Star Trek: Discovery (Episodes 3-5)

Episode 3: Context Is for Kings

Synopsis

Six months into her life sentence, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green), is on a prison transfer when her shuttle is rescued by the USS Discovery during an emergency. After a few days onboard, Burnham is ordered by Capt. Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), to assist with a scientific assignment. Burnham overhears Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp- a Broadway darling), the officer leading the assignment, discuss an upcoming experiment with a colleague serving on another starship. Lorca is soon informed of an incident on the Discovery‘s sister ship, the USS Glenn, that has killed the entire crew. Stamets leads a boarding party to investigate and finds the dead crew w/ their bodies badly twisted; a group of Klingons were also killed. There is a frightening new alien onboard the Glenn which we’ve never seen before in the Star Trek universe. Lorca later asks Burnham to work for him, explaining that he organized the circumstances that led her to him; she could help develop a new propulsion system (spore-based) that could win the war (which she started by killing T’Kuvma). He also secretly has the deadly creature transported aboard.

Review

OK, trekkers (I prefer this term), this ep is where the series really gets started! We actually get to see the state-of-the-art ship (Discovery) and its enigmatic (some have used the terms “shady” and “warmongering”) captain. Lorca is named for the 19th century’s Spanish/openly gay poet (FYI: I did a report on him, in an advanced Spanish class in college, and got applause). What’s up w/ Isaacs’ Southern accent? Well, the British character actor made that decision (along w/ producers, no doubt) b/c he didn’t want to compete w/ the memory of TNG’s Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart). Suffice it to say, Lorca is NOT like any other Starfleet captain we’ve seen before!

Looks like Burnham is an outcast, esp. among her former Shenzhou crewmates (incl. Lorca’s first officer, Saru). She is referred to as “Starfleet’s first mutineer;” however, we can’t forget the rebellious acts of Tom Paris (TNG/Voyager) and Ro Laren (TNG). Michael has the logic and brains of her Vulcan upbringing (nurture) mixed w/ the emotion and daring of her human biology (nature); Lorca knows that these qualities make her a valuable asset. Some viewers have commented that by-the-book Saru will balance out risk-taker Michael.

Stamets is snarky w/ Michael when he first meets her; we learn that he is a ground-breaking scientist who resents being conscripted for war. What is the deal w/ Cadet Tilly? Some critics felt that she should’ve been on a CW show (if you like those, sorry).  

Episode 4: The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry

Synopsis

Lorca assigns Burnham to study the new creature, referred to as a “Tardigrade,” to find a way to use its biology as a weapon. Starfleet orders Discovery to the dilithium mining colony of Corvan II, which is under Klingon attack. Stamets is reluctant to make such a long jump using the spores, and when the drive is activated, the ship nearly collides with a star. Lorca sends Cmdr Landry (Rekha Sharma from BSG) to keep Burnham’s research on track. When she attempts to sedate the Tardigrade (which she calls “Ripper”) to cut off its claw, it kills her. Burnham believes that Ripper was acting in self-defense, and is drawn to the spores. Stamets and Burnham transport it to Engineering, where it connects to the spore drive and interfaces with the navigation system. The ship makes the jump to Corvan II and saves the colony.

On T’Kuvma’s stranded ship, the red-paint wearing Klingon leader Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) earns the loyalty of T’Kuvma’s desperate followers, and leaves the white-faced Voq (Javed Iqbal) to die in the wreckage of the Shenzhou. L’Rell (Mary Chieffo), secretly loyal to Voq, promises that there a way for them to win the war for the house of T’Kuvma. However, Voq will have to go stay w/ “the matriarchs” of her house and be prepared to “give up everything.”

Review

MANY viewers were disappointed to see Landry (a WOC like Michelle Yeoh) killed off so early in the series (a la Tasha Yar on TNG). Well, Denise Crosby wanted off TNG after one season; she thought it wasn’t going to stifle her career. I really liked Tasha as a character, as did many other critics/viewers. Others called Landry “the stupidest Star Trek character” (b/c she acted so rashly). 

Who’s ready for some (rather tame so far) Klingon romance? Hey, I certainly am (b/c the Star Trek universe has such a lack of love stories, in general)! Mary Chieffo (who I learned is mainly a theater actress) is doing a fine job as L’Rell, esp. considering ALL those heavy prosthetics and costuming. 

Episode 5: Choose Your Pain

Synopsis

After a month of successful operations, Lorca is ordered to protect the spore drive until it can be replicated for other Starfleet ships. As he returns to the Discovery, he is taken captive by the Klingons. Lorca is imprisoned with a captured Starfleet officer, Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), and a criminal, Harcourt “Harry” Fenton Mudd (Rainn Wilson). Lorca eventually reveals that he killed his former crew during battle to spare them from the Klingons’ torture, but he escaped. Lorca is tortured by L’Rell, who wants the secret behind Discovery‘s new (faster) way of travel, but Lorca and Tyler escape before the Klingons can learn anything.

