Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ten Best Episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Or, at least, these are my ten favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And, since Next Gen is my favorite TV show of all time, that pretty much means they are ten of my favorite TV episodes of all time.

Side note: I'm counting two-parters as single episodes. It's just easier that way. And, remember, these are just my opinions. They could be wrong.

#10. Genesis

Nobody else seems to like this episode as much as I do. Nobody ever talks about it and it's never on any best of lists. Well, now it is. I love this episode. It's that rare episode that actually manages to be full of action, science, horror, and humor. And, come on, what can you say about an episode where Riker devolves into a caveman? That's just good characterization.

Interesting trivia: This was the only episode (and maybe the only thing ever) directed by Doctor Crusher herself, Gates McFadden. I'm not sure why since it's really well done. I think she could have a second career as a director.

#9. Relics

"I was driving Starships while your great-grandfather was still in di-ah-pers!!"

This episode is so stupid, but it's so much fun. This is exactly why I watch Star Trek. Next Gen tried many times to feature characters from the original series, but this was the only time it really worked, in my opinion. Kirk's appearance in Generations was a disaster because that movie had such a terrible script, Spock's appearance was way too overdone and pretentious, and Bones was only there for about five seconds, and completely unrecognizable... but this episode was just... funny.

Sure, there was some story about a Dyson's Sphere and something to do with a transporter accident (surprise surprise!), but at its core, this episode was just a comedy. And it also featured James Doohan in his finest ever Star Trek performance. I loved it, and so should you.

#8. I, Borg

You know, the one with Hugh, the world's most lovable Borg. And, no, I'm not forgetting 7 of 9. She was the world's most humpable Borg, but Hugh is far more lovable. This was another episode from Next Gen's prime, when it was just cranking out some of the best science fiction stories of all time. This episode was where they took their most evil, terrifying villains and allowed us to see another side of them. Star Trek rarely gets any better than this.

#7. The Most Toys

This is my favorite Data episode. This is the one where he gets kidnapped by an evil collector of rare memorabilia, and he gets pushed so far, he almost (and maybe even does) becomes willing to commit murder in cold blood. The nebulous, open-ended final act is one of the best in Trek history, and Saul Rubinek plays one of the best villains ever.

#6. Ship in a Bottle

I love Star Trek in all of its forms, but I am as much, if not more so, a fan of Sherlock Holmes. So I'm lucky to be a fan of both, since they have intersected so many times. Spock was an ancestor or Sherlock Holmes, by the way. Ship in a Bottle was the second Sherlock Holmes inspired episode of Next Generation, and it is far and away the best.

This episode is notable for having a brilliant, almost mind-bending plot that folds in on itself over and over again and keeps you guessing until the very end, and also for the brilliant return performance of Daniel Davis as the Napoleon of crime himself, Professor Moriarty. Davis gives the best interpretation of the character that I've ever seen, in any other film or TV episode. He's awesome, and makes my list as one of the best Trek villains ever. Or is he one of the best heroes?

#5. The Best of Both Worlds

I've watched a lot of TV in my time, and a lot of Star Trek in particular, and the scene where Jean Luc Picard comes on screen as a Borg and says, "I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile," was the best cliffhanger in TV history. Rounding out the top three would be the Battlestar Galactica where the Cylons landed on New Caprica, and the Supernatural where Dean literally died and went to hell.

But we were talking about Next Generation. This episode is awesome. It was the first time we had scene the Borg since season 2, and the show was still new enough that, quite literally, anything could've happened. Picard might really be dead. We honestly didn't know. For the first time, a Star Trek series was going into a fourth season, where no one really had gone before.

Anyway, Picard didn't die (spoilers!!), but it was still an awesome, action-packed episode.

#4. Chain of Command

If for nothing else, Chain of Command has to be on the list for giving us the most quotable line in all of Star Trek:

"There... Are... Four... Lights!!!"

But, even more than that, it's a brilliant episode dealing with the realities of torture, something you don't really see on TV outside of CSPAN or 24. Oh, and we also get to see McLean Stephenson as Captain Jellico, and Patrick Stewart in the nude!

