Archive for September 14, 2011


Sorry, one of my M:I reviews got posted ahead of schedule.  I was trying to save the revised draft and hit “Publish” by mistake.  Those who subscribe to the blog and got it sent to you, just hold off on reading it.

Categories: Reviews

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S4) Reviews: “Chico”/”Gitano” (spoilers)

September 14, 2011 2 comments

“Chico”: Another tape at the zoo, this time by the “Angola giraffe” enclosure.  Latin American gangsters Prado (Fernando Lamas) and Sandoval (Percy Rodriguez) have two halves of a microfilm naming 16 undercover narcotics agents, and are trying to work out a truce to let them combine the halves and identify (and kill) the agents.  The mission is to get the microfilm back before they can combine it.  There’s no female agent this week — instead, we’re shown the cover of a dog magazine touting “Chico, the canine whiz kid,” a small, rather fluffy dog of some sort (I don’t know dog breeds).  The apartment scene shows that the dog wears a radio collar (with an antenna sticking up, making him look like a space dog or something) through which Barney can track him and radio instructions, and that he’s trained to home in on an ultrasonic transmitter.

The dog is needed to get into the reputedly nigh-impregnable bunker where Prado keeps the microfilm, hidden on one of his valuable stamps.  Paris has to find out which stamp, which he does by impersonating a sailor whose accent wanders all over the globe between Australian, Cockney, cowboy, a bit of James Doohan Scottish at one point, and Nimoy’s own normal accent, sometimes within the course of a single sentence.  He claims to have a rare ancient coin to trade for a selection of Prado’s valuable stamps — and the one stamp that Prado isn’t willing to part with is the one whose frame Paris attaches the transmitter to.  But Prado ominously orders his henchman to check up on Sailor Paris.  (Although I want to call him Skipper Paris, given the hat he’s wearing.  “Gilligan, that is highly illogical!”)

Meanwhile, Willy fakes an air-conditioning malfunction so Barney can get into the bunker and install a trick grate for later, and Jim pretends to be a mob contact who convinces Sandoval to overcome his stubbornness and make the deal with Prado, since the mob is starting to suspect him given that the narcotics agents are hurting Prado more than him.  When Skipper Paris comes back, Prado has confirmed that he’s a fake; he has a forgery of the microdotted stamp and was supposedly planning to switch it.  Mercifully dropping the accent (which perhaps was intentionally awful), Paris claims he intercepted the other half of the list and Sandoval’s lying about having it.  Prado sends his man with him to retrieve his half, and Jim shows up to keep Prado occupied so Barney and Willy can send the dog to retrieve the stamp.  They lower Chico down the vent shaft in a cute little Toto basket, but oh noes!  Prado’s big dog barks at him through the grate and the poor widdle puppy is all trembly and scared!  Awww.  I’m not a dog person by a long shot, but I have to admit, this one is kinda cute.

Anyway, Jim distracts the big dog so Chico can get in and retrieve the stamp from Prado’s display shelves, which are conveniently arranged in a steplike pattern easy for a small dog to climb.  He takes it back up so Barney can swap out the real microdot for a fake, then takes it back down (and the shot of him putting it back is the shot of him picking it up played backward).  But oh noes, Sandoval is early and the electric vault door jams Barney’s signal!  Chico is trapped in the room!  Luckily he’s small and easily overlooked, and once Jim notices him, he moves to shield him from view, and the dog escapes while the lights are out so the drug lords can project their combined microdots.  They find it’s gibberish, and each suspects the other of trickery.  When Paris and henchguy return with Paris’s fake half, it combines with Barney’s fake half to name Sandoval as an undercover agent.  Jim and Paris take their leave, we hear the standard off-camera gunshot (Prado killing Sandoval), and Barney calls the cops in on Prado.

