This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Agony Booth review: Jaws 3-D vs. Superman III

The respective third entries of the Jaws and Superman series were both released in 1983. Neither is held in high regard by fans, and this article goes into which is the worse of the two.
1983 gave us classic films such as Return of the Jedi, Octopussy, Sudden Impact, and the Stephen King triple-punch of Cujo, Christine, and The Dead Zone. Among the year’s films that weren’t so classic were, in an interesting coincidence, the respective third entries of the Jaws and Superman series.

It goes without saying that the first entries of these two series are classic movies. Both Jaws 2 and Superman II were successful as well (although I didn’t much care for the former), which inevitably led to third installments. But those third installments are regarded by most as the point when these two series began to decline creatively.

So, which is worse? Let’s take a look.

Jaws 3-D (1983)

The first two films take place in the fictional town of Amity. This entry attempts a change of pace by setting the action at SeaWorld in Florida. The main characters here are Martin Brody’s grown up sons Mike (Dennis Quaid), who works at SeaWorld, and the visiting Sean (John Putch).

The two brothers are enjoying a weekend at said amusement park with Mike’s colleague/paramour Kay Morgan (Bess Armstrong) and Sean’s new girlfriend Kelly Ann Bukowski (Lea Thompson). But, wouldn’t you know it, a great white shark has shown up in the park to cause trouble. This time, however, the shark has a reason for causing havoc. The park employees manage to catch a smaller shark, which turns out to be the offspring of this film’s monster. The fact that the little shark dies while in the park’s custody doesn’t help matters, either.

As with the previous entries, there are characters who are skeptical about the arrival of such a massive killing machine. Among them is the park’s manager Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr., just after he won his Oscar for An Officer and a Gentleman). This film has a Quint-like character as well in the form of hunter Phillip FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale).

One thing leads to another and people, including FitzRoyce, get killed, etc. The shark dies again, of course, but in the most ludicrous way possible. During the climatic scene in the park’s underwater control room, the shark smashes through the glass and wiggles its head through the opening to devour whoever it can. But Mike suddenly sees the partially-eaten FitzRoyce in the shark’s mouth, holding a grenade no less. If any ending shouted deus ex machina, this is it.

And what was the point of this shot, anyway?

Superman III (1983)

Business tycoon Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn) blackmails his employee Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor) into using the computer skills that he got out of nowhere to control the world’s oil supply. When the Man of Steel (Christopher Reeve) intervenes, Webster tells Gorman to find some Kryptonite they can use to kill him. Instead, Gorman creates synthetic Kryptonite that turns Superman into a super-jerk. This leads to the film’s most memorable sequence, when Superman splits into two beings, one good and one bad. The two proceed to duke it out before Good Superman triumphs and goes off to battle Webster, now controlling a super-computer that was built from the Arby’s napkin scribbles Gus keeps in his pockets.

When this super-computer produces the correct type of Kryptonite, Gorman turns against Webster and saves Superman. The Man of Steel manages to destroy the super-computer, saving the day.

Which is worse?

Jaws 3-D is basically its two predecessors but relocated to SeaWorld. I’ve read a couple of reviews of the film that said the film’s only saving grace are the early scenes between the Brody brothers and their lady friends. Indeed, the cast itself is pleasant enough. I actually chuckled at the moment when Mike and Kay startle Sean and Kelly as the latter two lovebirds are getting cozy in the water.

It’s once we get into the scenes that were the draw of this picture in the first place that everything turns into déjà vu. The fact that the park employees basically asked for trouble by capturing that little shark in the first place doesn’t help. Hence, it’s actually easier to side with the shark this time around.

Additionally, the film was released during the brief resurrection of 3-D in the early ’80s. But Jaws 3-D is quite dull with or without the 3-D. The previous year saw the release of Friday the 13th Part III, which is quite entertaining even without the 3-D, and like many of the other entries in the Friday the 13th series, it did a terrific job at emphasizing the “fun” in “dumb fun”.

As with Jaws 2, the footage of the shark is excessive here, making it easy to see why it became a punchline in the sequels. The scenes with the tourists seeing body parts as they tour the SeaWorld aquarium lose whatever potential they may have had, because it clearly looks like people walking in front of a cheesy green screen effect.

An interesting side note: the producers of the first two Jaws pictures, Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, were asked to produce this installment as well. But they wanted to go a different route and make the third film a spoof picture titled Jaws 3, People 0. But Universal wanted another straight scare fest, which led to Zanuck and Brown bowing out. The irony here is that the final picture actually made some people laugh, but for all the wrong reasons.

One could say that Superman III suffers from the opposite problem. It doesn’t rehash anything from its two predecessors, but goes in a more lighthearted direction. That, in itself, is not the problem. After all, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was more lighthearted than its predecessors, but that movie worked because the humor was never forced and fit naturally into the story.

Superman III‘s attempts at more humor, however, go wrong because they’re just cheap gags and nothing more. Some saw Richard Pryor’s casting as a bad omen for the film, but I thought his bits were the funniest of the film, even if they added nothing to the story. As mentioned earlier, his computer skills come out of nowhere, especially considering that the movie begins with Gorman looking for a job. It was other parts of the movie, such as Webster’s sister Vera (Annie Ross) basically getting Borgified by the super-computer, and the two traffic lights fighting each other that had me going “WTF?” even as I watched the film when it originally came out.

Many fans have stated that the film would have been better if the super-computer had turned out to be Superman’s nemesis Brainiac. I can certainly understand that stance, as we already had Lex Luthor in the previous two films, so why not use another classic Superman villain? Instead, we get a moment that’s literally a video game as Webster attempts to stop Superman with missiles (complete with the same sound effects used by the arcade games of the time).

The moments where Superman is fighting himself are memorable, with Reeve clearly having the time of his life playing a bad guy. By itself, this idea could have conceivably carried the entire movie, had it been done with more care. Instead, all the evil that Superman does is confined to blowing out the Olympic torch, straightening the leaning Tower of Pisa, getting drunk and sleeping with Webster’s assistant Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson). And no, I haven’t forgotten him ripping open that tanker and spilling its oil into the ocean, but the setup is contrived anyway and nothing is done with this plot element (wouldn’t other tankers have come to assist, rather than just having those guys sit there until Good Superman comes by to fix everything?).

Clark’s scenes with his Smallville sweetie Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole) are also pleasant. So it was fitting that O’Toole would later play Clark’s mom in the series Smallville. These Clark/Lana scenes do somewhat mar the touching Superman/Lois scenes of the previous two films, not that it concerned Superman producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind, who were pissed off that Margot Kidder took them to task for firing original Superman director Richard Donner, and punished her by giving Lois only two scenes in this installment.

Although the Salkinds put out the equally misguided Supergirl the following year (Reeve was offered a cameo as Superman in the film, but declined) and then went on to produce a Superboy TV series, Superman III would be the last Superman feature film with the Salkinds’ involvement. This may have been a good thing, were it not how all the subsequent Superman movies (and I don’t mean just Superman IV) turned out. Like the four Star Trek movies with the Next Generation cast, Superman III has some good ideas that are unfortunately outnumbered by the bad.

While both of these films are held in low regard, neither series was finished just yet. Both of them would get their respective fourth entries in 1987, which would drag down their legacies even more (but that’s a story for another time).

Of these two third entries, though, I would say Jaws 3-D is the worse of the two. For all of Superman III‘s faults, it still had the elements that could have potentially made it a great movie. Jaws 3-D, on the other hand, has decent early scenes involving the people we’re supposed to identify with, but nothing exciting emerges from that setup.

Superman III also has the edge in that its computer-related material proved to be the inspiration for the classic comedy Office Space. A bad movie that ends up as the inspiration for a good one is certainly noteworthy.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Agony Booth review: Voyager vs. Xena

This article looks at two of the worst series finales ever.
In 2001, just a few months prior to the tragedy of 9/11, two series aired their final episodes: Star Trek: Voyager and Xena: Warrior Princess.

Although ratings for Voyager had dropped considerably during its run, the series remained UPN’s highest-rated show (which isn’t saying a lot, considering what else that network gave us). It also became the last Trek show to be a continuation of what started with Star Trek: The Next Generation, as the next Trek series, which debuted on UPN shortly after 9/11, was the prequel series Enterprise.

Xena was a different story. The title character (played by Lucy Lawless) first appeared in a trilogy of episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. She initially attempts to kill the demigod, but during the course of said trilogy, dramatic turns emerge involving the army she’s leading. Xena eventually agrees to join Hercules to fight her own army, becoming a hero in the process. The first season of Hercules concludes with Xena and Hercules, who have become romantically involved, bidding farewell to each other as she goes off to embark on a new journey of heroism and redemption.

The first episode of Xena’s own series, “Sins of the Past”, aired in the fall of 1995. Xena returns to her home village to reconnect with her mother, only to find it under siege by the warlord Draco (Jay Laga’aia). But Xena thwarts him with the help of a spirited young girl named Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor), whom Xena had rescued from thugs earlier in the episode. The episode concludes with Xena agreeing to allow Gabrielle to travel with her.

It didn’t take long for Xena to become a hit series in its own right. So much so that by its third season, the show was dominating the ratings over both Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as well as Hercules (to the annoyance of Kevin Sorbo).

Both Xena and Star Trek: Voyager premiered in 1995, and both shows aired their series finales in 2001. Unfortunately, both finales were massively disappointing. But which one was a bigger letdown? Let’s find out.

Star Trek: Voyager: “Endgame”

Voyager‘s finale concludes the ship’s seven-year trip back to the Alpha Quadrant. It actually begins 16 years after the previous episode (“Renaissance Man”) with an older Janeway, now an admiral. As her fellow crew members celebrate the tenth anniversary of Voyager getting home, she embarks on a daunting plan to travel back in time in order to help Voyager get home quicker.

