Star Trek Beyond review podcast

26-Aug-16 10:40 AM by
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Last month saw the release of Star Trek Beyond, the third film in the JJ Abrams / Kelvin / Handsome universe that began with the 2009 reboot and continued in 2013 with Star Trek Into Darkness. Although I was excited for any new live-action media in the Star Trek franchise, I wasn't sure what to expect from this outing. The 2009 film was a welcome and necessary update to the formula, while the 2013 film was mired in too many weird plot devices and allusions. With a new director and scriptwriter, the latter including Simon Pegg ("Scotty"), would Star Trek Beyond prove a fitting closure to what was originally intended to be a trilogy?

Family photo at Star Trek Beyond premiere

The family that treks together!

Yes. Star Trek Beyond was utterly delightful, with a perfect mix of action and character moments. While the 2009 film may've been decried as being too heavy on action, Star Trek Beyond bookends with intense, concentrated action sequences, leaving the middle of the story to focus on pairs of characters: Kirk and Chekhov, Scotty and Jaylah, Spock and Bones, Uhura and Sulu. There was none of the stereotypes or pettiness we saw in Star Trek Into Darkness, instead allowing the characters to demonstrate genuine introspection, growth, and camaraderie.

Whereas I used this blog to dissect the previous two Star Trek films in prose, for Star Trek Beyond, I took to the air with my friend Sabriel Mastin, the only person I know who can out-recollect me on any Star Trek series. We co-opted Polygamer, my biweekly audio podcast about equality and diversity in games, to produce a bonus episode in which we reviewed and raved about the movie. Give it a listen:

On a personal note, I saw Star Trek Beyond opening weekend with the KansasFest 2016 crew. Conspicuously missing was my father, who had passed away just a few months earlier. He's the one who got me into Star Trek in the first place, and we'd seen the last six films together in theaters. It was tough to sit through this film without him… but a week later, I saw the movie again with my oldest brother and our mom, for whom this was her first theatrical Star Trek outing. Although she's not as mired in Trek lore as some, she nonetheless found the film exciting to watch and was glad she went.

There's talk of a fourth film with this crew (though sadly, without Chekhov, in memory of the late Anton Yelchin; and without Ambassador Spock, in memory of Leonard Nimoy). I'm eager to spend the intervening years continuing to bring my mom up to speed in time to better enjoy the Enterprise's next voyage!

Unboxing Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-Ray

05-Apr-16 9:00 AM by
Filed under Star Trek; 3 comments.

In 2010, I bought the complete box set of Star Trek: The Next Generation on DVD. It was an indulgence I'd long lusted after, and once I finally had it… it sat in its box, unopened and unwatched.

A year later, I bought my first Blu-Ray player and began lusting after a new prize: The Next Generation in high definition. I blogged at that time about the significant work the studio had done to remaster this classic television series, and theatrical screenings of highlights of each updated season were proof that my dusty old DVDs fell short. I sold the old box set to a friend last fall but left its space open on my shelf for a high-def replacement.

The only thing keeping me from buying the complete series (again) was that each of the seven seasons was available individually only; there was no box set collecting the entire run at a more affordable price. Such a set was announced just yesterday: Star Trek: The Next Generation — The Complete Series: Epik Pack launches on June 7 for $208.99.

But I didn't know that a month ago, which is when I felt the itch to splurge. Some online searches unearthed an alternative to waiting for a domestic release: Amazon.co.uk sells a complete box set of region-free Blu-Ray discs for only £66, or roughly $100 USD including shipping. Such a deal! I was sold.

The result of my purchases recently arrived and, just in time for today being First Contact Day, is the subject of my latest unboxing video:

I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my father; this box set, ordered while he was still alive, arrived two weeks later, the day after his funeral. Rather than being a melancholy reminder of our time together, it's serving as the surprising foundation for a new relationship: my mother has now expressed an interest in discovering Star Trek, which she never paid much attention to before. I thought I'd lost my Star Trek buddy and am astonished and thrilled to find I have a new partner with whom to share these voyages. Her introductory episode was "The Inner Light", after which we're going back to the first season and progressing chronologically through these episodes that focus on human-interest stories:

This box set was a perfect purchase at a time it was most needed. I look forward to boldly going through my first Star Trek, seeing it as never before, sharing it for the first time with my mom.

Darth Santa

24-Dec-15 9:30 AM by
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Tis the season to believe in the Force. Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrived in theaters last week and smashed all opening weekend box office records. I knew it was a cultural phenomenon, but it was a small thing that made me realize how deeply it had penetrated into our awareness: this sign on my state's highway.

