Going to the Star Trek Las Vegas convention? Here’s some hints and tips #stlv

The official Star Trek convention in Las Vegas is less than two weeks away, and as someone who has attended the convention four times now (!), I thought I’d share some hints and tips I’ve learned over the years.

(A lot of these hints are applicable to ANY convention or conference, so keep them in mind the next time you attend one)

Keep hydrated

And I don’t mean with beer, wine or hard liquor. Rio, the convention hotel, will be VERY air conditioned (some areas are actually downright COLD) and that is very deceptive. The convention area is VERY far away from the hotel towers, and you will be doing a lot of walking. If you go outside, the dry heat of Vegas will suck all the moisture out of you. Trust me, if you don’t want to have the equivalent of The Hangover, even if you don’t imbibe… drink lots of water.

Bring your own coffee and snacks

Every morning of the con last year I always saw a line of people trying to get a Starbucks coffee. It wasn’t because they were addicted to Starbucks… it was because the K cups in the hotel room cost money! So don’t pay the $8 for 3 k-cups or Starbucks “tax” – pack your own. And also, pack snacks. Granola, jerky, raisins… all good for you. Well, at least better than some of the food that they serve at the convention.

Take extra cash, but try not to spend it

If you run out of cash, where will you go? The dreaded ATM, which will charge you $5 to get your money. Yes, I know it’s “only” $5, but why spend that on a an ATM fee when that can go towards a tasty beverage?

Don’t buy anything in the dealer’s room

Yes, I am telling you to not spend any money on any Star Trek collectible, toy, nick-knack, or item of clothing at the convention. Why? For a couple of reasons. First, the dealers will be marking up their stuff to pay for their expenses (and that includes Creation, the people who put on the con) and you will be paying a premium for stuff that is actually not worth that much.

Just look at this ebay auction link - lots of stuff for dirt-cheap prices. The bottom has really dropped out of the Star Trek collectibles market… There’s just SO MUCH STUFF, and not a lot of buyers. I personally have bought about $100 worth of Trek items to give as gifts to friends at the convention, and I dare say if I had bought the same items there it would have been three or four times more than what I paid. Second, if you buy a lot of stuff at the con then you will have to lug it all home, and that’s gonna be a challenge if you didn’t pack light.

Go to the Star Trek Continues Premiere

Trek Movie has set up the theatrical premiere of the third episode of the fan series Star Trek Continues at a local theatre, and you don’t even have to pay to attend! It’s a great way to enjoy this loving recreation of the original series with fellow fans. Also there will be a Q&A with some of the cast afterwards. Details here.

Avoid the Creation auctions

For the same way I recommend you don’t buy anything in the dealer’s room, I’d avoid the Creation auction. Each day of the con Creation sells autographs, collectibles, and other merchandise. Because it is an auction, you may get “whipped up” to bid on something you can’t afford… I know I did. Twice, over the past two years. So, take by advice… skip it, unless you have a LOT of disposable income or willpower.

Get a good mirror

Trek fans, I love ya… But before you try on that original series outfit, buy a mirror. A good one. I’m all for people being free to express themselves, and I know many fans are “body conscious” in lots of unhealthy ways… but what you wear at the Trek con will be photographed and posted online, for, like… EVER. Wear something that is flattering and “fits” your body shape in an appropriate way.

Buy a day pass

Yes, you can buy those (very expensive) Gold or Silver or Captain’s packages, but why? You get access to some events that other people don’t, but most of the benefits of the convention are available anyone who pays for a one-day pass. I especially recommend that if you are only going to be there for a couple of days.

Don’t miss Harlan Ellison or Simon Pegg!

Creation has snagged two people who seldom attend any conventions, nonetheless a Star Trek one: Noted author Harlan Ellison and actor Simon Pegg. Pegg made some press last year when he told fans who didn’t like the new Trek film to “F%$@ off”, and Harlan Ellison… well, he’s Harlan Ellison. He once said that “Star Trek can turn your brains to puree of bat guano”. Can’t wait to see what both of them have to say to Trek fans…

And go see Penn & Teller!

Penn and Teller has a permanent theater at the Rio, and they put on a great show. If you are there Saturday or Sunday, checdk them out. You can get tickets here.

Check Out Unkhan!

If you can attaned, you can drop by and check out Unkhan! It’s an “unconvention” that my friends and I are throwing, but mostly it’s an excuse to get together and have fun. More details here.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is a fantastic funny film

Thank you, Mark Frost.

Mark Frost, the co-creator of Twin Peaks, introduced me to the world of Steve Coogan’s Alan Patrtridge character a little more than three years ago. I had seen some clips before that conversation, but when Mark gave the show his enthusiastic recommendation I knew I had to investigate it further. If Mark liked it, I’m sure I’d like it too.

