Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Doomsday Machine: Quintessential Trek

Season 2, episode 6, the mark of a true classic in my opinion. When I was first introduced to Star Trek as a 7 year old growing up in Canada, the one episode that stuck with my psyche the most was The Doomsday Machine. It had everything good Trek should have: An allegorical plot-line, edge of your seat action, priceless quotes, a perfect soundtrack, and a moral dilemma at hand with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy front and center.

And let's not forget, one of the most memorable, mentally-unstable examples of senior leadership in any capacity: Commodore Decker. This character epitomized the concept of rash judgment, brought on by circumstances out of his control, and played so convincingly by the late, great William Windom. His experience being thrust into such a horrific chain of events evolved him from a rational commander to that of a Captain Ahab archetype.

Either way, this episode served to scare me as a child. As Decker laments he saw the devil, right out of hell, describing what it was like to witness the Doomsday Machine's relentless destruction, all I could key in on were those numbing, and effective musical cues from the brilliant Sol Kaplan score. The beauty part to all of this intensity? It made your imagination kick in, and actually try to visualize the horror that Decker went through, watching a planet he beamed his crew to in the hopes of saving, meet certain death. There was no need for elaborate special-effects with his anecdote, just one hell of a musical score, and convincing acting from Windom. Add to it, William Shatner's normally hammy acting, played the part of looking visually disturbed very well here.

Even as Kirk and McCoy banter back and forth about Earth's version of a “Doomsday Machine”, suggesting the one in their future was much like the old H-Bomb in Earth's history, you can't help but feel some level of unease knowing we all still live in an era that has an all-time high risk for one being used without warning. That makes this episode of Trek as relevant today, if not more than it was in the late 60s when it first aired. I mean seriously ladies and gentlemen, the subject matter presented here should strike a chord with all of us in today's world.

But what makes this quintessential Trek? For starters, punchy dialogue during the back and forth between Spock and Decker, like a game of chess between the Vulcan mastermind, and the out of his mind Commodore. Or McCoy ready to burst an artery as he suggests he can certify Decker unfit for command, but ultimately can't at that point. These are the kinds of moments that I would argue (some others would too) that were sorely a missed opportunity in the Next Generation (also a great show in its own right), but were alive and well in the original series. It made it fun, edgy, and just plain outlandish in the best way possible in episodes like this one.

And then you have the sheer genius in having Kirk stranded on the Constellation, as he is forced to watch his girl, the Enterprise, almost get sucked into oblivion by the planet killer. Getting to see Kirk be put into a position of no power, when in reality his ego feeds off always having to be in the drivers seat was the mark of great writing. The other really great facet to this episode was seeing Spock have to out-think Decker enough to have him relieved of command. It was one of the first times we got to see Spock put in such a precarious position having to take over command while Kirk was on another ship. In the end, it's the level of Spock's intellect that allows him to regain control from Decker. Oh, and speaking of Decker, I'm going to declare right now that the fight scene between him and the red shirt should go down as the most ridiculous but most fun of the Original Series. I mean really, what the hell was that behind the back head slap Decker pulled off? Unforgettable material.

Whether you're comparing the original version of this episode to the remastered one, as much of a treat as the spiced up one is, with new special-effects, that didn't matter to me as I was watching it for the first time on a sub-par VHS tape, on a barely 19” TV in 1986. What mattered was the content of this episode, and it was for my money, one of the greatest Treks of them all due to the story, pacing, acting, emotion, and action. My only regret is there was never a sequel to this story, either in later seasons, or perhaps in one of the feature films. Nonetheless, I'd love to hear some of your comments below on how the Doomsday Machine stacks up in your own mind. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

10 Very Questionable Production Decisions In Star Trek History....

Not too far removed from the summer blockbuster that was Star Trek Into Darkness, and with more recent chirping a new director is about to be chosen by Paramount Pictures for what will be Star Trek 3, I felt it was as good a time as any to dissect what the Star Trek franchise could have done a better job with in the production decisions department over roughly 50 years of TV shows and feature films.

Let's face it, Star Trek has had the best of times, and the worst of times. Most people will look back on the franchise as being primarily more good than bad, but has anyone really picked out some of the missed opportunities it had along the way?

Whether it was miscasting, bad story lines, or absurdly bad special effects, Trek has dropped the ball on many occasions.

So with that, let's take a look at some examples of Star Trek, that due to poor decision making, could have been executed infinitely better than what Trekkies received in the end...

10. Stuart Baird Directing Star Trek Nemesis

There are many things wrong with Star Trek Nemesis, but I'm here to tell you the first mistake was without question Paramount Pictures deciding Stuart Baird would be best to helm the final Next Generation film.

