Review of Star Trek: Picard

“A butterfly that lives forever is really not a butterfly at all.” — Data

Instead of doing my usual wrap-up review, this time I decided to do a bit of episode-by-episode commentary. We’ll see how it goes…

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

Episode 1:

– Nice way to bring Data into the story — both the dreams and the ‘Dahj’ character (Isa Briones). Speaking of, she’s got some pretty impressive moves!

– I like Picard’s caretakers(?) a lot. Romulan refugees, I take it? I recognize Laris (Orla Brady) from “Into the Badlands”, and Zhaban (Jamie McShane) looks familiar, too. Are they what they appear to be? Hope we see more of them….

– Whoah, what’s going on at that Borg cube?!

Episode 2:

– Have to admit, I’m not entirely sure why the synthetics destroyed Utopia Planitia Shipyards, but I’m assuming it was to (at least partially) cripple Starfleet.

– That forensic molecular reconstruction tech that Laris used in Dahj’s apartment was even a bit too much for me to accept, and I’m usually pretty open to futuristic possibilities. And how would she have gotten her hands on it? Does she have Tal Shiar connections? Btw, I noticed Brady’s native Irish brogue seeping through at times. Odd to hear from a Romulan!

– This uber-secret Zhat Vash(sp?) group sounds intriguing. What superstition or traumatic event must have occurred (and how long ago) to make them hate/distrust AI’s so strongly?

– I don’t care for Narek (Harry Treadaway), either the character (which is probably justifiable) or the actor (for some reason). Maybe I’d like him better in “Penny Dreadful”, where he played Dr. Frankenstein?

– Nice cameo by David Paymer as Dr. Benayoun.

– Not sure what to make of Dr. Jurati (Alison Pill), yet. Sounds like she might be a valuable asset for Picard’s mission, though.

– Regarding Picard’s meeting with Adm. Clancy (Ann Magnuson), I think I actually agree with the Federation’s reasons for aborting the Romulan mercy mission Picard led years earlier — at least, as the admiral explained it. Difficult decision, though. (Magnuson’s voice sounds so much like Bebe Neuwirth’s, doesn’t it?)

– The lovely Tamlyn Tomita and Peyton List as deadly intelligence operatives? Cool! Sounds like they are “bad guys”. Is Commodore Oh Vulcan or a Romulan plant? Is Rizzo really human? Time will tell…

Picard in study with Laris and Zhaban

Episode 3:

– Now that we have a little more info (thru Picard’s eyes, anyway), I can see why the Federation brass’s rejection of his (and Raffi’s) modified evacuation plan felt like such a betrayal. (Not to mention their willingness to accept his resignation over it. Ouch!) This is obviously part of the promised political commentary, but I refuse to let it sidetrack me from enjoying the show as a whole.

– This Raffi character (Michelle Hurd) could be a lot of fun, though she is clearly hurting and feels betrayed by Picard, as well as by Starfleet. Her background with Picard, including both the earlier years and the later, damaged relationship, could prove to be some great story material.

– Great to see Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), especially directing the Artifact project, trying to help other XBs (i.e., ex-Borgs). But I can’t help thinking that their Romulan hosts have nefarious plans in mind.

– Captain Rios (Santiago Cabrera) is an intriguing character, and I’m sure we’ll get some backstory on him. His hologram “crew” look to be fun, too. (How many are there?)

– Laris and Zhaban are pretty impressive in close-quarters combat! Jurati’s timely arrival and assistance seem a bit suspicious, though, despite her apparent shakiness afterward.

– This Ramdha lady (Rebecca Wisocky) really does seem “off”, but ya gotta wonder what other crucial info she may have buried in her mind.

– Looks like Narissa/Rizzo is Romulan after all, and she got her ears sharpened! That, and the black uniform(?), looks good on her. And she’s Narek’s sister, but she’s his superior officer and they disagree on tactics… fascinating!

Episode 4:

– The Sisters of the Qowat Milat sound like a cool idea. Elnor (Evan Evagora), though, looks like a refugee from Rivendell. Even his name sounds like that of an Elf from Middle Earth! I’m pretty sure this was intentional, but it seems a bit much, even as an homage.

– Is Narek developing actual feelings for Soji (Isa Briones)? Regardless, he is a snake.

– Rios seems like a pretty good pilot. But, surprise! surprise!, look who showed up to save the day (and then get rescued herself) at the end! Seven-of-Nine! 🙂

Seven on deck of La Sirena

Episode 5:

– I never would have thought to put Seven/Annika (Jeri Ryan) as part of a freedom-fighter organization (or, however the Fenris Rangers see themselves), but it does make some sense, especially once we’re let in on some of her motivation.

– The whole “mission” on Freecloud looked like fun to do and was reminiscent of something from Indiana Jones or Firefly or Battlestar Galactica. Or, come to think of it, possibly a situation that Riker and a few others from the Enterprise-D might find themselves in in the old days.

– So, now we know why Raffi hitched a ride with Picard and the others; she was going to see her long-estranged son, Gabriel. Heartbreaking to see how it went, though.

– Seven kicks @$$!

– I thought Maddox would play a bigger, longer-lasting role in the story, but… whoah! Didn’t see that coming! Given their romantic history, Jurati must have been either brainwashed or shown/told something terrifying for her to be compelled to kill Maddox like that. Presumably, this was to shut him up before he could reveal any helpful info to Picard, or maybe just to keep him from building anymore synths.

Episode 6:

– Elnor’s innocence and ignorance of certain things is alternately amusing and annoying. In some ways, he’s like a sheltered, 20-year-old child. It seems that his education under the Qowat Milat was a bit lacking.

– Despite the great acting, we can only imagine what visiting a Borg cube would have been like for Picard (or Seven) after all this time.

– It must be a whole ‘nother kind of scary for Soji, slowly (but defiantly) coming to the realization that she is in fact an advanced synthetic being, and most of her life/memories are a lie. I hope that, at some point, she gets a chance to kick Narek’s butt for manipulating her like that.

– I’m guessing the (re-)humanizing of the XBs and the fear/hatred they still evoke in others is another aspect of that political commentary I mentioned. If so, it’s a poor analogy. Again, I’ll refrain from further comment…

– The Romulans have a weird way of doing dream interpretation! Effective, though.

– Hugh’s familiarity with the Queen’s Cell and the (totally new “Stargate” tech we’d never heard of before) spatial trajector was quite convenient.

Picard reunites w/ Will & Deanna

Episode 7:

– Of all the places on Nepenthe, how did Hugh manage to set the spatial trajector to place Picard and Soji so close to the Riker homestead? Picard didn’t give him any coordinates! Does it read the minds of its “passengers”?

