Category: 5 Favorites Redux

5 Favorites Redux #43: Films from Actors With Weekend Releases

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

This week, rather than highlight one specific actor with a film in release, I figured I’d pick up five actors with new movies coming out over the weekend. In Unhinged, Oscar winner Russell Crowe terrorizes a young woman who cuts him off in traffic as he harasses and pursues her on the roads. Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver leads the cast of Stage Mother, a film about a conservative mother discovering that her dead son has a drag bar that needs to be run. She is supported by Lucy Liu as her son’s best friend. Finally, we have Ethan Hawke starring in Tesla, a film about the legendary inventor and electrical engineer whose ideas were stolen and repurposed for profit by Thomas Edison, the well known patent thief of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Kyle McLachlan plays Edison.

These five actors while not having sufficient titles between them to make a full list in my opinion, each have at least one noteworthy film worth celebrating.

Click here to continue reading this article

5 Favorites Redux #42: Favorite Bruce Dern Films

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

Having worked on several westerns and suspense thrillers in his early career throughout the 1960s and 1970s, his first Oscar nomination came for his supporting performance in 1978’s Coming Home, a Vietnam War era romantic drama where he plays the deployed husband of Jane Fonda’s character as she falls in love with a paraplegic played by Jon Voight.

At home in both drama and comedy, Dern worked under legendary directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Sydney Pollack, Roger Corman, Sam Peckinpah, and John Frankenheimer as well as modern icons who will be considered legends in cinema’s future (if they aren’t already) such as Quentin Tarantino and Alexander Payne, the latter of whom directed the film that brought him his second Oscar nomination: Nebraska.

This weekend, Dern plays a supporting role in Ravage, a film about a nature photographer who had suffered through a harrowing event that the police refuse to take seriously. The film has been up and down the release schedule with one source saying it opens this weekend and another saying it won’t open until May of next year. If it doesn’t release this weekend, that really isn’t a problem as it won’t change my decision to highlight his career and my favorite films of his below.
Click here to continue reading this article

5 Favorites Redux #41: Favorite Donald Sutherland Films

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

85-year-old actor Donald Sutherland has shown no sign of slowing down. Before we tell you about his latest role or my favorite films, let’s start at the beginning. Sutherland’s first credited screen role came in 1964 horror feature Castle of the Living Dead. He then went on to star in a handful of Hammer horror films before landing a role as Vernon Pinkley in The Dirty Dozen. From there, he went on to star in Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H, which elevated his career, leading to numerous important roles throughout the 1970s.

After his Golden Globe-nominated performance in Ordinary People, his ability to draw top tier scripts faded and outside of the occasional film like A Dry White Season, he didn’t have a major starring role until his supporting turn in Oliver Stone’s JFK. From there, he’s had a fairly solid career ever since.

Sutherland co-stars in this weekend’s release The Burnt Orange Heresy as a celebrated painter who becomes the subject of a high-stakes art theft. Of the myriad films I’ve seen of Sutherland’s, I chose the following five to highlight, not because they were his best performances (some could argue for Klute or a number of other films), but because they were films that stayed with me longer.

Click here to continue reading this article

5 Favorites Redux #40: Favorite Clive Owen Films

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

English actor Clive Owen spent most of the 1990s as a regular figure on stage and television in the United Kingdom. Although his first Hollywood feature came in 1996, it wasn’t until the early 2000s, that he became more familiar to American and worldwide audiences with appearances in Gosford Park and The Bourne Identity. From there, his star rose briefly with an Oscar-nominated supporting role in 2004’s Closer and a leading turn in Children of Men before blending back into the background with minor roles and films that hardly played to his strengths.

This coming weekend, Owen has a supporting role in The Informer, a film with a release date that keeps shifting, not just because of the pandemic. In recognition of his career, I chose five of my favorite films that he’s been in.

Click here to continue reading this article

5 Favorites Redux #39: Favorite Community Alumni Films

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

For five seasons, Dan Harmon’s Community entertained and delighted audiences (who could find it on television as NBC kept changing its mind on the show’s prospects). It was one of the best written comedies of recent memory. This week, two alums from the show, Alison Brie and Danny Pudi, have new releases coming out. Brie co-stars in The Rental, Dave Franco’s directorial debut, as part of two couples who rent a large house for a weekend getaway and find their lives in danger. Pudi co-stars in Babysplitters, a comedy about two couples who decide to have a baby together so that each person can enjoy their anticipated favorite aspects of raising a child and let others take care of the more difficult aspects.

