Star Trek Voyager: Riddles

I was a Star Trek Voyager watcher during the ’90s. Back then I had a modest CRT television that might have weighed nearly a hundred pounds. At that time you had to be in front of your television at the appointed time on the appointed day of the week if you wanted to see your favorite show. Although I enjoyed Voyager in the ’90s, I never really became a fan until I could watch all the episodes in order online.

Last night, somewhat randomly, chose to watch Episode 6 of season 6, “Riddles.” I had forgotten about this one.

In this episode the stoic Vulcan, Mr. Tuvok, is assaulted by a cloaked intruder, inflicting brain damage, and is struck with traumatic amnesia. The jovial Talaxian, Mr. Neelix, takes on the challenge to help rehabilitate Mr. Tuvok.

Ethan Phillips as Mr. Neelix and Tim Russ as Mr. Tuvok

The Vulcan character represents the ultimate form of composure under pressure. As a matter of principal a Vulcan resolves conflict with well considered logic and never surrenders to the whims of emotion. But Star Trek fans know that the beneath the facade of stoicism is an undercurrent of emotion and passion, as potent as, or more than any human. The Vulcan characters are usually the favorite among the introvert fans, and we watch ever so carefully to see a glimmer of emotional reaction as they face the pressures of being a Starfleet Officer.

When Mr. Tuvok’s memory is wiped out he becomes a clean slate. Suddenly wiped away are all the years of accomplished experience as a Starfleet science officer, and all the years of focused study and meditation in the disciplines of Vulcan logic. Tuvok becomes like a child, vulnerable, afraid, and curious.

Mr. Neelix, compelled by is unquenchable sense of compassion and a long standing sense of admiration for his Vulcan colleague, sets to the task of becoming a rehabilitation coach. But he finds the challenges of trying to help Mr. Tuvok restore himself to his former being are fraught with disappointment.

This is a story about identity, friendship, respect, and hope.

If you don’t remember watching this episode in the ’90s, or again in the ’00s, then I recommend you take another look. Check it out on Amazon Prime.

Star Trek: Voyager Season 6

Promising Young Woman

The trailer portrays a woman who preys on predatory men by pretending to be falling over drunk in bars. We enjoy dark horror comedies and this looked like the type of thing that would work. I queued it up without even checking with my watch partner.

Carey Mulligan as Cassandra

It turns out that I misjudged this movie by the trailer. It does satisfy the pleasure of seeing the tables turned on lowlives attempting to take advantage of inebriated women. However, it is not really a slasher flick at all. The story takes a serious tone as Cassandra’s motivations become clear. This movie is more of a cautionary tale about rape culture, how it has permeated the institutions we trust, and the fallout from reckless frat culture.

It’s good. It’s definitely better than the B grade thriller I was expecting. I recommend you check this out on Amazon Prime.

https://amzn.to/2UrADNy

Look Away

I was captivated by the spooky reflection in the mirror existing at its own being. I did get the feeling the target audience is teenagers, which isn’t me. But what the heck. I used to be a teenager. This is also the first work I’ve noticed of Jason Isaacs since he played Lorca on STD. I had to check it out.

Mira Sorvino as Amy, Jason Isaacs as Dan, India Eisley as Maria

This is a story about a teenager with chronic low confidence and all of the perks that go with it, such as a low friend count and a meek presence. As it turns out, her one (and only) friend is actually a corrosive bully. Her mother, although earnestly sympathetic, is a mouse cowering in the shadow of the overbearing father who makes a living brow beating women into agreeing to cosmetic surgeries.

However, young Maria’s fortunes begins to shift when she develops a relationship with the bold and confident version of herself that lives behind the glass of the mirror. In a moment of weakness, Maria agrees to let Airam take over.

However, Maria learns to be careful about what she wishes for when the costs turn out to be greater than she imagined.

This was good entertainment and I recommend it for anyone in the mood for a well produced thriller about teenage angst and payback.

Check it out on Amazon Prime.

https://amzn.to/3cI0UgO

Nomadland

This item appeared on my browsing scroll a few nights ago. My watch partner uncharacteristically blurted out “I want to see that!” I was aware that she’s had a curiosity about the nomad genre of videos on YouTube, where she frequently watches the Van Life vlog “Babba Shota”, as well as all of the Bob Wells videos. I was not aware that she was looking forward to the release of this movie.

Frances McDormand as Fern

This movie plays somewhat like a dramatization. But it is deeply authentic as it includes so many of the real faces of the North American “vandweller” community. This movie provides a platform for authentic, committed, vandwellers to express their views about why they chose, and how they embrace, the Van Life lifestyle.

