Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - ULTIMATE EDITION Review/Discussion


As many of you know, when Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released in theaters this past March, things didn’t turn out as well as Warner Bros. had hoped for their big superhero epic that was set to start off DC’s own ‘Cinematic Universe’. The film was absolutely savaged by critics and even though, like its predecessor Man of Steel, it did have its fair share of fans this time around its critics were much more vocal in expressing their disdain for the film. And while it certainly did well at the box-office, grossing over $872 million worldwide, somehow it was still deemed a ‘box-office failure’ due to the fact that it didn’t reach the studio’s expected goal of $1 billion (this, folks, is why I’m not in the box-office industry… how nearly $900 million worldwide is supposed to be a failure is beyond me). But while many found the film to be quite underwhelming, a lot of folks were looking ahead to the film’s home media release. Because prior to the film’s theatrical release, director Zack Snyder had noted that his original cut of the film was around three hours long before it was cut down to the theatrical cut’s 151-minute runtime. But as for the original cut, Snyder confirmed that it would be released with the theatrical cut upon the film’s release to Blu-Ray, DVD, and digital outlets. And now with this new R-rated ‘Ultimate Edition’, fans finally get to see Snyder’s true vision for the film. So with that said, considering that I actually was a fan of the film’s theatrical cut, even when taking all of its faults into account, what are my thoughts on the ‘Ultimate Edition’? More importantly, can this new version of the film do enough to change the minds of those who didn’t like it the first time?

Well I’m pleased to report that the Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice IS indeed the superior cut. The main reason for this is simple; because the film is allowed to breathe at a run-time of just over three hours, the film’s plot flows much smoother than it did in the theatrical cut. As a result, certain scenes that some folks felt were rushed and underdeveloped have much more weight to them. For example, a commonly derided scene in the film was the opening action sequence in Africa, in which Superman saves Lois from a group of terrorists but is then deemed as the one responsible for a series of deaths that occurred during the attack. The Ultimate Edition shows more of this sequence, not only showing said deaths (many of which weren’t actually seen in the theatrical cut) but also giving audiences a greater sense of what really happened and how Lex Luthor used this incident to turn the world against Superman. On that note, Lex’s overall plan to combat Superman is much more detailed in this version, namely in regards to how he blackmails certain people into doing his dirty work as well as how Lois investigates the whole conspiracy. Remember the scene in the courtroom where Superman wasn’t able to detect the bomb hidden inside Wallace Keefe’s wheelchair? Well as explained in the Ultimate Edition, the chair was lead-lined so yes, there was a reason why Superman didn’t notice it. As far as the action is concerned, there’s not really that much added in this cut. There’s more of the Africa attack, which has quite a few cases of bloodshed as soldiers are shot by Anatoli and his men, and the scene in which Batman brutally takes down Anatoli and his men as he rescues Martha is certainly much more intense with shots that no doubt had to be cut to appease the censors. But for the most part, the new additions are mostly story based.  

Now with all of this said, I can’t really say that this film will completely win over everyone who wasn’t a fan of the film’s theatrical cut. Because in terms of overall execution, this newer cut still maintains the same general style/vision of its trimmed counterpart. It’s still very serious in tone with only a few quips from characters like Alfred and Perry White to lighten up the mood. Jesse Eisenberg’s polarizing portrayal of Lex Luthor is still the same polarizing performance that you either liked or were annoyed by. The highly anticipated fight between Batman and Superman is still only a small part of a bigger story and no the Ultimate Edition doesn’t add anything to that scene. And the whole scene in which Wonder Woman views the video files on other meta-humans like Flash and Aquaman is still done in the same manner. Like with Man of Steel, it really all comes down to how you view the way this film’s story is told. And as for me, as I’ve gone over before, I was fine with plenty of the choices that Snyder made with this film, from how they introduced the other members of the Justice League to, yes, even that controversial ‘Martha’ scene that the internet constantly mocked. At the end of the day, the most important thing that the Ultimate Edition does is that it fixes quite a few narrative issues that critics/audiences pointed out when it was released, namely in regards to Lex’s whole conspiracy plan. And the choppy editing that sometimes plagued the theatrical cut in scenes like the Africa attack is much smoother as a result.


So the big question now is why did Warner Bros end up cutting so much out of the film when it was released in theaters? At this point I’m sure that it wasn’t due to the stuff in the film that would’ve warranted an R-rating, like the bloodier action in Africa or the brief glimpse of Ben Affleck’s butt during a scene in which Bruce takes a shower, because those additions are only minor at best. And besides, as we all know, the MPAA can be pretty damn lenient when it comes to stuff like that. No at the end of the day the bigger concern was why they cut so much out of the film to the point where it hindered the plot. Well with that said, it’s pretty darn clear as to why Snyder was forced to cut out so much… time constraints. As Snyder himself put it, he just didn’t have the same kind of creative clout that someone like James Cameron has to the point where he could get his full 3-hour long cut of the film released. But the thing is… even though the Ultimate Edition is 30 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, I still would’ve gone to see the film in theaters if it was released in its uncut form. I would have totally sat in that theater for three hours if it meant that I would be able to see the film as Snyder fully envisioned it. I do agree with the argument that if this cut of the film was the one that was shown in theaters, I bet it would’ve done much better with critics. Granted, I don’t think that it would’ve been outright critically acclaimed like some of the MCU films but at the very least I think it would’ve at least been on the same level as its predecessor, hovering somewhere around the 50% range on Rotten Tomatoes. 