We see Janeway’s reasons for doing the time-travel/reset button motif Voyager became infamous for. It turns out Tuvok is in a mental institution, and Chakotay and Seven of Nine are both dead.

With a time travel doohickey that some Klingons pulled out of their asses, Janeway travels to the end of Voyager‘s seventh season in a shuttlecraft that can armor up like the Batmobile. She informs her younger self that a cloud full of wormholes that was guarded by Borg ships has a passage that can take them straight home. Captain Janeway is open to this at first, but then gets pissed off at her older self when the crew discovers the route home is part of what’s called a “transwarp hub”, which contains other wormholes leading to other sectors of the galaxy.

This prompts Captain Janeway to get the hell out of the area and also order her crew to find a way to destroy the hub. The captain’s reasoning is to stop the Borg once and for all (which makes the crew’s previous Borg encounter “Unimatrix Zero” pointless, as the civil war Janeway attempted to start there obviously didn’t happen). But Admiral Janeway is adamant that they should use the hub to go home immediately, and to that end, she informs her younger self that Seven will die three years later on a mission, and Chakotay, who’ll be married to Seven by then, will be depressed forever afterward (not that he ever seemed happy on the show in the first place). And on top of all that, Tuvok will succumb to a mental condition unless he receives a cure that’s only available in the Alpha Quadrant.

Needless to say, the crew finds a way to (as Captain Janeway puts it) have their cake and eat it too. Admiral Janeway boards the Borg ship and gets assimilated by the Borg Queen (Alice Krige). But it all turns out to be a trick, as Voyager manages to (somehow) blow up everything Borg and arrive home, just as the end credits come up (literally).

Xena: Warrior Princess: “A Friend in Need”

Xena‘s finale begins with Xena and Gabrielle enjoying a starry evening. For some reason, Xena decides that a change of scenery is in order and recommends they go to Egypt (I guess she liked the pyramids during her previous visit there in “Antony & Cleopatra”).

They’re interrupted by the appearance of a young man named Kenji (Mac Jeffrey Ong), who informs Xena that a woman from Japan named Akemi (Michelle Ang) sent him to find her. On the boat taking them there, Xena informs Gabrielle that she first met Akemi while in China with her lover Borias (Marton Csokas). Xena and Akemi eventually became friends, with Xena teaching her that famous pinch, to Gabrielle’s chagrin, as she was never taught it.

Our heroines arrive to find the city of Higuchi in flames and surrounded by an army. They and Kenji swim to shore. As they save the city, Xena further reveals that Akemi’s father is Yodoshi, who is an evil ghost who enslaves the souls of the dead. Xena also states that Akemi killed Yodoshi, but then committed ritual suicide for doing so. This led Xena to fulfill Akemi’s wish, which was to take her ashes to her family shrine. En route, however, townspeople attempted to stop Xena, which led to Akemi’s ashes ending up in a gutter. This led to Xena grabbing a torch to fight off the angry mob, which in turn led to the city going up in flames.

In the present, Xena elects to fight the approaching army alone, and allows herself to be killed by Yodoshi’s general Morimoto (Venant Wong) in order to fight Yodoshi. Gabrielle soon realizes that Xena is dead when she finds Xena’s severed head and learns of a method that can restore her to life. But that method must be used before the sun sets.

But even as a ghost, Xena is able to fight armies practically with one hand tied behind her back. However, as this is the final episode, there’s a twist. After Yodoshi is vanquished and Gabrielle attempts to revive Xena, the Warrior Princess stops her. She informs Gabrielle that the souls of those who died when she accidentally set Akemi’s town on fire must be freed, and that’s only possible if Xena stays dead.

Saddened, Gabrielle begs Xena to not let this be, but Xena assures her she’ll always be with her (although it sounds like Xena will be with Akemi more). As the sun sets, Xena fades away. The series concludes with Gabrielle on a boat telling Xena’s ghost that she’ll go to Egypt (hopefully Gabrielle will at least keep in touch with her sister). Xena repeats her spew that she’ll always be by her side, as the boat sails off.

Which finale was the bigger letdown?

By the start of its seventh season, Voyager and disappointment were as common a combination as spaghetti and meatballs. So it’s not really surprising that “Endgame” was simply a rehash of all the things that didn’t exactly endear the series to Trek fans, such as time travel, technobabble, making the Borg less scary, visuals tossed onto the screen just because they look cool, and of course, that infamous reset button.

The only difference is that this time, the ship actually makes it home. But even any impact that may have had is diminished by the fact that we barely see the ship in the Alpha Quadrant. The ending credits of the episode are shown and the episode fades to black when we barely see Voyager coming towards Earth.

Even more damning are the lengths Admiral Janeway is willing to go to in order to make things better. Yes, she’s basically saving three of the regulars from a tragic fate, but she’s also erasing 26 years of history in the process. At the beginning of the episode, we see the daughter of Naomi Wildman at the Voyager reunion. This young girl has now been erased from history thanks to Admiral Janeway’s actions. There’s also the fact that all the crew members who died during the course of the series before “Endgame” don’t get so much as lip service here. At least when Superman turned back time to bring Lois back to life in the original 1978 movie, it was only a matter of moments. That, and the great job Christopher Reeve did at putting the needed angst into the scene, allowed audiences to accept that moment in the film, even though it was ludicrous. “Endgame”, however, is basically an amplification of Janeway’s blatant disregard for others, only this time it’s on her own personal whim and not due to any Starfleet regulations.

Ironically, Xena‘s finale is actually the more disappointing of the two. Because while “Endgame” is basically the same old/same old, “A Friend in Need” basically spits in the face of everything the series established. Xena and Gabrielle’s friendship became the core of the show (and the subtext many took from that relationship only added to the appeal). So it’s quite disheartening when Xena tells Gabrielle that she must leave her, even though previous episodes would’ve gone out of their way to have the two remain united.

There’s also the fact that, with this show taking place in Japan, we have another Xena backstory that Gabrielle knows nothing about, even though one would think she and Xena know all about each other by this point. And why didn’t Xena ever teach her the pinch, anyway? Also, considering that this series had its share of story arcs, this sudden trip to Japan just comes out of nowhere. In contrast, both the finales for TNG (“All Good Things…”) and DS9 (“What You Leave Behind”) felt like the culmination of those respective series.

At the time of Xena‘s run, I frequently visited the show’s official message boards. Within days of airing, “A Friend in Need” generated such discontent from fans on that board that I’m surprised the whole website didn’t implode. An exaggeration, yes, but I honestly doubt there was a single Xena fan who tuned into the finale expecting to see her decapitated.

Xena was definitely the better show, and perhaps this is what makes “A Friend in Need” all the more terrible, and definitely the worse of the two finales.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Agony Booth review: I Know What You Did Last Summer series

This article looks at what is probably the most famous of the slasher movies Scream inspired, and which also turns 20 this year!
The success of Scream, like that of Halloween before it, led to imitators. Scream basically resurrected the slasher film after it had been dormant for over half a decade. That resurrection, as it turned out, also included the stupidity that (consciously or not) was a hallmark of the sub-genre.

Perhaps the most successful of the slashers that Scream inspired (which really isn’t saying much, as the wave of slashers in Scream‘s wake didn’t last as long as those inspired by Halloween) was I Know What You Did Last Summer. Like Scream, this film was penned by Kevin Williamson, who actually wrote this picture prior to Scream, but basically kept it in a drawer until Craven’s film became a huge success. Also like Scream, the main protagonist is played by an actress who first became famous for her role on the TV series Party of Five, making further comparisons to Scream inevitable.

But, again like Scream, this film’s success would lead to sequels, each becoming dumber than the last. So let’s look at all three films comprising this series.

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Released the same year as Scream 2, which was also penned by Williamson, this movie, like Valentine, was based on a book that the finished film basically pissed on.

This movie’s Party of Five alum (Jennifer Love Hewitt) plays Julie James, a recent high school grad who’s celebrating one 4th of July evening with her boyfriend Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinze Jr.), her best friend Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was at the time making her mark playing the title role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Helen’s boyfriend Barry Cox (Ryan Phillippe). As they drive home from their night of fun on the beach at the North Carolina fishing town they call home, Barry’s drunken state leads to Ray accidentally hitting a man with their car.

Despite Julie’s protests that they should come clean and alert the police, her three friends end up agreeing to just dump the body at a nearby dock. Alas, the body turns out to be not so dead and attempts to fight them off before being dumped in the water. This leads to our quartet (including Julie, reluctantly) agreeing to never mention the incident.

A year later, a depressed Julie, who has since separated from Ray, returns home from college, where her grades are not the best. She receives an anonymous letter containing the title message. Connecting with her three friends, all of whom are conveniently still in town, Julie attempts to find out who the person who knows their dark secret is. At the same time, said person begins to torment our quartet even further with methods that include murder.

Like Valentine, this movie was credited as being based on the book of the same name. But this film does a slightly better job at capturing its source than Valentine did. I say slightly, because this didn’t stop the book’s author, Lois Duncan, from condemning the movie.

The best part of the film is the beginning when our four heroes have their accident. Their fear and the manner in which they turn on each other is interesting, and helps the movie stand out from previous slasher films. After this point, however, it’s easy to understand the reason for author Duncan’s objections to the movie. This is because after Julie gets the letter and reunites with her friends, this film becomes just one dumb slasher cliché after another. For example, Barry never once has a moment where he’s likeable. He even tells Julie and Helen, his former girlfriend, that they look like “shit run over twice” (is it any wonder that Reese Witherspoon would later dump his ass?). Hence, it’s not surprising that Barry becomes one of the victims. Other victims the film telegraphs a mile away include not only Helen, but her bitchy sister Elsa (Bridgette Wilson), as well as sad sack/asshole Max (Johnny Galecki, before he would go on to the equal hell of living under the same roof as Sheldon Cooper).