Having such a rare opportunity to see what the series regulars have been up to since the show’s cancellation, I thought I would look back at the best films from the cast of Community. I looked at the resumes of Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Pudi, Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Donald Glover, Chevvy Chase, Ken Jeong, and Jim Rash. While many of them have extensive television credits, only one of them (Chase) has made a successful career on the big screen. Still, I managed to cobble together enough to highlight five films. Four of the actors, Brie, Glover, Jeong, and Chase, had lead or small parts in their films that I’ve chosen to highlight. The other five either had nothing worth mentioning (Jacobs) or had bit parts in the rest. Ultimately, I eliminated McHale in his feature debut in Spider-Man 2, Pudi in his bit part in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Brown in Dreamgirls where she played a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it secretary. The final selection was from Rash who played a bit part in a film that deserves more attention than the other three, which is why I chose that picture. Here’s my list.

Click here to continue reading this article

5 Favorites Redux #38: Favorite Udo Kier Films

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

German character actor Udo Kier has appeared in over 100 films since his first appearance as a young boy in the short film Road to Saint Tropez. Since then, he’s appeared in films by some of the most prominent directors in world cinema, including films by Gus Van Zant, Lars von Trier, Werner Herzog, Dario Argento, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder to name a few. With such a prolific resume, it’s easy to find great films to highlight in a series like this.

And why exactly have I chosen Kier? He has a role in this coming weekend’s release of The Painted Bird. The five I ultimately selected are an eclectic bunch with a surprising three titles from von Trier, with roles spanning multiple genres and in both small and bit parts. Regardless, his impressive filmography bears examination and these are the titles I’ve selected. As an added bit of trivia, the seventy-five-year-old Kier was finally invited to join the Academy this year, 54 years after his cinematic debut.

Click here to continue reading this article

5 Favorites Redux #37: Favorite Films Featuring James Cromwell

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

There were two actors in films coming out this weekend that I could have conceivably done an article on. J.K. Simmons has had a solid career with five films I could have highlighted, but that seemed unfair to only have five to choose from. James Cromwell, on the other hand, who I first became familiar with for his supporting role in Murder by Death, has had several other films I would consider for this feature. When picking my five favorites of his, I didn’t go with performance, I went with films that I either enjoyed or which had a major impact on my impressions of him as an actor. I narrowed the list of potential films to reference to seven.

Ultimately, having to shave off two films ended up being a bit easier than expected. The People vs. Larry Flynt came off first because I couldn’t even recall him being in the film. The second, though slightly more difficult decision, was to remove The Artist, a film that he was such a minor part of that including him seemed like a cheat. In the end, only five remained and they are specified below. Two of these films I’ve highlighted numerous times, one I know I’ve selected previously, while the other two I haven’t specified very often at all. Apart from the first film in the list, it’s very interesting that the remaining four all happened one year after the other.

Click here to continue reading this article

5 Favorites Redux #36: Favorite Star Trek: Enterprise Episodes

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

As I sat down to watch the sixth and final Star Trek series from the filmic-pre-reboot era, I fully expected the show to end up at the bottom of the list and after the mediocre first two seasons, my opinion became fairly certain. Then something changed in the third season. It wasn’t the studio’s forced push to bring more action to the show that finally made it get good, it’s that it shifted writing wise as well. At first, going from the entirely episodic first two seasons to the season-long storyline of the third made for a jolting experience and I was initially hesitant to accept it.

While I ended the third season frustrated with a lot of the showrunners’ decisions, I ultimately felt the show had turned a corner, but the finale of the third season and the first two episodes of the fourth, and final, season gave me pause. It tackled Nazism in more straight-forward terms than any of the prior series. Yet, the episodes felt entirely derivative, which wasn’t a good sign for the show. The first two episodes ended well enough, but again they weren’t as good as I would have wanted. Yet, after that, the series took a much grander, bolder, and more compelling turn, one that helped point towards the ultimate founding of the United Federation of Planets and with numerous multi-part episodes to cap off the series, the end result was decidedly more enticing.

When I first started working on this project, I decided to rate all of the episodes on a four-star scale. No series started off so poorly on an average of these ratings than Enterprise, which didn’t have its first four-star episode until the final episode of season 1. After that, the number of exceptional episodes continued meagerly until Season 4, where just under 50% of the series’ four-star episodes were released. Ultimately, the averages of all of the episodes puts Voyager at the bottom with Enterprise just barely past it in fourth place. That said, in my gut, Voyager was more consistently good than Enterprise was and I would probably swap those places were it based on overall impressions rather than ratings.

