Saga of the Jasonite

The continuing adventures of that eternal man of mystery…


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Star Trek episode reviews: Man of the People and Relics

It’s been even longer for this post than the last one. All I can say is, I haven’t been in a position to have dedicated time to put in the energy and resources I use in reviewing a TNG episode properly. I aim to rectify that! Thanks for your continuing patience.

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Man of the People

Man of the People is just a mess. It’s my lowest rated episode of season six so far, and there won’t be many rivals. There’s an ambassador, Alcar, who the crew saves in the teaser, who’s job it is to mediate peace talks between two warring nations (a recycled idea from Loud as a Whisper). His ‘mom’ dies and after Troi shares a ritual, starts becoming just as jealous, possessive and bitchy as she was. Troi also starts aging very rapidly, and it turns out Alcar is using her as the receptacle for all his negative emotions. They hatch a plan to get him, they win, and it’s all stupider than it sounds.

Turns out that this episode was written in a big rush, because Relics was supposed to be shot this week, but Doohan had a scheduling conflict. All of a sudden they had a week with no episode written so the writing team crapped one out to fill the week. Take a look at other behind-the-scenes stuff, including a massive plot hole I spotted by checking out my full review.

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Relics

Relics is about 100 times better. Who does the Enterprise find dematerializing from a transporter pad on an old Federation transport ship? Scotty! Scotty adjusts (badly) to life in the 24th century, and the crew investigate a real Dyson sphere. We get to see Scotty in action again, and he delivers just about everything could want from a great guest appearance. This episode is gold from beginning to end.

James Doohan–may he rest in peace–was not originally well-disposed to Next Gen. He had some unkind things to say about it, and it wasn’t until his family sat him down and had him watch the show that he really began enjoying it, and agreed to be on the show. The crew of the show actually recreated a portion of the original Enterprise bridge just for this episode, and it comes out perfect! Take a look at my other thoughts and behind-the-scenes info by checking out my full review.

Next time I’ll be reviewing Schisms and True Q! Stay tuned.

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Religion: get off the sidelines and into the game

World Religions Planet Earth Flower World Religions - Flower IcoReligious practices and customs have been around for as long as we have records of human beings on the planet. Religion sets out to answer the big questions: why are we here, what is life about, where did we come from, where are we going? Over 90% of us here on planet Earth believe in a supreme being or higher form of life in one form or another, and I believe there is something to that. It’s because there is something out there, not because almost all of us are under some sort of mass delusion. If there isn’t, then none of our lives matter. Everything is ultimately meaningless.

There are four major religions in the world: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Adherents to these religions account for approximately 6 billion people. There are lots of others too, and even a cursory list would include Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, Shinto and various folk and new age religions.

What I want to address, and to ask, is something that can be very challenging to some. What do you believe? Why? I had someone on Reddit ask me once, after I had expressed my beliefs, “so, are all the other religions in the world wrong then?” As many have said over the centuries, not all the religions out there can be right. I think that’s obvious, but it’s not the point.

Consider that if there is a God, or some other supreme being, and there is a purpose to our existence at all, shouldn’t we found out what it is? It would be the single most important thing to know, ever! I’m here to say that life is about more than just growing up, getting a job, and raising a family. It’s more than about just falling in love, or making money. There is a purpose, a reason we are all here on Earth. Wouldn’t you like to know what it is? That there is a way to know?

In the absence of experiences with God, one can doubt the existence of God. So, put yourself in a position to begin having experiences with Him. Don’t take anyone’s word for it. Get off the sidelines and get into the game. Start looking into the major religions (or any others for that matter), read the sacred text, attend the meetings. See how it feels, see what you think. Do the work required to find out. Not all religions are right. But there must be at least one that is.

For Christianity, the book is the Bible. My recommendation is to start in the New Testament. Start reading it, pick a Christian denomination and attend a church meeting, learn the doctrine, meet the people, see what it’s about. Start wherever you want, but start. Those who are already Christian should realize that one of the most important things Jesus did was organize a religion. Religion is His idea, both before He came and after, and it’s necessary.

For Islam, the book is The Quran. If you’re interested, start reading it! Learn about the Five Pillars of Islam, go to a Mosque, meet the people, learn the doctrine.  It’s the second largest organized religion in the world, it seems like an obvious choice if you are looking for truth. Check it out if you like. Again, find people that are Islamic, talk to them, see what it’s about.