There’s also an overstated attempt to cast suspicions that Ray may be the perpetrator. And when Julie is finally face to face with her adversary (Muse Watson), we learn that he was their hit-and-run victim, who himself had committed murder that very night. That last tidbit apparently makes our heroes’ (I’m using that word generously here) hit-and-run incident apparently alright.

The fact that this film’s most famous scene (Julie venting her frustration by shouting out to ask what the killer is waiting for, with the camera strategically placed on Hewitt’s chest) is noteworthy, but not in a way that exactly makes the movie lasting art. The fact that her venting is not noticed by anybody despite taking place in a suburban street is proof that this film is just another dumb slasher movie (at least Friday the 13th had the excuse of taking place in an isolated campground miles from anywhere).

I guess I should also mention the ending where the killer, Ben Willis, turns out to be still around. But the fact that the movie asks us to side with people whose moral upstanding is dubious makes that tidbit a mere flea bite leading to the inevitable sequel.

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
I’m going to get this out of the way first: this film’s title is better suited for a Saturday Night Live sketch (shouldn’t this been two summers ago, anyway?). Perhaps that, in itself, should have prepared us for how moronic (even by slasher standards) this film is.

Some throwaway dialogue early in this film suggests that the first film’s final scene was just a dream. But Julie and Ray are still presumably being targeted by Ben, with Julie having brief episodes such as awaking from a dream with a screaming fit in the middle of one of her classes.

As Helen and Barry are both dead now, they’re respectively replaced here by Karla (Brandy Norwood) and her boyfriend Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer, who should’ve known better). There’s even an additional character, Will Benson (Matthew Settle), who’s smitten with Julie.

With Ray’s fishing career apparently taking up all his time, Julie agrees to go with Karla, Tyrell, and Will to the Bahamas, which Karla won a trip to via a radio contest. Ray later decides to surprise Julie by going to meet her there, but his trip is cut short when Ben appears and puts Ray in a hospital. He later escapes and somehow hijacks a boat to take him to Julie.

At the same time, this quartet’s trip to their hotel soon becomes another cliché upon cliché, with Tyrell being every bit the asshole that Ray was, and with many appearances by suspicious characters (among them Jeffrey Combs, who also should have known better) whose sole purpose is to die.

In another plot twist that’s no surprise, Will turns out to be Ben’s son, which he reveals in a revelation scene that’s basically a rip-off of the one in Scream. We also learn that Ben actually set up the radio contest that gave Karla this trip, which is almost (almost, mind you) as convoluted a scheme as the Emperor’s plan to take over the galaxy in the Star Wars prequels.

Heck, this film even gives us a copy of Julie shouting out to Ben with, once again, the camera placed to show off Hewitt’s cleavage. The only real difference this movie has with its predecessor is that Helen is still alive at the end. Scream 2, while it had its share of dumb moments, was genius compared to this mountain of stupidity. So we shouldn’t be surprised that there wouldn’t be a third film in this series, at least not involving anybody connected with the previous two movies.

I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006)
Someone at Dimension apparently decided that a third entry in this series was called for, which led to this direct-to-video flick. Nobody from the previous two movies was involved with this one, and there’s only one story connection with the previous films (which I’ll get to shortly). This clean slate may have presented a nice opportunity to build this series from the ground up and even make it something good as a result. Alas, this film is really nothing special either.

This time, the focus is on five friends: Amber Williams (Brooke Nevin), her boyfriend Colby Patterson (David Paetkau), and their friends Zoe (Torrey Devitto), Roger (Seth Packard) and PJ (Clay Taylor). This quintet pull a prank at a carnival with Roger donning the Fisherman suit and hook Ben used. Soon, though, PJ winds up dead and Colby convinces the others to keep things a secret (oh, boy).

A year later, Amber starts getting texts with the “I Know…” message. She and Zoe inform Colby, but he tells them to basically fuck off, even disbelieving Amber’s later claims that she was attacked. Needless to say, the killer turns out to be Willis (now played by Don Shanks). Like the previous two films, you can pretty much tell who’s going to get it and what the last scene will be.

The first I Know… has a good opening act before going quickly downhill. I Still Know… simply inundates the viewer with its relentless stupidity from beginning to end. I’ll Always Know… is just plain dull. The lack of any generous views of Hewitt probably doesn’t help either.

There’s been some talk in recent years about a reboot of this series. But considering that reboots of Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street haven’t exactly eclipsed their respective originals, I’m not exactly holding my breath here.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Agony Booth review: How influential are film critics?

This article focuses on something I've wondered about often.
Recently, director Brett Ratner claimed that the relative failure of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which his company RatPac Entertainment co-financed, can be solely blamed on the website Rotten Tomatoes.

For those not in the know, Rotten Tomatoes collects all possible reviews of any given movie. A film is then classified as “fresh” if 60% or more of the reviews are positive. Likewise, films with 59% or lower positive reviews are classified as “rotten”. Batman v. Superman holds a 27% rating on the website.

This little tiff got me thinking about something I’ve sometimes wondered about: just how influential are film critics when it comes to a film being a success or a failure?

Rotten Tomatoes rep Jeff Voris responded to Ratner’s criticisms, saying that the “Tomatometer score, which is the percentage of positive reviews published by professional critics, has become a useful decision-making tool for fans, but we believe it’s just a starting point for them to begin discussing, debating and sharing their own opinions.”

Ratner is not the first Hollywood player to blame a film’s failure on critics. When The Lone Ranger (which holds a 31% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) bombed in 2013, Johnny Depp, who played Tonto in the film, pointed the finger for its failure not at the screenwriter, or the producers of the film, but those who pointed out how stupid it was.

“I think the reviews were written when they heard Gore [Verbinski] and Jerry [Bruckheimer] and me were going to do The Lone Ranger,” Depp said at the time. “They had expectations that it must be a blockbuster. I didn’t have any expectations of that. I never do.”

I find Depp’s lack of expectations hard to believe, since the film was made by the same people who made the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Hence I, like many others, was expecting The Lone Ranger to actually be as successful as those films. Hell, I’d say the main reason it bombed was because it was too much like the Pirates series.

Lone Ranger producer Jerry Bruckheimer chimed in, basically agreeing with Depp. “I think they were reviewing the budget, not reviewing the movie,” Bruckheimer said. “The audience doesn’t care what the budget is — they pay the same amount if it costs a dollar or 20 million dollars.” He added that the film is “one of those movies that whatever critics missed in it this time, they’ll review it in a few years and see that they made a mistake.”

While I think the only thing funny about the film was the stupid bird Depp had on his head, both Depp and Bruckheimer, like Ratner, are wasting their breath. I’ve certainly heard a number of people over the years say they don’t listen to critics. I’ve even felt the need to check out some movies despite every review saying that the movies are awful. But there are a number of films that make huge amounts of money regardless of what the reviews may say.

One example of this is 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which was savaged by critics for not being as fun as the 1938 classic The Adventures of Robin Hood, in which Errol Flynn played the title role. (For the record, Thieves holds a 50% score on Rotten Tomatoes.) Most of the criticism was reserved for Kevin Costner, who played Robin Hood. Many said that he was too American for this very British role. Costner, who at the time was riding high off the Oscar-winning success of his directorial debut Dances With Wolves, would later be given a Razzie Award for his performance.

However, none of this kept Prince of Thieves from becoming the second biggest hit of 1991, trailing only Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I’ve always felt that this was because while, acting-wise, Costner certainly didn’t hold a candle to past Robins, the movie itself was exciting, with great action and wonderful supporting turns from Morgan Freeman as Robin’s Moorish friend Azeem, and the late, great Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Another nice touch was Sean Connery’s cameo as Richard the Lionheart, which was meaningful because Connery memorably played Robin Hood in 1976’s Robin and Marian. In addition, the film’s song, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”, sung by Bryan Adams, became a chart-topping hit and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song. (It lost to the title song from Beauty and the Beast.)

Other movies which have become massively successful in spite of bad reviews include the 1978 Clint Eastwood comedy Every Which Way But Loose, and its 1980 sequel Any Which Way You Can. Both of these movies involve Clint doing the tough guy routine he does so well, only this time with an orangutan named Clyde.

Clint was already known and loved for his tough guy roles by this point. So pairing him with an orangutan for laughs certainly raised many eyebrows. Many critics were quick to express their disgust with such a move, but Clint’s charisma and some genuine laughs helped make these two movies among Eastwood’s most successful.

I once noted that some summer blockbusters can thrive in spite of negative reviews, if they’re exciting. One thing both Batman v. Superman and The Lone Ranger have in common are that they are not exciting. In fact, I found parts of them quite boring.

There’s also the fact that, in the age of the Internet, film critics themselves are increasing in number. One of my colleagues once wrote that the internet has destroyed the influence of film critics. I can certainly understand that stance. Before anyone knew what the hell the internet was, people such as Siskel and Ebert were, for all intents and purposes, the biggest reference points when it came to how good a movie was. In this day and age, however, pretty much anyone who can type can go online and critique a movie. Perhaps the key difference here is that some critiques are not as thorough as Siskel and Ebert’s or others who may have been inspired by them.

This may be a reason for Ratner and Depp’s criticisms. They see certain criticisms that may not be well thought out, and deduced that all such criticisms of Batman v. Superman and The Lone Ranger must be just as unfairly harsh. But film critics can be instrumental in determining if a movie is truly worthwhile. For me, they give me an idea of what to expect from a film, even if I don’t entirely end up agreeing with their final assessments.