– After that little mindmeld, I guess now we have a better idea what Oh scared Jurati with.

– Great to see Will and Deanna again, and I loved their treating Picard like family and offering to help in any way they could. As it should be.

– Kestra is smart and spunky and sweet! I like her!

– How did Elnor get that Fenris S.O.S. thingie? Did I miss something?

– Looks like Jurati’s tortured conscience finally made her do something drastic. But, did she mean to put herself in a coma? Why?

Episode 8:

– Well, now we have an even better idea what the Zhat Vash (and Jurati?) saw and why they were determined to destroy all synthetics, in order to save organics. Frankly, I don’t blame them. Though, why keep it all a secret? Wouldn’t it make sense to get more people & races on board and agree to initiate Asimov’s Laws of Robotics (or something like that)?

– Elnor continues to impress with his martial skills.

– Clancy may come through after all!

– Seven showed up in the nick of time again! The subsequent scenes with her agonizing over what to do and then being anticipated by Narissa, who ruthlessly spaced the remaining Borg on the cube — very sad.

– The scene of Raffi “consulting” with the hologram crew was rather enjoyable. I like them!

– This time, we got a peak at the psychological baggage Rios is carrying, and it just happens to be connected to Soji and the synthetics. Hmmm…

– So, it turns out that the Romulans were behind the attack on Mars, in an effort to get synthetics banned throughout the Federation. Those sneaky snakes…

Narek & Narissa

Episode 9:

– I have to say, despite the conditions under which Dr. Jurati killed Maddox and the subsequent risks she took to throw the Romulans off her trail, I am a bit surprised that the rest of the crew (especially Rios) seem to have welcomed her back into the fold so quickly. I guess the combination of her penitent attitude and her expertise with androids — not to mention that they are a small group with uncertain allies — make it hard to treat her as a prisoner, given the circumstances.

– Glad to see that Seven and Elnor survived the cube’s rough landing. I suspect they and the XBs will play an important part in the final battle against the Romulans. Maybe that cube has got enough juice to zap a bunch of Birds-of-Prey out of the sky? What about the alien synths from beyond?

– I expected the android colony on Coppelius to be larger, for some reason. The real surprise, though, was Brent Spiner showing up as yet another Soong. Cool.

– This new sister of Soji’s… Sutra. I was suspicious of her from the beginning. Something about the way she talked and carried herself — more confident, more knowledgeable(?), more conniving, as it turned out. In retrospect, it wasn’t all that difficult to see Sutra was not like her sisters. But, why? And will she be the “Lore” to Soji’s “Data”?

– I have a feeling Jurati is playing along, in hopes she can free Picard or something else that would help her fellow organics, but I’m not sure about Soji.

Borg artifact and new Romulan ships

Episode 10:

– So, Jurati was up to something. Hard to believe Sutra and Soong weren’t more suspicious of her, though. I would’ve made sure she was accompanied wherever she went, at least.

– I kinda like the new Romulan Birds-of-Prey. But, where did they come from if the Romulan Empire is defunct? Maybe a secret Tal Shiar base/shipyard?

– The new(?) Picard Maneuver was clever, but how would the pseudo-ships be able to act — and shoot and be shot — like real ships? Wouldn’t the illusion only be good for a standoff over some distance?

– Loved it when Riker showed up with scores of new Starfleet ships. (Was this the “squadron” Adm. Clancy sent to Deep Space 12? Looked like more than a squadron.) However, it might have been prudent to leave a few of those ships behind afterward in case Oh returned. Those new Starfleet ships looked distinctly more military, btw. Assuming I’m correct, will that shift in emphasis be explored (no pun intended) next season, I wonder?

– I know Brent Spiner always said he would be too old (and fat?) to ever return as Data, but I thought they did a decent (CGI?) job of keeping him looking fairly trim and young-looking.

– Frankly, I hope that moment of interlaced fingers between Seven and Raffi isn’t a hint at some LGBT stuff the writers/producers plan for later. Not sure I care for the budding romance between Rios and Jurati, either.

– I had already figured out much of how it would likely end, to be honest. Still, it was a surprisingly emotional last few minutes. Made my eyes leak, darnit!

General comments:

First, I have to say, I love the opening theme (and related pieces throughout). It’s orchestral and elegant and fits in with those of the older shows, imo. Also, fun fact, it was Isa Briones singing “Blue Skies” at the end of the finale. Pretty impressive! In fact, I was generally quite impressed with young Miss Briones throughout.

We got what they said we would get — a darker story involving a Picard who was full of regret (as well he should have) and grief, and a Starfleet/Federation that was not what Picard (or Stewart) thought it should be. (How’s that for a neutral statement?) I already wrote a few weeks ago on the matter of profanity (and a few other things) in the series, which is why I haven’t addressed them in this post.

As some of you may remember, about a year ago I wrote a post reviewing the information we had at the time about the new Picard series. This included character descriptions for Picard’s crew. It’s interesting to look back now at how the various profiles morphed into the characters that ended up in the final product. All the names changed, too. (E.g., K’Bar became Elnor; the male Starton became the female Dr. Jurati.)

As for the crew we got… I am generally satisfied with all of them. True, I’m tired of seeing Jurati ugly-cry. But, then, the character had good reason(s) to. In fact, Picard and all of his crew members — plus, Seven/Annika — went through some heavy, emotional ringers, didn’t they? A lot of existential crises and other gut-punches in just 10 episodes. Whew!

Regarding the “Admonition”, the Armageddon-ish vision that prompted the Romulan machinations, it seems like there was a lot of truth in it. At least, on the surface. Gotta wonder how much else was accurate, ‘cuz there really were “demons” from beyond that responded to that beacon. Were they really uber-synths (or their soldiers? pets?) from another galaxy or dimension? As curious as I am about that, I hope Season 2 shifts to a very different main plot/threat.

Speaking of which, potential story threads to pick up on for Season 2 might include:

1) Jurati’s murder trial
2) Commodore Oh’s (or whatever her Romulan name and rank might really be) subsequent activities
3) the fate of Sutra

I’d also like to see a few other cameos — maybe Worf, Geordi, Sisko, and/or Adm. Janeway? (I know Stewart wants Whoopi Goldberg to appear as Guinan. OK, I guess, but not my first choice.)

OK, I’m done. I know some (many?) of you will disagree, but my overall assessment is that “Star Trek: Picard” was an enjoyable story with intriguing characters, and it introduced several interesting ideas. In short, a pretty good debut for the series, and I’ll be looking forward to continuing the ride in Season 2.