In the end, because the final season was shorter than its predecessors and was more jam-packed with well written and compelling narratives, the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise averaged out to be the second best season in Trek history, just behind the final season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. That might seem surprising, but as we learned with Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, the fourth season is always the season in which the shows finally hit their stride. That Enterprise ended on its fourth season is disappointing, but expected. It was never going to reach the heights that the prior series did, even with the far more well known Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap) in the lead.

Bakula played Capt. Jonathan Archer, the son of a noted ship designer, who is taking the prototype Warp 5 NX-01, named Enterprise, on its maiden voyage. Having been cautiously watched by the Vulcans who let the Humans make all their own mistakes, they assigned a Vulcan science officer, T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) to the ship, who acts as second-in-command to Archer. Other crew members include Archer’s best friend Charles “Trip” Tucker III (Connor Trinneer) as chief engineer, Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating) as tactical officer, Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) as linguist and communications officer, Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery) as helmsman, and Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley) as the Denobulan chief medical officer who, alongside T’Pol, was the only other non-human onboard.

The series initially focused on the Temporal Cold War, an attempt by time traveling aliens to derail history, specifically by trying to ensure the United Federation of Planets is never founded. This led into the third season story arc that began with the annihilation of a swath of Florida, killing millions of humans, and leading the Enterprise into the Expanse, a strange span of space where large planet-sized structures were adapting that area of space into an inhospitable wasteland for Enterprise and many other species. The Temporal Cold War was poorly handled and was a weak part of the first three seasons. Beyond that, the fourth season involves several events that ultimately lead towards a treaty between two factions the Vulcans and the Andorians, who were perpetually on the brink of war.

With all that out of the way, let’s get into my list. I have once again combined multi-part episodes into one whole. There were a total of nine of these types of episodes across the series’ four seasons, with three of them being three-part episodes and the rest two-part. Strangely, there were no multi-part episodes in the whole of season 3 even though most of the story was continued from one episode to the next. Out of 98 episodes, only 12 earned four stars from me. When combined, there were only nine episodes that would have even qualified for this list. Rather than shoe-horning a tenth episode into this list from the very large number of three-and-a-half-star episodes, I will leave the list as it stands with only nine entries, which will continue after the break.

Click here to continue reading this article

5 Favorites Redux #35: Favorite Films by Black Directors

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

Black stories in Hollywood have been told for years by white filmmakers. These filmmakers have little experience facing the kind of trials and tribulations the Black community has been struggling against since the adoption of the 13th Amendment to the United States constitution. While that amendment ostensibly liberated the slaves throughout the nation, true equality has been elusive. Even after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s led to radical reforms, including desegregation, that community has felt the pressure to exist peacefully and thrive against systemic racism and indifference within the white community.

Although Black History Month was over in February (the shortest month of the year if that tells you anything), the recent riots in protest of police treatment of Black citizens after the choking death of George Floyd have helped galvanize public support against systemic racism, the violence perpetrated by law enforcement against Black citizens, and numerous other grievances that have been allowed to seethe and fester under the permissive eye of a president whose racism has been well documented since he became a New York City slumlord and an outspoken opponent of Black rights within that city long before he transitioned to the presidency.

Post-racism has never occurred and may never if we don’t examine our bias and educate the public to eradicate this false belief that the Black community is worthy of mistreatment, condemnation, and worse. As a white man, privilege has given me a rose-colored view of Black treatment in America. Even if I understand and relate better because of the prejudice I’ve felt in other avenues of life because of my sexuality, it’s something I was able to hide for the longest time, enabling me to benefit from my privilege more so than the Black community because they cannot hide the color of their skin.

This week, after celebrating Queer History Month last week, I thought I would tackle racism as part of this week’s article. To do that, rather than exploring films that present the Black experience to white audiences, I’ve chosen to look at Black history from the eyes of the Black community. In doing so, I have chosen to highlight films directed solely by Black filmmakers about the Black experience. These filmmakers have imbued their own experiences into the films that they’ve made. While it’s impossible to highlight every black director and every black film as those opportunities are slowly improving in Hollywood, I wanted to start by explaining my rationale.

