Project Enterprise: The wrath of Borg

borg queen8. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

I like Kirk. Hell, I love Kirk. But man, what a relief to finally reach a Kirk-free movie. The Next Generation cast really hits their groove with this movie. Perhaps because they borrowed a page from Wrath of Khan and revisited their most awesome villains: THE BORG. Specifically, the Borg Queen. Best villain since Khan, no question. It’s good to have an enemy you can respect.

Overall: A- Excellent villain AND time travel? Yes, please!

Plot: A- Like I said, excellent villain and time travel. Generally, elements that make for a good Star Trek story. And the time travel was fun while avoiding most of the cheesiness that detracted from Voyage Home. I said most — the bar scene where Troi gets drunk with Zefram Cochran kind of felt like a TV show more than a movie. And I must make this one point: The Next Generation is overly in love with the holodeck. You’re already playing dress-up! Give it a rest.

Costumes: A They improved the Starfleet jumpsuits. But most of this grade is due to the Borg. Perhaps I’m overly influenced by the current zombie craze, but the Borg seem to me to have assimilated the best of the zombie look. Goth zombies. Goth steampunk zombies. They’re just great.

New cast members: A James Cromwell makes such a good villain — he’s so great in L.A. Confidential and I’ve enjoyed him as Andrew Mellon in season 3 of Boardwalk Empire. So it’s extra-fun to see him play goofy, as he does here, and he does it well. He’s not really a mad scientist, he’s a hard-drinking, smart guy who just wants to retire to a tropical island and doesn’t want to be known as some kind of hero to humanity. Though I do wonder why he’s so fond of mid-20th century music, in the year 2063. Alfre Woodard is also good though I’m starting to wonder why Picard always has to have a Wise Black Woman to keep him on track (Whoopi Goldberg last movie, Woodard in this one).

F/X: B+ I don’t think they should get huge points for mid-21st century spacecraft. And I thought they were going to destroy the Enterprise again, but not this time. At least the time travel didn’t involve any weird heads in weird substances.

Series Ranking: 1. Wrath of Khan 2. First Contact 3. The Voyage Home 4. Generations 5. The Undiscovered Country 6. The Search for Spock 7. The Motion Picture 8. The Final Frontier

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Project Enterprise: Supersize TNG

insurrection9. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

This wasn’t bad. But it felt more like a supersized TV show than an actual movie. A fine adventure for the Next Generation crew. But nothing special.

Overall: B- My husband came in toward the end and commented that this is the one where everyone seems like swingers. The Ba’ku don’t quite strike me that way — more like a slightly annoying New Age commune. And they are just way too clean for an agrarian society.

Plot: B+ This would have been one of the great TNG episodes on TV. For one thing they started out violating the Prime Directive — one of their favorite things to do. For another, Fountain of Youth and all that. And a love interest for Picard is always nice. They went almost light enough on the comic relief, too. The only one who can really pull it off is Worf.

Costumes: B- Nothing new on the Starfleet side, the New Age Ba’ku have Renaissance Faire peasant garb. Which is way too clean. The So’Na’s clothes are OK but nothing special.

Extra cast members: B F. Murray Abraham does his usual good job. He’s no Ricardo Montalban, of course.  I was struck this time by Anthony Zerbe, playing Admiral Dougherty, don’t know where I know him from.

F/X: B+ This is almost entirely for the skin stretching and stapling the So’Na go through — gross! And new to the series.

Series ranking: 1. Wrath of Khan 2. First Contact 3. The Voyage Home 4. Insurrection. 5. Generations 6. The Undiscovered Country 7. The Search for Spock 8. The Motion Picture 9. The Final Frontier

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Project Enterprise: Seeing Double

nemesis10. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)This movie is all about the doubles. Data’s got a clone. Picard’s got a clone. If I’m Riker or Geordie, I’m like hey how come I don’t have a clone?

Overall: B Better than the last one. At least this felt like a movie, with some real scope and a big-screen villain. They should get docked, though, for calling the bad guys’ ship a “scimitar.”

Plot: B+ Doubles. B-4 is Data’s “little brother.” Shinzon is Picard’s Romulan-engineered clone. All about mortality? Sure, why not? It worked for Wrath of Khan.