Burnham has grown concerned with the toll that the spore drive was having on Ripper. Along with Stamets’ partner, medical officer Hugh Culbert, Burnham convinces Stamets to find an alternative to run the drive. For the final jump needed to escape the Klingons, with Lorca and Tyler onboard, Stamets connects to the spore drive himself using Ripper’s DNA. Later, Burnham frees Ripper. Stamets’ reflection does not walk away from a mirror when he does. 

Review

The defining factor of Roddenberry’s vision is the optimistic view of the future… Once you lose that, you lose the essence of what Star Trek is. That being said… Star Trek has always been a mirror to the time it reflected and [the topical question now] is how do you preserve and protect what Starfleet is in the weight of a challenge like war and the things that have to be done in war. -Executive producer Alex Kurtzman on the balance between classic Star Trek and new elements in Discovery

OMG, why did they need to resurrect Mudd or ALL characters!? (For ALL the young/ newbie trekkers, check out Mudd’s Women in S1 of TOS. He dresses like a cowboy and ferries brides to miners on distant planets, BUT also has a sinister side.) At first, I thought that this Mudd would be funny, BUT he’s just a cowardly, self-serving jerk. I’m NOT a fan of Rainn Wilson (or his deadpan style of delivery), either, so that doesn’t help. However, Mudd does have a few good lines Starfleet sticking its nose into people’s business (quite true)!  

Hmmm… what do YOU think of the theory (circulating widely among viewers, incl. YouTube critics and podcasters) that Tyler is actually Voq in disguise? He certainly wins the trust and respect of Lorca VERY quickly, b/c he’s willing to put himself in the path of danger for a superior officer. Tyler says he has been imprisoned for 7 mos (since the Battle of the Binary Stars), BUT L’Rell has been captain of this ship for ONLY 3 mos. 

So, is this show set in the mirror universe? MANY critics/viewers think so! More on this later…

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State of the Union (1948) starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, & Angela Lansbury

Introduction

This classic film’s screenplay was adapted from a Broadway play which opened in NOV  1945 and ran for almost 2 yrs. The play won the Pulitzer Prize in 1946. The themes present w/in this tale are a perfect fit for optimistic, first gen Italian-American director, Frank Capra, though I consider it more sophisticated than some of his (more famous) films. The first choices for the leads were Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert, BUT those actors didn’t work out, so Capra brought in Spencer Tracy. Once Colbert was fired (for refusing to work nights), Tracy suggested Hepburn (who has some of the best lines). For ALL of who realize that politics is personal, this is the movie for you

Synopsis

The only heir to a publishing house, Kay Thorndyke (Angela Lansbury- then ONLY 24 y.o.), desperately wants to fulfill her dying father’s ambition of putting a man in the White House. So what if the one who may fit the bill, successful airplane manufacturer Grant Matthews (Spencer Tracy), is VERY reluctant? Kay convinces political strategist Jim Conover (Adolphe Menjou) to groom Matthews for their (Republican) party’s bid. A wise-cracking writer, Spike McManus (Van Johnson), comes along on the trail. It turns out that Grant and his wife, Mary (Katharine Hepburn), have been separated for some time; this is something that the public must NOT know. Mary is more than willing to play the supportive wife, IF this is truly what will help Grant. Does Mary still love Grant? Does Grant  love Kay (their behavior is far from platonic) or Mary? Will Grant accept the party’s nomination? 

Review of the Film

He’s beginning to wonder if there is any difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. -Kay reveals to Jim (seriously) / Now that’s a fine question for a presidential candidate to ask. There’s all the difference in the world. They’re in and we’re out! -Jim replies (w/ exasperation)

This is the type of film you need to see twice to get all the jokes, looks, and little moments (which make it a fine piece of cinema). The straight-shooting Grant is “a man of the people” who is hesitant to water-down his message to fit into the mold of a typical politician. Jim comes to realize that some of Grant’s ideas are too liberal for the party. Mary is NOT only hoping to reconnect w/ her husband, she is disappointed when he gives in to pressure from Jim. 

Kay probably has respect and affection for Grant, BUT what she truly loves is the power that she can yield on a national stage. Lansbury admitted that no special aging makeup was placed on her; she “simple had an air of sophistication” which makes her believable as a confident, strong, middle-aged woman. (She also has the best outfits in the film.) Notice the way Kay orders around her (all-male) editors? Of course, she has to be tough in typically male worlds- publishing and politics. Mary comments that men first admire Kay, then start following her around, and eventually fall in love w/ her. 

You politicians have stayed professionals only because the voters have remained amateurs. -Mary comments to a group of political strategists (during the radio broadcast at the Matthews’ home)

Grant and Mary share a special spark, though disappointed w/ how their relationship turned out. (They have two cute school-aged kids, BUT we don’t hear/see much of them until the big climax scene.) The way that Mary talks about Grant, you realize that she is still crazy about him! She admits to Jim (a cynical old bachelor) that she set up fake dates to make Grant jealous. Jim reminded me a BIT of Tobey from The West Wing. Mary finds a sympathetic ear in Spike, who gains a lot of respect for her, and ends up rooting for the couple to end up together. Spike is an youthful man who likes to act nonchalant, flirting and cracking jokes, BUT also has a good heart (something you see in Capra films). 

