “I have to do this” have been said in every superhero/action film/whatever genre you can think of ever, and the fact that they really needed a scene in which to say those all too familiar and annoying words irks me.

Other than that, though, the film was good, and it definitely makes me want to watch the third movie. Onward we go.

Short Story – Worldless, Part 1

Link to all parts here

Read on Figment here

_________

Earth Year 4126

 

The disc-shaped starship spun like a frisbee through the vast, silent realms of space. A row of blue lights surrounded its circular perimeter, giving it a strange, almost ridiculous, look. The ship was the latest design, the most advanced technology the planet Krimkus had created. Surely it was enough to bring their sister and rival planet Earth to its knees.

Krimkus and Earth weren’t actually in conflict, of course. There was a sort of friendly feud between them, an intense desire to beat the other in technological innovations but nothing beyond that. The people on both planets were nearly identical, the only difference being that Krimkusians had many more shades of skin color, everything from green to crimson to pale blue, and they hadn’t destroyed their planet by sucking it dry of its natural resources and clogging its atmosphere with foul chemicals. The Krimkusians highest value was the natural world, and everything they did was done in the cleanest, most environmentally efficient way possible.

Ever since the first contact between the “Earthlings,” as they called themselves, and the Krimkusians, the two planets had worked together to get Earth back to some sort of environmentally stable shape. But the pollution was so bad and the natural plant and animal life so devastated that complete recovery was probably never going to happen.

It was disgusting. Captain Malaa, the captain of the new starship, felt her stomach turn whenever she looked at Earth from her place on the bridge. The once-green continents were now a sickly greenish brown, and a foul glow surrounded the planet. Space trash orbited Earth, so much trash that it created a ring around the planet similar to those of Saturn, though not nearly as beautiful. The water, which had once been a brilliant blue, Malaa heard, now was an undefined blue-gray.

And yet, despite the fact that the planet was in a state of near disrepair, the inhabitants of Earth had found a way to profit from their extraordinary technological innovations. Even though the Krimkusians had (in Malaa’s opinion, anyway) beaten the Earthlings with their newest starship design, the brilliant scientists of Earth had created machines Malaa could only dream of owning. Computers that rearranged particles and created materials out of thin air. Weapons that knocked an unsuspecting victim unconscious thirty miles away in less than twenty seconds, with a laser-beam type bullet that was painless and, for the most part, would never kill you. Telescopes that had found a way to reach into the farthest corners of space and send a signal to other life forms. That signal had been what brought Krimkus and Earth together, in the Earth year 3053.

“For better or for worse,” Malaa’s grandfather would say often, and Malaa understood more of what he meant by that statement every day.

Malaa directed her ship to the Earth’s moon, where the main trading port between the two planets was located. The spinning disc hovered over a landing platform, and the blue lights blinked once, twice, then went out completely as the bottom of the ship touched the moon’s dusty ground. There was an uncomfortable click, and a slight shake as the ship securely locked into place. The ship’s design was newer than the landing pad, but the two were still compatible. For now.

“We’re here, Captain,” Lieutenant Garah said from his chair. He was a short, round man, with skin the color of an upturned leaf.

“How very observant, Garah,” Malaa said sarcastically. “Why don’t you inform the rest of the crew? I’m sure they haven’t noticed by now.” Malaa turned to her First Officer-in-training, Jena, a beautiful and brilliant young scientist on her first space mission, though not, based on her performance so far, anywhere near her last. Malaa had never seen a young person so talented and capable; it was as if she’d been commanding spaceships her whole life.

“The cargo is ready, Captain, and Lieutenant Faresh is in the cargo bay overseeing its transport,” Jena reported. “I can go down there to supervise if you feel it necessary, but I think they can handle it.”

“I agree,” said Malaa. “You’ve done splendidly, Jena. You deserve a break. Why don’t you take a few friends with you and make a visit to Moonport. It’s fun, if not a bit ridiculous. Just stay out of trouble.”

“Yes, Captain,” said Jena excitedly, and walked quickly out of the room, her amber eyes flashing with anticipation. Talented though she was, Jena was still young, and this was still a new experience for her.

After Jena left, Malaa walked down to where Garah was fiddling with his officer’s cap. The light of the ship made his pale green bald head shine, and not in a way that was at all flattering. It made him look smaller, more foolish.

“Stop fidgeting, Garah,” said Malaa.

“I don’t like it, Captain,” Garah mumbled, almost half to himself. He met her eyes and then quickly looked away. “I don’t like her going down there. Especially because she’ll bring him along, you know she will.”