For Hinduism, the books include the Vedas and Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, and the Āgamas. Pick one and start reading, learn what the deal is. Find a place where Hindus gather, such as a temple, get to talking to those who have Hindu beliefs and ask questions. Go see what it’s about.

For Buddhism, there is not necessarily a consensus as to what constitutes scripture. Learning the Sutras is important for almost every Buddhist, but the greater recommendation here is to visit a monastery or temple. All you have to do is Google it, I can all but guarantee you there is one within driving distance. Find people who are Buddhist and can back up their beliefs with more than just a general statement. Go see what it’s about!

There are lots of religions and lots of beliefs out there. They can’t all be right. What have you done to discover what is right? What are you willing to do? Remember, if there is any real meaning to our lives other than just these few decades we have, then it’s the most important thing, ever. Don’t you have time for the most important thing ever?

You may be asking, ‘why should I bother? I’m going to find out eventually anyway.’ Let me answer with a quote from Jesus Christ in the Bible: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” This is a sentiment that is common for many religions. The idea that living a life with purpose is overall better than one without it. You can have more joy, live a deeper and more fulfilling life, and be better prepared for what awaits you after it. You can also avoid so many of the pitfalls that await us in life.

Religion, faith, spirituality, they can provide a moral center to your existence. They can help you grow up and mature. To quote another scripture, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” In other words, you won’t just go along with whatever the masses, popular culture, or your friends believe. That stuff changes about every 20-50 years anyway. God can make a lot more out of your life than you can!

My plea, my invitation, is to not be cynical, to not just go along with with popular sentiment or whatever you grew up with. I invite you to search, to seek, to find, because there is a God out there, and He wants you to find Him–but you need to put forth some effort. Do the work involved, even if it’s just having a desire, and you will get results. I promise and testify that if you get off the sidelines and get into the game of looking for the truth, your life is going to get a lot better in ways you don’t yet understand.

Those who have been following my blog know regarding my religion. If you’re interested in knowing more, please check out my past blog posts under the Spiritual Topics tag, or go to www.comeuntochrist.org.


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My review of Disney’s Aladdin (2019)

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I still remember the first commercial I saw for the animated Aladdin, back in 1992. There was a quote from one critic along the lines of “It would take a miracle to outdo Beauty and the Beast. That miracle is Aladdin.” I was immediately nettled. Ever since I had fallen in love with The Little Mermaid three years previous, I was really into these new Disney animated movies coming out. I didn’t like the quote though, because I thought it was just what critics say to get people to see a movie they’re paid to like. Ugh. My 17-yr old self went to the movie theater fully ready to dislike Aladdin for the ridiculous and often-wrong one-upmanship this critic seemed to be engaging in. I was wrong. I loved Aladdin even more than Beauty and the Beast. To this day I consider the four-film spread from The Little Mermaid through The Lion King to be the second golden age of Disney animated films, and Aladdin shines as brightly as any.

I saw the new Aladdin movie just a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to review it and to give some commentary on the Disney plan to remake a bunch of their animated films as live action. I will tell you my bias right away–I’ve been against this whole thing. In general I don’t see the point of telling the same story, with the same songs in live action. Why would I want to see Disney copying itself when I could see the original, which is already a classic? How many classics have ever been remade and been good?

This review will really be more of a comparison between the original and the new. To my mind, any remake either needs to be superior to the original, or just as good but different enough to stand on its own merits (being live instead of animated is insufficient). Guy Ritchie directed the new Aladdin. He first made his name directing a couple of heist pictures such as the excellent Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; but he also made junk like Madonna’s film Swept Away. He’s kind of an odd choice for a movie like Aladdin.

Overall, my chief complaint about this new film is that it gives us almost no original moments. Any good moments the film has are because the original did them well, and they’re just copying it. When Disney gives you $180+ million to work with, this should not be that difficult. The “Prince Ali” song is a good example of this. It was very good in the live version, but they were standing on the shoulders of the writers and animators of the original song, which was also excellent. It’s the song that is great, not Ritchie’s ability to use a ton of money in doing a close version of the original. Menken and Ashman/Rice are the heroes here, and the animators, they originally wrote and drew “Prince Ali.” There are a couple of moments the new Aladdin have that stand on their own, which I will come to. Let’s compare specific elements in some more detail.