Real-Life Politics Behind the Film

At the time the film was released, President Truman had NOT made his political comeback and was considered a sure loser in the 1948 election by many, which is why both the Republican presidential nomination is considered so valuable in the movie. It’s also why Spike McManus is amused when a young secretary tells him (at the start of the film) that she thinks Truman will be elected President in his own right in November.

Menjou was an ultra-right-wing political conservative who had co-operated with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), named names of persons he considered to be Communists and was a strong proponent of “blacklisting.” Hepburn was decidedly more liberal and had been an outspoken critic of the blacklist. Menjou had made several comments accusing Hepburn of being a Communist sympathizer, and possibly a Communist herself, which angered Hepburn and her co-star/romantic partner Tracy. Capra was so concerned about the tension that he closed the set to the press.

Viceroy’s House (2017) starring Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, & Huma Qureshi

SPOILERS: Don’t read this post if you haven’t seen, or don’t want to know, details from this movie (now showing in wide release in the US).

[1] If you saw something similar in a high school world history class it would be interesting and effective. As a theatrical movie it misses the mark.

[2] ...as history, it is inevitably selective. Most glaring is the benign portrait of a compassionate departing colonial power.

[3] It’s interesting to see, but it’s by no means a cinematic masterclass.

[4] What could have been an epic, ends up being too pedestrian. It is this failure in character development which pulls the film down harder than all the other negative factors combined.

[5] A special mention needs to go to Gillian Anderson. Her performance as Lady Mountbatten is wonderful. The received pronunciation was perfect. Her character adds heart, she adds a moral core, to both Lord Mountbatten, and in my eyes, to the film in general.

-Excerpts from reviews on IMDB

I saw this movie (ONLY available in SD- ugh) last night on FIOS On Demand. I had been anticipating it for almost 3 mos, so was VERY excited. (American actor Manish Dayal was posting bits about it on his social media.) I was a big fan of Bend it Like Beckham, British director Gurinder Chadha’s breakout indie hit. I thought her Thanksgiving-themed film (What’s Cooking?) was pretty good. The posters didn’t appeal to me- TOO slick and stereotypical of a historical drama. I liked the trailers that I saw; the high production value was evident (which viewers expect from this caliber of film).

Sadly, Viceroy’s House was NOT what I expected. After it ended, I wondered: “There MUST have been MORE to this film!” It seems edited down (to a mere 1 hr 46 mins); however, it seems longer b/c of it’s plodding nature (at least in the first half). Maybe it needs to be seen on the big screen (for its sheer scope and spectacle)? Or maybe it would’ve been better as a miniseries or movie on HBO (where directors and writers have more creative control)? MANY critics/viewers felt that Hugh Bonneville was miscast as Lord Louis Mountbatten. Hmmm… maybe it’s TOO close to his role as head of Downton Abbey? Gillian Anderson (who plays Lady Edwina) is given some of the best lines in the movie; she does well w/ in her role. (You should check Anderson out in British work, incl. The Fall on Netflix.)

The veteran actors who play Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), Jinnah (Denzil Smith), and Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) do what they can w/ what they are given. Basically, they sit around and debate w/ the Brits on if and how to divide India and the new Muslim majority nation- Pakistan. Some of you know that Gandhi didn’t want India divided; he imagined a land where ALL religions live together in peace (as before the Brits arrived and used their “divide and conquer” strategy to rule). Some Pakistanis were NOT pleased w/ the portrayal of Jinnah, who comes off as duplicitous.

Michael Gambon plays Gen. Ismay, a cold/intimidating man who doesn’t care what happens to the Indian people. He wants to get the boundaries created ASAP and get back to England. Simon Callow ‘s overwhelmed character, Radcliffe, says that it’s impossible to make these decisions in such a short time frame. Ismay finally shows him a plan from 1945 which already lays out exactly how India and Pakistan should be divided (NOT sure how accurate this is in reality)!

The recently deceased international Indian actor, Om Puri, has a small, yet effective/touching role. (He played Dayal’s father in The Hundred-Foot Journey). In this film, Puri plays Ali Rahim Noor, the blind/elderly father of Aalia (Pakistani actress Huma Qureshi), the Muslim woman who has captured the heart of Dayal’s character, Jeet Kumar. Ali Rahim was a political prisoner in the jail where Jeet worked for 2 yrs as a guard. Now, Jeet is a manservant (alongside his Sikh friend, Duleep Singh) for Mountbatten. As Dayal has said, Jeet represents the Hindu perspective in the film. He is an earnest/optimistic young man who feels that his destiny is to marry Aalia.

One of the servants (among 500+ in the viceroy’s household) who stirs up trouble is Mohsin (Samrat Chakraborti, an American actor/musician whose career I’ve been following since 2005). He also has a crucial role in Midnight’s Children (check Netflix to see if it’s still available). Another pleasant surprise is the original music by A.R. Rahman, an internationally recognized composer. I thought he did a esp. fine job in the last section of the film, when we see large crowds of refugees streaming into the palatial estate.

Related Videos

Two (differing) reviews of the film

BBC interview w/ Chadha (12:16)

BUILD Series interview w/ Chadha & Ghani (34:29)