He had not only had zero familiarity with Star Trek (although that' not necessarily a dis-qualifier), but he also wasn't a great storyteller, he was an editor, plain and simple. Additionally, he had no real credible success as a director going into this film. Sure, he'd directed Executive Decision and US Marshals, but for the studio, along with Rick Berman to think that made him the right choice for a film that needed to be a hit, they were dead wrong. To add insult to injury, Levar Burton even mentioned how Baird had kept mispronouncing his name during shooting!

How It Should Have Played Out: Nicholas Meyer, Jonathan Frakes, Leonard Nimoy, Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, to name a few, all would have been significantly more inspired choices for the directors chair, here. That may not have saved the letdown that was Nemesis, however, a good to great director in most cases will elevate the story at hand.

9. Tom Hardy As Shinzon

 Not to insult any Tom Hardy fans here, but he looks nothing like a Captain Picard/Patrick Stewart clone. This is the kind of example in film-making where a movie HAD to get the casting just right, and the powers that be failed miserably with Star Trek Nemesis.

Perhaps the idea of casting a younger, up and coming actor made the studio see dollar signs with this move, but in the end Hardy's Shinzon made for a very forgettable villain in Star Trek history. Flat and bland is more like it.

How It Should Have Played Out: At the end of the day, I think the production team would have been better off letting Stewart play opposite himself as Picard's clone. Imagine how epic that would have been, getting to see Stewart once again play a villain (like he did in Best of Both Worlds), but in a big screen format? There's no question that would have made this a better film soup to nuts.

8. No Kirk And Khan Fight Scene In Wrath Of Khan

For all the lauding and praise Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan has received over the years, it blows my mind the film was missing one critical ingredient: A proper fight scene for Kirk and Khan.

Now I'm sure some of you have also read that "lack of budget" was attributed to not getting to see a good round of fisticuffs between William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban, but I'm not buying it. Fans would have taken whatever they could have gotten with such a scene, even if it was on a similar scale to that of the original series episode, Space Seed. It was utter blasphemy the two iconic characters only got to stare at each other through a screen in a feature film.

How It Should Have Played Out: So many possibilities, but having Kirk and Khan fight inside the Genesis Cave would have made an already great film a better one. The set was built, all that needed to be done was some rewrites in the form of having Khan want to come down to examine the Genesis device for himself, before beaming back to Reliant.

 7. The Distinct Lack Of Q In The Next Generation Films

I've never quite understood why the production team and writers associated with the Next Generation films never bothered to find a way to include their most famous villain (next to the Borg of course) into one of their four films. Perhaps if they had, we'd have seen more than just four feature films from the Next Generation crew.

Having Q, played to perfection by John De Lancie, could have allowed the writers cart blanche in terms of crafting a story with little to no rules, and infinite possibilities. It could have put the crew into some serious trouble, but on a much more grandiose scale compared to that of the TV series.

How It Should Have Played Out: Q should have been included in at least one of the final two Next Generation films, Insurrection or Nemesis. He would have been the perfect character to use his powers in order to bring in other characters from separate Trek series, as well as the possibility of mixing in some original series characters as well. The challenges Q would have created only would have served to make the Next Gen films far more intriguing than what we got.

 6. Lack Of Classic Trek Aura In The Motion Picture

This film failed miserably to deliver a Star Trek feature film that had the classic Trek essence. Many of the original series cast members, specifically Leonard Nimoy, haven't been shy over the years with his displeasure for how The Motion Picture turned out. It was flat, dull, and the only bright spots were the outstanding special effects, and epic Jerry Goldsmith score.

For those that dislike my lack of love for the way this film turned out, look no further than the way Jon Povill, the film's main production assistant to Gene Roddenberry, described Roddenberry's reaction to the finished product. He essentially said he asked Gene what he thought of the film, and Gene hesitated and then quickly suggested they go and drink the night away. So even the great bird of the galaxy needed to numb himself from the end product here.

How it should have played out: More original series style action scenes. Case and point, have some hand to hand combat, phaser rifle battles, and for gosh sakes, it should have used the Klingons for longer than just the film's opening sequence. The chance to have added in some fun, 60's Trek style moments would have elevated the more 2001: A Space Odyssey aura of this movie. Lastly, not allowing the cast members to essentially stand around for an entire film looking at a view screen would have paved the way for a far more entertaining big screen Star Trek film!

5. Ruining The Borg

From the episodes Q-who and Best of Both Worlds parts 1 and 2, the Borg were cemented as arguably the scariest, and most intimidating of Star Trek villains. And then came "The Descent", where the production team decided to turn the Borg into the definition of a joke. Allowing the Borg to act as individuals in this episode was the first, and worst mistake of all involved.

