Category Archives: Movies and TV

Peter Falk

I’m sure a million postings have been made today in remembrance of Peter Falk, but, given the place he and his character holds in my memory of my childhood, I thought I’d add one more.

I don’t have the best memory, barely remembering what I did yesterday, much less much from my childhood.  But I do remember a time when my parents had a very small TV — smaller than the monitor of my Airbook — in their bedroom.  Black and white, if I remember right.  And I remember all of us — my parents, my brothers and me — squeezing into their bed late at night (for little kids, anyways) and watching a bit of TV.  And I remember my favorite show being Columbo.  I don’t remember any episodes and barely remember the characters, but I do remember the guy in the trench coat solving mysteries.  And I remember thinking it the greatest thing.  Columbo and The Rockford Files were my two favorite shows.

Looking back and seeing an occasional rerun now and then, Columbo still holds up.  The character Peter Falk created is just great.  The guy no one thinks is at all competent, but is really the smartest guy around, unassumingly solving crimes while those around him don’t realize he is doing it.  I tried to get my wife to watch an episode of The Rockford Files a few years ago and it sure felt dated, especially Jim Rockford’s attitude towards women.  But, I expect Columbo would hold up a lot better.

They were talking about Peter Falk on NPR on the way home today.  They mentioned he had a glass eye and he used that to great affect to create the bemused and sometime befuddled expressions Columbo had.

There seem to be a lot of shows from my youth — Columbo, MASH, and, yes, even The Rockford Files — that had great characters and, to me, just aren’t matched today in quality.  Maybe I’m becoming that grumpy old man that will soon be saying “Back in the old days…” But, it really does seem that they just made them better back then.



Lisa and I went on our first date in on the order of three years, leaving our daughter in the care of a friend.  We decided to spend our evening with dinner and a movie, and the movie we opted for was Inception.

I’m not much of a DiCaprio fan, and my fiction leanings tend more towards fantasy than science-fiction.  However, this is the type of sci-fi story that I do enjoy, one where the pseudo-science is used as background for the story and not as the entire crux.  Here, the pseudo-science is that people can enter the dreams of others, either extracting or, in the very rare case that is the premise of the moving, implanting ideas and information.  DiCaprio’s job is to plant a new idea in the mind of his employer’s rival.

I found the world that Nolan, the director, created to be both rich and believable.   (From what I understand, the plot was his idea, something he’s been working on for the better part of 10 years; he was more than just the director.)  The real world is our world — the technological level is the same as ours.  The only big difference is this ability to enter and manipulate dreams.  As a result, all of the fantastic occurs in the mind.  The special effects convey this fantastic world to a marvelous degree, though not outlandishly as sometimes our dreams can be.  This is especially true in the scenes in the second dream level when gravity disappears.

Overall, I enjoyed the plot.  It made sense within the context of the rules of Nolan’s universe.  The ways the different dream levels interacted both with each other and the real world also made sense, as did the potential for getting lost in dream world.  Overall, the world Nolan created and the rules that dictated how it behaved seemed self-consistent.  There weren’t major points that just didn’t work within the confines of the universe.

Probably just as enjoyable as the plot were the characters.  All of the actors did a great job with their characters.  Even though most didn’t have much time to get fleshed out, they still were quirky and hinted at rich backstories that seemed intriguing.  Each actor brought his or her A-game to these roles and made the film that much more enjoyable.

So, not much to say with regard to specific points in the plot, to avoid spoiling it for anyone.  I would just say that I greatly enjoyed the film and would recommend it.

Lost Musings

Warning: Spoilers follow.

I’m not a Lostie.  I didn’t watch any of the first season.  But my wife got into it and eventually I started watching to, catching maybe half of the remaining episodes, enjoying them enough that I was into the characters and the storyline.  Maybe not as much as some who watched from the beginning, but enough to look forward to the episodes I could catch.

I understand that the writers, from what they’ve said, view Lost as a character-driven show.  And there were characters I enjoyed, most of all Daniel Faraday, Sayid, and John Locke.  The writers emphasize this because they know that those who are into the show because of the mythology were going to be disappointed.