Characters:

The Genie. Let’s be honest, the Genie is the main character in the movies. This is not close, in my view. I’ve liked Will Smith and followed his career ever since I watched him on Fresh Prince, but Will Smith is no Robin Williams. Robin is a one-of-a-kind, supremely talented performer. The ad-libs, the impersonations, the grabbing of Aladdin’s lips at one point to pantomime “Genie, I set you free” in the original version–it’s unequivocal!  Original Genie was better.

Aladdin. I think this is something of a wash–I liked Scott Weinger who voiced the animated Aladdin, and I liked Mena Massoud playing the live action Aladdin about the same. You and I might debate we liked one a bit more than the other, and that’s fine, but I don’t think either blows the other out of the water. Tie.

Jafar. Every good Disney movie needs a good villain. The original Jafar was a great villain, and I thought Jonathan Freeman did a great job voicing him. I don’t think Marwan Kenzari’s performance was that great, and I also have a problem with his age. The animated Jafar was drawn in his late 40s/early 50s, which makes sense given his high position and power. Kenzari is in his 30’s, which is just too young, and he seems two-dimensional, less fleshed out compared to the animated Jafar. The fact that Iago was greatly reduced contributed to this. Original Jafar was better.

Jasmine. Linda Larkin played the original Jasmine and did a very good job. Naomi Scott, however, is so good she almost steals the movie from everyone else. She gives what I consider to be a star-making performance, especially singing her song “Speechless.” I can’t say enough about that song, which comes toward the end of the film. It affected me on an emotional level, to my complete surprise and delight. She is amazing in this movie, and I plan on following her career because of what she does here. The character of Jasmine is also more fleshed out, and three-dimensional. The Jasmine in the 1992 film was trapped by her circumstances and culture, and the new one is too, but she does try harder. New Jasmine is better.

Iago. Gilbert Gottfried did a terrific job with him in the original movie; he’s one of best henchmen in the history of Disney! In the live version he’s more of an afterthought, and barely qualifies as a character at all–there really is no comparison here. Original Iago was better.

Abu and the Magic Carpet. There is just so much more personality in both of these characters in the animated film, don’t you agree? This is an area in which animation does things better than real life. These characters were wonderfully anthropomorphized when they were cartoons, and, while still enjoyable in live action, are somewhat reduced. Original Abu and Carpet were better.

The Sultan. Douglas Seale voiced the original Sultan, and gave a delightful performance, with a few moments that he really made his own. Kicking Jafar’s staff and inadvertently knocking Iago off it to fly around his palace on the carpet was funny and charming, for example. He was a also a very loving father. Again, for no good reason in 2019, he seems like just a place holder. Original Sultan was better.

Dalia. Dalia, Jasmine’s handmaid, only exists in the 2019 version. Nasim Pedrad I think does a good job with what she’s given, and helps flesh out what kind of life Jasmine has and how she is with other people. The fact she is the love interest for the Genie is unexpected, but not unwelcome.

Sets:

Overall the set pieces are terrific in both versions. There is a sense in the live action that we’re not really in ancient Persia, but rather the Disney version of it. Take a close look at the costumes, which look a lot like costumes instead of clothing. This is a bit nitpicky of me, but I am still mentioning it. It could have been better.

The Cave of Wonder suffers compared to the animated version. The massive treasure trove of gold and jewels just jumps out at the audience, and I was far more impressed with the temptation involved than in the live version.

There’s a bit at the end of the animated film when Jafar has the lamp and he makes a wish to “rule on high, as Sultan!” The Genie grows to colossal proportions, rips up the entire palace and places it on what looks like a mountain. It’s great. It’s absent in the live version, and I missed it, because I liked some of his more spectacular powers.

Songs:

Songs are an important part of any Disney animated film, and they are mostly faithfully recreated in the live version. We are missing Jafar’s reprise of “Prince Ali” at the end, which I liked, but we do get “Speechless”, which I loved. I didn’t really care for the modern dancing in the film, but a lot of people did like it I suppose. Overall my thoughts about the music are summarized by my earlier comments about “Prince Ali.”