I mean really, what was the motivation behind tainting such iconic villains? It was bizarre, it was unwarranted, and I'm certain blame can be laid partially at Rick Berman, but I'm also certain the writers shouldn't be immune from criticism as well.

How it should have played out: A proper follow-up to The Best of Both Worlds should have been written for this season 6 cliffhanger. This would have included the version of the Borg we all knew and loved up until that point: Ruthless, cold, and relentless. If nothing else, a story revolving around how the Borg were beginning to regroup after their setback in The Best of Both Worlds would have been more than adequate here.

4. Star Trek Voyager

Alright, let's go for broke here and admit that creating the Star Trek Voyager series made no sense for Star Trek. I apologize in advance for those few and far between Star Trek Voyager purists out there, but a unique opportunity was missed when this series was green lit.

With exception to Robert Picardo's holographic doctor, everything about this show was flat. The characters weren't even mildly interesting, and the conflict and drama needed to make the audience really feel for a crew that goes missing into the far reaches of space, wasn't present.

How it should have played out: A Captain Sulu series, set just after the events in Star Trek VI. This time period in Trek history would have been the PERFECT opportunity to roll back to the good old days of classic Trek characters, along with the chance to bring back other original series favorites like Kirk, Spock, Scotty, etc. There is no way this alternative wouldn't have been exponentially more interesting, and exciting than the hand that was dealt.

3. Enterprise's Finale

These Are The Voyages was not well received by fans of Enterprise, or even regular cast members of the series. There was even some supposed phone call from Scott Bakula to Brannon Braga, who wrote the episode, essentially asking him what the hell he was thinking writing such a crappy and half-assed finale to their show.

This was one of those head-scratching decisions that should have never happened to begin with. Allowing the inclusion of a couple of Next Generation cast members into what should have been the Enterprise cast members moment in the sun was as stupid as it was bizarre, reducing what could've been a big, dramatic finale into something more akin to a cheap holodeck simulation.

How It Should Have Played Out: Why not a lead-in to the always talked about Romulan war between the Federation and the Romulan Empire? Imagine seeing the heroes of the first Enterprise warping off into what we're teased enough is a imminent prelude to outright war, and then a fade to black? As long as the central focus was going to be the cast of characters of Enterprise only, it would have salvaged such a missed opportunity before Trek faded into non-relevancy until JJ Abrams and co. arrived.

2. Following Up First Contact With Insurrection

There's certainly a nice allegorical Star Trek theme embedded within Insurrection's DNA. However, there's just not a good film in there to make the most of the theme. There were some distinct yawns around me when I saw this film opening weekend in 1998, and looking back, those were not accidental. This film lacked the edge that First Contact had finally established for the Next Generation cast on the big screen, and yet ruined just one film later.

Now why Rick Berman felt that lightening the mood up for this movie was going to equal the same success as First Contact is a head-scratcher at best. After all, the 1990s was a period of some very dark films and going all moody was a popular style for many of the successes in that era. So, on that merit alone there was no good reason to brighten up the mood of Trek for this entry, and in the end, the box office suffered because of this miscalculation from the production team.

How it Should Have Played Out: Going with Micheal Piller's much-darker original script (Stardust) and including the Romulans as the bad guys could have been a nice alternative, or bringing in Deep Space Nine's villains, the Dominion, and teaming up DS9's crew with the Next Generation's also would have proved more exciting for a big screen feature film.

 1. Star Trek V: Rancid Special Effects

Maybe Star Trek V's special effects should be looked at as more akin to that of an original series episode. Perhaps that would ease the huge stain that was a glaring weakness in the film overall. Regardless, the special effects in this film were unforgivable.

This is the kind of Star Trek story that NEEDED to have epic visuals to go along with such a ballsy story from William Shatner. If the crew of the Enterprise is going to go on a wild goose chase to find God at the ass end of space, then the effects must be near perfect to hold that kind of divisive plot line together.

Shatner has gone on record – specifically in his book Star Trek: Movie Memories – stating that Industrial Light and Magics A and B teams were too busy working on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Ghostbusters II that summer. He lamented that the remaining team available through ILM just wasn't their best. OK, but you mean to tell me that the C team for ILM still wouldn't have looked light years ahead of the absolute rancid special effects Bran Ferren delivered? I highly doubt that. I'm almost certain the look on Captain Kirk's face in the photo above is pretty much how everyone felt after their first viewing of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, due to such lackluster visual effects.

How It Should Have Played Out: Production should have been delayed for a Christmas release in 1989 when it was becoming crystal clear that Bran Ferren wasn't getting it done with the special effects. If that meant going back to ILM to utilize the supposed "C" team as Shatner dubbed them, so be it, but ensuring the central problem with this film got rectified before release should have happened. That alone would have helped improve Star Trek V to a level of respectability.