So with all of this in mind, here are my thoughts on how people will probably respond to this Ultimate Edition. If you were someone who absolutely hated the film and pretty much everything in it, then it’s safe to say that you’re probably not going to like this newer cut any better because it’s still the same kind of film as its theatrical cut. But if you’re someone who didn’t hate it but was more on the fence about it (in other words, you’d give it a rating somewhere around 2.5/5 or so), then I think that at the very least you’ll like this newer version a bit more because it does fix quite a few of the narrative issues that most people had with the film’s theatrical cut. And as for those who did love the film when it was released, well, this newer cut is just going to be even more satisfying. Now like I said before, I did like the film as it was in its theatrical cut. Yeah it did have some major problems when it came to editing and the narrative but I do feel that Snyder managed to overcome that, for the most part, with an excellent visual style, impressive debuts by Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot as Batman and Wonder Woman, respectively, and a strong third act with an effective emotional finale revolving around the death of Superman. Since the Ultimate Edition was released, I’ve seen quite a few people online say that they’re not going to watch the theatrical cut anymore now that this superior cut is out. As for me, I’m not going to outright disown that cut because as I’ve been saying numerous times, it wasn’t ‘that bad’. But at the end of the day, the Ultimate Edition really is the true version of Batman v Superman. Here’s hoping something like this doesn’t happen again with Justice League.   


Rating: Originally I gave Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as it was when it was first released in theaters, a 3.5/5 rating. When I went to go see the film a second time, I actually bumped my rating up to a 4/5 because I got a greater understanding of the story’s emotional depth. So with all of that said, I will give the Ultimate Edition a 4.5/5 due to the fact that it did fix two major issues that most had with the film, resulting in a much stronger narrative.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Star Trek Beyond (2016) review


As I’ve gone over quite a few times already these past few years, I am a huge fan of the J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek films. The 2009 Star Trek ‘reboot’ not only introduced me to the franchise, as was the case with other franchise newcomers, but also ended up becoming one of my favorite films of all-time period. As a result, the sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, was my most anticipated film of 2013. And while I personally really loved it, the same couldn’t be said for most long-time Star Trek fans. In fact, most Trek fans heavily despise the J.J. films for allegedly not staying true to the franchise’s roots and Into Darkness got a considerable amount of backlash for its re-imaginings of scenes from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. So with all of that in mind, there was certainly a lot of pressure on the third of these J.J.-era (or should I say ‘Kelvin’ era as it’s recently been designated) films to adhere more to what made the franchise so popular in the first place. This time around, though, J.J. wasn’t available to direct due to his work on a certain other film that starts with the word ‘Star’. So in his place is Justin Lin and while a lot of Trek fans weren’t too pleased with the hiring of ‘another action director’, Lin’s work on the Fast and Furious films have made him one of the best action directors in the business. Plus, he made it clear that he was a Trek fan and with the addition of franchise star Simon Pegg as one of the film’s co-writers, it looked as if this new Trek film would fare much better with fans. And sure enough, Star Trek Beyond, the 13th installment of this iconic sci-fi franchise, is one heck of an exciting space adventure. For fans of the J.J. films like myself, this is just yet another super entertaining film that maintains all of the things that made the previous two films so great. But for more hardcore Trek fans, they’re probably going to like this one better.

At the end of Star Trek Into Darkness, the crew of the USS Enterprise, as led by Captain James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine), set off on a five-year journey into uncharted space. As this film begins, the Enterprise is three years into the voyage and while things have been going fairly smoothly for the crew, Kirk is considering applying for a promotion to the position of Vice Admiral due to him beginning to really feel the monotony of being a starship captain. After briefly stopping at Yorktown, an advanced Starbase, the crew are sent out on a rescue mission when an escape pod is found and its sole occupant, an alien named Kalara (Lydia Wilson), says that her ship got stranded in a nearby nebula. However, this ends up being a trap as the Enterprise is ambushed by a swarm of alien ships led by their fearsome alien commander Krall (Idris Elba), who is seeking a mysterious alien artifact that the Enterprise had recently found. The Enterprise is destroyed but the crew manages to abandon ship and they end up on a nearby planet. With no ship and no way of sending out a distress signal, Kirk, along with his fellow crewmates; first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), medical officer Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban), communications officer Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), and navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin), as well as a new ally in Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a scavenger who’s been living on the planet for some time, race to stop Krall before he can collect the artifact and use it to attack the Federation.