For instance, the film CHiPs, based on the beloved 1977 – 1983 TV series, was recently released. Based on the reviews that make up its 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as its low box office take, I can pretty much deduce that the movie pisses on that show by resorting to stupid, unfunny gags. The fact that it was written and directed by its star Dax Shepard confirms my thoughts that he’s become just a poor man’s Adam Sandler (yeah, just let that depressing thought sink in).

But hearing Ratner and Depp complain, they seem to be comparing their respective movies to films that weren’t meant to be blockbuster hits. During his tenure on the TV series ER, George Clooney starred in the terrific movie Out of Sight. This film got glowing reviews from critics but didn’t do much in terms of making money at the box office. However, the movie was a nice rebound for Clooney after starring in Batman & Robin, and from there, he would go on to win an Oscar for Syriana. But Out of Sight wasn’t intended to be a franchise like Batman v. Superman or The Lone Ranger. So does this means critics are to blame for Out of Sight not making as much money as that same year’s Saving Private Ryan? By the logic Ratner and Depp are presenting, this is certainly the case.

In short, there is and always will be a place for movie critics. By blaming them for essentially doing their jobs and pointing out how bad a certain work is represents, for me, the height of laziness. This is because people such as Ratner and Depp think that bad things that are said about their work are the reason their work isn’t successful, rather than attempting to see if there’s any validity in such criticisms.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t disagree with critics. Lord knows I’ve certainly done my share of that. What I’m saying is that pointing fingers in this manner is counterproductive. Disagreeing with critics is one thing, but actually saying they’re the ones to blame for a movie’s failure doesn’t do much to turn things around for filmmakers. Maybe examining the work being criticized to see exactly why it didn’t generate enthusiasm among audiences would be a more productive approach.

Movie criticism should be viewed for what it is, which is simply a tool to indicate how a work has turned out. It should not be the end-all-be-all of how a person responds to criticism of their work. Viewing criticism in this manner ends up doing more damage to said person’s credibility rather than any work they may put out.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Interview with Mika Boorem

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing actress Mika Boorem. Her film credits include Along Came a Spider (2001) and Blue Crush (2002).

Mika Boorem has been an actress since childhood. Among her film credits are Hearts in Atlantis, Along Came a Spider, and Blue Crush. Her television work includes appearances on such series as Touched by an Angel, Dawson’s Creek, and The Ghost Whisperer. She was also featured in David Cook’s music video “Light On”. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing this young showbiz veteran.

Mika, what inspired you to become an actress?

I started acting at a very young age. I was put into theater to help overcome shyness. It wasn’t something I necessarily chose from a young age. It’s what I’ve always known and the discipline and structure I was raised with since I was a young child.

One of your film appearances was in Along Came a Spider, which starred the legendary Morgan Freeman. Any thoughts on working with him?

What a blessing that was. I feel so fortunate to have worked with such greats as him. To just be in the presence of someone who is a master of their craft and to watch them work is a real gift. I feel exceptionally blessed to have had that experience.

You also appeared in the music video for “Light On”. How was that different from acting in movies or TV?

Music videos seem to operate at a much faster pace. Also there is no dialogue from the actors, so the director is very specific with the shots and emotions they are looking to portray. Working with Wayne Isham—who has directed some of my favorite music videos, i.e. videos for Bon Jovi, the Rolling Stones, etc.—was really really cool. If you’re going to do a music video, he’s the top guy and who you want to do one with.

Are there any actors or actresses you hope to work with?

There are so many. The talent pool is large with a lot of variety. There is one thing that has really struck my interest recently. My friend John Vogel sent me a script that centers around a young man with special needs. I love the idea of actors with special needs receiving a platform to perform on and this is a movement I’d like to support.

Are there any types of films you especially like?

I love all films. I think each one contains something special. Films are a collaboration of a collective of artists. And just that in itself is really phenomenal. That being said I really enjoy narratives where it feels like the actor is revealing something personal about themselves. Something secret, or private that maybe the audience connects with. I love the idea that a film can make people feel more connected to, related and a part of a community because of the themes and ideas that are represented in the film.

Do you have any favorites of your film and TV roles?

All have been individual experiences and I appreciate each one differently. My favorite role is my next role.

Your most recent film, Dweller, is currently in pre-production. Can you tell us anything about that?

I cannot at the moment.

You are a co-founder of the charity MadaKilonga, which helps children in Madagascar. What inspired you to help create it?

Education empowers the people. Through education the people can help each other and empower themselves.

Last year, you directed and co-wrote the short film Love Thy Neighbor. Do you find directing as fulfilling as acting?

Directing is a unique experience. I enjoy working with all of the artists and hearing their visions. I found it to be very collaborative.

Do you have plans to direct or write other films?

Yes. I just finished directing a full feature. Currently it is titled Hollywood.con. This film is a comedy based around a Hollywood production company trying to make the next big Mayan film. I’m very excited to share this piece with the world. Keep your eyes peeled!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Agony Booth review: TNG's most underrated episodes-Part II

This is the second half of my list of Star Trek: The Next Generation's most underrated episodes.
Here now is the second half of my article in which I name the 10 most underrated episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Click here for part 1!

Season 5: “Violations”
This episode is quite a little chiller. The Enterprise is giving a lift to a trio of telepathic aliens known as Ullians: Inad (Eve Brenner), Tarmin (David Sage), and his son Jev (Ben Lemon). These people do their telepathic thing by probing one’s memories in order to flesh out any forgotten or scarcely remembered bits. This is demonstrated in the beginning when Tarmin helps Keiko O’Brien (Rosalind Chao) remember something from her childhood.

During dinner with the crew, Tarmin proves as overbearing as Lwaxana Troi (Troi herself even says as much later on) when he embarrasses his son in order to make his point. But Troi cheers Jev up later, saying that he’s not the only one with an annoying parent. That night, as she prepares for bed, Troi slowly becomes overwhelmed by a memory involving Riker, whose place in the memory is soon taken over by Jev. As he assaults her in the memory, Troi falls into a coma.

Riker deduces that Jev was the last person to see Troi before she conked out. Obviously pissed off, Riker promises an investigation after questioning him. But later, alone in his quarters, Riker becomes overwhelmed by a memory in which an emergency in Engineering resulted in a crewman’s death. Riker lapses into a coma as Jev guilt trips him about it.

Crusher examines Keiko to see if she could potentially experience any side effects, but discovers she’s fine. Before the doctor can continue further though, Jev puts her in a coma after forcing her to relive the moment when Picard showed her the body of her husband Jack (Doug Wert).

Eventually, Troi awakens but can’t remember much. Jev offers to assist her with that, and probing her mind, frames Tarmin as the perpetrator. But shortly afterward, LaForge and Data deduce that Jev is the real culprit, and with Worf, detain him just as he’s about to assault Troi (for real this time).

While we know who the guilty party is from the start, and while the climax is a bit too obvious, this episode still does a good job at delivering jolts. The memory flashes experienced by Troi, Riker, and Crusher are nicely done, and LeVar Burton and Brent Spiner are given a chance to show off their nice buddy chemistry as LaForge and Data attempt to get to the bottom of things.

Season 5 & 6: “Time’s Arrow” / “Time’s Arrow, Part II”

This cliffhanger two-parter, part one of which concluded season 5, and part two of which begins season 6, is unique in TNG’s run in that it’s a stand-alone adventure. In contrast, “The Best of Both Worlds”, “Redemption”, “Descent”, and “All Good Things…” were each pieces of a bigger puzzle.

Returning to Earth, the crew finds Data’s head among some ruins beneath San Francisco. Further analysis indicates that it’s been there since the 19th Century. They also find evidence of other extraterrestrial interventions among the ruins and go to the planet which may house said aliens. Despite Picard’s attempts, Data vanishes and finds himself in 19th Century San Francisco. Among those he encounters are Samuel Clemens (Jerry Hardin) and even the younger version of Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) from that period.

Guinan agrees to help Data track the aliens traveling to this time period. At the same time, Part I (and the fifth season) concludes with Picard and the others, sans Worf, following Data.

Part II has everyone reunited and learning that the aliens are coming to this tme period in order to feed off the energy of human beings, specifically those dying of cholera, hence anyone finding their bodies can just blame the disease for it.

As with The Terminator, the very event the time travelers hope to avert occurs anyway. But unlike that classic 1984 film, things end on an upbeat note as Data gets his head reattached (albeit one with five centuries of dust on it), the aliens are defeated, and the crew and Mark Twain are back in their own times.

I’ve heard numerous complaints from some fans about this one since it aired. For instance, there have been complaints of too much technobabble, as well as questions about how Picard and company acquired the period clothes we see them wearing when Part II begins.

But this romp is never boring, with Hardin delightfully chewing the scenery. Regarding the wardrobe, I’ve always assumed they got the clothes the same way Kirk and Spock got their clothing in “The City on the Edge of Forever”: they stole them (or they could’ve traded in their normal clothes, that works too). As for the technobabble complaints, oh, please! The technobabble here is no worse than it would be in the later time travel two-parters “Past Tense” and “Future’s End”.

One of my colleagues said it best: It’s certainly not a wildly original time travel premise, but it’s competently done.

Season 6: “Birthright, Part I” / “Birthright, Part II”

This two-parter begins as a crossover with Deep Space Nine, which was in the middle of its first season at this point. The Enterprise arrives at the station for a Bajoran aid mission. Bashir comes aboard to use the ship’s computer to scan a recently found device. As he, Data, and LaForge analyze it, the machine shoots a bolt of energy knocking Data out. However, Data still experiences seeing his creator Dr. Soong (also played by Spiner) before he’s reactivated. Encouragement from Worf prompts him to go over his experience, and convincing LaForge and Bashir to repeat the accident, discovers that Soong had a dream program built into him.

At the same time, Worf is approached by a Yridian (James Cromwell) who informs him that his father is still alive and living in a Romulan prison camp. Worf is incensed at the thought of his old man being taken alive, but his words to Data prompt him to seek his dad out regardless.