As always. please feel free to include any bizarre production decisions you deem top notch in the comments section below. And most of all, thanks for reading!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (Blu-ray review)


Lucky for me I was able to get my hands on a copy of the Star Trek Into Darkness Blu-ray a few days in advance of the September 10th release date. My specific copy has the Blu-ray, a DVD copy, and a digital download option as well. That being said multiple retailers, i.e. Target, Best Buy,, Walmart will have their own specific iterations of the release next week as well. 

Film review- 4/5

Where do I even begin with this entry? For starters, the opening scene is like getting a taste of what the original cast of Star Trek could have had for adventures if the budgets back in the late 60s and even during the 80s had allowed them to showcase the crew doing some of what you see here. I almost felt like picturing the original actors who played Dr. McCoy, Capt. Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the gang while they race to save a planet that's about to become extinct from a nearby Volcano that's about to blow. However, you don't need to, because the younger actors portraying these characters do such a believable and wonderful job from beginning to end. As Kirk and McCoy escape the natives of this dying planet on foot, in a chase scene that harkens back to Raiders of the Lost Ark, you're instantly catapulted into this adventure. Soon after, seeing Spock inside a volcano that's about to explode was a thing of beauty for your eyes, which is something this film has going for it throughout. It has a visual aesthetic that never ceases to disappoint, even if the camerawork is a bit jarring at times. Once the natives of the planet Nibru are saved, and the mission is complete, you see the Enterprise blasting off into the sky with Michael Giacchino's memorable theme that helps open the film in the best way possible. At this point if you're not already smiling ear to ear, then perhaps you're a cylon and you don't have a pulse! It was the kind of home-run opening to a movie you need to catch the average viewer's attention, along with the die hard Trekkie as well.

Without giving away too much of the plot, it's a classic story of revenge in which the crew of the Enterprise have to deal with a new threat they've not been tested by before. The main allegory involved with this story deals with the concept of what if governments use fear to justify the means in becoming too powerful? That's at least what I came away thinking. The villain, (well there's actually two) Khan, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is someone you may even find yourself sympathizing with as the plot moves along. He does a masterful job portraying someone with a lot of built up anger and tension. (for reasons I won't spoil in this review) And Peter Weller, who plays the newly established character of Admiral Marcus deserves high praise for really just flat out kicking ass in this movie. Some of his one liners are delivered so on point, I find it hard to not want to recite some of this badassery while joking around with friends. It's a shame he hasn't worked in more films the past decade, because cinema has missed his acting chops and screen presence. There's no doubt about that. I also need to mention the great job Bruce Greenwood did once again playing Admiral Pike. For the short amount of screen-time he has, he makes it worthwhile by making you believe he truly is Kirk's mentor and father figure. Tough love being the operative term here with one scene in particular showcasing Kirk getting his ass chewed in such a way you can't but help feel like you're right in the moment with him as Pike lectures him to no end.

Overall if you're a fan of the original series, the older Star Trek films, or just a fan of movies that can give you a rush of excitement along with the ability to even make you feel emotion within a scene, then there's a lot to like here. I found there's something for everyone in this movie. What surprised me the most was how well a couple of the more emotional scenes were played out in this film. Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine, playing Spock and Kirk really do hit a nerve towards the end of the film and I myself was quite stunned at how many layers of emotion were projected with one scene in particular. Kleenex may be needed for some and that's a sign of brilliant acting on their part. As far as the action goes, I have to mention this, but there's one moment where Kirk and his crew realize they may be in deep deep trouble, and it's played out to where the audience realizes it's an "oh shit" moment as well. So when you witness the Enterprise getting chased down in warp speed, you just KNOW what's coming and this kind of action moment was executed so well that even just getting to see that on the big screen was well worth the price of admission.

That being said, is the film perfect? No, but it's an awfully great ride at the cinemas. I think the only areas JJ Abrams could have done differently was maybe slow down some of the camera movements. Some of the action scenes move at a neck breaking pace, and as much as that serves to thrust the audience into the chaos, I still prefer seeing action move from point A to point B in a more methodical manner. Additionally, hopefully in the next film they add in a little more screen-time for Karl Urban, who portrays Dr. McCoy so well you'd think he was Deforest Kelley's long lost son. With that in mind I really think the creative team needs to add in some more Kirk/Spock/McCoy moments and scale back slightly on the Kirk/Spock/Uhura dynamic. The former trio is what really made Trek shine the most in its heyday. Other than that, hats off to all involved. It's one of the few films you may find yourself wanting to see again and again this summer. It has the replay value Iron Man 3 didn't have, and there's plenty of things you may miss the first time out because of its relentless pace.