Costumes: B Romulans OK, Shinzon OK, Starfleet no change.

Extra cast members: A- Really only one but he’s a good one — Tom Hardy is Shinzon! And he’s good, too — way skinner than he is as Bane. But the same gravelly menacing voice.

F/X: B- Shinzon’s deteriorating face isn’t bad, but that’s really all there is.

Series ranking: 1. Wrath of Khan 2. First Contact 3. The Voyage Home 4. Nemesis 5. Insurrection. 6. Generations 7. The Undiscovered Country 8. The Search for Spock 9. The Motion Picture 10. The Final Frontier

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Project Enterprise: A New Hope

star_trek_2009_movie_review11. Star Trek (2009)

Woo hoo! I’ve reached the J.J. Abrams era! Kirk is hot again! In fact, Kirk is even hotter than he was when Kirk was supposed to be hot! Though it is a little unsettling that I watched the original Star Trek series as re-runs in the ’70s saying “eeeewwwww” every time Kirk got it on with a babe (because I was, you know, seven) and now I find it a tad creepy to find Chris Pine hot (because I am, you know, not quite old enough to be his mother but too old to be ogling a 29-year-old). I guess I should have had a crush on Riker back in the ’90s but I just couldn’t quite get there. Too bad Voyager never got a movie because that rebel first officer guy was definitely …

But I digress. What I meant was, woo hoo! It’s a new day, a new cast, a reboot and finally another Star Trek movie that bears repeated viewing.

Overall: A I will admit openly that if this movie had come out when I was 13, it would probably be my favorite of the bunch, with the possible exception of Into Darkness. But it didn’t, and my heart still lies with Wrath of Khan.

Plot: A Excellent and creative reboot, and our first look at an origin story, too. I’ll admit here that the opening scene, with Kirk’s father sacrificing himself for the ship’s crew including his wife and newborn son, actually brought me to tears.

Costumes: B Nice references to the old TV show in the uniforms, especially the miniskirts for Uhura. Nero and his crew? I can’t remember what they were wearing, other than I think it was black.

Extra cast members: A- Eric Bana as Nero is the only one of note but he’s awfully good. First of all, because I’ve been a huge Eric Bana fan since Black Hawk Down and he never quite seems to get the love (he was just fine as the Hulk, dammit!). Secondly, because he goes for out-and-out villain but puts a nice twist of pyscho in there — my favorite moment might be when he’s first onscreen with Capt. Pike who identifies himself and Nero says, “Hi, Chris. I’m Nero.” As if they were meeting at some kind of networking forum. Beautifully done. Just watch it.

F/X: B+ CG has gotten so much better it almost doesn’t seem fair. And I kind of wish they had referred more to the old show in the look of the computers, etc., even though that would be hard to do without a high cheese factor.

Series ranking: 1. Wrath of Khan 2. Star Trek 3. First Contact 4. The Voyage Home 5. Nemesis 6. Insurrection. 7. Generations 8. The Undiscovered Country 9. The Search for Spock 10. The Motion Picture 11. The Final Frontier

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Project Enterprise: The pre-return of Khan

into darkness12. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

OK, it’s my Wrath of Khan thing again. I know this movie got raves and deservedly so — I was into it every minute in the theater. It’s got great pacing, good performances, a formidable villain — everything you want from a Star Trek movie. But. It just doesn’t have the heart of Wrath of Khan. This could be because once, again, I’m way too attached to that movie. I understand the reboot thing. I applaud it. But something about replacing the gloriously over-the-top Ricardo Montalban with the cerebral Benedict Cumberbatch just didn’t quite work for me. To wit: Kirk’s big death scene in the warp core chamber? I didn’t take that seriously at all.

Overall: A- It’s a good movie. It’s just the second-best Star Trek movie featuring Khan, that’s all. And it’s the second-best of the Abrams era — I love an origin story.

Plot: A- It’s one thing to tamper with the text. It’s another to change the whole nature of an iconic character. Admiral Marcus as an opponent wasn’t bad. So, yeah, good movie.

Costumes: B+ I liked the references to the velour-y uniform jerseys from the show’s early days. Otherwise — nothing special.