And boy, did, I. The wonderfully buffoonish character has appeared in radio and multiple series for the BBC, and has evolved from a daft sportscaster to a complex and well-rounded personality. Alan Partridge is like a combination of David Brent, Inspector Clouseau, and Rush Limbaugh, but is still a unique original character.

I finally got around to watching the character’s feature film debut, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, and once again… thanks, Mark. It’s hilarious.

Coogan is utterly fearless in the film, doing jokes and physical comedy that many performers would shy away from. Not Coogan. He goes for it with gusto, and sells every moment. The only actor I can think of who approaches such work with similar relish was the late Peter Sellers – which is the highest praise I can give.

If you have never seen any of the “legacy” Alan Partridge series, fear not – you can watch this movie with no context and still enjoy it. If you have seen the previous work, the film delivers some great call-backs to earlier stories and pays off a couple of long-running jokes.

I won’t delve into the plot, because this is another one of those movies that works better when you come to it fresh… though as a former radio DJ myself I have a real appreciation about how they weaved in the “corporatization” of radio as a core subplot.

(As a Star Trek fan, it’s great to see Colm Meaney – Chief O’Brien – play such a prominent role. He’s great in the film, a fine “partner” to Coogan’s Partridge.)

Humor is very subjective, but I dare say that there’s so much that is funny in Alan Partridge: Alpha Baba that if you can’t find something to laugh at, you are dead inside.

(Here’s the trailer, which, unfortunately, gives away bait too much of the plot. Watch it if you want some of the movie spoiled…)

Why should people watch Star Trek?

There’s a lot of stuff to watch out there.

And when I state a “lot”, I mean a LOT. If you look at the Entertainment section that is in your typical Target or Wal-Mart, there are tens of thousands of hours of content at your disposal. Heck, even the $5 DVD bin contains a year’s worth of entertainment (some good, some bad).

Beyond even that, look at Netflix. Look at YouTube. There are millions of hours of television and film at your disposal, and much of it is available for free online. With all this stuff… you’re never at a loss for something watch. And the Industrial Entertainment complex keeps making MORE, every day.

So, with all this, this feast of riches… why watch Star Trek?

It’s a serious question. Why would anyone watch Star Trek, when they can watch shows like Breaking Bad, or catch up on the films of Kubrick or Hitchcock, or binge-watch Orange is the New Black? I ask because you need to keep the abundance of choice in mind, and because new people are born every minute of the day… Why would anyone go back and watch Star Trek?

Let’s restate the question – what would someone who has never seen Trek before watch it? What would they get out of it? Why should they watch it?

It’s an important question, because Star Trek is an entertainment franchise, and most franchises fade from our culture over time. A movie series like James Bond, going on for more than 50 years, is the exception rather than the rule. Some of the most successful TV and movie series ever are barely noted by people today. Man from UNCLE was the hottest show on TV for a year… now, it’s the answer to a trivia question. Movie series like Tarzan, Blondie and Ma and Pa Kettle were incredibly successful decades ago – and today they are forgotten , with many of the films not even available on DVD.

Star Trek is not a moribund property like the above examples (BTW, I’m a big UNCLE fan and hated using it as an example, but the truth hurts), but it could easily become one – even with all the pop culture impact it has had. The key is new viewers… keeping the series in the eye of the public.

I ask because I love Trek, but even as a fan I have to clearly acknowledge the series is at an impasse. The latest film left a bad taste in the mouth of many moviegoers, and where the series goes next is critical to whether it continues to live or is regarded as “old news.” And I ask because I’m not getting any younger – none of us are. And I want Trek to last.

Correct that – I want Trek to have an IMPACT. A positive one.

Which brings me back to my main question… If we want someone, a Star Trek “virgin” to watch the show or movies… how do we convince them? What is our argument?

Which is a harder question to answer that you might think.

Star Trek is Legion – it contains multitudes. What Trek are you talking about watching, for one thing? The original series, next gen, the movies, the other series that came after and during the movies? Is it Star Trek the morality play, Star Trek the action series, Star Trek the humanist pulpit, or Star Trek the escapist comedy? Trek is all that, and more. Which Trek to start with?

But there is one thing I keep going back to, the one common aspect of the best of Star Trek – a key point that was missing from lots of Trek, including the last film. Something that reason enough for anyone to watch Trek.

Hope.

Star Trek started out as a crazy premise that we will not kill ourselves, that we will stretch our race beyond the furthest star… too seek out new lives, and new civilizations… It was in the mission statement at the beginning of EVERY EPISODE. That we could and will better ourselves, and take the risks that space travel entailed.

THAT is the answer, and that is why someone should watch Star Trek – because at its heart, Trek had an optimistic message of hope and a positive statement that we could do this.

We could do this together.