One of the most influential Black filmmakers is Spike Lee who managed to carve out a career in Hollywood when it was still largely resistant to change. That resistance has been slowly eroded over the last three decades since he began with his debut feature Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads in 1983. His second film, She’s Gotta Have It, catapulted him into the position where he could make his seminal film, Do the Right Thing. That film, upon release, surpassed numerous milestones, but when it came to the Oscars, it was ignored. Hollywood would wait until John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood before finally recognizing a Black filmmaker with a nomination for Best Directing. While a handful of filmmakers have scored Oscar nominations since, Lee has remained at the forefront of the movement to expand and improve the position of Black filmmakers in Hollywood.

Two of Lee’s films barely missed my list. Both Do the Right Thing and BlacKkKlansman are great films and were it not for the five titles I selected, they might have appeared here. That said, they are easily among the ten best films by black filmmakers ever made.

Before we get to the list, I wanted to highlight a number of filmmakers who were not mentioned below, beginning with Oscar Micheaux. Micheaux was the first major black filmmaker, working in Hollywood from the middle-to-late silent era in 1919 through the sound period. His nearly-50-year career, which ended in 1948, three years prior to his death, was a tremendous milestone in cinema history. He was never fully recognized for his achievements during his lifetime, but his position and importance cannot be understated.

Other filmmakers of note whose films I considered, but did not reference include Singleton, Tyler Perry, Gordon Parks, Antoine Fuqua, Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou was the first film by a Black filmmaker that I remember watching in the theater), Julie Dash, Gina Prince-Bythewood, F. Gary Gray, Lee Daniels, Malcolm D. Lee, Melvin Van Peebles, Nia DaCosta, and Robert Townsend. Three other directors worth note are prominent actors who tried their hands at directing on a smaller scale: Denzel Washington, Sidney Poitier, and Ossie Davis.

Click here to continue reading this article

5 Favorites Redux #34: Favorite LGBTQ Films

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

June is LGBT Pride month in the United States. One might think this is because the Supreme Court typically hands down rulings in June, thus several notable milestone have occurred in it, but ultimately it all began with the Stonewall Riots. The riots began on the morning of June 28, 1969 in response to a targeted raid by the New York City Police Department. It was the catalyst that, over the course of the last fifty years, has expanded and improved the lives of gay men and women in the United States and around the world. With so many adverse opinions held by Americans, full freedom has progressed at a snail’s pace. This is why the June rulings of the Supreme Court (and a few non-June ones as well) have helped define June as the key month for the LGBTQ community in terms of pride. A few of the key decisions: 1958’s One, Inc. v Olesen in 1958 determined that gay publications were not inherently obscene. Romer v. Evans in 1996 established that laws prohibiting the protection of LGBTQ people were in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 finally overturned the Bowers v. Hardwick decision of 1986, eliminating anti-sodomy laws across the United States.

Then there were additional key rulings, all within the last ten years that further defined the equality of the LGBTQ community. In United States v. Windsor in 2013, the Defense of Marriage Act provision blocking same sex marriage benefits was struck down, which was closely followed by Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. That ruling struck down the patchwork of state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, legalizing it across the nation. The most important decision yet was handed down just three days ago (Monday, Jun. 15, 2020) when the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v Clayton County (as well as two other pending cases) that workers cannot be fired for being homosexual or transgender. There have been numerous other laws and cases that have harmed the LGBTQ community, and those battles have not yet been won; however, the tide is slowly turning and equal rights to all Americans regardless of their sexual orientation or identity are becoming the norm rather than the exception. It will still take time and that’s why we celebrate Pride month to acknowledge all that we’ve accomplished and to support each other in the push for further equality in the eyes of the law.

There are far more films about the lives, loves, and labors of the LGBTQ community than can possibly be highlighted on a list like this. However, these are the five films I consider most important not just in terms of how they helped changed the conversation, but how they conveyed the normalcy and humanity of a class of people that has faced incredible discrimination and even death at the hands of those who believe incorrectly that being LGBTQ is an aberration of nature. Some other films I considered, but ultimately could not include in this list: The Adventure of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Celluloid Closet, C.R.A.Z.Y., The Crying Game, The Favourite, Gods and Monsters, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, In & Out, The Kids Are All Right, Love, Simon, Milk, Moonlight (more on this one at the end), Out in the Dark, Strawberry and Chocolate, Torch Song Trilogy, Victor/Victoria, and The Wedding Banquet.

It’s rather fascinating to me that of the five films I chose, four of them were released in a year ending in the number five.

Click here to continue reading this article

5 Favorites Redux #33: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Episodes, Part 2

Cast for Seasons 4 to 6.