Video Quality- 5/5

In re-watching it last night on an Epson 8350 power-lite home cinema high-definition projector, pumping out 1080p resolution, I was blown away at how well this film has been mastered for home use. It was visually stunning to say the least. The image is framed at 2.40:1 for the duration of the film, and although that may disappoint fans who were hoping for the IMAX portions of the film to be included, rest assure it doesn't take away from how incredible the film looks on Blu-ray. Lens flares and all, from the opening sequence on the planet Niburu, to the brightly lit bridge scenes, to the darker shots set in space, everything just popped in the right places. Black levels were on point, and the colors looked breathtaking from beginning to end. It's obvious some tender loving care went into ensuring the best possible master of the film was used for home release here.

Audio Quality- 5/5

Much like the video quality being perfection, the audio is a home-run of its own. From Ben Burtt's mind-bendingly epic sound effects to Michael Giacchino's rousing score, the DTS 7.1 surround sound mix is a feast for the ears. Additionally, the dialogue that gets pumped through the center channel was not only crystal clear, it wasn't over shadowed by anything else getting churned out of the front left/right and surround channels. One scene in particular you're going to want to crank up to test the greatness of the audio on this Blu-ray is when Admiral Marcus's Vengeance overtakes the Enterprise in warp speed. Assuming your surround sound set-up is decent, along with a solid sub-woofer, you'll be sucked right into that overwhelming scene right in your living room, it's phenomenal!

Extras/Special Features- 1/5

Unfortunately I've saved the worst for last regarding this release. This may go down as one of the most bare bones new release Blu-rays for such a blockbuster film in the history of Blu-ray releases. Paramount Pictures, and I'm assuming JJ Abram's production company Bad Robot must have decided to do retailer exclusive versions of the Blu-ray, forcing fans to purchase multiple versions of this film if they want a full palette of special features. To put it mildly, that's a real pisser. One of the reasons it is a major bummer is while I watched the 8 featurettes included in my disc, I actually found most of the material to be fun, informative, and made me yearn for more. The problem with that is do I really want to run out to Target or Best Buy next week and buy the separate versions of this release to complete the missing special features? Nonetheless, the average length of these extra segments was around seven minutes a pop. Here is a complete listing of each:

  • Creating the Red Planet (HD, 8:28): Cast and crew discuss ditching the idea of shooting in Hawaii and share the painstaking details behind creating Nibiru, both the leafy red surface and the volcanic set piece. The supplement also examines alien design and the technical details and challenges behind shooting the sequence.
  • Attack on Starfleet (HD, 5:25): A look at the dramatic undertones behind one of the film's most critical scenes. It also studies set design, technical details behind the making of the scene, and creating the explosive action elements and the corresponding stunt work.
  • The Klingon Home World (HD, 7:30): An examination of incorporating Klingons into the film, keeping them familiar but also making them unique to this universe, construction of the Kronos set, Klingon costume design and makeup, and coaching the actors in the Klingon language.
  • The Enemy of My Enemy (HD, 7:03): Choosing a villain for the film, the purpose behind returning Khan to the franchise, casting Khan, making the plot line accessible to newcomers and longtime Trek fans, and Khan's story in the film.
  • Ship to Ship (HD, 6:03): Creating one of the film's most daring action sequences, from pre-visualization to final product. The supplement also examines shooting the end of the scene with no major digital enhancements.
  • Brawl by the Bay (HD, 5:44): Shooting some of the climactic scenes in Los Angeles, Zachary Quinto's physical preparations for his role, and stunt double work.
  • Continuing the Mission (HD, 1:57): A look at Star Trek's work with returning veterans and public service projects.
  • The Mission Continues (HD, 1:29): An advertisement for veteran public works service through The Mission Continues program. 

The Verdict- 3/5

Look, if you loved this film, then by all means, purchase the Blu-ray. It looks and sounds phenomenal, and that's not even up for debate. Besides, not all of us need to purchase a film based on the special features/extras alone. However, if you are someone who places a high value on getting as much bang for your buck when purchasing the copy of a film you adore for home use, then forget it, don't buy this right now. I'm going to speculate that given the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek is only a couple of years away that this film will eventually get an "ultimate" release down the line, chock full of all the special features one could ever need. One could hope anyway. Nuff said.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Opinion column: Are smartphones making us addicts?

I have to admit I'm pretty much at my wits end with this whole smartphone phase of life for society. It took me being out of work for a period of time in order to have the strong need to turn the damn thing off. Now I strictly use what was my iPhone 4s for home usage (with a WiFi connection) and as a music player when jogging outside. And that's it. There's finally an end to having any reason to bring it into a store, a movie, or a restaurant, even if the temptation was there. I can tell you it's a feeling of bliss once you get used to it. No longer do you feel like you're having any sort of technology withdrawal as you walk around reality, soaking up what's in front of you and around you versus what new message or email just came in on your phone. Ya know, acting like REAL people, not zombies!

