Santiago Cabrera

Star Trek: Picard (2020) s01e04 – Absolute Candor

Let’s get the elephant out of the way: show co-creator, episode single credited writer, and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Michael Chabon. He’s really, really, really bad at writing dialogue. At some point in this episode, I realized Akiva Goldsman—the profoundly hacky screenwriter of Batman & Robin, iRobot, and I Am Legend who is also a “Picard” co-creator and co-wrote Chabon’s previous episodes… helped Chabon’s writing. Left alone, Chabon’s truly atrocious.

I thought the dysfunctional crew banter—between Patrick Stewart, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, and Alison Pill—would be the terrible low point, but Chabon keeps finding new depths. The banter’s bad—and reveals Hurd might end up being one of the show’s biggest liabilities unless someone gets her performance under control—but nothing compared to the big romantic dance sequence between Isa Briones and Harry Treadaway on the Borg cube. It’s not even Treadaway’s worst scene, which comes later and implies a sadomasochistic (no kink-shaming) incestual (okay, kink-shaming here) relationship between Treadaway and sister Peyton List, but the dancing on the Borg cube scene? Real bad. Real, real bad.

But actually nothing compared to where Chabon’s taking it with Stewart this episode. The title, Absolute Candor, refers to the guiding principle of this convent of Romulan warrior nuns. They’ve got a name straight out of a Dune book, which is fine since apparently Briones’ synthetic android has a hidden home world as well as a Plan. Really hope the home of the fabled Thirteenth Tribe ends up being a place called Earth. Could they seriously not come up with anything original. Like, there’s a Terminator 2 rip in here where Stewart has to tell his newest Musketeer (Evan Evagora) he can’t just go around killing people. It’s a lot.

And it comes right after Stewart has a meltdown on the failed Romulan rescue planet—where the Federation stopped transporting the Romulans so they could all die out instead—about how the Romulans there don’t appreciate him as their great White savior.

Chabon writes Picard as an egomaniacal dilettante (who didn’t even keep up with interstellar political news in the last decade and a half); it’s actually surprising Stewart came back for this series given the writing.

Picard’s obnoxious and kind of playing a parody of himself but if William Shatner were doing it on “SNL.” Again, real bad.

Also bad—Jonathan Frakes’s direction. Frakes directs the Stewart stuff like it’s an episode of “TNG,” only with the wrong music—Jeff Russo does some lousy work here—and the wrong kind of sets. “Picard”’s not cheap enough for how Frakes is directing it. Then there’s the action, which is poorly edited to the point the battle music starts not just before the battle but before the enemy ship even shows up. It’s incompetent, which it really shouldn’t be.

What’s good? Amirah Vann as the only warrior nun with any lines.

Really not sure about all the holographic clones of Han Solo-wannabe Cabrera on the ship, especially since they’re used for laughs and rather broad caricatures.

This episode does move better than the previous two… is moving better through worse material a good thing?

The White savior stuff needs to be seen to be believed, but shouldn’t be.

Also the end special guest star reveal is badly executed.

Yuck.

Star Trek: Picard (2020) s01e03 – The End is the Beginning

This episode ends where the second episode should’ve ended, with the Jerry Goldsmith Star Trek: The Motion Picture theme (i.e. “The Next Generation” theme) and a starship going into a very boring warp. It took Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his band of sidekicks all episode to get into space; apparently you can teleport everywhere in the future but not get a starship into gear for an entire episode.

It opens with a flashback. Picard and introduced last episode sidekick Michelle Hurd in some questionable Starfleet uniforms arguing after Picard’s meeting at Starfleet after they tell him they’re letting billions of aliens die because, well, the Federation’s racist, so what. Kind of sucks not getting to see Stewart yell at Starfleet. Shatner always got to yell at Starfleet. Instead, he just gets to recap to Hurd, who can’t stop calling him “J.L.,” because it’s unthinkable she’d call him Jean-Luc, Admiral, or whatever. If they turn out to have been sleeping together, moany “J.L.”s are going to haunt the imagination. It’s a silly move, like they’re trying to make Hurd seem like the cool Black sidekick to the old White man in a 1990s movie. She’s basically in the 1991 LL Cool J role. There’s optics to Stewart selling her out, but they’re never addressed. He just happens to push the Black woman on her sword.

In the present we find out Hurd’s a genius who can wave her hand meaningfully at the future computers and figure things out. But she’s also a pothead. They call it something else—like snake-leaf—but she’s a pothead. Again, there are optics. “Star Trek: Picard” manages to be less woke in 2020 than First Contact in 1996, though—even though she’s okay—Hurd is no Alfre Woodard. Not even Woodard doing a Star Trek.

She and Stewart bicker a bit, but she immediately agrees to help him, setting up eye-candy, roguish pilot Santiago Cabrera. Cabrera’s supposed to be Han Solo but he’s actually got a big ol’ man-crush on the Starfleet principles in general and, we find out, Stewart specifically. It’s an eye-roll at the forced earnestness but fine; Cabrera’s amusing enough.

Hugh the Borg (Jonathan Del Arco) shows up in the Isa Briones Borg subplot, which still manages to be a lot more interesting than the Picard getting a crew together one—even if Briones is starting to grate. Neither she or Harry Treadaway are particularly good, acting-wise, and it seems like her subplot’s going to be some kind of future-present thing because the show creators have seen Arrival but also the new “Battlestar Galactica” but… Borg anthropology—Borgopology—is engaging enough.