“She’ll be fine,” Malaa said, but she wasn’t sure.

*     *     *

Jena hurried down the clean and polished halls of the starship until she reached the residence area, passing rows upon rows of doors, until she reached number 273. She knocked on it three times, and when there was no answer, she put her ear to the door and listened. He was definitely in there. Just ignoring her.

She shifted from one foot to the other, wringing her hands impatiently, and waited. She knocked again, and waited some more. Finally, after five good minutes had passed, she gave the door a swift kick and shouted, “Come on, Nate, I know you’re in there! Let me in!”

The door opened, and Nate stood there, his brown eyes sparkling with mischief. He was tall, much taller than Jena, and perhaps the only person on the whole ship besides Captain Malaa who had any sort of authority over Jena. But Nate’s authority was different. It was subtle and powerful and not at all healthy, although neither of them knew it.

“Off duty?” said Nate. “We’ve arrived, haven’t we? How did everything go?”

“Smooth as silk. The Captain’s letting me off for a few hours. I’m going to Moonport, you want to come?”

Nate looked at her questioningly, as if he were studying her. She hated it when he did that.

“Maybe…” he said, half to himself. “Sure, I’ll come. It won’t do much, but I’ll come.”

“You will?” Jena hadn’t really expected him to say yes. She had asked him with the knowledge that the moon, although it was not Earth, was still very much a part of Earth, and that Earth made Nate uncomfortable. She had asked anyway because she couldn’t help herself.

“I’ll do anything for you, dear Jena,” Nate said jokingly, and then shut the door, leaving her out in the hall alone.

He was so strange. He was so, so strange sometimes. So different. But what else could Jena expect? Nate was an Earthling.

*     *     *

Lieutenant Garah was a lot more intelligent than he let himself believe or act. He let his nerves get the best of him, and many people wondered why the KSS – the Krimkusian Science Society – had let him take a position on a starship. Lieutenant Garah had been flying starships for nearly twenty years, but had never once been considered for promotion. He was too timid, too willing to follow commands and not willing enough to give them. Still, there was something about him, Captain Malaa knew, that was invaluable. His advice had never once led them off course, and he had a steady conscience. And he was experienced. Captain Malaa trusted experience more than any other virtue.

Malaa tapped Garah on the shoulder. “Don’t bother watching them,” she whispered.

“But, Mal- I mean, Captain. It could be dangerous. He could be dangerous. He’s not part of the test, he could jeopardize the whole thing -“

“We aren’t to interfere with the test under any circumstances,” Malaa said. “Jena knows she’s being evaluated every step of the way, and it was her choice to ask the boy to go along. Every decision she makes will go into her score, Garah – every one. We can’t help her.”

“What if he puts her life in danger?”

“For goodness’ sake, Garah. He’s an Earthling, not an enemy.”

“His own planet doesn’t even want him.”

“No, he doesn’t want his planet. He came to Krimkus on his own.”

“I don’t trust him.”

“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

Garah’s eyes flashed with momentary anger. “I’m sorry, Captain,” he said. “I care for the girl, that’s all. She’s quite the commander, and she could be a real asset to the Society if she passes her test.” He paused, and swallowed heavily. “A tremendous asset.”

“She’s done all right,” said Malaa, and left Garah sitting with his thoughts.

*     *     *

Garah retreated to his room and opened his Officer’s Log. Most officers kept their logs in their computers, but Garah had always preferred paper. He had a small, well-made notebook in which he kept all his reports.

Flipping back to six weeks before, he read the first entry he’d written for this particular mission.

We have a trainee on board, a young woman fresh out of the Society College named Jena. Her first assignment was to escort the human boy to his room. She has never seen the ship before. This task was meant to demonstrate her familiarity with the ship’s designs, and she appears to know them better than half the crew. She took him straight there, and although it took her longer than it should upon closer inspection we realized that the prolonged time had nothing to do with any mistake in direction on her part, but rather because she and the boy were engaged in a lengthy conversation. Even now they appear to be getting along well.

Today, Jena the trainee was allowed to direct the ship in and out of Jupiter V, one of the loading docks in the Earth’s solar system. She did it with accuracy and confidence. I wish I were able to speak like her, in that authoritative voice. Her presence as a commander is surpassed only by Captain Malaa’s.

