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.

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.