30 Favorite Genre Films of the 1990s

I did one of these lists for 1980s films a couple months ago. It was a fun exercise, so… After searching IMDB and racking my brain for awhile, I managed to come up with a similar list for the 1990s. As before, I’ll just list the 30 by year, then throw a few “oddballs” in for honorable mentions. See what you think…

Die Hard 2 (90)
Total Recall (90)
Goodfellas (90)
The Hunt for Red October (90)
Darkman (90)
Star Trek VI (91)
Terminator 2 (91)
The Silence of the Lambs (91)
Under Siege (92)
Tombstone (93)
Demolition Man (93)
Jurassic Park (93)
The Fugitive (93)
Speed (94)
Pulp Fiction (94)
Desperado (95)
The Usual Suspects (95)
Die Hard with a Vengeance (95)
Independence Day (96)
Mission: Impossible (96)
The Rock (96)
Eraser (96)
Star Trek: First Contact (96)
Con Air (97)
Men In Black (97)
Starship Troopers (97)
Saving Private Ryan (98)
The Matrix (99)
Galaxy Quest (99)
The Sixth Sense (99)

A few more faves that didn’t quite fit the genres or didn’t quite make it into the Top 30 get honorable mentions. They are: Dances with Wolves (90), Groundhog Day (93), Forrest Gump (94), The Shawshank Redemption (94), Blade (98).

As before, I counted up how many of the 30 had certain popular actors as the leads:

Arnold Schwarzenegger: 3
Bruce Willis: 3
Sean Connery: 2
Keanu Reeves: 2
Will Smith: 2
Sylvester Stallone: 1
Antonio Banderas: 1
Harrison Ford: 1
Jeff Goldblum: 1
Steven Seagal: 1
Kurt Russell: 1
Tom Cruise: 1
Tom Hanks: 1
Other: 10

Kind of interesting to see who dropped off from the 1980s list, who stayed on, and who was new.

How about you? Would there be many of the same ones on your list?

Notable Genre Anniversaries in 2020, Part 1 of 3

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat….” — Chief Brody (an ad-libbing Roy Scheider), Jaws

In 2018 and 2019, I did series (serieses?) of posts celebrating certain iconic characters and stories in the sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure genre(s) (with a little bleed over into horror) that were having significant anniversaries — i.e., those in some multiple of 5 — in those years. It’s that time of year again, so I have another batch for you, beginning with…

The Empire Strikes Back (1980): 40 years

Normally, I wouldn’t include a sequel in these anniversary lists, since the characters and the universe they exist in have already been introduced. But, I haven’t done Star Wars (1977), yet, since the timing hasn’t been right; and, I did do Return of the Jedi and the Star Trek spinoff “Deep Space Nine” earlier. So, I’m going to make an exception for this sequel, too, because certain events and revelations made in it are themselves iconic….

The Empire Strikes Back was the second film in the Star Wars film franchise, following up the surprise hit Star Wars, but it was “episode 5” (or ‘V’) chronologically speaking. Creator/producer George Lucas hired Leigh Brackett, the “Queen of Space Opera”, to write the screenplay for the sequel based on Lucas’ story outline. She passed away in 1978, but her completed first draft is said to have included versions of “all of the big moments we’d eventually see on screen.” (These moments include things like the Battle of Hoth, a wise old Jedi Master, a cloud city, a love triangle, betrayals, and a climactic Luke/Vader duel.) Lucas then wrote two drafts of his own before handing it to Lawrence Kasdan to rework some dialogues. While significant changes had been made by Lucas, Brackett and Kasdan were given credit for the final screenplay.

TESB continued the Skywalker saga, while expanding the Star Wars universe and adding in a couple new and beloved characters — Master Yoda and Lando Calrissian. Directed by Lucas’ former professor, Irvin Kershner, the film encountered a few production problems — e.g., actor injuries, a set fire, fines from the Writers and Directors Guilds of America — and a budget that ballooned from $18 million to $33 million. Despite initially divided reviews, it became the highest-grossing film of 1980 and has grossed over $547 million worldwide from its original run and several re-releases. It is considered one of the greatest films ever made and has the honor of being preserved in the United States’ National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Jaws (1975): 45 years

Okay, okay, I know. Technically, I should have done this entry last year, since the Jaws novel by Peter Benchley was published in 1974. But,… I didn’t realize my oversight until long after I finished the 2019 anniversaries. Rather than wait until 2024 to do it, I opted to included it under the film’s premiere year.

As we all know, the story is about an oversized great white shark that terrorizes a small resort town and the trio of men who are trying to kill it. Despite mixed reviews, an effective marketing campaign helped make the novel a terrific success. A pre-publication copy got into the hands of movie producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, who snapped up the film rights and hired young Steven Spielberg to direct. Admittedly a rather stripped-down and further-tweaked version of the story, the film adaptation became the very first summer blockbuster. Much of the credit there goes to the talented Mr. Spielberg and his stellar cast, including Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw — oh, and a fleet of mechanical sharks named ‘Bruce’ — and a memorably suspenseful score by John Williams. Cinematographer Bill Butler also came up with a creative underwater camera rig.

It was a troubled production, though, beginning with some near-last-minute casting. There were lots of last-minute script rewrites, malfunctioning prop sharks for a number of reasons, various issues from shooting at sea, seasick actors, overworked and exhausted cast & crew, and one binge-drinking actor who was not only jealous of his co-star but kept running off to Canada due to tax problems. Principal photography took nearly three times as long as planned, which Spielberg was convinced would sink his career, and the budget swelled from $4 million to $9 million. On the plus side, the multitude of problems forced some very creative approaches. As Spielberg later said, “The film went from a Japanese Saturday matinee horror flick to more of a Hitchcock, the less-you-see-the-more-you-get thriller.”

The film was a critical and commercial hit. It set multiple earnings records both domestically and internationally. It is one of the highest-grossing movies of all time and spawned three sequels. Tons of Jaws-inspired merchandise has been produced over the years, ranging from books and clothes and games to sharktooth necklaces, iron-transfers, plastic tumblers, etc. Jaws won three Academy Awards (though none for directing), as well as a Grammy, BAFTA, and Golden Globe. It (and those associated) have been nominated, and in some cases chosen, for several others awards (e.g., by People’s Choice, Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America). It is recognized as one of the greatest films of all time and appears on a number of Top 50 and Top 100 lists. And, yes, it is preserved in the National Film Registry as a landmark horror film and the first “summer movie”.

Dune covers over the years

Dune (1965): 55 years

When some people think of “Dune”, they think of the David Lynch-directed movie (1984) starring Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, and Sting. (And Patrick Stewart, of course.) But, die-hard fans and other sci-fi adepts know that the first novel of spice and sandworms was actually published in 1965. Technically, though, Dune was initially serialized in Analog magazine in two separate sequences — the three-part “Dune World” in 1963/64, followed by the five-part “The Prophet of Dune” in 1965. Author Frank Herbert expanded and reworked the serialized material into a novel, which was submitted to 20+ publishers before Chilton Books finally accepted and published it. The result would be a sci-fi phenomenon.