Our Jena is not only a skilled officer, but a hero. I was not present when the incident occurred, but according to those who were, Jena was down in Maintenance inspecting the engines when one of the Repairmen had a large and heavy object fall on his leg. Jena performed some marvelous first aid, and got him up to Sick Bay as speedily as possible. 

And so on and so on, tale after tale of Jena’s marvelous expertise. Garah wished he felt as confident about her as he did when she’d first come. But he couldn’t, not when she was with the boy. There was something wrong with that boy.

*     *     *

Moonport was a conglomeration of colorful buildings, all nestled under one huge silver casing that stretched for miles and miles. Inside, a collection of restaurants, amusement parks, bars, movie theaters, and stores were nestled together on either side of a huge, seemingly endless hallway. It was the place space travelers and planet-dwellers alike went to have fun, although it was much more accessible to space travelers. Jena had never been before, but she’d heard stories about it, about what a colorful place it was, how many new people there were to meet.

It was one of the only places where there was a roughly equal amount of Earthlings and Krimkusians, although you hardly ever saw them walking together, as Jena and Nate were. Jena noticed people’s heads turn when they walked by, and she saw one or two people exchange confused glances. An Earthling and a Krimkusian, together! It was rare.

Even though they were similar it was fairly easy to tell the difference between the two races. Krimkusians had bright colors in their skin, hair, and eyes, while Earthlings were, well, Earthy and flesh-toned. Jena’s cerulean skin and amber-gold eyes were so unlike Nate’s nut-brown skin and chocolately ones. Even though sometimes, Jena didn’t feel so different from him. Not even in appearance.

“Do you want to go to a bar?” Nate asked. “Or perhaps we should start with something less exciting, since this is your first time on Moonport…”

“I thought it was your first time too.”

“No,” said Nate, “it isn’t.”

He didn’t elaborate. Nate rarely ever elaborated on his own, and Jena didn’t feel much like asking him to. She was so afraid of upsetting him.

“I don’t want to go to a bar,” said Jena. “I don’t think getting intoxicated, even on leave, is a good idea.”

“There’s nothing wrong with getting a little drunk sometimes,” said Nate. “It’ll be fun. I’ll make you stop if you start going crazy.”

“No,” said Jena firmly. “I’m being evaluated, Nate. I’m not going to mess this up. Let’s go to a restaurant.”

Nate was disappointed, Jena could tell, but he said nothing. Jena felt a pang in her stomach – was he upset with her? Was she too bossy?

“I mean,” she said, “maybe we can go later, if I feel like it. But I don’t want to spend my evening getting drunk.”

“It’s fine, Jena,” Nate said, and then he smiled, a beautiful smile that lit up his whole face and took Jena’s breath away. “I don’t want you messing up your evaluation, either. We’ll stay away from bars. Tonight we will be pure and temperate.”

“Thank you.” But there was still something in his voice that worried her.

They went to the only restaurant they could easily walk to that Nate claimed had any “class,” and got a table. There were few people inside. The tablecloths were white but faded and the atmosphere was dingy. Jena didn’t like it at all, but she said nothing.

Sitting at a table on the other side of the room was a figure wearing a hood. They were eating a bowl of soup and muttering to themselves. On the side opposite them was an Earthling family of five. The kids were very young and wouldn’t stop fidgeting and throwing things. One of the younger boys ran under the table, pulling the white tablecloth as he went, which knocked over a wineglass. Two Krimkusian waiters came rushing out with a broom and dustpan, and had cleared the mess before the parents had time to apologize.

“Have you been here before?” Jena asked Nate. “Is it good?”

Nate laughed. “Why, Jena, is that what you think of me? I wouldn’t have taken you here if it wasn’t good.”

“I could end up hating it,” said Jena.

“Well, if that happens I hope you won’t tell me. It’ll hurt my feelings.”

But there was something within Jena that couldn’t hate whatever Nate liked, and always found a flaw in something he hated. The waiters brought the food out, and Nate commented on the subtlety of flavor in the cheese, and the perfect consistency of the bread, and the unmistakable balance of sweetness and spunk in the wine, and Jena suddenly tasted these things as if he had told her mouth to enjoy them. Jena finished the dinner feeling quite full of food but empty of experience. She wanted to see more.

“You know,” she said, as they were leaving, “I want to see more of Moonport, but I think that one glass of wine is as drunk as I’m going to get.”

Nate laughed, and pushed open the door. “You know, Jena,” he said, “give it time, and I think I could manage to fall in love with you.”

*     *     *

The hooded figure in the restaurant pushed back his hood once Jena and Nate had left. The family had left too, thank goodness, and now he was finally alone.