I write this on a very dark news day, a day that is ironically in the same week that is the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. In recent days, I see that hope has dimmed in the opinions of many people. And that is why we need to regain the can-do optimism of that space program, when we strove to do more that accept things as impossible to change.

And that is why people need to watch Star Trek.

Just, not the latest movie.

#SciFaiku is a mix-up I can get behind

My friend David from Sci-Fi Commons brought to my attention the interesting mix-up which is Sci-Fi Haiku, or “SciFaiku”, by starting the #SciFaiku hashtag. Here’s some the notable contributions:

@jerrykuch:
After next harvest,
Whine about Toshi Station.
Power converters!

@ScifiCommons:
Carousel draws near.
The rules are engineered. Run.
Nobody renews.

The last of a race,
all she wanted was salt pills,
but the crew would do.

The War of the Worlds
is a full scale invasion.
Forgot the Cold-EEZE.

@FootPoundForce:
The omen portends
A superman is coming
Kwizatz Haderach

@stellapierides:
internet of things
my toothbrush orders
its own replacement

@Statuegeek:
Deckard Blade Runner
Hunts More Human Than Human
Too Bad she won’t live

Come to found out there’s a whole site dedicated to this mashup with some very interesting stuff. Check it out, or follow the #SciFaiku hashtag.

Pretty Maids All in A Row goes where Gene Roddenberry often went before

As a Star Trek fan, I have read a lot of articles and books about Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry, who (as most know)created the show, is often portrayed as a saintly figure… a visionary and brilliant storyteller with great optimism and hope about the future. Other writers covering Roddenberry’s life highlighted his womanizing, his credit-grabbing, and his adultery… detailing a man who was a deeply flawed human being.

Where does the truth lie? I have no idea, because I never met the man. I know him through his work, through his creations… and what I do know for certain is above all else he was a thinker, an idea man. Like George Lucas a decade later, he had a lot of very distinct notions… ideas that became the key concepts of that thing we know as Star Trek: The Original Series… and for that alone, he is worthy of recognition and praise.

But, like Lucas… Roddenberry needed smart collaborators around him to execute his vision effectively. When he was making Trek, those collaborators were Robert Justman, Matt Jeffries, William Theiss, Herb Solow, D.C. Fontana, and many others. When both were in full control, when they were the only writer as well as the man in charge… well, things don’t go very well.

For Lucas, the example of this is the (rightly criticized) Star Wars prequels. For Roddenberry, it is the 1971 movie Pretty Maids All In a Row.

I had read about Pretty Maids All in a Row many years ago, when I was looking at Roddenberry post-Star Trek history, and before The Motion Picture. Roddenberry wrote Pretty Maids… (based on a novel by Francis Pollini) as well as produced the film, and the movie was a box office flop. Even still, the movie developed a cult following (The IMDB reviews positively gush over it)… and Quentin Tarantino considers it one of the best movies EVER MADE.

Well, I finally saw the film this week… and, sorry, Quentin… this movie is a mess. And the blame falls squarely at the feet of Gene Roddenberry’s script.

Here is a quick plot summary. Rock Hudson plays the alpha-male Vice-Principal of a high school Tiger McDrew (and he’s also the guidance counselor and football coach, for some reason). He is cheating on his stunningly beautiful wife with his female students… as well as grooming a protégé to take his place when he becomes Principal, an insecure sexually frustrated male student who has yet to even “touch a naked breast.”

When a beautiful young female student is killed, Telly Savalas (!) along with his partner James Doohan (!) show up to investigate. Oh, and Angie Dickinson plays a substitute teacher who is as sexually frustrated as Tiger’s protégé and… well, I won’t detail what happens because it’s obvious the moment the two characters meet.

The script is a mess, with dialogue that is cloying, pretentious and often sexist. The female characters are either sex crazed victims-in-waiting or clichés (No wonder Quentin Tarantino loves this movie). Angie Dickinson, as the female lead, is beautiful to look at but the character is insulting to any woman who has an IQ above room temperature.

Gene Roddenberry was rumored to have used his “casting couch” to enjoy himself with many beautiful women when he was making Trek, and it’s seems to me that many of the trysts Tiger has in his office was written by someone who was quite familiar with such subject matter. To go a step further, I think that Rock Hudson is playing a hyper-real version of Roddenberry himself… Hudson’s character in the movie is even a writer! The main character manipulates and uses women to get what he wants and when they threaten the balanced life he has created for himself… he gets rid of them.

I don’t know how much of the plot is from the book and how much came from Roddenberry, but even if the movie is a direct, no-embellishments adaptation.. The fact that Roddenberry was drawn to the material to adapt it tells us a lot about the man. If there is any doubt the sexism that is often present in the original Star Trek originated with Roddenberry… well, this movie confirms it.