Herbert explored ideas ranging from ecology & environmentalism to mystically-based (super)heroism, from the decline of empires to the blending of multiple religions, not to mention gender dynamics. This “unique” tale has been lauded by critics, fans, and fellow-authors alike (including Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke). The original Dune novel tied with Roger Zelazny’s This Immortal for the Hugo Award in 1966 and won the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. The multi-layered story became “the world’s best-selling science fiction novel,” as well as one of the most influential. Furthermore, it has since been translated into dozens of languages and sold almost 20 million copies.

Herbert went on to write five sequels, and various prequels and sequels have since been co-written by Kevin J. Anderson and the author’s son, Brian Herbert. Besides the aformentioned 1984 movie, two miniseries were produced by Sci Fi: Frank Herbert’s Dune (2000) and Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune (2003) (which combines the events of Herbert’s 2nd & 3rd novels, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune). A new film adaptation is scheduled for a Dec. 2020 release. The Dune saga has also inspired a number of games (both board and computer) and songs, along with a variety of merchandise.

TLtWatW (1st ed., art by Pauline Baynes)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950): 70 years

One of the most beloved series of fantasy books is C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, which began with the 1950 publication of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Inspired by a mental picture he’d imagined as a teen of “a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood,” he got the idea roughly 25 years later to flesh it out into a story for his goddaughter. He finished the manuscript by the end of March 1949, and by the time it was published (by Geoffrey Bles in London) in mid-Oct. 1950, he had already written three more for the series he’d never planned on writing.

Fantasy and fairy tales were out of vogue at the time of Lion‘s publication and considered potentially harmful to older children. Concern particular to Lewis’s work included that it was too frightening, overtly moralistic, or Christian indoctrination. Somehow, Lion and its successors not only survived but became quite popular with young readers — a phenomenon that only grew over time. Lion is the most well-known of the seven installments in the Chronicles of Narnia. Enthusiastic readers of all ages, critics, and educators (e.g., U.S. National Education Association, School Library Journal, University of Worcester) have given Lion and the Chronicles many high accolades, and they show up in many Top 100 lists and surveys. According to Wikipedia:

“TIME magazine included the novel in its “All-TIME 100 Novels” (best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005). In 2003, the novel was listed at number 9 on the BBC’s survey The Big Read. It has also been published in 47 foreign languages.”

TLtWatW (from 1970 boxed set, art by Roger Hane)

Influences on Lewis and his Narnian creation include ancient Celtic literature, pagan mythology and cosmology, the writings of George MacDonald, Edmund Spenser, and E. Nesbit. In turn, the influence of Lewis’s writing can be seen in the works of J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter…), Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials, an atheist response to Lewis’ spiritual themes), Bill Willingham (Fables), Lev Grossman (The Magicians), and others. Homages to Lewis and Narnia have even cropped up in everything from the “Lost” TV series to “Saturday Night Live” to Digimon.

There have been three TV adaptations of Lion: a 10-part serial by ABC (1967), an Emmy-winning animated TV movie (1979), and a live/animatronic/animated BBC adaptation (1988). (That last was the first of a series of four Narnia adaptations over three seasons, nominated for 14 Emmys and several BAFTAs.) There have been radio dramatizations, many theater productions, and film adaptations of the first three books came out in 2005, 2008, & 2010, respectively. Netflix is currently developing the Chronicles for an entire live-action series. And, of course, tons of books (including academic analyses), clothing, toys, games, etc., have been based on or inspired by Lion and the rest of the Chronicles.

I’ll have four more notable genre anniversaries for you next month, so keep a lookout….

One Way Out

I have an “original” fiction idea to share this week. I think it could work pretty well as a TV series, perhaps kicked off by a TV movie. If you are familiar with action flicks from the ’80s & ’90s, you will probably recognize some familiar concepts and themes. But, hey, does that stuff ever really go out of style?


“One Way Out”

Rockland “Rocky” Franks was a good kid who was anxious to escape the dangers and pressures of the inner city “projects”, so he split his free time between the local gym, where he learns judo, and his uncle’s auto repair shop. He then enlisted in the U.S. Army on his 18th birthday, where he excelled at military krav maga, marksmanship (sharpshooter and expert badges in several firearms), and even picked up some demolitions knowledge from a buddy. He then graduated from U.S. Army Ranger School and joined the 3rd Ranger Battalion.

Several years later, he and some buddies were on patrol in-country and witnessed the slaughter of many innocent locals by a rogue team of “consultants” (from Mondo Security Consulting) brought in by the CIA. Sgt. Franks’ squad was sworn to secrecy, under the orders of their commanding officer, and a major cover-up followed. A few months after that, Franks and the other five from that night mustered out. (Note: The full squad consisted of 12 rangers, but the other six were on another assignment miles away at the time of the massacre.) Franks returned to work at his uncle’s garage and taught judo and introductory krav maga at his old gym.

Now, weeks later, he learns that one of the six from his squad has been killed in a “hunting accident”. A few weeks after that, another commits suicide under questionable circumstances. The four remaining meet at Franks’ apartment, where they compare notes and suspicions, and they realize that someone (CIA, Mondo “consultants”, someone else?) is taking them out one by one to ensure their silence about the massacre they witnessed.

Within a couple more months, one ranger suddenly dies of a supposed brain aneurysm, and another is killed (along with his wife) during a home invasion. Only Franks and Corp. Martinez are left, and they can’t get anyone at the FBI to listen to their story. So, they decide that faking their own deaths may be the only way to keep themselves alive and protect their families. (Martinez is estranged from his wife and young son, and fortunately Franks’ only family is his uncle, grandmother, and a sister he hasn’t seen in years.) Martinez actually does die in a suspicious car accident a few days later, which ironically is how Franks manages to successfully fake his own death.

After returning from Martinez’s funeral a couple states over, Franks tells his uncle and a few other associates that he will be taking a road trip and doing a little camping and will probably be gone for a couple weeks. This gives him an excuse for taking money from his bank account, packing guns and supplies in his car, and leaving town. His plan is simply to disappear. While stopping at a pub a few nights later, he discovers a recently deceased homeless man in a nearby alley. Thinking that the man was roughly his build (when better-fed, that is), he alters his plan. He puts the corpse under some covers in the bed of his pickup, drives an hour or so away to a fairly remote area, puts his clothes and wallet on the body, and sends the truck careening into a deep and treacherous ravine. The gas tank explodes, leaving only charred remains.

