Month: March 2013

Re-Watch Reviews: Star Trek in Retrospect

J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek: Into Darkness” is nearly upon us. I must admit I was leery of his previous Trek film. For a man who admitted to not being a Star Trek fan, and desiring to inject elements of Star Wars into his rendition, I was scared (which he can now indulge himself as he directs the new Star Wars flick). Such alchemy as this surely would result in disastrous explosions.

My fears were allayed since “Star Trek” the reboot was actually quite good, though I still have some reservations about Abrams’ choices. So long Sela and your Romulan cohorts, though. I will miss thee.

Since I will not adequately be able to enjoy or examine the new film until it is released, all I am left with are the existing films.  For now, let’s leave the reboot alone, and it can stand on its own confidently anyway, and just look at the rest which can be divided into two categories: The Original Series films and The Next Generation films.

The Original Series Films

  • The Motion Picture – Meh-tastic and bloated. Also called “artistic”. Merely okay. 
  • The Wrath of Khan- The standard by which all Star Trek films are to be judged. Consider “II” = “I” and forget the first.
  • The Search For Spock- Oft-overlooked and under-rated. A strong film that happens to be book-ended by much stronger films.
  • The Voyage Home- Sci-fi-fish-out-of-water-time-travel story (holy hyphens, Batman). Also considered one of the best, and it ties up a cohesive trilogy quite well.
  • The Final Frontier- Sean Connery turned down being in it. That should have been the sign to stop. No redeeming qualities except a surprisingly poignant scene in which McCoy and Spock face dark moments from their pasts.
  • The Undiscovered Country- An exciting send off for our crew. Makes you wish for more, even though the characters are obviously aged, weathered, and deserving retirement from their constant heroism.

The Next Generation Films

  • Generations- Passing the torch results in dropping it and burning things terribly. Not a good start. See Kirk die. Twice. 
  • First Contact- Action-packed but that’s about it, but definitely the best TNG era film. I wish the Borg invasion had been expanded, and the time-travel aspect could have been curtailed to be more succinct and effective.
  • Insurrection- More action. Very “TV Movie of the Week”. Attempts at “character development” are made and Picard cheats on Beverly Crusher.
  • Nemesis- Too little, too late and it borrowed too many tropes from previous films. I preferred it to Insurrection and found some of its concepts promising and enjoyable, however.

Truth be told, I prefer TNG on TV to the Original Series exponentially (though I grew up with Kirk and the gang first), but unfortunately the films fail to deliver. The Original Series films made missteps, but they were at their best when they elevated the essential Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate to the films and explored related themes.

TNG films never elevated anything to the silver screen, traded complex themes for theme park experiences, and ultimately bore only a superficial resemblance to the TV series. Kirk was a man of action, who grew emotionally and personally over the course of the films. Picard was a man of the mind on TV, who emotionally deteriorated in the films and solved problems with guns and torpedoes instead of his intellect.

As tragic as it may be, J.J. Abrams’ supernova may have been the biggest favor to the Star Trek franchise. He delivered it from a whimpering wane and gave it, literally, a bang of an ending and a new beginning.

Ninety 90’s Songs: She’s A Stylish Bag Lady…

No, this is not commentary about homeless people in America. It’s a statement that gypsy women will never be without their makeup or hair styling equipment, even if they are homeless. And the most important part is… la da dee, la dee da… (Cue frenetic dancing).

#83 “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” by Crystal Waters.  Oh, house music, you never cease to spew forth catchy earworms that sometimes make so little sense that one listens repetitively hoping to glean a greater understanding. Not that I have done that.  Not at all. Crystal Waters (I’m hoping that is a stage name, though I have met in real life a woman named Shandy Lear. She was my cashier), actually wrote this song for house/dance diva Ultra Nate. Fate and producers deemed that Waters’ version was just too good to pass on to another artist.

This song carries the trademark house music qualities of heavy bass, a constant synthesized organ riff, and a clinically infectious rhythm that causes spontaneous movement. Just look at the guys dancing in the video. Or spasming. They can’t help it. Someone put on the “Gypsy Woman” track and they very nearly wriggled their bones out of their bodies.

The video is a strange bird to be sure. Unlike most other house music and dance music videos of the day, “Gypsy Woman” attempts to depict figments of the lyrics quite literally, but mixed in with standard tropes of the trade such as clips of choreography and angular shots of the singer in a gender-bending business suit. Apparently, this genre is serious business. Despite the seriousness, the juxtaposition of elements in the video almost parodies itself, and an actual parody appeared on “In Living Color”, the famous sketch comedy show of the 90’s that birthed several prominent contemporary comedians.