All in all, not as bad as I expected.  Using a dog to retrieve something is a rehash of what they did with Rusty the cat in the second season’s “The Seal,” and if there were any trace of continuity in this show I’d wonder why they didn’t just use the same cat again (which of course would’ve been far preferable, even though this dog was fairly cute for a non-feline).  But the overall story is fairly effective in a middle-of-the-road way, even though I question the need for the dog.  The idea was supposedly that a person couldn’t get into the bunker to steal the stamp, but Paris, Barney, and Jim all got into the bunker at one time or another, and Paris even picked up the stamp in question.  Heck, since Paris is supposed to be a magician, he could’ve used sleight-of-hand to switch out the microdot at that point and the episode would’ve been 15 minutes long.  So it’s kind of a flimsy excuse for using the dog gimmick.  For all that, though, it’s moderately entertaining.

No new music here, I’m pretty sure; there’s a cue or two distinctive enough that I should recognize them but didn’t, but there’s no new composer listed, so I probably just forgot them.  However, at the end, there is definitely a new performance of  the climactic cue from Gerald Fried’s first-season “Odds on Evil” score — the music is the same, but the orchestration, or perhaps the timbre of the instruments it’s being played on, is distinctly different.  This illustrates a practice that I gather was standard at the time (according to The Music of Star Trek by Jeff Bond) — by the rules of the musicians’ union, if a show reused music from a previous season, it had to do a new recording of it, so the musicians would get more work.  Usually it’s a lot harder to distinguish the different performances (although there’s a giveaway in Richard Hazard’s score to “The Commandante” — in it, there’s a new performance of Schifrin’s basic “The Plot” cue for strings and drums, and near the start of the second iteration of the melody, there’s a bit where a note is misplayed on the cello, unlike previous versions of the same cue).  But here the difference in the sound of the instruments is very clear, and the cue seems cut down as well.

“Gitano”: Jim goes into a storage room at an airport and finds the tape in one of those old green suitcases with a curtainlike fabric lining the inside.  I had one like that for a long, long time — up until about six years ago, my first Shore Leave convention — and just seeing it evokes a vivid scent memory for me.  Anyway, the mission is to save 12-year-old King Victor of Montego (Barry Williams, the future Greg Brady of The Brady Bunch) from his friend and mentor Aragas (Peter Mark Richman), ruler of neighboring Sardia, who plans to kill him and blame it the regent Duke Clement (Barry Atwater) so Aragas can conquer Montego and begin a campaign of military “adventurism” that will destabilize the region.  (Which region is unclear.  The country names resemble Serbia and Montenegro in the Balkans, but the signage and accents are Spanish.)  Clement has taken the boy into protective custody on the advice of his trusted Col. Moya (Rudy Solari), who’s secretly working for Aragas, and Aragas has painted it in the press as an abduction.  This week’s dossier photos include Zorka (Margarita Cordova, apparently not a big enough actress to get a guest-star credit shown over her photo) and Capt. Serra (John Rayner), an ally in-country who’s not present for the apartment briefing.

Since King Greg Brady is convinced Clement has kidnapped him and refuses to cooperate, the kindly Clement sees no choice but to release him and hope he isn’t sending the boy to his death.  Although that’s exactly what he’s doing; as Moya and his men drive Victor back toward Sardia, Moya reveals he intends to kill the boy.  But the team has rigged the limo in advance and fakes a car wreck, knocking the occupants out with gas and separating the boy king from the others.  Moya awakens under the care of Dr. Jim and is told that his men are dead and no boy was found, so he calls his other men (the ones who were going to ambush the limo and kill Victor) and orders a search.  Meanwhile, Capt. Serra promises Jim, rather disturbingly, that he knows how to break Moya’s men.  (Had the term “enhanced interrogation” been coined yet?)