He was a Krimkusian, with crimson skin and eyes. He was of average height and build, but there was something powerful in the way he moved toward the kitchen.

“ROOS,” he yelled through the kitchen door, through the sound of clanking pots and pans, and a tall, thin, yellow Krimkusian man hurried out.

“Was that him?”

“That was him,” said Roos, his voice shaking. “Oh, Balvin, please don’t do anything too horrible-“

“Of course I won’t,” said Balvin, and felt in his pocket for the handgun as he walked out of the restaurant.

TO BE CONTINUED

Read Part 2 here

Movie Review – Gravity

One day I’m going to stop making the pre-review spoilage disclaimer, but unfortunately I don’t have enough readers yet. Whatever. You know the drill: don’t read the review if you haven’t seen the movie. And if you haven’t seen this movie, please. Go watch it.


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I’ve been waiting for the chance to review this movie ever since I saw it in theaters (for the first time), and I promised myself I wouldn’t do it until I’d bought the Blu-Ray and watched it again. Because when I saw it for the first time, a little voice whispered a very powerful something in my ear and it’s a thought I haven’t been able to shake off since, but wanted to verify before I declared it true. After seeing this movie four times now, I think I may be starting to listen to the voice more.

The voice essentially told me this: Gravity may just be one of my favorite movies of all time. When you’re a film lover like me, that’s not an easy declaration to make, hence the reason for my delayed review. It’s certainly the only film I’ve ever seen twice in theaters, so at the very least I know I loved it enough to spend two (expensive) movie tickets on it. It took my breath away the first time I saw it, it took my breath away the second, and the same happened the third and fourth time I watched it, despite the fact it was on a little screen and not on a big movie theater screen (which is really the best way to watch it). And, after mulling it over, reading the Wikipedia article for the umpteenth time, and replaying it over and over again in my head, I think I can safely say that Gravity is one of my favorite movies. Of all time.

Keep in mind that over the past few years I’ve had very, very few chances to see a lot of movies in theaters, and generally don’t watch movies until two years or so after they come out. This year I watched more movies of 2013 in 2013-2014 than I’ve ever watched before in my life, and I still didn’t see that much. I saw Gravity, Her, Twelve Years A Slave, Catching Fire, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Frozen.  (Oh, and I also saw Epic, but I can barely remember what that one’s about.)

Of all the ones I saw, Gravity was by far my favorite (although Frozen came close).  And every single one of these movies had something good to offer. Gravity had the most realistic special effects I’ve ever seen (among other things which I will discuss soon); Her, as I said in my previous movie review, had the most original idea of all the movies of the year; Twelve Years A Slave was extremely well done and effective; Catching Fire was such a good adaptation that it was better than its book; and Frozen was just a pure joy to watch. Star Trek: Into Darkness sucked, but I’ve already reviewed that. I’ve heard many people say that 2013 was a rough year for movies in general, but I personally don’t see it. It was a rough year for music, as I’ve already explained, but these movies are solid. They’re good.

So now, onto Gravity. Oh, where to begin?

First of all, this movie is much more than just a space disaster movie. The writers were very clever in that they gave this film an – gasp! – actual story, and not just Sandra Bullock jumping from one exploding spacecraft to the next. This movie has an underbelly that is, in actuality, the heart and soul of the whole flick – it’s a character study.

If you’ve read any of my X-Files reviews, you know that I’m an absolute sucker for character studies and can sometimes let my judgment of them overwhelm my judgment of the work as a whole, even in light of other things, like plot, aesthetic elements, and execution. I feel somewhat justified in my love of character studies, though, because for one thing they’re the most relatable and impactful, and for another, there’s a lot you can do with them. So many movies, especially the ones that are well known for their fan service or special effects, make the horrible mistake of trading good character study for action sequences (Into Darkness, I’m looking at you). You can make a suspense, adventure, or action movie into a good character study, too. Gravity did.

The best thing about Gravity’s character study is that it’s present and effective but doesn’t overwhelm the film. We see very clearly from the beginning that there’s something wrong with Dr. Ryan Stone – she’s a tad snippy and very distant. Unlike her colleague Matt Kowalski, a veteran astronaut, Dr. Ryan Stone is extremely uncomfortable in her astronaut suit and just wants to install her technology and get back to earth. She appears not to take any notice of the awesomeness of her surroundings, as is evident when Kowalski tells her “One thing’s for sure…can’t beat the view” and the movie goes into a beautiful sequence displaying earth from space.