Forcing the Yridian to take him to the planet, Worf finds that his father is indeed dead, but there are other survivors of the massacre which took his parents, and they’re peacefully living with Romulans on this planet.

Tokath (Alan Scarfe), the Romulan who oversees this world, informs Worf that he took pity on the captured Klingons and arranged for them to live their lives on the planet in peace. He’s even taken the Klingon Gi’Ral (Cristine Rose) as his wife, with whom they have a daughter Ba’el (Jennifer Gatti).

Worf’s attempts to escape fail, but he begins to leave an impression on the young Klingons that are now being raised here, including Ba’el. Eventually, Tokath decides to execute Worf to keep the peace he’s built, but the young Klingons stand up for him and declare their desire to leave.

The plot with Data is nicely wrapped up in Part I, leaving Part II exclusively focused on Worf, with only two scenes on the Enterprise. Some have understandably taken Worf to task for breaking apart a peaceful settlement. At the same time though, Worf’s stance is understandable, as the young Klingons have no idea of the heritage they have, which in one sense reminds me of how Native Americans were made to essentially forget their heritage when they were forced onto reservations. Even Worf’s resentment of Romulans is changed slightly when he tells Ba’el he loves her even though she’s half-Romulan.

The final scene, in which Worf deliberately lies to Picard in order to preserve the honor of the survivors, and Picard’s subsequent “I understand,” also hit home.

Both Data and Worf’s storylines would get memorable followups (“Rightful Heir” and “Phantasms”).

Season 6: “Lessons”

All the Trek series have, at best, a hot and cold track record when it comes to love stories. TNG was no exception, with such stories ranging from bland (“Aquiel”) to downright awful (“Angel One”). So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that when DS9 began to pair off some of its main characters in its later seasons, the results weren’t exactly must-see TV.

One exception to this, however, was Worf’s relationship with his baby mamma K’Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson). She only appeared in two episodes (“The Emissary” and “Reunion”), but her impression was immediate and her chemistry with Dorn palpable. The character’s shocking death in her second appearance would lead to, as far as I’m concerned, Worf’s finest moment on either TNG or DS9.

A close second to that stellar pairing, though, is this episode, which finds Picard falling in love with his new head of Stellar Sciences, Lt. Cmdr. Nella Daren (Wendy Hughes). What makes this one special is that these two actually get to know each other before declaring their love. The ending of the episode, in which they part, is also poignant, as Picard realizes that he can’t bring himself to potentially order Daren to her death if they remain together on the Enterprise.

As with Dorn and Plakson, the chemistry between Stewart and Hughes is wonderful. But my favorite scene is one I was actually hoping would be in it. It’s the moment when Picard tells Daren of how he acquired his flute by recalling the events of TNG’s masterwork “The Inner Light”. Kirk uses his bravado to make women fall for him, while Picard uses continuity.

Season 7: “Dark Page”

This is the second episode focusing on Lwaxana Troi which actually made me think more highly of her. The reason for this is that, like “Half a Life”, the story here puts her in a vulnerable position.

Troi’s mom is visiting the ship in order to communicate with a race called the Cairn. This race only communicates telepathically, so Lwaxana is onboard to help them speak verbally. She develops a close bond with the young Cairn girl Hedril (a then-unknown Kirsten Dunst). But soon, Lwaxana begins to have a nervous breakdown, even snapping at Riker at one point.

Not long afterward, Lwaxana falls into a coma. With the help of Hedril’s father Maques (Norman Large), Troi telepathically enters her mother’s mind in order to help her. But Lwaxana drives her daughter out of her mind. Troi’s subsequent finding that her mother deleted several years worth of entries in her journal leads her to re-enter her mind. It’s then that she discovers that Lwaxana has been covering up the existence of Troi’s previously unknown older sister Kestra (Andreana Weiner), and that Hedril’s resemblance to Kestra triggered Lwaxana’s breakdown.

TNG wasn’t the first series to dig up the “previously unknown sibling” cliché, and, as Sherlock recently proved, it wasn’t the last. But I enjoyed this episode for the wonderful scenes between Sirtis and Barrett, and for giving us more info on Troi’s background, as she rightfully takes center stage in order to save her mother.

Fittingly, this was Lwaxana’s final appearance on TNG. But she would appear twice more on DS9, and in her final appearance on that show (“The Muse”), there’s a nice bit of continuity in which Lwaxana talks about Kestra with Odo.

This wasn’t an easy list to compile. In fact, I can think of other TNG episodes that could be added. For example, season 5’s “The Perfect Mate” was good for the nicely understated way that Picard begins to fall for Kamala (a then-unknown Famke Janssen) and it has nice scenes between Picard and Crusher, which today serve to remind us that the absence of scenes between these two is one of the major reasons why the four TNG films ended up sucking big time.

Another is season 6’s “Frame of Mind”, which is nicely reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s film Repulsion, with Riker in the Catherine Deneuve role.

Still, as I mentioned in Part I of this article, with so many episodes, it was inevitable that some would fall under the radar.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Earth Girls are Easy (1988)

"Okay, I'm going to show you something that's going to totally change your life, completely, forever. Okay?"
"Well, in that case, let me get a cigarette."
-Valerie Gail and Candy Pink.


Celebrities and divorce basically go together like peanut butter and jelly. I must confess, though, that there are been some celebrity couples whose divorces made me a bit sad. One such couple was Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. These two made three films together during the 1980's. The first was the so-so comedy Transylvania 6-5000 (1985), while the second, and most famous, of their teamings came the following year with The Fly. The two would actually get married during production of this, their final, movie together.
Davis plays manicurist Valerie Gail, who is currently having trouble in the romance department, thanks to her philandering boyfriend Dr. Ted Gallagher (Charles Rocket). Despite the efforts of her co-worker Candy Pink (Julie Brown), Valerie is having trouble turning her frown upside down until, one day, an alien ship crashes into her swimming pool as she's sunbathing.
This ship is manned by Zeebo (Damon Wayans), Wiploc (Jim Carrey) and their captain Mac (Jeff Goldblum), all three of whom basically look like Wookies doused in different food coloring.
After her inital, understandable fear, Valerie agrees to take the trio in until they can fix their ship. With Candy's help, our outworlders get a makeover at the salon the ladies work at, so they can blend in more easily with society in the interim.
A night on the town leads to Zeebo making the moves on the local ladies at a disco, while Wiploc and Candy engage in some fun of their own. But later, Ted returns to try to make amends but then darts off again after seeing the company Valerie is now keeping.
Valerie's sadness prompts Mac to try to make her feel better. After some hesitation, Valerie ends up having sex with him.
The next day, with repairs on their ship almost complete, Valerie and Mac learn that Zeebo and Wiploc, along with Valerie's slacker neighbor Woody (Michael McKean), have been arrested after unknowingly robbing a convenience store. Mac gets himself arrested as well so he can help them out.
After a police chase, Zeebo and Wiploc are taken to a hospital, where Ted discovers how alien they truly are. Fortunately, Mac and Valerie manage to convince Ted he's delusional in order to help Mac's shipmates escape.
Ted later stops by Valerie's again and, in order to help Mac and the others take off, she tries to stall Ted by agreeing to go to Vegas to marry him.
Mac is heartbroken, but, once everything is ready, launches their ship. Valerie then realizes that she really loves Mac and tells him she wants to return to his world, a request he happily grants.
Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), this is a musical with science fiction elements in it. But I actually found this more enjoyable than Rocky Horror mainly because it makes no attempt to gross the viewer out like that film did with its dinner scene and the protagonists here are a bit more lively.
Both Wayans and Carrey would go on to success with the TV series In Living Color, and their subsequent film success is one reason why this movie has the cult following it does. Hey, if Rocky Horror can get such a following, this movie should be able to.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Agony Booth review: TNG's most underrated episodes-Part I

As Star Trek: The Next Generation turns 30 this year, this is part one of a two-part article I've done for the Agony Booth on TNG's most underrated episodes.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The announcement of this series in 1986, when the original Star Trek series turned 20, was met with skepticism by many, including myself. After all, the great success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home proved that audiences still loved to see Kirk and his crew. So why couldn’t they have gotten the chance to continue their TV voyages which NBC ended prematurely in 1969? However, TNG managed to pick up the Trek torch and run like crazy with it well into the 1990s, leading to three subsequent spin off series of its own.

The first two of these spin off shows, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, matched TNG’s record in terms of the number of seasons it had (seven). However, both those series began airing in January of 1993 and 1995, respectively. TNG, on the other hand, first hit the airwaves in September 1987. With Enterprise deservedly getting the axe after just four seasons, TNG currently holds the record as the Trek series with the most episodes (176, although some say 178, because both TNG’s premiere and final episodes, “Encounter at Farpoint” and “All Good Things…”, were subsequently rerun as two-part episodes).

With that record, it may not be surprising that there are some episodes of the series that simply flew under the radar in terms of how good they are by fans. Here now is the first half of a list of ten TNG episodes that I find to be quite good, but don’t usually see on the countless lists of Top 10 episodes that fans have put together over the years.

Season 1: “Coming of Age”
I can certainly understand the disdain most fans held for Wil Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher almost immediately after TNG premiered. The idea of a whiz kid piloting the ship and who was such a genius that he could see trouble when the adults on the show could not, making them look stupid in the process, didn’t exactly help said adults inspire confidence in viewers. Looking back now though, TNG’s first season is probably the only time I actually disliked the character. This is because his super-intelligence was drilled into our skulls again and again during that season. From Season 2 on, however, I didn’t mind Wesley quite as much, because he was presented as more of a team player. I didn’t exactly cry when Wheaton left the show in the middle of Season 4, but lo and behold, Wesley actually got a bona fide great episode to his name afterwards (“The First Duty”).