Victor wakes up among the Gitanos, the Spanish word for the Roma (or “gypsies,” as the other characters in the episode call them), although it’s actually Paris, Willy, and Zorka (who uses her own name while Paris goes by “Django”).  They promise to protect him from Moya and play along with his belief that Clement is the enemy; Django Paris goes to Aragas to arrange for the boy’s “rescue,” but plays things to convince Aragas that he has to come in person.  Meanwhile, Zorka disguises the protesting kinglet as a girl so he won’t be recognized.  But they arrange for the disguise to slip at just the right time to tip off a suspicious local who’s been promised a reward for information.  And Serra has broken the guards (he says he “promised them their lives,” so hopefully he made a deal with them rather than torturing them), who confess Moya’s involvement to the dismayed Clement, who’s now willing to play out the plan Jim briefs him on.  So everyone converges on a warehouse, and it ends up with everyone running around all over the place trying to find each other.  Yet somehow, it ends up with Aragas and Victor just happening to run toward each other in the same hallway, whereupon Aragas shoots at Victor — who just happens to be on the opposite side of a sheet of bulletproof glass the team rigged, and now sees that Aragas is the real enemy (as does Clement, who arrests him).

Okay, so it’s kind of an entertaining episode at times, what with the comedy around King Greg Brady being embarrassed about wearing a dress and makeup, and what with the story revolving more around the competition over the boy king’s loyalties than simply around gadgets.  And Margarita Cordova is pretty darn sexy as Zorka, especially when she dances for the residents of the backlot village (the Latin-styled portion of the Paramount backlot, though in some shots you can see the German-styled part in the background).  But the endgame relies way too much on coincidence — the suspicious villager happening to be looking at the boy just when his wig slipped, Aragas and Victor happening to end up in the right positions when everyone seemed to be running around randomly.  So it’s ultimately not a convincing resolution.

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What the hey? A two-story bicycle?

I was driving home from a bit of shopping when I saw a very strange bicycle approaching, one that was twice as tall as a regular bike, with the rider seated way up high above traffic.  Just now I did some web searching and apparently this is an actual thing that people make.  The Wikipedia article says it’s considered safer in traffic because of the high visibility and “wow” factor, but I was concerned that the “What the hell is that?” factor could make traffic accidents more likely.  As for myself, since it was a narrow street, I just pulled over to the side to give him room to get past and stared in bewilderment at the contraption.  And somehow it seems to me as I write this that a double-decker bicycle is more worthy of the word “contraption” than most things would be.

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Google Chrome needs to learn to ask first

One thing I really despise is when my computer or its software makes me do things rather than giving me a choice.  For weeks I’ve been getting messages to update Firefox, but I haven’t had occasion to act on them, so finally it apparently downloaded the update automatically and installed it automatically.  But that’s not the worst of it.  Afterward, it told me my Flash player was out of date and I needed to update it.  Okay, so I hit the button to update the Flash player and started to install it.  To my shock, the installation dialogue showed not only Adobe Flash, but Google Chrome as well.  I didn’t ask for Google Chrome to be installed.  I don’t know, maybe there was some little box somewhere on the page that I could uncheck not to get it downloaded, but I didn’t see it, so the damn thing just forced this program on me without my consent.  So I had to wait for the long download process to finish and then uninstall the thing.

I don’t know, for all I know Google Chrome is a fine program.  But they have no right to force software on me that I didn’t ask for.  I should tell the computer what to do, not the other way around.  I’m so sick of software companies thinking it’s some kind of marvelous convenience if they make our decisions for us about what to download or update and when.  I was in the middle of doing something else, but I was forced to wait for something I didn’t ask for and didn’t want.  It was imposed on me without my permission.  I resent that intensely.  Maybe I’m overreacting, but I feel violated.

And it wasn’t enough for the damn imperious computer overlords to accept having their uninvited program uninstalled without comment.  The damn thing opened Explorer — a browser I have installed by default but never use — and sent me to a feedback page asking why I uninstalled Chrome, as if there were something wrong with doing so and I needed to defend my choice or something.  So I clicked “Other” and gave them what for in the text field.

This is why I hate advertising.  I think they go about it all wrong.  Again, for all I know, Chrome might be an excellent program.  But the more aggressively a product is pushed on me, the more it turns me against the product, whatever its objective merits may be.  I think if something is really worthwhile, whether it’s a product or an issue or a political candidate, we can and should figure that out on our own, through our own research and analysis, so I don’t trust aggressive sales pitches that seem designed to pressure us out of learning and deciding for ourselves.  Obnoxious, intrusive advertising works against its intended purpose, at least for me.

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