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

Last week, I began a two-part look at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s twenty best episodes. Today, I finish that feature with episodes from seasons five through seven. This is the fourth part in a series of five articles featuring the best of Star Trek‘s six pre-21st century series. Star Trek: Enterprise will be the final article in the series, but will be delayed until I’ve finished season four. Until then, we’ll go over some other lists as I come up with them.

Getting back into Deep Space Nine, the series is hands-down the best that has ever been done thanks to its multi-part story arcs and fascinating episodes. Before, we get into the final episodes that make up the top twenty episodes of the entire series, let’s look at a handful of episodes that earned four-star ratings, but which didn’t quite make the top twenty. Splitting the seasons unevenly would have been confusing, so this week’s article will be much shorter than last week’s as it’s covering three seasons instead of four.

As season five played on, the conflict with the Dominion intensified with numerous revelations coming out of the two-part episode consisting of part 1: “By Inferno’s Light” and part 2: “In Purgatory’s Shadow.” While the second part was just slightly weaker, the two episodes tell an intense story. Worf (Michael Dorn) and Garak (Andrew Robinson) are taken captive by the Jem’Hadar who have been amassing in a nebula near the wormhole. Worf barely gets a message off to DS9 before they are captured. While the crew of DS9 readies to destroy the wormhole to prevent the fleet from coming through, Worf and Garak are taken to a prison colony where they meet Martok (J.G. Hertzler), Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig), and Garak’s father/mentor Enabran Tain (Paul Dooley). This fascinating duo of episodes explores in great detail the frayed relationship between Tain and Garak. It also explores Worf and Martok as they butt heads regarding Worf’s insistence on beating the Jem’Hadar into the ground or dying trying. We also learn more about all of the machinations in place from the Dominion. All-in-all, this was a very dense and tense pair of episodes, which is part-and-parcel for this series.

All Trek series have felt very episodic with few throughlines. Deep Space Nine was radically different, though they had a few of their own. “Children of Time” features a time-bending narrative about a strange planet separated from time. As the USS Defiant crew finds themselves on the other side of the barrier, they discover a planet of their own descendants who had crash-landed years earlier. At 8,000 strong, this isn’t a small villaeg. Through various plots, the crew of the Defiant must decide whether to doom 8,000 people in order to save the life of Kira and to return the crew to their families and loved ones. It’s a challenging decision made better by strong performances and a fascinating late-episode twist that twists again before the potent conclusion.

The only season 6 episode that stands apart form the top twenty is “Time’s Orphan.” Maligned by many, the emotional heft of the episode drowns out most of those concerns. Another out-of-continuity episode finds Miles (Colm Meaney) and Keiko (Rosalind Chao) on a planet for an outing with their eight-year-old daughter. As she gets sucked through a time gate into the past, the teenage version of Molly exits the portal and the couple must decide if they can handle not getting to see their daughter grow up. A bittersweet episode that gives audiences a glimpse into the challenges of parenting when on the edge of the quadrant and with dangers all around.

The final episode before we dig into the remaining top twenty is an episode from season seven. In “Covenant,” Kira finds herself transported light years away to an abandoned Cardassian mining station called Empok Nor. There, she is asked to witness the community that has developed around the worship of the Pah Wraiths, spiritual enemies of the prophets. Believing instead that the Pah Wraiths are the actual prophets of Bajor, the group is being led by former DS9 commander Gul Dukat who has supposedly turned over a new leaf. As a sinister plot is unveiled, Kira must try to convince the other worshipers that they are being led astray before they meet a bitter end. Another in a long line of spiritual exploration episodes, this one not only furthers the Dukat storyline, it asks the audience to examine faith from different sides of the same belief system.

Click here to continue reading this article

5 Favorites Redux #32: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Episodes, Part 1

Cast for Seasons 1 to 3.

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

While I’m still making my way through season 3 (of 4) for Star Trek: Enterprise, its first two seasons suggest it will probably end up fifth of six series on my list of best Treks. That means that the number one itself is safe, and by a long shot. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was a new direction for the Star Trek universe. Set on an isolated space station orbiting the planet Bajor, a highly religious society that was occupied for decades by the Cardassians. Now liberated, Starfleet sends a Federation officer, Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), to maintain relations between the Federation and Bajor, an advanced civilization hoping for membership, but plagued by the wars fought there recently.