#3. All Good Things

All Good Things was the last episode of the series, so the pressure was on to end with a bang. To be honest, season 7 was, overall, one of the weakest storywise, so hopes weren't high. At least, my hopes weren't high. But then the episode finally aired and it was amazing. This was, without any doubt in my mind, the perfect way to end the series, bridging the story perfectly with the original pilot episode, and giving viewers the greatest series finale of all time.

And, no, I have no idea what really happened in this episode, since it had the mostly overly convoluted plot, had way too much technobabble, and ended with a huge deus ex machina... but, come on... that's Star Trek. Somehow, they make that stuff all work.

#2. Darmok

As pure science fiction goes, Darmok is one of the most brilliant and creative stories I've ever seen. Star Trek, as science fiction, has always been about character first, story second, but this episode managed to combine both equally. It's the story of two truly alien cultures coming together for the first time and trying to reach peace.

To non trekkies, it's the one where the aliens speak in a language based on metaphors, and not on any linguist vocabulary. Its sounds complicated -- and it is -- but that's what makes it such a rare, brave moment in episodic television. It's also one of the most wonderfully quotable episodes in Trek history.

#1. The Inner Light

If you ever want to see me cry, all you have to do is put on either E.T. or this episode of Next Gen. In fact, all I need to hear is Picard play that song on the flute and I immediately get misty. It's just heart-breaking. This may, in fact, be beat episode of any program in television history. And I'm not exaggerating. It's that good, it's that thought-provoking, it's that emotional, and it's that entertaining.

If you've never seen an episode of Star Trek, this is as perfect a jumping on point as any, but it is that much more poignant if you understand how living this double life, and finally having a family, actually means to the character of Picard.

I'm sorry. I can't write any more. I'm already getting misty...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman 1925 - 2008

I don't throw around compliments or praise, and I certainly hate when people use hyperbole in obituaries. But this isn't an obituary, and calling Paul Newman one of the greatest actors and one of the most amazing humanitarians wouldn't be hyperbole. It would just be true.

If I can think of any two characters I've tried to model myself on, it would be Luke from Cool Hand Luke and Sully from Nobody's Fool. Go watch those movies and you'll understand what I mean. And make sure you munch on some of Newman's salsa and drink some of Newman's lemonade iced tea. The money goes to charity.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Star Trek 20 Questions

This website is amazing:

20Q: Star Trek

Hours of fun. I mean... if you're a trekkie. Others might want to skip this one. And good luck beating it. I tried Tin Man, Harry Mudd, B-4, and a slew of others bust lost every time. I finally stumped it with Sherwood Forrest, but that was a bit of a cheat, though it did appear in episode Q-Pid.


I watched the pilot of this much hyped new show by the brains behind Alias, Cloverfield, Lost, the soon to be released Star Trek relaunch, and the George Foreman Knock Out the Fat Grilling Machine. I'm not completely sure about that last one, actually. JJ Abrams has become the Judd Apatow of thrillers. That is to say, he has credit as writer, director, producer, or key grip on everything released by Hollywood these days. And that's just fine because all of his stuff is pretty good, and Fringe is no exception. It's, you know, pretty good. I'm glad I watched it, and I'll probably watch the second episode, unless, you know, I have something else to do. Entertaining and well done, but must see TV it probably was not.

The concept is basically X-Files meets CSI, or something. It's too early to tell if the lead characters will be as likable and enduring as Moulder and Scully, or if the stories and tech will be as interesting as CSI, but, like I said, it's off to a pretty good start. And since I don't really like CSI or X-Files, that's saying something.

Anyway, here's what worked for me:

The opening scene was amazing. Seriously, this was one of the creepiest and most atmospheric scenes I've ever seen on TV. A virus was released on a plane in midflight, causing the entire compliment of passengers and crew to die agonizing deaths as their flesh slowly melted off their bodies. It was such a strong scene, in fact, that the show only seemed to get progressively weaker as the story wore on.

The cast was pretty good. It was nice seeing Denethor from the Lord of the Rings movies. Has that guy ever played somebody who wasn't bug-house nuts? I also really liked that super skinny black guy. He was cool. The lead actress was easy on the eyes and gave a nice performance as well, especially in the scene where we stripped down to her underwear.

And the story was, you know, ok. The government investigates paranormal occurrences. It's hardly original, but it's still fun.

Here's what didn't work for me:

As much as I like Josh Jackson... why was he in this show? His character was completely extraneous and served no real purpose. Either have him or the scientist. We don't need both. But, again, I liked him. I hope they give him something to do.