Franks relocates to a city in a different state for a couple years, where he establishes a new identity and works as a bartender and part-time judo coach for youths. Still, he grows increasingly frustrated over the injustice of the massacre, the cover-up, and his friends’ murders. When he sees the CEO of Mondo, Craig Pendleton, and the leader of the team of “consultants” from 3 years earlier, Hank McKinley, getting praise in the media from the CIA Director, Franks — now known as Frankie Robinson — decides it is time to do some investigating of his own into what those Mondo mercenaries were really doing there, why they were allowed (ordered?) to massacre the villagers, who authorized the hits on him and his squad, etc.

First, though, he steps up his training regimen to make sure he’s in top shape. Strength, cardio, krav maga, etc. He quietly calls in a couple favors from other soldiers he served with, helping him acquire additional arms, body armor, and surveillance equipment. He is able to fund much of this by targeting local drug dealers and stealing their cash. In fact, he quite enjoys these side-missions in preparation for his main mission. With the aid of a goth computer hacker, he starts gathering intel on Mondo, Pendleton, McKinley and his team. Pulling on these threads leads to the discovery of a rogue faction operating within the CIA, and they are into some nasty stuff all over the world. The massacre he and his squad witnessed was retribution for the village council refusing to cooperate in a drug- and human-trafficking operation.

Franks/Robinson realizes that there’s no way he can take down the whole operation, and those at the top have enough connections and/or deniability that they probably won’t get much if any prison time. So, he decides, maybe it’s time for some vigilante justice, too….

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2020.

Hawkeye TV Series Updates

Why “Hawkeye”? I mean, there are three or four other Marvel/Disney+ series set to debut before this one, so why jump to “Hawkeye”? It just happens that there have been several bits of news about it that all came out over the past 60 days or less, so I thought I’d throw them all together into one news report. Deal?

To review, here’s what I wrote about the Jeremy Renner-starrer back in Nov. 2019:

“[It will be] an adventure series in which ‘Clint Barton’ (aka Hawkeye) passes the torch — or, should that be bow? — and moniker to young ‘Kate Bishop’…. The only other confirmed cast member at this time is Hailee Steinfeld, who will play Bishop. Jonathan Igla (“Mad Men”) has been hired to write, executive produce, and essentially run the show. As with the other Marvel/Disney+ series, “Hawkeye” is expected to comprise six to eight episodes and have a fairly large budget.”

Here are the latest rumors/reports by date:

1/11/2020 – Production on Hawkeye is being delayed “indefinitely”, probably until 2021. (Note: I already reported in Nov. 2019 that the show was scheduled for Fall 2021, so why is this news now?) This may be because Marvel/Disney+ is so busy moving forward with other series. But, the three named (Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, She-Hulk) have always been planned to follow “Hawkeye”, so this only makes sense if they’ve also decided to accelerate their production schedules. Also, Hailee Steinfeld’s busy schedule may be causing problems and putting her involvement in jeopardy.

On the other hand, we see this from Murphy’s Multiverse:

“Changes to the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe necessitated the production delay…which will allow for some plot points of the larger, ongoing narrative of the MCU to be introduced ahead of the series.”

1/12/2020 – Scratch that! Disney “vehemently denied” the previous report, calling it “completely inaccurate” (as per Julia Alexander at The Verge). So, the July 2020 start for production is likely still on. But, Steinfeld’s Apple TV contract is indeed problematic.

2/4/2020 – MCU Cosmic reports that 1) Clint Barton’s brother, Barney (aka Trickshot), will be involved in the plot, providing a possible link to the Dark Avengers and/or the Thunderbolts; and, 2) writer Matt Fraction’s influence on the show is further confirmed by the appearance of the Tracksuit Mafia/Tracksuit Draculas.

2/8/2020 – Further confirmation that Steinfeld’s involvement is not certain is the report that Marvel Studios has met with a couple other genre-familiar actresses as potential backups in case Steinfeld’s contract issues can’t be resolved. (No names were given.)

2/16/2020 – Murphy’s Multiverse now reports that “Hawkeye” is scheduled to begin production in Sept. 2020.

2/21/2020 – Remember what I said earlier about the possibility that one of those later Marvel/Disney+ series could be moved up in the schedule? Rohan Patel reports that, while start of production on “Hawkeye” is still on track for a late 2021 premiere,

“[I]t does appear as though Marvel Studios may have made a slight change to their schedule and slotted Bisha K. Ali’s Ms. Marvel to make its debut before the Jeremy Renner-fronted series. If that’s the case, then fans should expect some sort of major casting news within the next few weeks/months….”

Well, that’s certainly an interesting tidbit!

3/2/2020 – Some official concept art for the series shows Hawkeye in a typical purplish superhero suit. But, the latest rumor suggests that we may see him in the simple t-shirt-and-jeans combo from Matt Fraction’s run on the comic. Maybe the t-shirt will just be an easter egg seen in passing. Maybe the purple costume will. Who knows?! MCU Cosmic‘s Jeremy Conrad doesn’t say how he heard that the black t-shirt with purple logo “may end up in some way in the series”, so I tend to chalk it up to mostly speculation based on Fraction’s involvement. It’s a reasonable hypothesis, I suppose. I’d still like to see Clint in the full costume at some point, though.

There ya go! Interesting developments, eh?

Fan-Cast: Poison Ivy

“If you are strong enough, you will survive. That is the law of the jungle.” — Poison Ivy

I have another entry in the Batman Rogues Gallery for you this week. She isn’t scheduled for an appearance in Matt Reeves’ upcoming The Batman, but I figure she very well might show up later in his planned trilogy. So, I may as well put my casting ideas out there, as I’m sure others will be, too. (As usual, my take on the character will be based primarily on post-Crisis New Earth continuity (1986-2011).) So, faithful readers, allow me to present…

Poison Ivy

Pamela Isley was a shy girl who came from a wealthy Seattle family. She studied botany and toxicology in college, where she met and was seduced by her professor, Dr. Jason Woodrue (later known as the Floronic Man). She consented to let Woodrue experiment on her, injecting her with plant-based poisons/toxins. The painful ordeal put her in the hospital for six months and drove her insane. Now suffering from violent mood swings, she also gained unusual abilities. On the plus side, she was immune to all poisons, viruses, bacteria, and fungi; she could also produce pheromones that she could use to seduce men into doing her bidding. On the other hand, she discovered that not only was she now incapable of bearing children, the toxins secreted through her skin, giving her a deadly touch. Eventually, she dropped out of school and moved to Gotham City.