It really hit me the other day as I was about to go for a run in the park as I spotted someone on their bike, clearly texting away (Yes, I'm that observant to be able to tell a distinction between texting versus simply changing songs) on this BEAUTIFUL sunny day here in Syracuse, NY (Where it's a rarity for the sun to come out at all) just how sad a sight that was. I get that there's some people that feel justified in having these devices around 24/7, almost glued to their face in some cases, but come on people, there really ought to be a happy medium somewhere with these contraptions that keep us plugged into a virtual collective at the touch of a button. Tom Green, the famous Canadian comedian recently lamented "the innocence" is gone in society during a standup routine and that things like smartphones and social media are like a virtual dopamine addiction for humans. I have to agree. It's like that instant gratification one gets the minute they send and then receive a response to a text message. Essentially the same feeling you'd get 15 years ago when you'd get home from a long day and see you received a message left on an answering machine you were hoping to get. Now, people are getting similar bursts of excitement via their smartphones at a relentless rate. How much is too much? When does it end? Or will we all eventually be walking around with microchips inside our brains that are constantly processing data like our phones do now? Some would argue that smartphones allow us to get things done due to our increasingly busy schedules, and that's true on one end of thinking. However, maybe it's just society and employers need to slow things down a pinch and stop treating people like work slaves even after the horses come home. Me thinks so, but I've been wrong before...

I can't help but feel it's eerily similar to that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called "The Game", where Commander Riker brings back this device you wear around your head, and every time you sink this odd shaped visual into a hole, your brain gets this instant release, no different than drugs.(oddly enough, Google glass is just around the corner) Since I brought up the Trek reference, let me just say that one thing that seemed to be consistent on the shows or the movies was the characters always tried to get away from technology when they could, i.e. shore leave, doing something that involved nature. So there was this happy medium in play that didn't make everyone so damned dependent upon having the latest and great tech device in their hands. That's a future I'd love to see society of today morph into, and one where people can still stay very connected to nature versus the virtual reality world.

And that's my point, are smartphones making virtual drug addicts out of everyone? It's hard NOT to think this when I see everything from people ignoring a sunny day outside, to frantically texting in a super market while almost ramming a cart into other patrons, to the obvious concerns of those who text while driving. You gotta be on drugs or have a DOPAMINE like effect going on in your brain to feel that incessant need to always have the phone in your hand.

I'm sure any critics of my stance on this will say I'm simply out of touch with the here and now, or I'm just old-school and can't see the fun in this new wave of technology, almost similar to how parents and authority figures back in the late 60s used to fear the effect a band like the Beatles had on their children's minds. Well riddle me this Riddler, since when does listening to music at home or in your car have the same potential cause and effect of my concerns in this column? One can still enjoy a sunny day while listening to tunes, or for that matter you can still be in the company of others say at a concert or where there's live music playing. All things that allow you to stay tapped into the physical reality around you versus the virtual reality of your smartphone device.

This isn't to say smartphones should be abandoned, and we should roll everything back to 1996. That's not my point at all. They do have their benefits, believe me they do! I remember on a few cross-country tips mine saved my ass on more than several occasions where I absolutely had to look key information up (on the side of the road) and didn't have time to go find some random computer lab. I've even found having one around while waiting for your car to be worked on, or in a dentist's office lounge can kill some time nicely. In many ways they can certainly save one's behind on the fly, but my point is they get overused. I think it's tough for some to realize society was alive and well not even ten years ago without these devices. Life went on, work got done, and emails and other messages were left to getting to a little later in the day. I know of the dangers of becoming too reliant on this form of technology because I was as abusive of the tech as anyone before being forced to switch it off. That contrast was needed for me to finally wake up, and I'll do my darnedest to NEVER go back to such a high use and reliance on such a small piece of the puzzle in life.