I’ve decided to post two videos once again to include the parody video. Considering that  the comedy version has been mixed with the original in clubs before, I’m certainly not breaking precedent.  Watch both, and you’ll have a yabba dabba doo good time.

Ninety 90’s Songs: Free Makeup Tutorial! (Sort of…)

Eurythmics (which is more proper minus the “the”) were an especially 80’s musical sensation. Synthesizers, avant-garde style, catchy tunes, they had the right stuff and used it to superior advantage. So when the duo split in 1990 and decided to go their separate solo ways, who was to know that they would have been able to adapt to a new decade and evolving tastes?

#84 “Why” by Annie Lennox. Released in 1992 from the statuesque Scottish lass’s debut album, “Why” immediately made waves and paved the way for more solo hits. The video also likely inspired a brand new generation of drag queens.

Seriously.

She practically gives you a free lesson in stage makeup during the first half of the music video, though the ease with which she seems to apply everything could potentially lead a novice to looking like a clown. In fact, one may be tricked by her androgynous appearance to believe that we are, in fact, watching a drag performance.  It’s either a stage performer’s ultimate dream or worst nightmare to see this cross between Sally Bowles from Cabaret mixed with what must be Scottish Kabuki Theatre.

All jokes aside, the stunning Annie Lennox made a fantastic solo debut with this one, out selling any Eurythmics album, and she even garnered an  MTV Music Award, though MTV’s rather dubious reputation nowadays may confuse those who never knew that MTV used to be somewhat relevant to pop culture.

And that they actually used to play music videos. Like I do.

Ninety 90’s Songs: How Touching

Of course a song such as this would stir a minor controversy in America. I’m sure the Aussie rockers of the Divinyls were flattered by this, touched even… Okay, I couldn’t resist that one.

#85 “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls. This early 90’s track saw plenty of life, especially in its home country in downunder Australia and later on in film soundtracks. In America “I Touch Myself” gained some notoriety for its subject material. The band even had the plug pulled during one of their live performances of it in Texas.

How surprising, Texas. Like you’ve never laid your hands on anything since defending the Alamo.

Unfortunately, the Divinyls split in the mid-nineties, but not before releasing some other singles, a new album, and even some tracks for a few films. An unforgettable moment for the song is when Mike Myers performs a rather hirsute strip tease for some sexy sixties-esque cyborgs in the film “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery”. Other less stellar moments for the song include random performances during various karaoke nights around the world.

The hard-rocking, brazen sexuality of the song is refreshing in retrospect, since sexuality in nineties music later became associated with over-produced pop princesses. Christina Amphlett rocked it out without shame and served as a vestige of the glamorous lady-rockers of the eighties.

Ninety 90’s Songs: Take My Temperature

Madonna may not be as famous for her covers as much as what she does under her covers, but here is an example of a pop idol servicing an old standard to completion. That this song was recorded on a whim is even better. As the story goes, the backing track was originally meant for another song until Madonna began singing “Fever” to it instead of the intended lyrics, and the world is a better place for it.

#86 “Fever” by Madonna. Madonna began her reign as a pop queen in the 80’s and has continued until this very day, although many may argue that her status is constantly in contention with younger and more contemporary artists. However, no amount of same-sex smooches can change the fact that Madonna is still an influence on her colleagues, even if she has tried too hard to be more like them with her music these past few years.

I remember seeing Rihanna’s video for “Umbrella”. Her all silver look struck a distant memory, which was fully remembered when I viewed Madonna’s video for “Fever” where she dons the original cyber lady look. While the late 80’s and may be seen as her heyday, and she made a rather pronounced comeback in 1998 with her album “Ray of Light”, Madonna’s early and mid-nineties music is some of her best and most original.

While I am not trying to associate her cover of “Fever” with originality, and most musicians spend too much time covering other artists’ material (ahem… Rod Stewart), this track is an example of Madonna’s burgeoning artistry. Having spent an enormous amount of effort breaking into the music business in the 80’s, she then was free to further explore her own style.

While she may have stirred more controversy than interest in the early 90’s, and her work of the time may fall through the cracks of memory, “Fever” shows Madonna’s artistic vision in full swing. Perhaps this swing veered her off course from what producers would call successful, but it is her course and and it’s a fun ride to take. By taking a moment to hearken to the past with this cover, Madonna provides a preview of what is to come in the future.

I have posted *two* renditions of the song. One is the official music video, while the other is a mature, toned down, and groovy live performance from SNL. I found the latter especially notable as it is here that Madonna eschews flair for substance and does it quite successfully.