The Force Awakens is a fantastic movie that made me have all the feels: I was exuberant, joyful, angry, anguished, and excited. I loved every moment I spent watching it. After having some time to absorb and reflect on the experience, I am a little disappointed in the direction they took the script. But that does nothing to diminish what a stellar film it is, and it leaves me eager to see if those decisions are followed through in the pending sequels.

Episode VII is the first Star Wars movie to be released in a month other than May. Does that make it a Christmas movie? Probably not, but certainly it's a holiday season movie, with families gathering to enjoy time away from work and school at the movie theater.

But the characters of Star Wars aren't necessarily people you want to be with on Christmas morning. In fact, I might rather a visit from Krampus than Darth Vader:

By the time of Episode VII, Darth Vader is well and truly dead — but true villainy is timeless, and no matter what comes of this new trilogy, we'll always remember our first Sith.

(Full disclosure: I support Corridor Digital on Patreon.)

In Memory of Leonard Nimoy

03-Mar-15 8:48 PM by
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It's been hard to come to terms with the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the actor who brought Star Trek's half-Vulcan science officer to life and created a cultural phenomenon that would persist for generations — including within my own family.

My father introduced me to Star Trek when The Next Generation premiered in 1987. At that age, I didn't understand that different people led different lives, and I went to school the next day thinking all my classmates had watched it, too. I spent my recess talking about Star Trek to anyone on the playground who would listen, nonplussed when they weren't as excited as I was. It wasn't until years later that I learned of IDIC — Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations: that differences are to be not just tolerated, but celebrated. Decades after discovering Star Trek, I've grown deeply curious about those differences, interviewing people every week to learn about their lives and experiences, so that I never again make that same lunchtime assumption I did in second grade.

My earliest memory of Leonard Nimoy was watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture on VHS with my family. When Spock first beams aboard the Enterprise, whereas Kirk and McCoy are happy to see him, Spock is unmoved by seeing his old crewmates. I asked my parents what was wrong with him, and rather than try to explain the alien suppression of emotions, they just said that Spock didn't remember his friends.

But Vulcan's emotions run deep and hot: they feel everything humans do, even more so, which is why they can't allow themselves to be ruled by their feelings, lest they run amok. I was raised in a family that did not celebrate such passions, so, like Spock, I kept mine reined in. I learned the hard way that it's better to embrace one's humanity… something that Spock at times struggled to understand himself.



Spock wasn't the only one with an identity crisis. I'm too young to remember Nimoy's efforts to break typecasting, which may be for the best: while I try to acknowledge actors' lesser-known works, Nimoy was always Spock to me. And unlike some actors who fade from the limelight, Nimoy always seemed to be doing something special, whether it was as silly as a Priceline commercial, as fun as directing Three Men and a Baby as invisible as voicing a Transformers villain or narrating a video game, as meaningless as singing a silly song, or as meaningful as advocating for diversity in body types. While I may've believed Spock had forgotten his friends, it was impossible for us to forget Spock. It felt like Leonard Nimoy would always be there; waking up on Saturday to a world without him was hard.

I never got to meet Leonard Nimoy. The closest opportunity I had was a Boston convention in November 2009, but I was at a Star Wars concert narrated by Anthony Daniels instead. It was a similar venue in which I did finally see Leonard Nimoy, though: he narrated the Boston Pops' "Out of This World" concert this past May. No one in the audience, least of all me, imagined it was Nimoy's last May in his final trip around the sun.

That concert was a homecoming for Nimoy, being born and raised right in the heart of Boston. He often lent his sonorous voice to his hometown, narrating not just the Boston Pops but also the Boston Museum of Science's Omni Mugar theater. As a student and teacher, child and adult, I've been to the MoS many times; Leonard Nimoy is my earliest memory of it.

Now all we have are memories and Nimoy's exhaustive library of art. There have been and will be other Spocks, of course — most notably Zachary Quinto, but also other incarnations across many fan films, and the continuing voyages of the starship Enterprise in novels and other media. But there never will be another Leonard Nimoy.

It's been less than a week, and I miss him already.
The Joy of Tech comic… The Federation remembers

I may not have properly expressed or acknowledged, even to myself, Nimoy's importance. I've been going to Apple conventions my entire life, but it wasn't until 2013 that I attended my first Star Trek convention. But both Apple and Star Trek have been fundamental in informing my outlooks and philosophies.