Later, we find out why Ryan is the way she is – she had a very young daughter that died. Not from anything like a disease or a murder, but from a careless accident – “Slipped, hit her head, and that was it. Stupidest thing.” And now we know Ryan’s defining characteristic – she’s a mother. She’s a mother suffering the loss of her child. As Kowalski says, it doesn’t get much harder than that.

It would be stupid of me to go scene-by-scene through the movie, and honestly no review I could ever write would possibly capture the awesome experience that is watching this film. But I do want to point out that there’s a lot of subtle (and not so subtle) symbolism here that flows very well with the movie’s story. Ryan turns off the dead pod because she’s given up; she lost her daughter, so what does she have to live for? What’s the point of returning to earth, returning to a sad, miserable existence?  It takes that modicum of courage within herself, which manifests itself in the form of Matt Kowalski, to find the will to keep going.

I have heard arguments concerning the hallucination scene against the so-called “feminist fans” of the movie. You see, this movie was rightly and justly praised for its use of a female character that has no romantic involvements with anyone of any kind, a female character that, for once, gets through her own story without becoming a love puppet. These critics argue that, despite these facts, Ryan’s hallucination that saves her life takes the form of a man and therefore shows that, in her crazed mental state, the vision of a man was all that could save her.

To this, I refer you to the sentiments expressed by my peeps Mulder and Scully in this link.

Talk about overthinking it. Kowalski was the veteran astronaut on the mission. He knew more about how to survive in space than anyone, and his expertise kept Ryan alive. It makes sense that her subconscious would cook up a form of Kowalski to tell her what to do. There’s no more to it than that.

The whole movie is filled with moments of silence, and the film does an excellent job of utilizing silence as a means of saying so much more than words could. The expressions of the astronauts when staring at Earth, the focuses on the personal objects of the absent astronauts floating around, the lack of sound in space, create some absolutely beautiful and breathtaking scenes.

And, how amazing is Sandra Bullock in this movie? Sandra Bullock has had the extreme misfortune of mostly starring in pretty bad movies, which is a shame because she’s really quite a talented actress, as her performances in both The Blind Side and Gravity demonstrate. There’s a lot of subtlety in her performance as Ryan Stone, and subtlety is what I like. I’m so glad they cast her; maybe now she’ll start starring in more good movies.

I love it. I love it, I love it, I love it. I just love it. A+. Two thumbs up. 10/10. Best movie of the year.

Movie Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness

***WARNING: This review will contain spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film yet, don’t read any further and go watch it. Or, better yet, just spare yourself the trouble and go watch Star Trek II. And on that note, if you haven’t seen Star Trek II, not only are you missing out big time but you probably shouldn’t read this review because I’m spoiling that one too. (Seriously, though, watch that movie.)


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A little bit of context: I am about as big a Star Trek fan as it gets.

I have seen every episode of the original show and all of the movies featuring the original cast. I have seen most of The Next Generation and all but one of the Next Gen movies. The only reason I didn’t finish TNG and start with Deep Space Nine was because of The X-Files.

When it comes to the original series, though – which is by far the best – I am as devoted a Trekkie as it is possible to be. So you can imagine that when the first film of the new series came out in 2009, I was judging. Hard.

And, after seeing the second film in the new series, I have come to the following conclusion: the writers of this new film franchise are not real Star Trek fans, and they don’t know how a Star Trek film is supposed to work. They seem to have a fairly good grasp of the characters, the visuals, and the aesthetics, but they have no idea how to weave those elements into a true Trek story.

Which is why Star Trek: Into Darkness is a complete failure as a Star Trek movie.

Let me briefly explain what my experience of watching this movie in the theater was like. Actually, it’s probably just easier if I do it like this.

1st oh, 30 minutes or so:

Eager

Next 30-ish minutes:

Shifty

Last part:

khan

And it wasn’t just because of Khan, either.

But before I explain what I didn’t like about the film, I need to be very clear about what I did like.

First of all, and this is definitely the most surprising for me, I really like the new cast, particularly Kirk, Spock, and Bones. The actors they picked do a good job of playing these characters as well as bringing new life to them – that is, when they’re not restrained by the poor writing, but we’ll get to that later.

Second, the visual effects are awesome. That can’t be denied.

Third, I really like the soundtrack. As someone who loves film scores, this is a pretty big deal for me, even if it may not be for most people.