Starfleet also sends engineer Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney), who had served as transporter chief aboard the USS Enteprise captained by Jean-Luc Picard, science officer Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell), and doctor Julian Bashir (Originally credited as Siddig El-Fadil, but was changed at the actor’s request to Alexander Siddig in 1995) to help operate the station alongside their Bajoran liaison and second-in-command Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor), the station’s Changeling chief of security Odo (Rene Auberjonois), and Ferengi bar owner Quark (Amrin Shimmerman). Sisko’s son Jake (Cirroc Lofton) is along for the ride after Sisko’s wife Jennifer died at Wolf 359 where the assimilated Picard had been in command of the Borg.

Deep Space Nine is eventually relocated to a position just outside a newly-discovered stable wormhole between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants. With the Trek property firmly ensconced on a space station, there was little room to explore strange new worlds or seek out new civilizations. Yet, it still boldly went where no other Trek series had gone before. With a largely serialized narrative, the show explored themes of war, regret, retribution, spirituality, and numerous other topics across its seven-year run.

As the series entered its fourth season, it picked up Michael Dorn’s popular Klingon character Worf, fresh off the then-departed Star Trek: Next Generation, as the station’s tactical officer. From there, the grandest plot line in Trek history began to unwind featuring the same Changeling Founders from which Odo descends and their Gamma Quadrant alliance called the Dominion as they manipulate the races of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants into a war that would pit the Cardassians against the Federation and Klingon Empires. The Cardassians become pawns of the Dominion who wish to assert there dominance through manipulation and brute force with their genetically engineered super soldiers, the Jem’Hadar, and their field lieutenants, the Vorta.

Farrell would also leave the show in 1999 to pursue other opportunities, including a series lead role in the CBS comedy Becker. Her departure at the end of season six left a vast hole that Nicole de Boer tried to fill as the ninth host of the Dax symbiont, a worm-like creature that bonds with members of the Trill race and then merges the consciousnesses of the prior eight hosts together with the ninth, making the symbiont over 350 years old. De Boer was added for only the seventh season meaning a lot of episodes were built around developing the character, which caused a slight hiccup in the momentum the show had built up to that point, but which ultimately didn’t hinder the show as it went out on a tremendous high.

Cast for Seasons 4 to 6.

The series also introduced numerous recurring characters that added immeasurably to the show’s depth and created a rich tapestry of individuals who helped progress plot narratives and expand the Star Trek universe well beyond what it had already created in the course of three prior series.

Why does this series outperform the prior three and its subsequent two? Quite simply, the writing was unparalleled, a brilliant interweaving mix of gray areas that the Trek universe had never explored with any extreme depth. Across the span of seven seasons and 176 episodes, the show produced 48 four-star episodes, significantly more than the 28 from Next Generation, 15 from the original series, and 24 from Voyager. The average rating of episodes across the entire series was 3.29, 0.14 higher than The Next Generation. Because there are nearly 50 episodes that could be considered for inclusion on a top ten list, I’ve decided to break them down into a top twenty covered over two weeks.

In addition to the series’ high level of quality, it also broke new bounds with its numerous multi-part episodes. There were thirteen of them, two of which spanned three episodes, one that went on for seven, and another that extended to eight episodes. The seven-episode arc started at the end of season five and finished in season six as Sisko and company had to give up the station to Dominion-Cardassian control in order to maneuver and re-assert itself and, at the end of the arc, retake the station. Six of the seven episodes I rated four stars. The first three-parter was at the beginning of season two as a separatist movement on Bajor targeted the Federation and pushed to re-assert Bajoran independence. The second covered the end of season six and the beginning of season seven. It was the weakest of the multi-part groupings, but was no slouch. The final collection was the eight-episode arc that closed out the Dominion War at the end of season 7, culminating right before the final two-part episode closing out the series. This eight-parter was largely impressive, but had a few issues as it petered out at the end. It was a fitting conclusion to the years-long story arc, but could have been just a touch stronger.

Matter of fact, of the three sets of episodes, only four of them didn’t feature all four-star episodes, highlighting the overall strength of the series’ attempts at creating longer story arcs. Of the forty-eight episodes, there were ultimately thirty-one groupings. There are twenty-one stand alone episodes. In the end, I will have to eliminate eleven of the thirty one and it will be difficult. In addition to splitting the top twenty between this and next week’s posts, I will also split the eleven up between the two along the same lines. The first grouping I’ll briefly touch on are from the first four seasons of the show. The remainder will be discussed next week.