At some point, she managed to earn her doctorate and begin a legit career. But, adopting the alias of “Poison Ivy”, she also began a life of crime and eco-terrorism, putting her into conflict with law enforcement and Batman. Sometimes she works solo, sometimes she has henchmen in her employ. She has been known to partner with another supervillain or two (e.g., Harley Quinn, Catwoman), and she has also spent time working for Riddler, for Black Mask, as a member of the Injustice Gang of the World, and briefly with the Secret Society of Super-Villains. She was once coerced into working with the Suicide Squad, too. But, her loyalty is to her friends in “the Green” more than anything, which makes her an unpredictable ally. Thanks to Batman and other heroes, Ivy has spent time in both Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Penetentiary.

Poison Ivy’s methods and motives are always plant-based. Even when she stole money it was not for the mere accumulation of wealth but for funding her scientific research and implementing her attacks against “the corporate enemies of the environment”. She has a general mistrust of and even hatred for humanity, especially males, whom she sees as being careless at best and malicious at worst toward flora and fungi. Though her plans change from time to time, she would ideally like to transform the planet. On more than one occasion, she took over an area of land (e.g., a park or island) and created a tropical paradise.

Despite her feelings toward most of humanity, her traumatic childhood and inability to have children of her own have given her a soft spot for children, whether human orphans or plants that she thinks of as her children. Her only true friend, though, is Harley Quinn. She was also obsessed with Batman for a while, since he was the only one who was somehow able to resist her control. Beyond that, she considers Batman to be either an opponent or a mere “hindrance” to her plans.

Ivy’s abilities have evolved over the years, and she is even acknowledged to be “part plant” herself. In addition to the immunity to toxins, pheromone control, and deadly touch, she has the power of “chlorokinesis”, which allows her to mentally/mystically grow plants and fungi at incredible speeds and manipulate/animate their branches, roots, and vines. She uses these to weaken tunnels, infiltrate buildings, undermine building foundations, set poisonous traps, restrain and kill people, etc. She is also a brilliant (though insane) scientist, a fit athlete, and a decent hand-to-hand combatant. Due to her altered physiology, she can adjust her normally greenish skin tone to a more normal hue. But, she also requires substantial amounts of solar energy to live.

Dr. Isley is a rather shapely and attractive Caucasian woman with long red hair and green eyes. DC’s wiki page lists her as 5’6″, 110 lbs. I’d like to cast someone in the 5’4″ to 5’8″ range, preferably in her mid-20s to mid-30s. In later years, it has been strongly suggested that she (like her “special” friend Harley Quinn) is bisexual, though her seductions are usually of men. (I don’t remember if this was the case prior to the “New 52” era.) She may be fairly rational for long periods, but her psychological imbalance can cause her to be triggered into a much more deadly frame of mind, especially if she witnesses flora being “abused”. For the right actor, this could be a very fun-yet-challenging character to play.

A long time ago, I thought Tricia Helfer (5’10.5″,b.1974) — best known as ‘Six’ on “Battlestar Galactica” — might make a good Poison Ivy. But, she is now in her mid 40s and taller than I’d prefer, so I have ruled her out. Same goes for Alicia Witt (5’8.5″,b.1975). When I first saw Claire Coffee (5’4″,b.1980) on “Grimm”, I thought she might be another possibility. That was almost a decade ago, and she turns 40 this year — plus, she’s on the short end of our preferred range. I was reluctant to cut any more of my candidates, but I eventually chose the three youngest. This meant eliminating Natalie Dormer (5’5.75″,b.1982) (“Game of Thrones”, “Elementary”), Bridget Regan (5’9″,b.1982) (“Agent Carter”, “The Last Ship”), and Lotte Verbeek (5’6″,b.1982) (“The Blacklist”, “Counterpart”) from the running, each of whom would do a great job, I’m sure. Who’s left?

Most of Olivia Grant‘s (5’5″,b.1983) work has been in period dramas and the occasional mystery or thriller. But, I noticed her when she appeared in a couple episodes of “Strike Back”. She has also been in Stardust, Breakdown, and Genesis. She’s a bit more slender than I would like for the character, but she has the red hair, gorgeous green eyes, and a certain ethereal beauty. She might be just who we need to bring Ivy back to the big screen.

 

 

Miss Kelly Frye (5’7.5″,b.1984) had a recurring supportive role on “Criminal Minds”, as on the short-lived “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders”. She has made appearances on “The Mentalist”, “Body of Proof”, “NCIS: Los Angeles”, “The Flash”, “NCIS”, “Mundane Action Heros”, et al. It was probably her part in “The Flash” as the villain ‘Plastique’ that made me think of her for the Poison Ivy role. She has the right general look and has already played in the DC universe (though only briefly and for a third-tier character), so she could be a great fit.

 

You may know Elena Satine (5’6″,b.1987) from her regular roles on “Revenge” and “Magic City” or her appearances on “NCIS”, “Matador”, and “Timeless”. But, genre fans may also recognize her from both the DC and Marvel universes — namely, she played ‘Mera’ in an episode of “Smallville”, ‘Lorelei’ in 2 episodes of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, and ‘Dreamer’ on several episodes of “The Gifted”. She will also play ‘Julia’ in the upcoming, live-action mini-series adaptation of anime “Cowboy Bebop”. I think Poison Ivy would be right in her wheelhouse, no?

 

Opinions? Did I miss an “obvious” choice? Let me know below…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2020.

Top 6 “Top X” Lists to Celebrate 6 Years

Somehow, last year I neglected to post anything in recognition of this blog’s 5th anniversary. So, as a retrospective of sorts to celebrate 6 years online (to the day; here’s the first post) for “Heroes and Aliens”, I’m listing my 6 favorite “Top X”-type posts since Feb. 2014. As usual, chronological but no ranking. Here we go…

1) “My Top 5, All-time Favorite Marvel Superheroes” (8/6/2014)

Marvel Universe group picThis one was pretty early in the blog’s history but definitely one of my favorites to write. There was a lot of nostalgia involved, as I was able to think back to my many years as a Marvel fan and in particular my earlier years as a “Marvel Zombie”. In case you’re wondering, the five heroes listed are still my favorites. (I still haven’t done one for DC superheroes. It’s more complicated with them, but one o’ these days….)

2) “Top 5 Cancelled TV Series That I Miss” (2/22/2017)

“[M]y list of potentials for this post is a long one. But, in my effort to keep it manageable (and not attempt a Top 20+), I decided to focus on those series that aired roughly between the years 2000 and 2010. So, imagine, if you will, that it is circa 2012, and I am daydreaming about some of my favorite shows of the past decade that are no longer on the air (unless you count reruns in syndication, of course)….”