Extra Cast Members: A- Cumberbatch — adore him as Sherlock. Just don’t see him as Khan. But it’s still fun to watch and, even better, listen to him. Admiral Marcus was fine, Carol Marcus quite good — even  though in this timeline she has inexplicably acquired a British accent.

F/X: B+ Khan’s attack on Starfleet headquarters was good. Ship crashing into Starfleet headquarters better. Big finale fight scene on the hovercraft? Just a top-of-the-train fight, set in the not-too-distant future.

Series ranking: 1. Wrath of Khan 2. Star Trek 3. First Contact 4. Star Trek Into Darkness 5. The Voyage Home 6. Nemesis 7. Insurrection. 8. Generations 9. The Undiscovered Country 10. The Search for Spock 11. The Motion Picture 12. The Final Frontier

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Reading Differently

munro coverI was, like many readers, delighted and pleasantly surprised when Alice Munro was named the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. For one thing, I had actually read her. For another, she is one of the great examples of a woman writing about what are commonly considered women’s concerns — relationships, the domestic sphere and the everyday lives of women — and proving beyond doubt that these are indeed literary matters, even from the woman’s point of view. One of her story collections is even titled Hateship, Friendship, Loveship, Courtship, Marriage — you have to wonder if that’s almost a sly dare on her part to go ahead and try to restrict her to some literary ghetto.

There’s also the fact that she writes short stories, a form that no longer has the attention it once did from the reading public, and that she is a realist. Maybe that’s what got my attention when, one day in the late 1980s as a college student who had never heard of Alice Munro, I picked up a copy of The New Yorker and read a story called “Differently.” It changed my world, at least as a reader. I immediately got my hands on all of Munro’s previous works and became a devoted fan. Images from that story have stayed with me and Munro’s world in general felt both familiar and expansive — the world of intelligent women navigating stifling economic and family backgrounds, reaching for something, doing things they are ashamed of or defiantly going out on their own. I didn’t always like her characters but I always found them interesting. More than interesting — compelling.

Munro spoke to me in a way that the writers who were cool at the time just didn’t. I never got into that minimalist school, like Robert Coover. I wasn’t blown away by Pynchon or Delillo. I read the White Male Narcissists, as David Foster Wallace famously called them (Updike, Cheever, Mailer) but they didn’t do it for me the way Munro did. Of the young writers of that era who were allegedly going to be the voices of my generation — Bret Easton Ellis, Jay McInerney, Tama Janowitz — only Michael Chabon won my devotion and I’ve been glad to see he’s the one with staying power — and that he has managed to avoid the Franzenian gender wars, or whatever they are.

So thank you, Alice Munro, for writing “Differently” all those years ago (you can read it in her collection “Friend of My Youth” or in the “Selected Stories”). And thank you, Swedish prize committee people for recognizing her. She already has a broad and devoted readership, but this can’t help but lead more readers her way, maybe some of them young women who are wondering why the literature she is supposed to admire just doesn’t work for her.

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And the survey says …

Richard-Dawson-225x300I lifted this one from Citizen Reader, a blog I admire greatly. You should check it out.

Author You’ve Read The Most Books From: If you went by my LibraryThing account, it would be Patrick O’Brian. But I’ll be honest about my romance habit and admit it’s more likely Georgette Heyer, from my high school days, or Lisa Kleypas, from more recent years.

Best Sequel Ever: I know I’m supposed to say Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel — but I’m going to go with Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, just because.

Currently Reading: Wedlock by Wendy Moore and The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Drink of Choice While Reading: Coffee … or, later in the day, white wine with a couple ice cubes in it. Yeah, I’m classy like that. I already told you I read romance!

E-reader of Physical Book? Either/or depending on the book. Genre fiction works well for me on an e-reader, and not just because people can’t see what you’re reading. But I still need the physical page for focus with nonfiction or literary fiction.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated in High School: I would have had a massive crush on Yunior from Junot Diaz’s stories. But I doubt he would have dated me. Otherwise, Quentin from Lev Grossman’s novels The Magicians and The Magician King. I liked geeks in high school. I still do.