Star Trek: Into Darkness got off to a GREAT start. As I was sitting in the theater watching it, I actually thought I might be getting what I’d come for: a Star Trek movie. The last film had some good things in there, but unfortunately it traded the potential Star Trek magic for overused plot devices and annoying action movie clichés. I felt like I was watching a movie that was called Star Trek and had some elements of Star Trek in there that worked, but those elements were threaded into an action movie formula that has been used again and again and again. Which is precisely the opposite of what Star Trek is.

But what I couldn’t deny was the feeling that the cast and most of the crew that made the first film had potential. Maybe they hadn’t made that Trek film their first try, but perhaps they were just finding their footing. Now that they had an established cast and lots and lots of money, they could spend time and energy making something every Trek fan and newcomer alike would love to see.

I can’t speak for the newcomers, but I, as a Trekkie, was disappointed beyond repair.

It would be one thing if the film destroyed my hopes right from the beginning, but it does exactly the opposite. Sitting in that theater, I found myself enjoying the film so much that I was sure it was going to be great. We had Spock and Kirk dealing with actual issues, like rule breaking, the prime directive, and other moral questions which make Star Trek what it is. We had a well-established conflict, a mysterious villain, and high stakes. We had interesting, and at times familiar, interactions between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Everything seemed set up perfectly to succeed. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, in short: everything.

By the time the middle third of the movie comes around, it’s basically just one explosion after another with almost none of the moral issues raised in the beginning ever having significance in the story again. Actually, there were so many explosions and battle scenes that I found myself growing more and more confused about what the conflict even was. What happened? Where are they? Where the fuck did the movie go?

But things took a serious turn for the worse when “Khan” showed up.

I call him “Khan” because he’s not actually Khan. I don’t care what the movie says, I don’t care what the writers say, I don’t even care what the fans say, he is not Khan. Not because he doesn’t look like Khan. I couldn’t give two craps about what he looks like; it’s an alternate timeline, I get that. No. This guy doesn’t act like Khan at all. He doesn’t talk like Khan, he doesn’t think like Khan, he doesn’t even fight or move like Khan. Therefore I must conclude that he is not Khan.

You see, all ye that know not of what I speak, the real Khan was a thrilling, powerful adversary who absolutely exuded fire, drama, rage, and power. Every word he says is dipped in some sort of verbal poison. He chews words, rolls them around, quotes famous authors, and treats every action he does with care and importance.

This “Khan” has a blank expression on his face and screams “NOOO!” sometimes. That’s about all the rage we get from him. There is nothing about this guy that is different from any other bland, generic villain in any other bland, generic action movie. This is not Khan. He is Insert Bad Guy Here.

But the part that really pissed me off, the part that literally made me cover my face in the movie theater, not in fear as my poor friend sitting next to me mistakenly thought, but in disgust – was the end. I have never felt so unbelievably violated by a movie before.

It’s not just that it’s a ripoff of Star Trek II, because it really isn’t. It’s someone ripping off Star Trek II who has never seen Star Trek II before, or if they did, only saw the last scene and therefore had no context with which to experience the full emotional impact of the movie or the thought-provoking questions the film raised.

I suppose I should take this opportunity to mention that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one of my favorite movies of all time. Not one of my favorite Star Trek movies or science fiction movies of all time. One of my favorite movies of all time, period. It is everything a Star Trek movie needs to be and more. It deals with complex issues of life and death, the effects of growing old, the no-win scenario, revenge, friendship, it’s got it all. And those themes come together beautifully, which is why the end is effective. Spock sacrificing his life and saying those words to Kirk aren’t meaningful because he sacrifices his life and says those words to Kirk, they’re meaningful because of everything that’s happened in the film up until this point, and everything that’s happened in the show up until this point.

In Star Trek: Into Darkness, the scene where Kirk sacrifices his life is preceded by…a lot of explosions.

That. Does. Not. Work.

And when Spock goes crazy, screams Khaaaan, and then runs off to beat “Khan” up, I literally thought I was watching a joke. Honestly, did they even think about how that would come across? It’s absolutely ridiculous. If I was in a good mood, I might laugh my ass off. It looks comedic.

And it really pisses me off.

What makes me mad about this is that newcomers won’t get why Star Trek: Into Darkness isn’t a good film because they don’t know two things: what a Star Trek film really should be and what a glorious masterpiece Star Trek: Into Darkness was so heinously referencing. And if this is what people are going to think of when they hear Star Trek, if younger audiences are going to be introduced to a Star Trek like this, I envision some dark days ahead for humankind.