This is going to sound petty, but those obnoxious titles were completely obtrusive and unnecessary. Instead of just having things like "Washington D.C." in little letters to show the location, they had words written in giant letters that looked like they were 3D or something and actually floating in the scene. It's hard to explain, but it really didn't work. Don't try to be clever. Save that for the scripts.

So... I liked it. It was good. But we'll see how it goes.

Top 10 Deaths from the Indiana Jones Series

The Indiana Jones movies are classics not only for their action, directing, and story lines, but also because they are full of disgusting, horrible, gory deaths. The villains in these films are evil monsters, but they always get what's coming to them, in the most horrible ways possible.

Here's my list of the ten best death scenes from the Indiana Jones movies, in descending order from the merely mildly unpleasant, to the nightmarishly excruciating.

Oh yeah, and... SPOILER WARNING!!

10. Indy Shoots the Cairo Swordsman.
This classic scene is one of the best remembered and most beloved from the entire series. It's just funny, clever, realistic, and helped to cement Indiana Jones as the greatest film character of all time. He just shoots the guy. How awesome was that?

9. Shish Kabob to the Belly
Make that a flaming shish kabob to the belly. The opening to Temple of Doom is probably the coolest scene in the entire series. I can watch that scene over and over again. Not only because it opens in media res, with Indy in an awesome white suite doing some kind of dirty deal with Chinese gangsters, but also because, after he's learned he's just been poisoned, he grabs a flaming shish kabob and throws it into one guy's stomach... with the food still on it!

8. Vogel Dies in a Tank Crash
There are a lot of evil characters in the Indiana Jones films, but Vogel is probably the biggest dickhead. He's just a dick for the sake of being a dick. Toht and the other Nazis seem evil because they probably believe in the evil beliefs of the Nazi party. Vogel seems like he joined the party because he was already a huge dick. So when he goes over the cliff in the tank, and you see that little miniaturized version of him get his head smashed in, it's just such a rewarding moment.

I wish I could've found video footage of it, but alas.

7. Mola Ram Dies
Mola Ram falls off a collapsed bridge, bangs his head repeatedly on the cliffs on the way down, and then gets eaten by crocodiles on the bottom. That would be too much to fit on a tombstone.

6. Thuggee Gets Crushed to Death
This isn't a great fight scene. The choreography is weak, the pacing is off, and whole thing just feels fake. But that guy's death is so horrible. The fight takes place on a long conveyor belt leading to some kind of giant rock crusher. Or something. Guess who gets pulverized?

5. Propeller to the Face
Another classic scene. This is basically just five minutes of Indiana Jones getting his ass kicked by a German next to a spinning airplane. Indy finally gets lucky and the German accidentally walks face first into a spinning propeller. It's a great "punchline" for one of the best fight scenes ever.

Oh, and here's some trivia... the actor, Pat Roach, is also the actor who got crushed to death on they conveyor belt in that last death scene. He deserves some kind of lifetime achievement award.

4. Donovan Chooses... Poorly
The right grail gives you eternal life, the wrong one takes it from you. That's what that old knight said. What he should've said, to better prepare Walter Donovan before he took a sip, was that the wrong cup would actually turn you into a horrific skeleton before you disintigrate into dust.

3. Eaten by Fire Ants
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull only gets one mention on this list, but it's a pretty good one. Indy and a big Russian guy have a knock-down fight scene in the jungle, surrounded by man-eating fire ants. Indy finally manages to beat the russian, who falls into a pile of ants... who quickly climb over him, into his mouth, and then drag him along into their lair. It's a ridiculous, unbelievable, revolting scene. So it was a great Indiana Jones moment.

And since the film is still in theatres, I don't want to put up any clips on my website. Just go see it.

2. Toht's Face Melts
The power of god is some series shit. Sure, that other guy's face melts too, and Belloc's head explodes, but there's something about the slow motion shot of Toht's face melting off that's just fantastic. You couldn't ask for a worse death for such a delightfully horrible character.

1. That Guy Who Gets His Heart Ripped Out of His Chest
Seriously, is there a worse way to die than having your heart ripped out, shown to you, and then being dipped in lava... all while you're somehow still alive? I mean... damn.