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance: Lost Girls by Robert Kolker – I don’t read a lot of contemporary true crime but this book WAY transcends that label and delivers a complex and disturbing portrait of the life some young women are living.

Hidden Gem Book: Other Powers by Barbara Goldsmith. A biography of a remarkable woman — Victoria Woodhull — who defied pretty much every convention she came across. A great portrait of late 19th century America while you’re at it, which I think is what a terrific biography provides.

Important Moment in Your Reading Life: 1) When I successfully defied my second-grade teacher, who thought Caddie Woodlawn was too advanced for me to check out of the library, by showing her the card that proved I had already checked the book out like five times 2) When Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series helped get me through the horrible year of 2005, when I was editing the local daily, coping with a horrendous hurricane year in work and life and also dealing with a couple major medical crises. Those books were just what my brain needed.

Just Finished: Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale. Not as absorbing as her previous book, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, or as jaw-dropping as her first book, The Queen of Whale Cay, but a worthy read that will make you consider and appreciate how important feminism is. Or women’s rights, if you prefer that term.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read: Horror (never read anything by Stephen King; I’m just a wuss that way) and certain flavors of popular women’s fiction, of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood school. Yech.

Longest Book You’ve Read: I honestly don’t know the answer to this but the longest book I’ve read in recent memory is A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin.

Major Book Hangover Because Of: Not sure about this question. If it means the kind of book that hangs around your head making you feel kind of bad after you’ve finished, it would be The Disenchanted by Budd Schulberg. If it means the kind of book where you’re depressed because it’s over and you really wanted to stay in that world for longer if not forever, then maybe Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness. And the George R.R. Martin books count in both categories, actually.

Number of Bookcases You Own: Two — but one of them is really, really big. And a couple of booktrucks, if that counts.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times: Jane Eyre. I used to read it every year at Christmas, when I was in my 20s and far from home. It changes from reading it as a kid (identifying with young Jane in the horrible school) to a young woman (identifying with Jane the governess in love) to … a more mature reader. Who does have to wonder if that Rochester guy is really worth all that heartache given his track record and treatment of our heroine.

Preferred Place to Read: A porch or deck — outside but in the shade/under cover. I especially like to read on a covered porch in the rain.

Quote That Inspires You/Gives You All the Feels From A Book You’ve Read: I’m not the kind of person who remembers or writes down quotes like this. So instead I’ll just go with the Groucho Marx classic that covers two of my favorite things in life, books and dogs: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

Reading Regret: I haven’t read Moby-Dick and I gave up on Vanity Fair (even though I liked it). Is that what they mean by regret?

Series You Started and Need to Finish (all books are out in series): Patrick O’Brian again, for real this time.

Three of Your All-Time Favorite Books: The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen, One Art by Elizabeth Bishop and Titan by Ron Chernow. All nonfiction, come to think of it. Is that weird?

Unapologetic Fangirl For: Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. Yeah, there be dragons. And they are awesome.

Very Excited For This Release More Than All the Others: I’m supposed to say the next book in the Hilary Mantel Cromwell series, right? And I am excited for that. But I’ll say the next book in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness because I’m trying to be ruthlessly honest here. Also because I know what’s going to happen to Thomas Cromwell, but I don’t know how Harkness will wind up her trilogy.

Worst Bookish Habit: Hoarding. I do it with books I own. I do it with library books even though I can presumably get them back out if I am actually going to read them. And I do it with advanced review copies. Fortunately I now have that really, really big bookshelf.

X Marks the Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I bought it and started reading during a church-attending period of my life … but gave up when I came across the anti-gay passage. For one thing, why? For another, Lewis was the childhood author I read most, possibly after Laura Ingalls Wilder, so it’s heartbreaking to see him expose himself as a bigot, even if it was a different time.

Your Latest Book Purchase: The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz, as a birthday gift for my husband. It hasn’t arrived yet but I’m pretty safe because he doesn’t read this blog. (Do you?)

ZZZ-snatcher Book (last book that kept you up WAY late): I stay up later than I intend to not infrequently — but the last book I really remember having this effect was Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn’s first novel. Or maybe it was Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore. Not sure which I read most recently but both were impossible to put down, even to sleep.

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