Plot:

The plot is largely unchanged, as one would expect, even though the film is 30 minutes longer. We do get a different ending for the Genie, which I was okay with. I think both endings for the Genie are equally valid, speaking overall. One significant change is Jasmine’s desire to succeed her father and actually be the next Sultan, which I think is pretty ridiculous. While I’m glad we see her character be more of an actual character, and generally benefited from an update, this is going too far. Women can’t be sultans today in the middle East, let alone 600-1000 years ago, and it’s very much tied to a religion she herself would believe in! If her father were dumb enough to try make her Sultan, the people of her own nation would hate it and she’d be assassinated within a month. I suppose girls up through the age of adolescence will like it, but the adult audience simply has to say “well whatever, it’s a Disney movie.”

Overall:

As I said to begin with, while this movie is overall pretty enjoyable, but it is not enjoyable on its own merits. The is a continuing issue I have with Disney. Disney at its best is able to make timeless classics that can be enjoyed for decades. At their worst they are out to make money, which is why they make endless sequels, and now live versions of animated projects instead of making new original content! I think in 20 years the original Aladdin will be still be watched and considered a classic, while the live version will be largely forgotten.

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Star Trek episode reviews: Time’s Arrow, Part II and Realm of Fear

times-arrow-part-ii-hd-359 Time’s Arrow, Part II

I know I know, it’s been weeks and weeks since my last post. I just keep myself in the habit of apologizing I suppose. Good news though, the first two episodes of season six have been reviewed!

Time’s Arrow, Part II is a fairly solid episode, much like part one, and is real ensemble episode. Like part one, it’s pretty good but not great. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) is convinced Data is bringing infernal technology to ruin the past, but changes his tune after a trip to the future on the Enterprise. After a sort of time-shell-game with Data’s head, the old one gets put on his body, and the poorly explained hole-in-the-head aliens get wiped out.

You may not know that the week this episode was shot was the same week the DS9 folks were shooting their pilot. This episode won two Emmys: one for Costume Design and another for Sound Editing. As I’ve said repeatedly, this episode is not how Picard and Guinan formed their special bond. It’s certainly how they first met, but the meeting in Picard’s lifetime is where they drew together. We will likely never have that story. Check out more info in my full review.

realm-of-fear-hd-355 Realm of Fear

Realm of Fear is a Barclay episode, the third of his five total appearances on the show. The Enterprise crew are trying to solve the mystery of the USS Yosemite, caught in the plasma stream from a red giant to a white dwarf star. Barclay has a big transporter phobia, and this works in everyone’s favor because he becomes obsessed with this worm-like creature he sees while he’s being transported. Things get a bit over-explained toward the end, but otherwise a decent episode.

This is one of only two episodes where we see a first-person view of being transported. You’re curious to know what the other one is, aren’t you? You’ll have to check out my full review to find out! I also talk about how they got that big worm to move, and a particular scene that was shot four times in a row to give us the illusion of greater room on the starship sets.

That’s it for now, thanks for hanging with me at my recent snail’s pace. Next up will the next two episodes in season six, Man of the People and Relics!


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Season Six Overview is Here!

Season Six

Season Six

Due to some fortuitous factors, I was able to complete my season six overview in one day. One day! I believe that’s a first. Click the above photo or right here to read my full season six overview. I’ll provide some excerpts and summaries below.

More than one writer and actor on TNG considers season six to the best season they ever did. Usually by season six of a television series the decline is quality is starting to become apparent, but not here.

Season six was a season of some trepidation, at least initially. This was the year that the contracts for all the principal actors was up. This was the year a new Star Trek spinoff was slated to begin. Gene Roddenberry, the great bird of the galaxy, was dead. Would this be the last season for TNG? Would this new series be any good at all? The question of whether TNG would continue was not officially settled until April of 1993, when Rick Berman–the showrunner now–announced that there would be a TNG movie coming out by Christmas of 1994, following the seventh and final season of The Next Generation.

It was high times to be a Star Trek fan. In January of 1993 Star Trek Deep Space Nine began, and ushered in an unprecedented age, an era in which there were two Star Trek shows simultaneously on the air. The ratings for DS9 was a syndication-high of 18.8 for the season. Meanwhile, TNG’s numbers were so strong that they beat the World Series in 1992! There began to be actual camps to teach folks Klingon! The studio-estimated sales of all Trek products up to that point hit $2 billion, and the majority of the over-100 Star Trek novels written at that point were New York Times bestsellers.