Celebrities aren't my only heroes, but celebrities can help me get to know my heroes. Star Trek is something I've shared with my father ever since TNG's debut. We've been at the opening night of each of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movies. I hesitantly mark our time together by these milestones, knowing that the same COPD that claimed Nimoy now stalks my father. As a friend of mine recently put it, "Time will take all the people I look up to."
Star Trek Into Darkness opening night

Live long and prosper…


But we are fortunate to have had Leonard Nimoy grace us for 83 wonderful years. From wherever he came, he has returned. We salute him and his many contributions to art, science, and humanity. Thank you for so many adventures and missions.


Hailing frequencies closed.


Looking Back at 2014

04-Jan-15 9:01 AM by
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Happy New Year! It's been four years since I took this opportunity to reflect on the past year of movies, so I have some catching up to do!

For about a decade, my moviegoing was stable at 10–16 outings a year. I've never been one for Hulu or Netflix, so anything I didn't catch in theaters, I'd either borrow on DVD from the library or miss entirely. But lately, my habits have changed:

2014 year in review

Not since I was in college have I gone to the movies as often as I did in 2014! What changed? I attribute this uptick to several causes, in order:

  1. This was my first full year living in Boston. I now have easy access to so many theaters that it's easy to hop on a bus or subway and see one after work or on a weekend.
  2. Likewise, I also have easier access to friends who live in Boston, where I went to grad school. Many of them don't have cars but can use public transit to coordinate outings. More invitations to the movies equals more movies.
  3. The Brattle Theatre, a non-profit theater in Harvard Square. It has only one screen and generally shows a different film every day, ranging from classics to indies to regional debuts. I'm a patron of the Brattle, which grants me a dozen free tickets a year. Darned if I'm going to let them go to waste! However, this also means not every movie I saw in 2014 was necessarily a 2014 release, such as Labyrinth and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
  4. RiffTrax Live. The creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000 have kicked up the number of live-streaming comedic commentary events, with four in 2014 alone. I backed two of them via Kickstarter, so of course I was going to see my name up in lights!

Having gone to the theaters so many times, I thought the competition for best films of the year would be stiffer, but the choices are fairly obvious — especially if you like children's films: Frozen (which technically came out in 2013), The Lego Movie (essentially a retelling of The Matrix), and Big Hero 6, which I liken to a cross between How to Train Your Dragon and The Incredibles. All three films were a pure joy, and though there is a place for cinema to be challenging and address dark or difficult subjects, I felt like these movies made moviegoing fun, while featuring believable characters and some plot twists that elevated them above being insubstantial tripe.

I'm not going to make predictions for 2015. The last time I offered predictions, they included promises that I would not be seeing X-Men: First Class or the Footloose remake. I ended up seeing and thoroughly enjoying both! So enjoy whatever the year has to offer. Showbits' official debut was eight years ago this month, and though my energy for blogging has mostly been directed elsewhere, theatergoing is still a big part of my life. I look forward to sharing those experiences with you for years to come!

A Muppet Family Christmas for all of us

24-Dec-14 9:30 AM by
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Today is Christmas Eve, which for many means a gathering of loved ones. If you never strayed far from home, like me, then this ritual may feel almost rote. But if you are far-flung, then this return to your roots can be special — a small window of time in which whatever's been missing from your life is once again present.

I miss the many holiday traditions I had as a kid. Whether it's the sense of wonder and mystery, or the love that family showers upon each other, both are absent now. But I sometimes feel a lingering trace of those magical times when I see tried-and-true holiday specials again making the rounds.

One of my favorites was A Muppet Family Christmas. Like an actual holiday, this 1987 TV special has no real plot beyond the joys, hijinks, and insanity that ensue when many people who are very different but yet still care for each other try to fit into one place. The tenderness all the characters have for each other is obvious — but what made this movie really special was the special appearance of the residents of Sesame Street.

I grew up watching Sesame Street and never understood — still don't, actually — why the only crossover between that cast and the Muppets was Kermit the Frog. This Christmas special finally broke down that wall and united the two families like old friends. That the celebration happens at Doc's house, the set of Jim Henson's other show, Fraggle Rock, made it all the more magical.

There are many people I won't be seeing at this or any future Christmas, and I miss them dearly. But in this brief holiday special, we can always count on all our friends, no matter the neighborhood, to show up and wish each other, and us, a merry Christmas.

Halt and Catch Fire adds sizzle to PC history

11-Jul-14 10:56 AM by
Filed under Reviews, Television; 2 comments.