Really not here for the Alison Pill and Michelle Hurd bickering for no reason other than being the only two women thing though. Also Tamlyn Tomita’s quite bad as it turns out. Oh, and Picard knew about the secret Romulan android hating secret society going back to when the Romulan mission failed, which you think he’d have mentioned last episode.

But whatever. It’s a short episode (less than forty-five) and passes well enough. Though the constant fades to commercial in a streaming series are annoying.

Che: Part One (2008, Steven Soderbergh)

There’s a majesty to Che: Part One, the endless, blue Puerto Rican (I think) sky standing in for Cuba. Soderbergh loves that sky. Soderbergh’s Panavision frame doesn’t allow for much in the way of lyricism–I think the first shot of that nature comes in the last twenty minutes of the film. It’s a great looking film throughout, but Soderbergh lets the subject matter control the viewer’s perception. When he finally does throw in this wonderfully composed shot, it gives the viewer pause, reminding him or her it’s just a filmic narrative.

It should be hard to forget Che‘s a narrative–Soderbergh applies some of those masterful filmic pseudo-non-fiction skills he used in Traffic (to a similarly dispassionate result)–since it opens in a rather traditional manner. A (temporarily) unseen Julia Ormond is interviewing Benicio Del Toro about the early days of the Cuban Revolution, the planning days, and–on cue–the film flashes back. This interview–Ormond finally shows up visually following her introduction in the regular narrative–frames the entire film. It’s a traditional move and probably not a good one. Che‘s an epic biopic–it’s essentially the Lawrence of Arabia treatment, if a tad shorter–it doesn’t do anything to break the format. Like most biopics, Che keeps the viewer outside Che’s head. Del Toro gives a great performance, especially since his character is the least dynamic in the entire film.

Che’s a passive character in the film, certainly not as charismatic as Demián Bichir’s Castro. Del Toro infuses the character with a righteousness–there’s never a moment of doubt the man isn’t fully committed to doing what he says. I’d heard the film doesn’t paint Che in a positive light, but I must have had water in my ears. Soderbergh and screenwriter Peter Buchman tell the film from a viewpoint where there’s no way not to see Che as a hero. Che: Part One‘s Communist propaganda to be sure–it’s no wonder it didn’t get a real American distributor–but it’s impossible to imagine it told in any other way. The only time the film ducks out on any responsibility is in terms of Che’s marriage. There’s a big, “I’m married,” revelation scene with adoring revolutionary Catalina Sandino Moreno… immediately followed with Del Toro flirting with her every few minutes. It’s a cheap move–the film goes far to avoid giving too much background on Che, instead letting Del Toro do incredibly heavy lifting creating the character with little story support–the scenes where he’s acting as a physician are incredible, since this element’s introduced early on, so watching the soldier back down in an internal struggle to the physician… it’s lovely.

Soderbergh hasn’t fired Peter Andrews yet and Andrews’s cinematography is beautiful. It’s not just that blue sky, it’s the lush greenness. The last quarter or so of the film is a big urban battle sequence and it’s absolutely amazing. Che‘s never really a war movie, but Soderbergh’s direction of the city-set battle is peerless.

The film’s got a large cast and lots of characters have nicknames, lots have distinctive physical characteristics (so the viewer can recognize them immediately). At times, it feels as though Che wouldn’t be about Che if the film didn’t have the framework (there’s more than the interview, it also covers Che at the United Nations). The film doesn’t do anything to lionize the character in a general sense (it’s impossible to reconcile that iconic image of Che with Del Toro’s creation)–he’s a hero, but because of the way the film’s story is told.

Soderbergh films like Che: Part One always make me forget he’s capable of real emotional depth. It seems like he reserves such explorations of the human condition for his lower budgeted projects. I wish, just once, he’d try the reverse.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; screenplay by Peter Buchman, based on a memoir by Ernesto Guevara; director of photography, Peter Andrews; edited by Pablo Zumárraga; music by Alberto Iglesias; production designer, Antxón Gómez; produced by Laura Bickford and Benicio Del Toro; released by IFC Films.

Starring Benicio Del Toro (Ernesto Che Guevara), Demián Bichir (Fidel Castro), Santiago Cabrera (Camilo Cienfuegos), Vladimir Cruz (Ramiro Valdés Menéndez), Alfredo De Quesada (Israel Pardo), Jsu Garcia (Jorge Sotus), Kahlil Mendez (Leonardo Tamayo Núñez), Elvira Mínguez (Celia Sánchez), Andres Munar (Joel Iglesias Leyva), Julia Ormond (Lisa Howard), Jorge Perugorría (Vilo), Édgar Ramírez (Ciro Redondo García), Victor Rasuk (Rogelio Acevedo), Othello Rensoli (Pombo), Armando Riesco (Benigno), Catalina Sandino Moreno (Aleida March), Roberto Santana (Juan Almeida), Norman Santiago (Tuma), Rodrigo Santoro (Raúl Castro), Unax Ugalde (Vaquerito), Roberto Urbina (Guile Pardo) and Yul Vazquez (Alejandro Ramirez).


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