Ironically, this first season episode is one that centers on Wesley, and that I don’t mind either. Wesley goes down to a planet in order to take the entrance exam to get into Starfleet Academy. This works because Wesley comes across as someone who simply wants to get into a good school while dealing with his own personal issues as well. In other words, this was one of the few times young people could actually put themselves in his shoes. The scenes in which Wesley befriends his fellow candidate Mordock (John Putch) are also good, and Robert Ito is nicely authoritative as the Starfleet officer overseeing the exams.

But the best scenes are the ones that occur on the Enterprise while Wesley is taking his test. Picard’s superior Admiral Quinn (Ward Costello) has ordered his aid Lt. Cmdr. Remmick (Robert Schenkkan) to question the crew and watch procedures like a hawk as part of an investigation into Picard’s performance in the big chair. The scenes with Remmick pissing off Picard and company are terrific, and this thread would be picked up later in the season with “Conspiracy”.

Season 2: “Pen Pals”
One of the hallmarks of TNG was that there were numerous instances where the regulars would gather in the observation lounge and thoroughly discuss the matter they were facing in the episode. This episode, which centers on Data’s discovery of a little girl on a planet that’s set to be destroyed by a natural catastrophe, has that meeting in Picard’s quarters. But this stands out because it actually focuses on the right thing to do, the Prime Directive be damned. In contrast, Voyager would become infamous for, among other things, having Janeway not blink an eye at the thought of civilizations being wiped out because of the Prime Directive.

Even the subplot of Wesley heading a science team for the first time is painless, because it ends up serving the plot of the story.

Season 3: “The Survivors”
This episode is actually a very personal drama, even though the stakes themselves are presented as epic. The Enterprise investigates the destruction of a Federation colony. Upon arriving, they discover that the title survivors are couple Kevin and Rishon Uxbridge (John Anderson and Anne Haney). The couple claim to not know why they and their home were spared, but they do not wish to leave their otherwise decimated planet. Kevin in particular wishes that Picard and his crew would leave them alone. At the same time, Troi is being slowly driven insane because of an endless musical loop that’s been put in her mind. On top of that, the Enterprise encounters an imposing warship that’s trying to get rid of them.

However, the twist comes when Picard realizes that Kevin himself is the key to all this chaos. In the moving final moments of the episode, Kevin reveals that he’s actually the lone survivor. He also explains that he’s a super-powerful being who was living a peaceful life with Rishon when the (never seen) aliens attacked. But Kevin’s guilt and despair is revealed when he tells Picard that Rishon’s death led to him using his powers to wipe out not just the invaders, but their entire race. In his final log entry for the episode, Picard states that he doesn’t know if Kevin should answer for what he’s done, but only that he should be left alone.

The episode has great acting from everyone, especially Anderson, who had a long, prolific career as a character actor, in one of his final roles.

Season 3: “The High Ground”
As far as I’m concerned, this episode is the precursor to Steven Spielberg’s great, controversial drama Munich. While the Enterprise is delivering medical supplies to a war-torn planet, Crusher is kidnapped by terrorists that the planet’s government is at war with. The terrorist leader Finn (Richard Cox) informs her that her medical skills are needed, because he and others in his faction are experiencing the fatal aftereffects of using their untraceable transporter technology. Riker convinces the planet’s police chief Devos (Kerrie Keane) to give diplomacy a try, but Finn’s skepticism leads to his attempt to blow up the Enterprise. That ends in failure, although Picard’s fistfight with Finn results in his capture as well.

What makes me compare this to the aforementioned Spielberg film is that both dramas do not make the terrorists simply mustache-twirling villains, while also making sure not to sugar-coat their horrific acts. Finn truly believes that his acts are necessary in order to rectify wrongs done to him and his followers (at one point, he reveals that his son died in police custody). But Devos is given depth as well when she reveals to Riker that the deaths of a bus full of children led to her desire to put a stop to such actions. Both sides are given a voice here, and again like Munich, there’s no tidy resolution where all is forgiven either.

Side note: Data’s throwaway line about Ireland being unified in 2024 resulted in this episode being banned for several years in the U.K.

Season 4: “Half a Life”
As with Wesley, Troi’s mother Lwaxana (Majel Barrett) rubbed many fans the wrong way. However, this episode is one of two (the other I’ll go into in part two of this article) that actually made me like her. Most of the character’s outings had her being a flamboyant, man-crazy widow. But I like this story because it presents her in a more vulnerable light.

Lwaxana is visiting her daughter and her shipmates (in a funny bit, the show opens with Picard cautiously exiting a turbolift) as the ship is arriving on planet Kaelon II. There, they pick up a quiet scientist named Timicin (David Ogden Stiers), whom the ship is assigned to assist in an experiment that may save his world from its star, which is collapsing. Lwaxana makes it a point to get to know Timicin during his time on the ship.

The experiment turns out to be a failure. However, what truly saddens Timicin is his revelation that he won’t be able to spend much more time with Lwaxana because he’s almost 60 years old and the laws of his world demand that he commit ritual suicide at that age.

Lwaxana asks Picard to intervene but he can’t, as these are the laws of another world. Eventually, she convinces Timicin that maybe he can stick around a little longer and tell his superiors that his work is on the cusp of success. An interplanetary incident almost emerges over this until Timicin’s daughter Dara (Michelle Forbes, before she became Ro Laren) personally pleads with him to follow the heritage of their people. This convinces Timicin to concede. Although understandably saddened, Lwaxana agrees to go down to Kaelon II to join Timicin’s family in bidding him farewell.

There’s great chemistry between Barrett and Stiers, and the scenes in which Lwaxana tries to convince Timicin to challenge the status quo hit the mark. I plan to say more about Star Trek’s record with love stories in Part 2, but this is definitely one that worked, and in the process, made a sometimes-irritable character actually sympathetic.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Agony Booth review: My Fellow Americans (1996)

My second entry in the Agony Booth's Movies That Predicted Trump series looks at this comedy.
It’s now been one month since Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States, and already his standing with the public is at an all-time low. In addition, people are withdrawing from his cabinet or from nominations for posts in his cabinet like crazy. Not to mention that reports of hacking from Russia during the election keep cropping up. One can’t help but laugh at the turmoil of the presidency of a candidate that promised to “Make America Great Again”.

This led me to think of a comedy involving Presidents called My Fellow Americans.

Our story begins by explaining, via newscasts, the rivalry between Republican Ohio Senator Russel Kramer (Jack Lemmon) and his nemesis, Democratic Indiana Governor Matt Douglas (James Garner). The newscasts go onto say that Kramer has just beaten Douglas in the recent presidential election.

Four years and the next election later, Douglas prevents Kramer from getting a second term by being voted in President himself. Another four years after that, and Douglas’s aims for re-election are curtailed by the new President (and Kramer’s former Vice President) William Haney (Dan Aykroyd). Haney’s victory is slightly soured by his Dan Quayle-esque Vice President Ted Matthews (John Heard).

Three years into Haney’s term, Kramer is attending various functions, one of which leads to him dancing with someone dressed in a panda suit. Douglas, meanwhile, is going through a divorce and sleeping with the editor of his upcoming book (Marg Helgenberger). He also proves that he’s a great boss to the secret service agents still assigned to him by telling them to take a night off and “rent In the Line of Fire again.”

While Kramer and Douglas reluctantly attend the funeral of one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and whisper insults to each other during the burial), Haney is informed by his Chief of Staff Carl Witnaur (Bradley Whitford) that the Democrats have become aware of “Olympia”, the code word for a series of bribes from defense contractor Charlie Reynolds (James Rebhorn) to Haney during his Vice President days. Witnaur suggests simply framing Kramer, even though he knows nothing about it. Haney, after some hesitation, agrees, just in time to see Matthews embarrass himself and Haney’s administration on TV again.

Later, at another gathering, Douglas is brought up to speed on Olympia by Democratic National Committee chairman Joe Hollis (Wilford Brimley). He encourages Douglas to use an investigation into this as a prelude for running for the Oval Office again. Douglas agrees, as doing so will piss off both Kramer and Haney. Likewise, Kramer, attending the gala with his wife Margaret (Lauren Bacall), learns of Olympia and launches his own investigation as well.

Both Kramer and Douglas separately set up meetings with Reynolds to ask “WTF?” But Douglas, following a book fair where Kramer pisses him off with his cookbook, finds Reynolds dead in his car before their meeting can begin. Kramer encounters Douglas and the corpse and both agree to discuss matters at Kramer’s home, unaware that they’re being monitored by NSA Colonel Paul Tanner (Everett McGill).

Kramer and Douglas are comparing notes when Tanner arrives, claiming that Haney has asked them to meet him at Camp David. On the flight there, Douglas realizes that such a trip is taking longer than it should. When the pilots inform them that they weren’t told to go to Camp David, the former Presidents force them to land. Kramer and Douglas disembark and bitch some more before realizing that they should force the pilots to take them back to the White House. But their transport explodes before they can do that.

Now stranded in the middle of nowhere, Douglas and Kramer agree that they have to stick together, since someone clearly wants to kill them. Kramer convinces Douglas that they should go to Kramer’s Presidential Library in Ohio, which has records that can prove Haney’s connection with Reynolds.

They find themselves at a truck stop where a lady offers them a ride if Kramer gives her his priceless watch, a gift from Gorbachev. During the ride, as Kramer mourns his watch, the driver informs our former Presidents that she’s hauling farm equipment. Soon, a helicopter appears, shining its light on the truck. The lady stops and excuses herself before Kramer and Douglas step out as well. They become confused when the helicopter announces it’s from the Department of Immigration. At that moment, the “farm equipment” is revealed to be Spanish-speaking illegal immigrants who all pop out and go every which way (and Trump thinks some silly wall will stop this?).