And, I, being one of those that was more interested in the mythology, was disappointed by Lost’s end.  The final episode was all about the characters and not at all about the mythology.  Not a single new insight was revealed.  The writers state that the mythology doesn’t matter, that the show was always about the characters.  I don’t buy it.  The mythology — the mystery of the island — was the hook that gave Lost that unique spin at the beginning.  The characters were extremely important, but so too was the island itself.  And nothing was revealed about what the island was.  Based on what Jack’s dad said, we can infer that the island was a real place.  And the fact that characters came to the island and left again for the outside world also implies that the island was a real place in the real world.  However, how does a place with the strange properties of the island exist in the real world?  What does it represent?  Where did it come from?  How does it have the properties it does?  Whether pseudo-science or magic, the island was not something of the normal world.  What was it exactly?

The more I’ve dwelt on it, the more I wondering if there was no real rhyme or reason to the island.  Things were just random.  Strangeness comes and goes with no explanation.  The time travel was central for a while, but then it was dropped, especially the whole time-works-differently meme that Faraday explored.  I missed the polar bear, but that seems to have never come up again.  The temple seems to be another example of this.  It almost feels that the island was one big Duex Ex Machina who’s only purpose was to throw obstacles into the characters’ ways, to cause confrontation.  I’ve seen others wonder the same.  I don’t mind that random things happen to the characters.  That’s the way life is.  But, there has to be order to what can happen.  Lost didn’t have that.

In my opinion, the mythology of the show is just not self-consistent or fleshed out, probably not even to the writers.  If you create a world for your characters to play in, it should be the first rule that you make the rules of the world consistent, that they have some logic and reason behind them.  They don’t have to have anything to do with our world, and can involve magic or super-science, but they have to have order to them.  The mythology of the island doesn’t seem to.  Why was it so bad for the Man in Black to leave the island?  What would happen?  What would happen if the island had been destroyed?  These fundamental questions to the show’s premise were never even touched upon.

I’m also annoyed, as I was with Battlestar Galactica, that, in the end, the struggle between faith — embodied by John Locke — and science/reason — personified by Jack Shephard — ended with faith essentially winning out.  Jack embraces the mystical of the island, embraces the destiny that John had always told him was there, and becomes the protector of the island, on faith.  And the last scene is nothing except a homage to faith and an afterlife.  Reason loses out, just as it did in Battlestar Galactica.

Overall, what I did watch about Lost I enjoyed.  I especially liked the story-telling devices: the flashbacks, the flash-forwards, and the flash-sideways.  I liked that there was no black and white, that even the most despised characters — Linus and the Man in Black — were nuanced characters with motivation (though the Man in Black became pretty one-dimensional at the end).  There was a lot of positive to the show.  But, there was enough negative that left me overall disappointed with the end result.

Maybe the writers do have a coherent idea of what the mythology of their world is.  If they do, I didn’t see it.

Star Trek, reimagined

Hollywood has a hard time coming up with new things, it seems, and they are constantly revisiting old ideas that were successful in the past.  It seems that most of the time the retoolings of those past shows, whether for the big or small screen, are pretty spectacular failures or, at best, luke warm, middle-of-the-road outings.  However, Star Trek follows in the vein of the recent Battlestar Galactica and is a truely great and fitting tribute to the original.

Lisa and I saw the new Star Trek today, the first movie I’ve seen in the theater since our daughter was born.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but I’d heard good things and was excited.  That said, I’m not a huge trekkie and definitely not a big fan of most sci fi, as I’ve mentioned before.  I tend more towards fantasy.  The sci fi I do enjoy tends to be the gritty, dark stuff, like Battlestar Galactica or Neuromancer.  Star Trek definitely does not fit in this vein, as it is an essentially optimistic universe.  However, I did enjoy the original series, with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the others.  And the movies that featured that cast.  However, the later series felt flat to me.  I never much liked The Next Generation or Voyager, though I found Deep Space 9 enjoyable enough.

I’m not sure exactly what about the first series I enjoy, but maybe it was the younger point of view I watched it from.  Or, the fact that it didn’t take itself so seriously.  The first series had more than its share of camp.  But, the adventures the crew had were also outrageous, encountering Apollo and the other Greek gods and being transported to the past in the era of gangsters.  I think it was that swashbuckling attitude that I enjoyed.  The sci fi was just a vehicle for entertaining stories.  It wasn’t the story itself.  The later series, in my mind, got too serious, took the sci fi too far and made it the focal point of the story.

The new movie does the original series proud.  There are flashy sci fi elements there just for the sake of being there (such as the police on their hover jets), but overall, they serve to advance the story.  As in the original, it is the characters that drive the story and all of the major originals are there.  We learn how they all meet one another and the side characters, such as Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu, are all given more prominent roles and thus personalities than in the original show.