 

 

3) “Top 20 TV Theme Songs from Genre Series, part 1 of 2” (3/15/2017)
&
“Top 20 TV Theme Songs from Genre Series, part 2 of 2” (3/22/2017)

Yes, I know these are technically two separate posts, but for these purposes they count as one.

“Sometimes, the music in a TV series can make a good series great or a great series even better. (Or, even a bad series tolerable.) This is especially true with the opening theme, which sets the mood for what the audience is about to watch…. My first criterion was, of course, that the series had to fall under the sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure banner that this blog is about. The theme couldn’t be taken from a movie. And, the theme had to be — to my mind, at least — particularly catchy or otherwise memorable.”

4) “Top 5 (Sorta, Kinda) Christmas Movies” (12/20/2017)

“What I have for you today, are a few of my favorite genre films that, while not exactly “Christmas movies”, they do take place on or around Christmas. As The A.V. Club’s Zack Handlen calls them, they are “Christmas-adjacent” films. The holiday aspects may factor into some scenes, but the plot or “message” is hardly of a Yuletide flavor, either secular or religious. I like them because they are fun, genre flicks, regardless of any Christmas connection.”

 

5) “My Top 3 Favorite Genre TV Miniseries” (9/12/2018)

Remember the days when most regular TV series were 22-25 episodes per season? Once in awhile, a special event “mini-series” would air that would only be, say, 2-8 episodes? (Nowadays, some regular series only have 6-10 episodes per season!) Well, I was reminiscing about a few mini-series and remembered three in the sci-fi/action-adventure genres that I really enjoyed. Have you seen them?

 

 

6) “My Top 9 Favorite Horror Flicks” (10/31/2018)

As my longtime readers know, I’m not a huge horror aficionado, which is why I don’t write much about it on this blog. Don’t usually care for horror movies –> don’t watch many. But, there are exceptions. There are a variety of types of horror film, a few of which I find more appealing than others. Obviously, those are the types I am more apt to watch. So, awhile back I reviewed those I’ve seen and picked the handful that I quite enjoyed. Et voila, a Halloween post!

Well, now you know my favorites. What are yours?

Profanity and Modern-day Accessories on ‘Picard’

Star Trek fans are used to seeing “futuristic” tech and new versions/replacements for current devices. But, a few rather familiar things have popped up in “Star Trek: Picard” that many think should have been outmoded by 2399. Also, aside from a few “colorful metaphors” in the ST films, we aren’t used to profanity being used by the franchise’s characters. Yet, this is another change we find ourselves confronted with on “Star Trek: Picard”. What’s up with that?

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

Picard argues with salty admiral

For me, in regards to the swearing, especially in comparison to previous Star Trek series, there are two related issues to address: 1) Why the incongruity? (And is this a canon problem?) 2) Why use the profanity now? Gizmodo‘s Beth Elderkin just put out a piece reporting on an Instagram Q&A in which Michael Chabon, showrunner on the series, explains the rationale for these surprises. According to Chabon:

“No human society will every be perfect, because no human will ever be perfect. The most we can do — and as Star Trek ever reminds us, must do — is aspire to perfection, and work to make it so. Until that impossible day, $#!+ is going to continue to happen. And when it does, humans are going to want to swear.

The absence of swear words in Star Trek was never a matter of Federation principle, it was a matter of FCC rules. Writers of previous eras had no choice. They were censored. Swearing is one of humanity’s most ancient, sensible, and reliable consolations. Personally I would consider any society that discouraged, banned, or abandoned the use of curse words to be a f___ing dystopia.”

I think this makes perfect sense re my question about the incongruity. He might also have noted that cable & streaming services don’t have to follow the same rules as the major networks. They are expected to be more “mature”, like a movie rated PG-13 or R. As for my second question, it’s a little more complicated.

Essentially, Chabon et al. think the swearing is more realistic, even a sign of a healthy society, so if they’re allowed to do it, they will. I understand, but I kinda hope there is a network-friendly version of the show that will eventually be available (CBS? DVD?) I accept the use of some profanity (in films and cable/streaming shows) in moderation and understand that it (unfortunately) reflects much of modern speech — more so in some places than others. I know that some consider it “hip” or “authentic”. But, personally, I don’t use it and am not a big fan. As for Chabon’s statement that even discouraging or (voluntarily) abandoning the use of curse words would be dystopian, that’s freakin’ ridiculous.

Raffi w/ hargl

The other issue concerns Raffi’s vape pen (which Chabon calls a “traditional Orion ‘flashpipe’”, known as a hargl), Dr. Jurati’s earbuds, and Commodore Oh’s sunglasses. I thought these showing up were a little odd, too. But, there’s only so much variation a particular device can take, plus there’s no reason to think that certain older gadgets and styles can’t come back into fashion every few decades. Or, as Chabon put it,

“When you are making a show that’s set in the future, you have to ask yourself constantly how people will be meeting daily needs and performing everyday tasks. One guiding principle is that some fundamental objects and tools evolve an ideal form — efficient, economical, comfortable, durable, practical, effective, useful — and afterward change very little, except as subject to fashion, which itself is often retrospective. Certainly any human civilization in which all the objects and appurtenances of everyday life were brand new, of recent invention, and thoroughly contemporary in design, would be fairly unprecedented.”

As for Oh’s sunglasses, the fact that they sort of looked like shades you might pick up today didn’t bother me. Rather, what stood out to me was that she is supposed to be Vulcan and, as such, in possession of an inner eyelid which would protect her eyes from harsh sunlight (as on planet Vulcan). (When someone at Trekcore pointed this out, Chabon said, “Hmm. What, therefore, might we logically infer?”) So, why would she need sunglasses on Earth? This got me thinking, could she be a Romulan spy like Narissa? Might a lack of inner eyelids be one of the many subtle physiological differences that Romulans developed after splitting from their Vulcan kinsmen? Or, maybe she had alterations done to herself to allow her to pass as Vulcan, and they affected her vision? Or, maybe she has a light sensitivity because she is from the Mirror Universe, like Gabriel Lorca of “Discovery”?

Commodore Oh sportin’ shades

In any case, Chabon had something else in mind, as recapped here by Elderkin:

“He also added in a comment that Oh’s sunglasses were designed to play off what a commenter called the “stereotypical undercover government operative trope,” noting that officer’s noted studies of human behavior have led her to adopt certain tactics that “produce the desired effect” of intimidation, like cops or soldiers. This includes Ray Bans.”

I guess that works, too. Maybe there are high-tech readouts on the insides of the lenses, allowing the Starfleet Director of Security to monitor, uh, security stuff? But, I still wonder about Oh’s origins….