But the Immigration chopper is ordered to take a hike by another government chopper that fires a missile at it to make its point. Kramer and Douglas join the swarm of immigrants until that chopper gives up.

Fortunately, they soon find a train bound for Cleveland. Pretending to be impersonators of the presidents they really are so they can blend in with the Elvis impersonator who told them about the train, Kramer and Douglas meet many ordinary Americans and get a first hand account of how their terms affected them. Kramer realizes that people didn’t like his off-quoted “Our dreams are like our children” speech, while Douglas meets up with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator who says she slept with the real Douglas and that the experience, like his term in office, was nothing special.

But the train trip is cut short as Tanner’s men catch up with it. This leads to a funny bit with Kramer and Douglas jumping off a fast-moving train. As they attempt to find civilization again, Douglas attempts to offer an olive branch (of sorts) by comparing notes with Kramer about what they liked about their times in the White House.

They then find quite the patriotic family camping out in the area. These people agree to take our former Presidents to Ohio, but Douglas and Kramer become annoyed when they keep stopping to take pictures or to rest. This leads to the couple expressing dissatisfaction with how people like themselves are viewed and, before you know it, Kramer and Douglas are on foot again.

Finally, after eluding Tanner’s men again, they get transportation to the library by taking part in a gay pride parade. One of the participants (Jeff Yagher), dressed like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, arranges for friends to take the former Presidents there via motorcycle.

At the library, Douglas is annoyed with what’s basically Kramer’s shrine to himself. This includes a gift shop that sells a Kramer doll that, once you pull the string in the back, states “Our dreams are like our children” as well as “Don’t you fall into the trap! Democrats are full of crap!” (at least the doll doesn’t say “You’re fired!”).

But the records they came to the library to find turn out to have been messed with. They also get a message from a library guard stating that Witnaur had a meeting with Reynolds. With Hollis’s help, the former Presidents kidnap Witnaur (just as he’s getting some nookie on—some people are so inconsiderate). The trio record Witnaur’s admission of trying to frame Kramer for Olympia but he denies any knowledge about the attempt on their lives.

With Tanner clearly a loose cannon (remind you of someone who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave?), Douglas convinces Kramer that the next step is to go to the White House to confront Haney. He also believes this will begin to make up for their poor decisions while in the Oval Office.

Our former Presidents get into the White House thanks to the one person they always loved there, the Executive Chef Rita (Esther Rolle). They decide to get to Haney and evade Tanner by actually giving the tour of the White House to a group of tourists. This funny, if very brief, tour is ended after Tanner manages to corner them into a guest room. There, they turn on the TV and see that Haney is paying tribute to World War II Dutch Resistance fighters on the South Lawn. They also see that Tanner has already told the press that the chopper they were on earlier crashed, with the former Presidents on board.

As Tanner and his men try to break into the room, Kramer begins looking for a secret passageway he heard about called (imaginatively enough) the Kennedy Room. This triggers a memory for Douglas as he quickly shows Kramer where said room is located, and they go darting below the White House. But Tanner finds them, but Kramer quickly knocks him out, claiming he has to change his shorts afterward (that’s our hero!).

But the tunnel ends up leading to the North Lawn. Fortunately, there are horses close by that Douglas and Kramer quickly take and ride to their destination. Tanner radios snipers claiming that there are intruders and to shoot them down. As Haney gives his speech, Tanner himself is shot by one of the snipers after that sniper looks at who he’s being ordered to kill.

As it turns out, said sniper is the same guy from the parade who set the former presidents up with their motorcycle trip.

Kramer and Douglas talk to Haney at the Oval Office. Although Haney didn’t know about Tanner’s plans to kill them, he agrees to resign. As Kramer, Douglas, and Rita laugh at the fact that Matthews is now President, the former Presidents put two and two together and realize that the only way a dimwit like him could get in the Oval Office is if Haney was assassinated or if he resigned.

Having just been sworn in, Matthews is preparing to address the country when Kramer and Douglas confront him. Matthews confesses that he knew Haney would take any blame and that any deaths can now be pinned on Tanner. He then gloats that he’s not the idiot people think he is, mispronouncing the word ‘facade’ in the process.

After Matthews leaves, Douglas reveals to Kramer that he recorded Matthews’s words. They also grudgingly confess that their adventure has made them less pissed off at the sight of each other (awww….).

Another news broadcast, nine months later, states that Matthews has begun his prison sentence for his crimes. It’s also announced that Douglas and Kramer will be running on the same ticket as independents in the upcoming election. But it hasn’t been revealed who will be President and who will be Vice President. The two give smiles for the camera for a few moments before Douglas tosses a dollar on the floor. Like a fish with a worm, Kramer goes for it, giving Douglas an opening to address the public with (what else?) “My Fellow Americans.”

The film itself is a nice comedy with two legends in that field delightfully facing off. My only real complaint is that Bacall, a legend herself, has far too little to do here.

In terms of how the movie predicted Trump, it did so in three ways. It gave us a president who just loves money (Kramer), another who thinks nothing of romancing other women even though he’s married (Douglas), and a third who has such a narrow grasp of common sense (Matthews) its amazing he’s now in the Oval Office.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Velvet Vampire (1971)

"Alright, I got laid last night! That's what you want to hear me say, right?"
-Lee Ritter.













Like Lady Frankenstein, this movie is from the house of Roger Corman.
Lee Ritter (Michael Blodgett) and his wife Susan (Sherry Miles) are at an art gallery one evening. There, they befriend the beautiful Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall), who, unbeknownst to them, had just viciously dispatched a guy who was attempting to assault her earlier that evening.
Diane invites the couple to her estate in the desert.
Lee and Susan have some trouble finding Diane's place, and the people they ask at a gas station don't prove helpful. But Diane then shows up in a dune buggy and takes them to her home. That night, Lee and Susan are making love in the bedroom Diane has loaned them, unaware that she is watching them via a two way mirror.
As the weekend goes on, Lee becomes more and more entranced with Diane's beauty to the point where they begin making out in a barn only to be stopped when Susan is frightened by a rattlesnake that touches her as she's sunbathing. Diane personally sucks out any venom the snake placed in Susan and it is after this that Susan begins dreaming of Diane lusting after both her and Lee.
The couple later goes to the nearby cemetery and discovers that Diane's late husband died nearly a century earlier. From this, Susan deduces that Diane is actually a vampire. By that point, though, Diane has seduced and killed Lee and begins to do the same with Susan. But Susan stops her before she gets to the killing part. A chase ensues, during which, in the film's best jump scene, Susan gets on a bus only to find Diane already on it. Diane then slowly takes the seat behind Susan for the remainder of the ride. From the bus, Diane continues chasing Susan before they come across a stand selling crosses and crucifixes. Seizing her chance, Susan takes one and uses it on Diane and implores the people around them to follow suit, which they do.
After Diane's death, Susan discusses the matter with her friend Carl (Gene Shane), only to discover that he's a vampire himself.
Yarnall is definitely the reason to see this as she is quite the femme fatale here. She gained fame in the 1960s with appearances in numerous movies and TV shows. Her most famous appearance is opposite Elvis Presley in Live a Little, Love a Little (1968), although I will always remember her from her appearance in the Star Trek episode "The Apple."
While both Blodgett and Miles don't exactly make the same impression, the movie itself has a nice atmosphere thanks to both Yarnall and the musical score from Clancy B Glass III and Roger Dollarhide.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Agony Booth review: Star Trek: Turnabout Intruder (1969)

The Agony Booth now has a series of reviews called Movies That Predicted Trump. These include reviews of such classic films as The Dead Zone and Bulworth. This contribution to that series focuses on the final episode of the original Star Trek series.

There was a Friday the 13th this past January, so I invited a few friends over to binge watch the first few entries from that film series to commemorate the occasion. After the arrival of my first guest, a major Star Trek fan, we decided to kill time waiting for our food by watching Star Trek‘s final episode “Turnabout Intruder” on Amazon. As we watched it, my friend used moments in the show to make digs at the current Commander in Chief. This got me thinking that this specific episode would make an ideal entry as a TV Show that Predicted Trump.

The show’s final episode begins with the Enterprise arriving on Camus II in answer to a distress call from an archeology team studying the ruins there. As it turns out, said team is headed by a former flame of Kirk’s, one Janice Lester (Sandra Smith). Her associate/paramour Dr. Arthur Coleman (Harry Landers) informs Kirk, Spock, and McCoy that she’s suffering from radiation exposure. But she’s able to recognize Kirk and asks him to stay with her while Spock, McCoy, and Coleman go off to investigate possible life signs nearby.

Kirk and Lester shoot the breeze, with her complaining that women can’t be starship captains. Some fans have interpreted her line to mean that her romance with Kirk ended because of his career, although Gene Roddenberry himself would later say that this line was sexist and basically apologized for it after the fact.

The captain then walks around the area a bit, taking a gander at what looks like a huge monolith. Lester then produces a doohickey which stuns Kirk, pinning him to the monolith. I guess Bones didn’t have his morning cup of booze that day, because Lester leaps out of her bed full of energy, so you’d think that he could have determined that she wasn’t exactly sick.

Lester, with a huge Grinch-like smile spread across her face, walks over to the machine where Kirk is pinned down. She then walks over to the other side of the monolith, lifts a lever up and then down before she and Kirk are seen swapping bodies. Cue the title credits.

Lester-as-Kirk wakes up and is astonished that the procedure has been successful. She deactivates the machine and carries the barely-conscious Kirk-as-Lester over to the bed. Lester-as-Kirk then gloats over how much better she is now physically while making sexist comments that a colleague of mine on this site expertly highlighted when she wrote her own review of this episode.