Season six is overall one of the very strongest in terms of the number of high quality episodes. The Next Generation wasn’t a spring chicken anymore, but fans were shown that a series in its sixth season could still churn out some of the very best writing, acting and directing on television.


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Star Trek episode reviews: The Inner Light and Time’s Arrow

At long last! After more than a year’s work, season five of Next Gen is complete! I was hoping to get it finished last week but getting your house painted tends to get in the way. In any case, welcome to the announcement of the last two reviews for the fifth season.

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The Inner Light

The Inner Light is, frankly, my favorite episode of all time. Bar none, this is one I look forward to the most, and still has the greatest emotional effect. The Enterprise encounters a probe in space. It tethers itself to Picard via some sort of invisible beam, and he passes out. Waking up on a planet he’s never heard of, he lives the next 30 subjective years of his life living the family life, before we discover what it’s all about.

This episode won all sorts of different awards, including the Hugo; a distinction only four episodes in Star Trek history have won. You may not know that Patrick Stewart’s son actually played his on-screen son in this episode, or that by the end of the episode Patrick was wearing 16 pounds of make-up, which had to be applied starting at 1am! Check this out and read my full review to learn more.

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Time’s Arrow

Time’s Arrow is the season-ending cliffhanger for season five. The Enterprise is recalled to Earth, where a scientist takes Picard and Data to some uninhabited caves since the 19th century and shows them Data’s severed head. A lot follows: time-traveling human-killing aliens, Data playing poker in the 1800s, Mark Twain, Guinan, and it ends with most of the rest of the crew stepping into a time portal.

Time’s Arrow was not slated to be the season-ender. In fact there wasn’t a two-parter planned at all. The producers got wind that with the wind-up of Deep Space 9, a lot of fans were thinking TNG would end after season five. They ordered a cliffhanger to let the masses know TNG would indeed continue! On that note, DS9 fans will be able to spot Marc Alaimo in this episode as well. Check out other tidbits, along with a lot more in my final full review for season five.

I’m leaving for vacation tomorrow, and plan on taking a few more weeks off before starting season six. Thanks for all my readers who stuck with me through the 26 episodes and 15 months it took me to get my reviews out. I will continue!


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Star Trek episode reviews: I Borg and The Next Phase

Two more reviews are ready to go! I’m doing my best to power through the end of season five. I figure I’ve been working on this season for too long now, and I’m just ready to finally be done with it. Bad weather, a sick family and a sick self have slowed me down a bit, but my goal is to be finished in two more weeks.

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I Borg

I Borg is a terrific episode that manages to somehow do the impossible: make the Borg more relatable. The Enterprise crew find a lone survivor of a crashed Borg scout ship and bring him on board. A plan is hatched to use it to infect the rest of the Borg with a virus that will annihilate them, but Geordi and Beverly start to have second thoughts as they see doubt, vulnerability and an emotional presence in him. First Guinan, and then even Picard have to wrestle with their conscience as they know a full Borg ship is on its way.

Jonathan del Arco, who portrays Hugh, was one of those that auditioned for the role of Wesley Crusher. I can see how he may have a been a finalist, given the finely wrought performance he turns in. The title has reference to Asimov’s I, Robot, which I thought was a cool touch. Check out my full review for lots more info and feel free to leave your own comments if you like.

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The Next Phase

The Next Phase is in the same league as I Borg. The Enterprise responds to a distress call from a Romulan scout ship about to explode, and saves them. It comes at a cost, however: the apparent deaths of Geordi and Ro. What really happened is that they became insubstantial, invisible and unnoticeable to everyone but each other, thanks to the Romulans and their experimental phasing cloak technology. There is a lot happening in this episode, and it’s all good.

The effect of having Ro and Geordi walking through solid objects as well as people was extraordinarily difficult and lengthy at the time. It was supposed to be a bottle episode to save money, but ended up being one of the most expensive episodes of the season due to the effects. The technology in this episode is indirectly related to the wonderful seventh season episode The Pegasus, as an astute viewer will understand. Michelle gave an interview where she named this episode as a turning point for her character as well. Check this out and other cool stuff in my full episode review.

That’s all for now. Thanks for all those exercising patience with my blog entries, I hope the faster pace is more palatable. Next time I’ll be posting my review for the final two episodes of season five (at last!): The Inner Light and Time’s Arrow.