Seriously, take a chunk of your day where you'd normally walk into a store, a movie theater, any public place really, and leave your phone in the car. The more you do it, the more I'm willing to bet you'll feel a sense of liberation that maybe used to be there 5 to ten years ago, but certainly hasn't been in recent memory. Hell, you may even be inclined to look up and acknowledge perfect strangers you'd have never had any reason to say hello to in the past because all you were doing was saying hello to everyone in your PHONE!!! Additionally, to all the brainy people that feel they have to text and talk as they walk their dogs, seriously, have mercy on your furry friends, enjoy the moment with them versus spoiling it ad nauseam. If nothing else it's much safer that way. Soapbox over. Feel free to leave your own insight on this topic below.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Wolverine: A more than pleasant surprise (Review)

Look, I'm not going to claim to be some comic book aficionado here, and never will. So when I say that The Wolverine was one of the best experiences I've ever had going to see a comic book film, realize I'm not beholden to the comic book lore of this character. The film's setting, the action sequences, and the characters offered enough to win me over from the opening shot of the film until the theater went dark. Specifically, I'm a softy for any film that uses the backdrop of Japan, and namely Tokyo for a primary mise-en-scene. It just never gets old and gives an American made film an aura that's sadly missing from a lot of summer blockbusters. Secondly, Hugh Jackson and the rest of the cast do not disappoint in any way. There's something of a side-kick character Wolverine is forced to deal with early in the film, named Yukio, played by Rila Fukushima, and her introduction won me over from the get go. Another great addition to this cast is Hiroyuki Sanada (Some of you may have remembered him from Danny Boyle's 2007 film Sunshine) playing the son of a very important central character you'll meet in scene one of this film. I could keep gushing about the international cast but I'll leave it up to you to decide for yourself if the credit I'm giving is realistic. 

Without getting into spolier filled territory I'll just underline the central theme of the film's story (at least how I viewed it anyway) deals with the concept of immortality and mortality, along with which is the better side to be on at the end of the day. It can be an obsession for some and the films central character, Yashida, certainly would fall into that obsessive category. Additionally, the opening scene should serve as a reminder about the horrors of nuclear weapons that have indeed been used on humanity in reality. Not something you'd expect to necessarily be reminded of in the context of a Marvel comics film but I took something away from the haunting visuals in the beginning of the film.

What really makes this film flow well and have a good pulse is the action scenes. The fight choreography is top notch as you see Wolverine and his allies fend off the bad guys. I never felt the camera necessarily moved too fast for me too keep up with the action which is something I'm learning to really appreciate in this era of JJ Abram's neck break style for camera movements. Even a high speed train sequence that you'd think may be completely nauseating for the eyes seemed well within acceptable limits for my own. There's also something of a 007/James Bond vibe peppered into this film. Maybe I've just watched too many of those thrillers but between the train sequence I alluded to, some of the specific shots of cars racing through the mountains, the slightly over the top action set piece for the film's climax made me think of some of those movies. And that isn't a bad thing at all here, whether it was intentional or unintentional. Another positive I need to mention is the witty dialogue, mainly being uttered out of Hugh Jackman's mouth. This film has no shortage of humor and well-timed one liners, something that prevents itself from being too serious. I'd honestly say it's the personality of the Wolverine character, brought to life so well by Jackman that may be a reason why audiences have yet to fully embrace a character like Superman. Let's face it, the straight-edged persona doesn't usually translate into witty and well-timed spots for light comedy in a script. I had to see this film to look back on Man of Steel and realize there was a bit of charm that was missing. there. (And I was too kind about it in a past review) This is simply an ass-kicking comic book film for my money and wish the majority of films of this genre could all live up to a similar frenetic energy...

Nonetheless, for as many good things The Wolverine has going for it I need to be fair and mention some of the drawbacks as well. There's some dream sequences that have Wolverine wishing there was some way he could still be with Jean Grey. (And before I go on, I must say that Famke Janssen should get an award for getting better with age, or at least maintaining because she looks wonderful in this movie) I felt like there was one or two too many of these dream moments and it bogged things down a bit for me. I understand the need for this to serve a purpose in the character arc for Wolverine but maybe not to the degree it was used here. Also, as larger than life as the film's final action sequence was, I found myself preferring the action scenes that came before it. I'm not saying it was bad or served to leave a bad taste in my mouth before the credits rolled, I just preferred act 1 and act 2's action sequences better. That's about all I can hurl at this film for negativity though, and that should say a great deal considering they're really just minor quips at best in my book.

The bottom line is this movie should satisfy the young and old. The opening scenes should draw you in enough to care about what's building plot wise until the very end. I found it to be the most satisfying comic book film I've seen since the first Iron Man (Yes, I know that will stir the pot as far as Batman enthusiasts go) Lastly, yes, stay behind for the credits because I think that will really serve to make you leave the theater with a smile. A job well done to director James Mangold and all involved! Nuff said.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

How will Breaking Bad end?

Starting next month one of the greatest television shows I've personally (and I'm sure many would agree) have watched over the past 5 seasons will come to a close. The rise and fall of Bryan Cranston's iconic character of Walter White will be concluded, and with that it has me guessing how this show can end? Will it be a satisfying ending? (unlike the divisive ending of another famed TV show, The Sopranos) Will Walter White get taken out by his brother in-law Hank? Or will Jessie handle it himself? Or will Walter live? I can't even begin to pinpoint the infinite possibilities for the conclusion to some of the best writing TV has ever seen.