Spock, Bones, and Coleman then return, with McCoy stating that there was no saving the rest of the unseen staff. At the same time, Coleman glances at Kirk-as-Lester on the bed, suggesting he was in on his sweetheart’s plans to have a sex change. He states that Kirk-as-Lester is close to death, and Lester-as-Kirk suggests taking everyone back to the ship.

After beaming back, Lester-as-Kirk goes to sickbay, where Coleman is watching over Kirk-as-Lester. Coleman berates her for not killing Kirk, even though he did everything she asked of him, including killing their staff by exposing them to that radiation. But Lester-as-Kirk simply stammers, saying she couldn’t kill him, but that doesn’t matter because she’s now a captain. Hmm… someone who gives no good reason for not doing something and says it doesn’t matter? Kinda reminds me of someone.

McCoy and Chapel come in and attend to their patient, but Lester-as-Kirk soon relieves McCoy of that duty, giving Kirk-as-Lester over to Coleman. McCoy strongly objects, but can do nothing but leave while Chapel obeys Coleman’s orders to sedate Kirk-as-Lester just as he’s regaining consciousness.

Lester-as-Kirk then silently and proudly walks to the ship’s bridge while thinking (in Kirk’s voice, mind you, even though you’d think it’d be Lester’s voice) that her patience has been rewarded and she’s now a starship captain.

Not long after arriving, Lester-as-Kirk orders Sulu to change course to a colony where she plans to take Kirk-as-Lester. Spock points out that this diversion would delay their rendezvous with another starship. He also points out that there’s a starbase on their designated route with better medical facilities. But this reasoning doesn’t keep her from reminding us of our current president as she digs her heels in and tells Sulu to increase speed to the colony.

We then cut to Kirk’s quarters, where Bones tells Lester-as-Kirk that Coleman was noted for being incompetent at his job (someone who delegates jobs to people who are incompetent? The parallels just keep on coming). But what cracks me up here is the sight of Lester-as-Kirk filing her nails, despite her earlier claims that she hates being a woman. So, she hates her own gender, but hey, she’s still gotta look good, right? Maybe this is a reason why Bones asks Lester-as-Kirk to be examined. She’s hesitant, but then must deal with other matters after Sulu informs him that Starfleet wants an explanation for why the Enterprise’s scheduled rendezvous is being delayed.

Next, we’re in Sickbay, with Kirk-as-Lester waking up. He sees that the medical scanner on top of the beds shows that he’s fine, but before he can ask Bones why he now has breasts, Coleman pops in, saying he’s in charge now. Kirk-as-Lester attempts to reason with him and then also Chapel, but Coleman informs the nurse that Kirk-as-Lester is delusional. As Chapel goes off to get another sedative (you’d think Coleman would have some at his immediate disposal for such a contingency), he tells Kirk-as-Lester that he’s insane, while the captain looks at his new face in the mirror with (I’m guessing) horror.

In bed again, Kirk-as-Lester makes a log entry in his head (and with Lester’s voice and not his own, and how is he making this specific log entry, anyway?). Chapel comes in and the captain apologizes for his earlier outburst and politely asks to see McCoy or Spock. The nurse tells him that it may be possible to see Spock before they reach the colony. Kirk-as-Lester then says that he thought the ship was set to make that rendezvous. Now you’d think this would’ve prompted Chapel to ask this woman she’s never met before how she could possibly know the ship’s itinerary, but she simply says that Kirk-as-Lester needs to recuperate at the colony first. Chapel then gives the captain what looks like a glass of soda pop, saying it’s a remedy. Kirk-as-Lester pretends to like it so Chapel will be fine with leaving her alone for a moment. He then uses that moment to dump the rest of the pop on the floor and shatter the glass to use the shards as a cutting tool for the straps keeping him on the bed.

In another part of Sickbay, Spock and McCoy are discussing Kirk-as-Lester’s erratic behavior. Spock thinks that this behavior may have something to do with the brief period Kirk and Lester were alone on Camus II together and suggests talking to her. Lester-as-Kirk arrives, ready for that exam. Just a moment later, Kirk-as-Lester arrives, telling Spock and Bones he needs to talk to them. But Lester-as-Kirk ominously walks toward him, and with just two swift moves, brings him to the ground. I know Kirk is currently in a body with less muscles, but we’ve seen him engaged in fisticuffs plenty of times by this point, so you can’t tell me that he still doesn’t have had a good fighting chance even if he’s in a different body. This actually reminds me of those times on Deep Space Nine where Kira was able to take on Klingons twice her size but got her ass handed to her whenever someone of equal build took her on.

Spock and McCoy are aghast by Lester-as-Kirk’s actions, but Bones proceeds with the examination, while Spock goes to the quarters that Lester-as-Kirk told security to put the captain in. Although she shows signs of apprehension, Lester-as-Kirk seems to pass the medical examination with flying colors. At the same time, Kirk-as-Lester attempts to convince Spock of what happened, even citing the events of the previous episodes “The Tholian Web” and “The Empath.” He finally convinces Spock after the latter performs a mind-meld (and a thousand fanfics are born). But there’s still no actual proof to this story, so Spock suggests they go see McCoy. However, the security guard in the room objects, but then Spock brings him down with a nerve pinch. He does the same with the guard outside, but not before he has the chance to inform Lester-as-Kirk, who then arrives with more security. She then makes a ship-wide announcement that Spock is under arrest and will stand trial for mutiny (and to think, Trump simply fired his attorney general for disagreeing with him).

At the trial itself, with Bones, Scotty, and Lester-as-Kirk presiding, she actually makes a log entry stating that she no longer fears discovery (I wonder how Starfleet brass reacted to that story once they read it). Spock reveals that his mind-meld with Kirk-as-Lester told him what happened. When Scotty says that more substantial evidence is needed, Spock says that Kirk-as-Lester’s presence is required, but she’s inexplicably locked up. Lester-as-Kirk, once again reminding us of the current president, simply states that he’s insane and that’s it. But she relents before bringing up the examination McCoy was giving at the time Spock and the captain were talking. Bones admits that there’s nothing wrong with the captain, and Spock admits disappointment over those findings, but he’s not giving up.

Kirk-as-Lester is brought in and remains cool despite Lester-as-Kirk’s condescending attitude toward him. He even manages to say that the two forcibly swapped bodies with a straight face. When Lester-as-Kirk asks why Lester would do such as thing, we get the line of dialogue that convinced me this episode predicted Trump.

“To get the power she craved. To obtain a position she doesn’t warrant by temperament or training. And most of all she wanted to murder James Kirk, a man who once loved her!”

Okay, that last part may not apply to Trump, but I wouldn’t necessarily put it past him, either.

When Lester-as-Kirk asks for witnesses, Spock states that the real issue here is if body-swapping is actually possible. He points out that, given all that the crew has experienced by this point, switching bodies, let alone genders, may not exactly be as far-fetched as it sounds.

Lester-as-Kirk then goes on a rant, saying that this is all just meant to make Spock captain. She then just tells Spock to give all this up and things will go back to normal. But Spock is resolute and she gives us another reminder of Trump by pounding the table before saying that she and Scotty (who has a priceless “Dude, tone it down some!” look on his face) and Bones will take a recess to vote on the matter.

Scotty privately tells Bones that he’ll vote in Spock’s favor. He then asks McCoy what he thinks would happen if Lester-as-Kirk was outvoted. Bones states he doesn’t know, but Scotty says that they both know she’d do something drastic. This is when Scotty states that they’d have no choice but to take over the ship. McCoy expresses misgivings about this, but says he’s prepared for the vote.

Alas, that vote turns out to be unnecessary, as Lester-as-Kirk has the communications officer who isn’t Uhura play back McCoy and Scotty’s conversation. She then declares them all guilty and gives them the death penalty, over Sulu and Chekov’s objections. But they grudgingly resume their posts as ordered.

On the bridge, Sulu and Chekov remind us that they have more personality than the security guards by refusing to take any more orders from Lester-as-Kirk. This leads to another Trump-esque hissy fit before we see Lester’s image over Kirk’s face, signaling that the body transfer is weakening.

Lester-as-Kirk then goes to Coleman and asks him to kill Kirk-as-Lester. Coleman points out all the bad things he’s done for her, but he won’t add murder to the list (what about their staff on Camus II?). But she convinces him to do it so they won’t be exposed as murderers. Kirk-as-Lester also seems to make a move to kiss Coleman as she does this, so that may have been a factor for him as well.

With a phaser and a hypo full of poison, the duo go to the cell where Spock, Scotty, McCoy, and Kirk-as-Lester are being held. Lester-as-Kirk says that they’ll be put in separate cells to prevent any further conspiracy. The captain is let out first but quickly attempts to overcome Coleman, just as the transfer weakens further and Kirk and Lester are back in their normal bodies.

Lester has another hissy fit and tries to lash out at Kirk, but is quickly disarmed and goes to Coleman for comfort. He asks to take care of her as Bones leads them off (never mind that Coleman helped her kill their staff).

Kirk expresses pity for Lester with the final line of the series:

“Her life could’ve been as rich as any woman’s. If only… If only…”

Given this episode’s tone, I’m guess he wanted to add “if only she had a penis”, but children watch this show too, so some discretion was required there.

This episode is not held in high regard by fans and rightly so. It’s arguably the most sexist episode of Star Trek. Like “Spock’s Brain”, the premise is sheer bullshit. But like that episode, it’s good for a few laughs, with Shatner giving us the Shatner mannerisms that comedians take to like fish to water.

The good news is that the original Trek series would later get a true, proper finale with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

The bad news is that, like the Enterprise in this episode, the U.S. is currently under the command of someone who basically has a hissy fit whenever they’re countered. The only difference is that that person didn’t need to swap bodies in order to obtain the position.