Click here to continue reading this article

5 Favorites Redux #31: Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes

Cast for Season 1.

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

Currently ranked second on my list of best Star Trek series is Star Trek: The Next Generation. Almost twenty years after Captain Kirk and company began their 5-year mission (that lasted only 3 seasons), Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew began their continuing mission, which lasted seven seasons, the standard length for the subsequent two series. Along for the ride are First Officer William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton), Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), Chief Operations Officer Data (Brent Spiner), tactical officer and later Chief of Security Worf (Michael Dorn), Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) who was replaced only for season two by Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur), and Chief of Security Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) whose character was killed off towards the end of season one and appeared in a handful of other episodes both as herself and her daughter (temporal mechanics, naturally). This group comprises the primary crew with Dr. Crusher’s son Wesley (Wil Wheaton), Transporter Chief Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney), and bartender Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) in prominent guest roles. Gene Roddenberry’s wife Majel Barrett appeared in the series both in person as Deanna’s mother Lwaxana, as well as vocally as the voice of the ship’s computer.

Across 178 episodes, the Next Generation crew proved incredibly popular, becoming one of the highest rated syndicated series in television history and, in its final year, becoming the first and to-date only Trek series (and syndicated series for that matter) nominated for Best Drama Series at the Emmys (along with 58 total nominations and 18 wins). Of the 178 episodes, 28 of them earned four-star ratings. Typically, both parts of a two-part episode would carry the same rating, but a few episodes managed to stand out more in their second part than the first, leading to two episodes showing up on that four-star list that don’t have the corresponding first part also considered.

Breaking down the numbers, of the 28 episodes, five two-part episodes (and both parts) were included on the list, making it 23 to choose from. It was difficult to narrow. I eventually ended up with 15 that could conceivably make the final top ten. The eight episodes that didn’t make it through were “The Naked Now,” “When the Bough Breaks,” “Symbiosis,” “Redemption: Parts 1 & 2,” “Time’s Arrow: Parts 1 & 2,” “Relics,” “Descent: Part 2,” and “Gambit: Parts 1 & 2.”

Cast for Season 2.

To be fair to the five that did not make the final list, I’ll highlight those here with brief comments: “Elementary, Dear Data” was the first episode of TNG to effectively use holodeck technology to great success. That success would lead to numerous other such episodes, though few were as inventive or as timely. In this episode, Geordi inadvertently instructs the computer to create a foe that is capable of defeating Data, not the Sherlock Holmes persona he has taken to playing. As the computer-generated Moriarty becomes self-aware, the episode becomes a cat-and-mouse game that puts the ship at risk and calls for some creative manipulation to resolve. In “The Outcast,” Riker falls in love with a member of an androgynous species who have no use for gender specificity. When it was released in 1992, the concept of gender identity as a cultural touchstone was a long way from coming to the forefront, though its roots had already been formed decades earlier. The concept makes the episode feel incredibly prescient with its forward-thinking examination and rebuke of gender normativity.

For the episode “I, Borg,” Data’s brother Lore (also played by Brent Spiner) is at the heart of a movement leading liberated Borg drones in a plot to take over the Alpha Quadrant. Lore tampers with Data’s programming forcing him to experience only the emotions he wants, turning Data against the Enterprise crew. The episode is fascinating for its exploration of individuality and the duality that had been at the heart of Data’s character for a long time. Its look at brainwashing and warmongering adds depth. “The Quality of Life” naturally follows the season two episode that is included in the list below (“The Measure of a Man”). A group of mining repair bots refuse to work in a dangerous tunnel, exhibiting signs of sentience that their creator insists is not possible. As the drones attempt to protect themselves and others, the exploration of the meaning of intelligent life gets a fascinating workout.

While there were two second-part episodes that received four stars with their prior episodes only receiving 3.5, neither of them ultimately make it into the top ten. That’s because having an inferior predecessor simply acts as a demerit on the second part, even if it’s perfect. And “Chain of Command, Part 2” is nearly perfect. After Picard is relieved of command and sent on a secret mission to infiltrate a Cardassian planet, his capture leads the Enterprise, under questionable replacement management, to lead a secret rescue attempt in order to free their captain. The episode is most noted for the riveting torture sequences between Stewart’s Picard and David Warner’s Gul Madred. In this tense tête-à-tête, Madred tries hard to break Picard, using the four lights on the wall as a focal point for his brainwashing attempt. Suggesting that there are five lights and not four, Stewart’s brilliant performance captures that slow descent into madness exceptionally well and provides an emotional anchor point for the episode, most notably his post-trauma confession to Counselor Troi.