Another facet to all of this is just how lucky the show's creator, Vince Gilligan, admitted he was on an episode of the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast back in February, that it was the writers strike of 2008 that prevented him from essentially blowing the story arc of the show into the season finale of season 1. He said he'd originally had this epic ending that basically threw everything and the kitchen sink at the storyline of Walter White's character that would have prevented him from expanding on in later seasons had the strike not occurred when it did. Just hearing that blew my mind at how close this show was to never being able to evolve the way it has since season 1. Thankfully dumb luck intervened and Gilligan was unable to execute that plan.

So now the 2nd part of season 5 is set to air next month on AMC and on top of trying to guess how the ending will play out I'm extremely bummed that such an excellent show will no longer be on the airwaves. Let's face it, has there ever been a TV series that depicts such a miserable, deceitful main character you may find yourself at times rooting for? I realize that up until a certain point in the show that may be impossible, but the sheer brilliance of Bryan Cranston's acting ability provides the layers needed for one to not completely detest the character of Walter White. Even amidst some of his characters most evil moments he's able to project even just a microscopic sense of humility and innocence (at least that's how I've disgusted the character) And let's not forget the great supporting cast, with Aaron Paul's character of Jessie, and Dean Norris's portrayal of Hank. Add to it some of the reoccurring characters of Saul, Mike, and Gustavo up until this point and it has made for the perfect balance of drama and humor throughout the series. My only regret is Mike and Gustavo were killed off, that's the only criticism the show warrants in my eyes and it really isn't much of one all things considered.

Having said all that, what could possibly make this show's ending a memorable and satisfying one? Or is it impossible at this point, given just how GREAT the series has been that there simply is no perfect ending? Even if you're not a die-hard fan of this program, there's no freaking way you can ever say you've seen a TV series commence with a character driving a Winnebago, partially on fire, blazing through the New Mexico desert, while just in his underwear and wearing an oxygen mask in scene 1 of a new show. It had to mark the biggest WTF moment in the history of TV in my opinion. How do you top that kind of a series opening scene? I think in some ways I'd prefer the show to not have every loose end tied up. Maybe allow the viewer to create their own idea of how Walter, Hank, Jessie, and Saul carry on after all is said and done. Maybe it would be too predictable that Walt is ultimately caught and/or killed for all his wrongdoing in the end? Time will tell.

Please post any ideas or comments below! Nuff said.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Rocky Balboa spin-off "Creed": Thoughtful idea or just a cash grab?

I'm going to make it crystal clear before I get into my opinions on this that I've adored the Rocky films since I was about seven years old. I would even go as far as saying I was a bigger fan of the Apollo Creed character than I was Rocky himself. I remember being vehemently pissed as a ten year old when I first watched Rocky IV and Drago killed one of my idols. That being said, I would love to know what Hollywood is smoking with the idea to green light a spin-off project entitled "Creed."

The basic premise (per a yahoo article earlier today) is that Rocky gets lured out of his retirement to become Apollo Creed's grandsons trainer. Ah, yeah, do I need to repeat this? Does this mean we'll eventually get a flashback spin-off with Mickey and Paulie taking a summer road trip together as well??! It's bad enough we're getting so many remakes shoved down our throats like Total Recall, the soon to be released Robocop, Poltergeist, and many others, but now something like this is going to get funded! So I guess what's debatable here is will there be some original source material to make this spin-off film into something special, or will it just feel like a formulaic retread?

  Hasn't this film already been made?

It's really too bad the Carl Weather's Apollo Creed character was killed off because ideally HE would be the proper actor needed to give a film like this some real sincerity. Right away I'm questioning why would Rocky train his grandson? Why can't Apollo's family set him up with a contemporary trainer, why Rocky? Another issue I have is didn't we already get a film like this with Rocky V, when Rocky reluctantly trains Tommy Gun? Seems like this will be a slippery slope in terms of avoiding territory Sly Stallone has already taken this series. Will there be a Don King like character to lure Creed's grandson into a life of being tormented by money, and unethical behavior? Will we see him fight Ivan Drago's butt-baby? Just kidding, but these are the kinds of absurd questions swirling in my brain after reading this announcement from earlier today.

Sometimes I think it's good to let a good thing go out on top. Stallone more than accomplished this with Rocky Balboa and I'm not sure why he'd want to be apart of something that could potentially undo what he fixed between Rocky 5 and the last entry. However, maybe I'm way off the mark here and if anyone has any bright ideas as to why this could make for a great film, by all means, leave some comments below. Let the debate begin... Nuff said.