The vandwellers enjoy a sense of freedom, independence, and autonomy which is so characteristic of the American spirt. In so many respects they are truly living the American dream in it’s truest most visceral sense. But it comes with a flip side. Independence can also feel like solitude and vulnerability. This story highlights the fact that true independence doesn’t exist as everyone needs to reach out for a helping hand at some point. This is why the vandwellers recognize themselves as members of a community who gather to support each other.

As the story of Fern plays out, you can see her experience the struggles and joys of the Van Life. In her story, Fern shows us how being “houseless” is not the same as being “homeless.” Fern chose to turn her back on the seclusion and baggage of house life to be a part of the Van Life community.

I recommend you check out this movie on Amazon Prime.

https://amzn.to/3ibNQnu

Also see Bob Wells on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAj7O3LCDbkIR54hAn6Zz7A

Sandpaper

My watching partner chose this one. The trailer featured an older gentleman with exceedingly good manners followed by the next scene with a teenager referring to him as a lunatic. She said, “I want to see this.”

Lori Katz as Kate Hunt & David Raizor as Howard Cross

Kate is a single woman on a mission to flip a house. It just needs one thing before she can get it listed; a new deck.

To get the job done Kate hires Mr. Cross, a local handyman, to build her new deck. As Kate gets to know Mr. Cross, he reveals himself to be a hard working, good humored, craftsman of exceptional skill. He is also exceedingly friendly, and polite to a fault.

However, Kate unexpectedly needs to leave town for a week. When she returns she finds that Mr. Cross has taken up residence in her house. And he won’t leave! From here Kate’s nightmare begins.

The writing, acting, and technical production value are all top notch. I recommend you check this one out on Amazon Prime Video.

https://amzn.to/3hhzW2Q

Beautiful Kate

The trailer seemed curious. It was a man, middle age-ish, on a road trip with a sexy young woman. Is that a daughter, niece, or girlfriend? When my watching partner gave it the nod I hit play. I really didn’t know what I was in for.

Ben Mendelsohn as Ned, Maeve Dermody as Toni

Ned is returning to his childhood home, a family farm in the Australian outback. He was summoned by his sister, whom he hasn’t seen since he was a teenager, when he left under mysterious circumstances. Their father is dying.

The house is haunted by the memories and the secrets. Where are the other brother and the other sister? His relationship with his father is hostile and twisted up in resentment and bitterness. There is some unspoken blame about the night the other brother and sister were killed. If you’re amused by dysfunctional family dynamics then this film offers a taste of comedy gold.

But the heart of this story is about guilt, shame, and the burden of running from them.

All of the production technicals, in terms of lighting, cinematography, wardrobe, and the like, were done well enough that I never thought about it while I was watching.

I recommend checking this one out on Amazon Prime Video.

https://amzn.to/3tvyFrj

At Eternity’s Gate

I’d probably watch anything with Willem Dafoe in it. However, I probably would not watch a film about the life of Vincent van Gogh. But when I saw that Willem took this role, I decided it was worthy of a mental note — I’ll watch this some day!

That some day was yesterday.

Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh

My feelings about Van Gogh are generally not very positive. Based on the anecdotes from my high school art education, and passing mentions of him in various other bits of information that I’ve been exposed to, Van Gogh was a weirdo that was likely suffering from the affects of lead poisoning as a consequence of the practice of mixing oil paints in his mouth. It’s no wonder that he was in and out of mental institutions and prone to doing bizarre things, such as cutting off his ear as a gift to a prostitute.

I have to say that Willem’s portrayal gives Van Gogh some depth and relatability that I didn’t expect. It might be a mistake to just accept this movie as a documentary. However, in my opinion, it is a mistake that this film did not include anything about lead poisoning, which is very likely a real part of the story that could explain some of Van Gogh’s odd behavior. Naturally, I was watching for the gore after the ear cutting scene. Instead, I caught glimpses of an unharmed ear on Dafoe’s head. I’m not sure if this technical shortcoming spoils the the suspension of belief anymore than a well done severed ear makeup job, which I was eagerly awaiting. Also in the category of technical criticism, I am a little put off by movies where all the characters speak fluent English, when they are clearly portrayals of characters that never spoke English. (Van Gogh was known to have spoken English. But it was unlikely he spoke English to everyone he interacted with while living in France.)

Despite my technical complainery, it is a believable and interesting portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh.

This movie tells a story about an artist who feels driven to paint, and do nothing else even if it means a life lived in poverty, as an outcast. Van Gogh felt compelled to capture images that had not been captured before. He wanted to highlight the beauty in forms that are generally ignored. He was compelled to capture images as fast as he could get the paint onto the canvas. These features became the foundation of his unique style, which many people of his time regarded as just plain ugly and absurd.