Of the remaining ten episodes, seasons five and seven have the most entries while seasons one and six have none. Each season featured at least two different four-star episodes. Seasons five and seven also have the most four-star episodes during the season with seven apiece. Next week’s list will be incredibly difficult to winnow down and I might just do a top twenty over two posts. It was just that good.

Click here to continue reading this article

5 Favorites Redux #30: Star Trek: The Original Series Episodes

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

Last week, we looked at my number four Star Trek series of all-time, Star Trek: Voyager. This week, we’re going to look at my number three series of all-time. The original series Star Trek started everything and, to an extent, deserves to be ranked best regardless of its individual strengths. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly the case. While the first two seasons were solid, the final season had so many dud episodes that it makes it a slightly inferior series to the show in the number two spot. We’ll discuss that in a few weeks.

For now, the original series, which introduced us to Captain James T. Kirk and his stalwart crew, is the series we’re taking a look at this week. As my 5 Favorites series goes, I’m listing each week a different Trek series. While I want to save the best for last, I don’t think I’ll be done with Star Trek: Enterprise in time to put it down in three weeks, even though it’s already unlikely to supplant my number one series. That said, the original starred William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Walter Keonig along with creator Gene Roddenberry’s future wife Majel Barrett and a handful of other recurring characters. It was the series that started it all and is responsible for re-aligning what science fiction on television could be.

It was followed briefly by Star Trek: The Animated Series in 1973 as an attempt to revive the series and please its growing legion of fans. Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, Takei, Nichols, Doohan, and Barrett each leant the series their vocal talents with budget issues preventing the return of Koenig and requiring Doohan and Nichols to voice several other minor characters. The animated series was an inferior product on most fronts. While it enabled the show to create aliens that weren’t humanoid in shape, which was a necessity of the minimal makeup effects available at the time, it also didn’t have a lot of terrific episodes. While this series presently ranks five out of five, I’m going to mention it here because there aren’t really five episodes I could even consider including on this list.

The original series lasted only three seasons while the animated one was around for one regular season and then one short season before being pulled off the air. All of the four-star episodes come from the original series. There’s a single two-part episode in the entirety of the original’s three seasons, making for 16 total episodes that would be eligible for inclusion. That said, the original pilot, “The Cage,” wasn’t aired originally, but was re-worked into “The Menagerie, Parts 1 & 2.” As such, those three episodes will be considered in tandem, meaning selecting ten episodes out of fourteen isn’t terribly difficult. The four episodes not included are: “The Doomsday Machine,” “The Immunity Syndrome,” “The Empath,” and “Spectre of the Gun”

Click here to continue reading this article

5 Favorites Redux #29: Star Trek: Voyager Episodes

Cast for Seasons 1 to 3.

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

Over the last year (and a short span a few years ago), I began a project that has taken some time, but is coming close to an end. This is largely thanks to the plague, which has enabled me to watch just a few more episodes on the weekend. That project is a re-watch (or in some cases first-time viewing) of every episode of Star Trek and its subsequent series. While I haven’t touched anything on CBS All Access and probably won’t for this particular project, I have completed all but the final series, which I only have four seasons of rather than the seven the last three shows produced. To honor this massive project and a universe that I am intensely fond of, I thought I would start looking at the franchise and their best episodes. I’ll start with the freshest in my mind, that of Star Trek: Voyager, which was the fifth series set in the Trek universe.

There were 24 episodes of 172 that I gave the maximum rating too. It was very difficult to narrow and a top five was not in the cards. So, I have chosen to increase the number to ten and the 5 Favorites element will be represented by the number of articles I will publish regarding the best of each Star Trek series. That said, five two-part episodes were included in the ten, so there are technically fifteen total episodes to go over, but only ten write-ups. That leaves nine total episodes that I did not include, but which deserve honorable mentions. They are: “Resistance,” “Distant Origin,” “Hope and Fear,” “Timeless,” “Survival Instinct,” “Riddles,” “Lineage,” “Repentance,” and “Homestead.” There were many other good episodes that weren’t quite perfect, but are still worth checking out. Voyager ranks 4th out of the 5 series I’ve seen in terms of overall quality, just outpacing The Animated Series, but it’s still a worthy recipient of the Star Trek name.

Below, in alphabetical order, are the ten best episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

Click here to continue reading this article