P.S. After I finished this article, I went to Oh’s page at Memory Alpha and found this note: “Although Picard knows of her in “The End is the Beginning” as a Vulcan, her make-up was established as Romulan in The Ready Room: “Episode 15”, which covered the episode “Maps and Legends”.” Hmmm…

Full Metal Alchemist: How to Enjoy Both Classic and Brotherhood

Regular readers know that one area I rarely write on is anime/manga, since I never really got into it (them?) and my knowledge-base is rather limited. So, when I have a guest writer, this is one of the topics I like to have them cover. Today’s post is by Tumelo Mabuya, a talented artist/writer/blogger who you can find at his “Prince Tumi” FB page. He didn’t write the piece for me, but he was gracious enough to let me reproduce it here for you….

You know, people are an interesting bunch when it comes to their biases.

When I was in high school everyone who’d watched original Full Metal Alchemist praised it. I think the only negative thing really said about it was the unsatisfying way it ended, which the movie sort-of “fixed”. Regardless, this anime still received plenty of praise. And while people knew of Brotherhood I couldn’t find anyone in real life or online who actually said anything good about it. In fact, I even found Facebook pages dedicated to hating it.

Then in adulthood, to my surprise, Brotherhood was the popular one and people were even going as far as to say never to watch the original one either because of the deviation or because “it is exactly the same as brotherhood except complete and faster in the beginning.” Suddenly it was hard finding people who’d actually admit that the original WAS good though some grudgingly admitted that the beginning of the original was better.

I think I only found a small number of youtubers who, like me, could objectively admit that the original:

1. had a stronger beginning (one youtuber who’d even read the manga, watched the original anime, and watched brotherhood even said that the original anime had the superior beginning out of the three).

2. The original had more interesting character motivations for the homunculi and different, more personal, origins for them too

3. The originals had a more emotionally scarring and personal bond to the homunculi (and they were a great deal harder to kill)

4. The original gave more time to develop Ed and Al’s early journey (even showing how they’d gained a good reputation in the East) and it gave us more time to spend and bond with characters who’d be killed off eventually. The original had the (arguably) more disappointing bittersweet ending of the two (I personally never liked the ending)

5. (this is more my observation) The original was sadder yet had a brilliant way of jumping from dead funny to dead serious in a split second that never failed to catch you off guard

6. Because the original took its time with showing the early days of the Elric Brothers’ journey, nothing just fell into their lap conveniently (like Dr Marco did in Brotherhood). Instead, nearly everything that they discovered was discovered through them hunting down every single lead until they finally found out about plot relevant characters like Dr Marco and actively searched for him until they found him.

7. Could sometimes be more frightening because of its more serious tone and more frightening villains (like with Barry the Chopper. That guy was TERRIFYING before he was placed in armour).

8. Did a better job of a showing (rather than telling) the audience just how painful it was to bond automail to Ed’s nerves.

9. Barely gave anyone a happy ending in the end after all the hardship they went through

I think a person can objectively admit all of the above about the original while also admitting that Brotherhood had:

1. A bit more levity than the original (which was even cartoonish at times with the extra exaggerated expressions they added to Ed for comedic effect)

2. Expanded the world more and introduced wonderful new characters

3. Had the homunculi better represent the sins they were named after and provided much better combat with them to replace the deeper emotional weight they’d had in the original

4. Raised the stakes of the story

5. Had the superior ending though it had the inferior, less balanced and more rushed beginning

6. made Izumi Curtis a great deal less scary and a bit softer

7. Sometimes dropped some plot-relevant characters (like Dr Marco) into the Elric Brothers’ lap instead of having them find out about these things during their investigations and actively seek them out themselves

8. Provided more satisfying conclusions to character arcs

9. Provided justice for Scar’s people

10. Made Hohenheim a way more likeable and fleshed out character than his more distant and twisted counterpart in the original

11. Actually did something with the Ed-Winry relationship

Just as with old and new Fruits Basket, I can see the strengths and weaknesses of both versions rather than just insist that one is better than the other just because of manga accuracy. If you only watch Brotherhood you can easily enjoy it very much, and you certainly won’t know what you’re missing when you skip the original, because Brotherhood does a good enough job of bonding you to its people and telling a fantastic story. So you won’t really feel it when I say that certain bonds with certain characters are stronger in the original because of the extra time given with them…

However, when you’ve actually started with the original and then watch Brotherhood you understand better how much more meaningful it is that the original took its time with fleshing out its characters from the beginning to its conclusion (even if you don’t approve of the conclusion). Even with its deviation from the source material, it has some incredibly powerful moments that I’m glad I got to experience. The original had powerful moments that Brotherhood will never have and Brotherhood had powerful moments that the original didn’t have. In a perfect world these two versions of the anime would be combined into something that took both their strengths, even though they both ultimately tell two different and interesting stories guided by the same early plot.

30 Favorite Genre Films of the 1980s

I was thinking recently about how many of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure movies are from the 1980s, which encompassed my high school and college years. A few were one-shots, but most either had sequels or were themselves sequels. SO many iconic “classics”… In fact, I have discussed a few of them for one reason or another in previous posts. This time, I’m just gonna list them by year.

The Empire Strikes Back (80)
Superman II (80)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (81)
Escape from New York (81)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (82)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (82)
The Thing (82)
First Blood (82)
Rocky III (82)
Return of the Jedi (83)
Gremlins (84)
The Terminator (84)
The Karate Kid (84)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (84)
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (84)
Rocky IV (85)
Commando (85)
Back to the Future (85)
Rambo: First Blood Part II (85)
Short Circuit (86)
Highlander (86)
The Fly (86)
Aliens (86)
Predator (87)
Lethal Weapon (87)
RoboCop (87)
Die Hard (88)
Bloodsport (88)
Back to the Future Part II (89)
Batman (89)

There are others that didn’t quite fit the genre (e.g., Taps), of course, or that I liked but I couldn’t bring myself to put in the top 30. (Had to stop somewhere.) But, Honorable Mentions go to: Ghostbusters (84), House (85), Top Gun (86), The Princess Bride (87), The Lost Boys (87), Weekend at Bernie’s (89), Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (89).

For kicks, I counted up how many of the 30 had certain popular actors as the leads:

Sylvester Stallone: 4
Harrison Ford: 4
Arnold Schwarzenegger: 3
Kurt Russell: 2
Christopher Lambert: 2
Michael J. Fox: 2
Jean-Claude Van Damme: 1
Sigourney Weaver: 1
Jeff Goldblum: 1
Michael Keaton: 1
Christopher Reeve: 1
Bruce Willis: 1
Mel Gibson: 1
Other: 6

Fun times! Did any of my picks surprise you? Which ones would be on your list?