At one point in the movie Van Gogh is questioned about having given his severed ear to a prostitute, and Van Gogh simply replies “Gabby is not a prostitute.” I think this moment captures the full essence of the story. Van Gogh was not a madman any more than his friend at the tavern was a prostitute. Today we might think an artist finding the beauty in the mundane is a normal part of art. But there was a time this seemed ridiculous.

Whether your a fan of Van Gogh, a fan of Dafoe, or perhaps just a fan of the strange, this is a movie for you. Check it out on Amazon Prime.

https://amzn.to/3gqDAa1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_of_Vincent_van_Gogh

Them

I skimmed the trailer and made sure I got my watching partner’s thumbs up. There were elements of some supernatural, and some elements of American racism. I was kind of expecting a horror suspense flick. But I wasn’t sure, really.

Allison Pill as Elizabeth “Betty” Wendell and Deborah Ayorinde as Livia “Lucky” Emory

After a few episodes it was clear that I was watching something unlike anything else. There have been many productions that tell the story of racism in America. But this is done in a truly new way. The supernatural elements, that make the trailer seem like it might be a horror flick, are actually used in a very unusual way. The ghosts, and the elements that haunt the characters, are the specters of PTSD presented to the viewer in ways that deliver the raw emotions they way they should be experienced. This unique style and aesthetic are very effective in bringing these stories to life in a new way.

I am honestly blown away.

The performance that Allison Pill delivers as the evil cliche of a suburban white housewife Betty, is chilling. Given how toxic this character is, I imagine an actress might hesitate to take this role. But she plays this character with true gusto, in a way that is authentic and credible. Bravo Allison.

Deborah Ayorinde is no less courageous in her portrayal of “Lucky” Emory. This character is deeply traumatized in a brutal racist attack, and is haunted from then on by visions that are difficult to differentiate from what is real. Hey, go to California where everything is better! However, this story illustrates that the things that haunt you will inhabit you, wherever you are.

I don’t just recommend this series. I urge you to check “Them” out. This series is excellent.

https://amzn.to/3sei8XV

Into the Labyrinth

We stumbled on the trailer for this movie while browsing Prime video the other night. We were intrigued by the dark and mysterious ambiance of it. It seems tacky to say it, but seeing Dustin Hoffman’s face elevated the perceived production value. We decided to check it out.

For awhile it seems like you’re watching two different movies. One one hand you’re watching a foreign film, an Italian thriller, about a private investigator who has a serious heart condition, and he’s on the final case of his life. Simultaneously, you’re watching a domestic film about an investigator debriefing a kidnapping victim. All the while you’re laboring to connect the dots, wondering how is this victim related to the case in Italy?

As you think the pieces are coming together, you might ask, “Wait, why his he discarding an important lead?” Or you might be asking yourself, “Wait, wasn’t that character dead?”

By the time the story comes to its conclusion you might even be asking, “That’s the ending?”

The acting, the cinematography, and the overall production value for this film are top notch. But honestly, it took me about thirty minutes to realize that this movie is also brilliantly written, and I might need to watch it again.

I recommend that you also check it out on Amazon Prime Video.

https://amzn.to/3dzSrfo

Bliss

Bliss is a new film that I stumbled across as I was browsing the “Free for You” category on Prime Video. I allowed the trailer to play, and lacking an immediate thumbs down from my watching partner, I let it play. I don’t care for trailers that give away the whole story, that leave watching the movie just an exercise in filling the gaps. That wasn’t the case here. I was expecting something a little off the beaten path, with some gritty scenes, and then some that seem other-worldly. It was enough to engage my curiosity.

This stars Selma Hayek as Isabel Clemens and Owen Wilson as Greg Wittle.

During the opening scenes, with Greg failing at his customer service job, it was comedy. But then it started getting dark, and very strange by the time the Isabel character was in play. Isabel starts referring to some people as real and others as fake. She is also able to demonstrate some kind of telekinetic ability which is given to her by consuming a mysterious yellow crystal.

I was developing a sinking feeling that this was turning out to be a rip-off of The Matrix. But that feeling faded as it was apparent the telekinetic abilities were somewhat trivial and gave them no power to prevent themselves from ending up at the mercy of the Police. These characters were turning out to be real dirt bags!

Half way into the film I started to feel like I understood the twist. It’s a good one. The true meaning of it all unravels slowly and the ending is satisfying and meaningful.

I really liked it. Why don’t you go check it out yourself on Prime Video.

https://amzn.to/31mQWeR