The plot is, for the most part, strong, though I found the focus on Spock a bit of a stretch, though maybe these kinds of vendettas are all to common in our own world.  Even though you know that everyone will survive, there is still the suspense of how will they survive, how will they get out of their current jam.

And there are lots of nods to the original series, most obviously the signature lines of each character, but others as well that I’m sure I missed (Lisa pointed out that the only time Pike was seen in the original series, he was in a wheel chair).

I also liked how time travel was dealt with in the story.  Instead of paradoxes and the such, it just led to an alternative time line.  That means the creators are free to go in a completely different direction than all that came before, essentially rebooting the franchise.  Some might feel this is a cop-out, but I think it is a great way of building on what came before without being burdened by it and having the freedom to tell those stories they wish.

Finally, the special effects are spectacular and, like all of the good Star Trek movies, the villain is a real menace.  How far he goes for his revenge is just amazing, and it is also a shock how far the creators went in showing how bad the bad guy really is.

One funny, personal moment.  Lisa commented, during the scene where young Spock is being talked to by his dad after being in a fight, that he looked like I did when I was a kid.  Later, when Spock does his signature eye brow raise, she made the further point that that I do the same thing and that maybe I have a lot in common with Spock.

In the end, I highly recommend Star Trek.

Final thoughts on the finale of Battlestar Galactica

Warning!  You might not want to read this if you haven’t seen the final episode of Battlestar Galactica, as this post might contain spoilers!

It has been a while now since Battlestar Galactica concluded, but it has taken me that long to get a chance to write what I thought about the show and the ending.

When the show premiered, I wasn’t initially interested.  I remembered watching the original when I was a kid, but it seemed, in retrospect, a bit hokie and I wasn’t sure I was all that interested in a revival.  My wife, Lisa, though, got into it and eventually got me to watch too.  And I’m glad I did.

I really enjoyed the show.  I’m not much a fan of science fiction, mostly because it never feels all that true to science.  Being in science, I always have a hard time suspending my disbelief with sci/fi; it is much easier for me to do so with fantasy.  However, the one genre of sci/fi I really like is cyberpunk, the near-future, post-apocalyptic vision of a dystopian future.  And Battlestar Galactica (BG) had that feel to me.  The sci/fi wasn’t the focus, but was rather the vehicle for the story.  It was the politics that drew me in, that and the characters.  Their interactions.  That was why I tuned in every week.

So, what about the finale?  I certainly enjoyed the first half.  The big space battle between the BG itself and the Cylon colony was extremely well done and entertaining.  And, upon reflecting on it, I didn’t mind the second half, the way they ended the story.  There were two aspects, though, that did get to me.

There was a strong message that technology was the source of a lot of the problems of both the humans and cylons, and by extension, us as well.  I can understand how people blame technology for the problems around us.  While I don’t think those problems are unique to our modern, technological era, I think that technology may exacerbate some of those problems, making issues like deforestation that much more pressing as we are able to clear out so many more trees at a time with modern tools.  However, there are also so many benefits (improved health, the chance for everyone to do what they want with their life as opposed to being a serf on a farm, the marvelous leaps and bounds we’ve made in understanding the universe around us) that I just can’t accept technology as a pure evil.  And that was one of the messages I got from the finale.  The way for the humans and cylons to continue their existence was to abandon their science and technology and start fresh.

The second was that religion was the answer.  Religion is what guided these characters to the new Earth, saved them in the end via Starbuck’s miraculous understanding of what the song was supposed to mean, and has been what has guided two of the main characters from the beginning, through angels.  That religion played such a strong role at the end, and was entirely positive, just struck me wrong.  In my opinion, religion has been responsible for just as much wrong in our world as has science and technology.  Maybe even more so, as the people who have committed those wrongs in the name of their religion did so with the moral certainty that can only be gained via blind faith.

Even so, I did enjoy how the characters ended up. I liked how their personal stories ended.  And it was a way to end the show such that there was no possibility of a sequel or a continuation (though, for all we know, there is another ship of humans adrift in the depths of space).  I just didn’t like how the universe of the show ended, with such a blatant moral message: science is the source of our problems, religion is the answer.  I think that is a disservice to the audience, a simplistic assertion that I personally believe is wrong.