In the fifteen years since I cancelled my cable service, the television landscape has changed: "reality TV" was invented, medical and legal procedural dramas boomed, and HDTV became the norm. So it was interesting to watch and review the AMC series Halt and Catch Fire for Computerworld. Not being an AMC subscriber, I bought a season pass for the first four episodes on Amazon Instant Video and paid for the fifth episode individually.

It's hard to judge any show by its early episodes — I doubt any of the various Star Trek series would've lasted long by that metric. So I tried to keep my critical eye at bay for the first few episodes, which was not easy. The three main characters — Joe MacMillian (Lee Pace), Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) — are trying to develop one of the first IBM clones of 1983, but their subterfuge and machinations, with both corporations and each other. I roll my eyes at such drama for the same reason that I stopped watching soap operas. MacMillian, who physically reminds me of a cross between John Cusack and Andy Garcia, is a vile businessman who oozes deceit and smarm. He's a character you love to hate.

Halt and Catch Fire

Lee Pace as Joe MacMillian. What a jerk.


But there are some really nice moments of character development, too. Clark, the show's Steve Wozniak-like character, struggles to realize his dream of creating the ultimate computer and will hitch his wagon to whoever can help him get there. At the same time, he's trying to be a good husband and father, though his family clearly isn't his priority.

Overall, I've enjoyed watching the first five episodes and will likely continue watching the series as time permits. For more details, read my full review on Computerworld.com, "Halt and Catch Fire adds sizzle to PC history".

DC superheroes on TV this fall

28-May-14 2:41 PM by
Filed under Television; 3 comments.

Superheroes are cashing in big at the box office — but on television, they're a gamble. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., despite being renewed, has received mixed reviews, while other shows such as The Cape haven't survived a single season. This fall, several shows are taking the bet that they can buck the trend and be a success on the small screen.

Capitalizing on the recent trilogy of Batman movies (and the successful line of Arkham video games), the Dark Knight comes to Fox this fall — though he's a minor character in his own show. Set in Bruce Wayne's youth, shortly after his parents are murdered, Gotham focuses on Detective James Gordon, the officer who would one day be police commissioner, as he investigates crimes and encounters characters such as Harvey Dent, Edward Nygma, and Selina Kyle, years before they become the villains that would haunt the city's night. It's a combination of superhero and police procedural that hopes to last longer than the other show to be set in Gotham and not feature Batman, that being 2002's Birds of Prey, cancelled after just 13 episodes. Check out the trailer for Gotham:

Why is comic book publisher DC capitalizing so heavily on the iconic character of Batman? Lest you think they've forgotten their rich cast of other superheroes, joining Arrow on The CW this fall will be the Scarlet Speedster himself, The Flash:

The FlashLook familiar? This character already had a television run with a 1990 live-action series starring John Wesley Shipp. That incarnation of the Flash lasted only one season and 22 episodes, with the high cost of production cited as a reason for its cancellation. But with special effects now more affordable and accessible than ever, it's not just the Flash that's getting a second chance: Shipp has been cast in a recurring role as the hero's father, Henry Allen. Lightning does strike twice!

I'm more excited about that casting decision than I am about 24-year-old Thomas Gustin as Henry's speedy son, Barry. He seems too young and similar in build to Andrew Garfield, whose second Spider-Man movie debuted earlier this month. I don't know how old Barry was in the comic books when he received his powers, and I'm not opposed to rewriting and adapting the source material — but Tobey Maguire did such a great job of showcasing powers thrust upon the young that I'd like to see a more mature hero in this role.

With Arrow and The Flash on the same network — and set in the same universe, as seen in the above trailer's crossover — is DC positioning itself to create a television pantheon to rival Marvel's silver-screen Avengers? If so, what role will Smallville play in this lineup? Superhero cameos were the norm in that decade-long incarnation of Superman, though the Green Arrow that appeared there is seemingly not the same character who now has his own show. Where will they go from here?

Of course, Marvel isn't going to let DC have all the fun. Complementing the second season of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be a precursor to the agency in Agent Carter, with Hayley Atwell reprising her role from the Captain America films. Based on the Agent Carter one-shot that was released with the Iron Man 3 DVD, the series will be set in 1946, during the post-WWII founding of S.H.I.E.L.D. Whether this show will be like Gotham in the unlikelihood of featuring superheroes, or will be closer to S.H.I.E.L.D. in its encounters with the unknown, remains to be seen.

Movies take only two hours to judge, but as fans of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Joss Whedon know, television shows can take years to mature and for characters to develop Let's hope these superhero spinoffs get that chance.

(Hat tip to Charlie Jane Anders via Gene Demaitre)