There is some good stuff in this film: William Theiss, who did the amazing costumes on Star Trek, does the costuming here… and as a direct result the women look stunning (and Dickinson wears an outfit an hour in that will make all red-blooded men watching… um… stand at attention). It’s nice to see James Doohan act without his Scotty accent, even though he only gets four lines. Director Roger Vadim again demonstrates that, after making Barbarella, his greatest skill is making women look sexy as hell. And the supporting cast is great: Roddy McDowell, Keenan Wynn, William Campbell… some wonderful character actors doing good work with weak material.

Pretty Maids All in a Row is not a BAD film… it’s just not a very good one. I was really hoping to like it, but I was so taken aback by the thin plotting and dialogue that I just couldn’t get into it. Fans call it a “dark comedy” and I question that classification: It’s dark, but rarely funny. But frequently misogynistic.

Roddenberry tried a couple of times to create something after Trek, returning to TV after Pretty Maids flopped… but none of it worked. So, he returned back to the final frontier… and thankfully, he was once again surrounded by talented people were not beholden to follow it. The result: a run of successful films, movies that had very little input or direction from Roddenberry. The next time Gene Roddenberry had anything close to full control over Trek was the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Need I say more?

Xanadu is an underrated delight, disco skating and all

“Oh, for a muse of fire… to ascend the brightest heavens… of invention.”

I’ve been chasing a muse for years. And I blame Olivia Newton John.

When I was 11 years old, I saw Xanadu. And it was a revelation, as much as Star Wars was a revelation a few years before. Xanadu was the first musical I ever saw, besides The Wizard of Oz… and at the time it had three immediate effects on the young Joe.

First, it made me a fan of the surreal ludicrous genre called “The Musical”, movies that have musical numbers and extensive choreography happen at the drop of a hat – reason and logic be damned. I discovered the sheer joy of watching happy people prance, happily, on screen.

Second, it brought to my attention the talented Gene Kelly, who, though he was past his prime in the film, was still a Movie Star (capital M, capital S) and boy does he work it (and know it). It is thanks to Xanadu that I searched out An American in Paris, and (one of my favorite films) Singin’ in the Rain.

Third, it brought me the Electric Light Orchestra. The music of Jeff Lynne and company impressed me so much I stole my sister’s Xanadu soundtrack, and played the heck out of it until I could afford a copy of my own. I bought every album ELO made, and I’m fan to this very day. It’s perfect pop music, done well and entertaining as all get-out.

Looking back now, I can see a lot more in the film that influenced me… especially it’s theme. Yes, folks, Xanadu had subtext. The movie is about creativity, and failure, and finding our muse… it’s about dreaming, and making your dreams come true.

It’s trite, it’s hokey, it’s completely unrealistic. And yet, for the optimist in me, this resonates. It rings true. I WANT it to be true. If only life worked out as it did in Xanadu… well, maybe with less roller disco.

“What the hell, guys like me shouldn’t dream anyway.” That’s the first line spoken in the film, as Jeff beck’s character reflects on a sketch that isn’t right. As a creative person, who hasn’t said something like that? Art is WORK, and the illusions that there is some form of rare “genius” that produces great work is just that… an illusion.

I rewatched Xanadu after I had just seen another film about creativity and art… Tim’s Vermeer, a film by Teller (of Penn and Teller) that tells the story of a man who tried to figure out the techniques of Vermeer in order to create his own “masterpiece.” Tim’s Vermeer details a man obsessed, who spends countless hours working on building a mechanism that would recreate the work of the master painter. A technician becomes an artist because of compulsion. He HAS to.

I know that compulsion. It’s what drives me to write instead of sit on my fat ass and watch reruns on TV.

It’s the main part why Xanadu works for me, not just the nostalgia… it’s because of that message. I think we are at our core creative creatures. We exist to make things, add flavor and color to the universe. If we don’t even try, in the littlest of things… it’s then that we truly fail.

We are all here to create. To build our own Xanadu.

All this pretension, to write about a 1980s musical flop? Yup. Because Xanadu is the poster child for this review series. Neglected Cinema is about highlighting the diamonds in the rough, the gems that most people overlooked. Xanadu is a movie that has a lot to recommend, and should get more attention and appreciation.

It’s far from perfect, though… And I have to be honest inmy appraisal. Jeff Beck as the protagonist is the very definition of “nondescript” and because the lead lacks charisma the film is weaker and less effective. The tone is uneven, the dialogue clunky in many spots, and the plot has no clear through-line. And while I think Olivia Newton-John is a beautiful woman who sings and dances her heart out here… she could have benefitted from a couple of more acting lessons. But, flawes and all, Xanadu is a lovely film… and a great way to spend 90 minutes.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to chasing my muse. Hopefully I’ll catch her someday… and she’ll look like Olivia.