As noted earlier, one of the main issues that ‘Trekkers’ have had with the J.J.-directed films is that they don’t really feel much like Trek films. While I personally disagree with that argument, I will admit that out of all of these recent Trek films, Beyond is certainly the most Trek-ish of the bunch. The whole plot of Kirk and crew stranded on an alien planet definitely feels like something you’d see on an episode of The Original Series. By comparison, the last two films were more focused on the origins of the Enterprise crew before they set off on their five-year mission. However, if we’re talking overall execution, Beyond very much maintains the same level of action as its two predecessors. So with that said, I’m not entirely sure if this will win over every Trek fan because it’s still very much an action-oriented film and not necessarily a ‘cerebral’ kind of story as I find that some fans were wanting out of these newer films. But as someone who actually does prefer the action-oriented style of the newer Trek films, this film was right up my alley and I loved every second of it. The action is excellent as are the visuals and Justin Lin’s direction is solid throughout. Plus, amidst all of the action, the film makes sure to spend time further developing its characters, namely by giving them some effectively emotional character moments. Now I’ll admit that I don’t think this film actually has as much emotional depth as the previous two films but even with that said, there are still plenty of emotional moments in this film, like Spock struggling to cope with the idea of mortality following a recent tragedy (the details of which I won’t reveal here as they’re kind of spoiler-y).   

I don’t really need to go over the main cast that much because this is the third film that they’ve been in. Simply put, they’re just as phenomenal as they’ve been in the last two films. One of my absolute favorite things about these new Trek films has been the camaraderie amongst the main ensemble and I’m happy to report that this is once again the case here, resulting in plenty of humorous banter amongst them. Though with that said, it’s also a little bittersweet knowing that this is the last we’ll see of Anton Yelchin in the role of Chekov, as Yelchin tragically passed away a month ago in a car accident. So instead of focusing on the main cast, let’s focus on the newcomers, specifically Sofia Boutella as Jaylah and Idris Elba as the film’s main villain Krall. Boutella made quite an excellent first impression in her first ‘major’ film role as Gazelle, the main henchwoman of Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine in last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and she’s once again excellent here. Simply put, Jaylah’s a pretty badass female lead but is one that is also very layered as well as shown in her backstory and her motivation of getting off of the planet. As for Elba as Krall, I must say that these new Trek films have done a pretty excellent job with their villains. I can’t say at the moment if Krall is as good as or better than Nero (Trek ’09) or Khan (Into Darkness) but Elba certainly makes the character a very memorable and quite intimidating adversary for Kirk and company. Plus, his main motivation and backstory are quite well-developed.

As someone who absolutely loved J.J. Abrams’ two Star Trek films, Star Trek Beyond most certainly delivered on everything that I love about these newer Trek films. The action and visuals are excellent, the plot is solid, and the characters are excellently handled in terms of both the performances and strong camaraderie of the actors/actresses who play them as well as the excellent character development that they get to work with. However, I’m well-aware that this film has a lot to prove as most Trek purists weren’t too pleased with the last two films. And while I personally will defend both the 2009 Trek and Into Darkness come hell or high water, I have the feeling that they’re going to like this film a whole lot more. Because while it’s still very much the action-oriented style that the two J.J. films maintained, the plot is certainly much more Trek-y in terms of its overall execution. So in short, thanks to the solid direction from Justin Lin, who proves to be an excellent successor to J.J., as well as the solid writing from writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, Star Trek Beyond is yet another fantastic entry in this legendary franchise. And for someone like me who grew up not with the Original Series but with J.J.’s films, it’s just another home run hit for the franchise’s modern era and I can’t wait to see what happens next for my favorite Enterprise crew. In fact, we already know one key detail of what will happen next as it was recently confirmed that Chris Hemsworth, who had a minor role in the 2009 film, will be returning in the next film to reprise his role as Kirk’s father George. Could this potentially be the last of the J.J.-era Trek films? We don’t know for sure just yet but needless to say I’m super excited for the new Star Trek IV, in which Kirk’s overall arc of trying to live up to his father’s legacy will no doubt come full circle.


Rating: 5/5!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

TREK WEEK: In Defense of the J.J. Abrams-directed 'Star Trek' films


As the second annual ‘Trek Week’ continues here on Rhode Island Movie Corner, I’ll be doing something a little bit different today; something sort of along the lines of a ‘thesis’ as I work to defend two of my favorite films of the last few years; J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films. Despite what some fans may claim, these two films are very important to the franchise as they very much resurrected it after almost half a decade of no new major Star Trek media. And they’re also very important to me as not only are they some of my all-time favorite films (the 2009 Star Trek film is legitimately in my Top 10 favorite films of all-time) but they also helped me get into the Star Trek franchise in the first place, and the same can be said for other people who went into it not being very familiar with the franchise. However, when it comes to long-time fans of Trek, these films aren’t really as liked. In fact, they’re pretty much hated by them for various reasons and said backlash got even more vocal when the 2013 sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, was released. Simply put, the big argument amongst this crowd is that the films ‘don’t carry the feel of the franchise’. As a result, there’s now a lot of pressure on director Justin Lin and writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung to make sure that the upcoming Star Trek Beyond does a better job at appealing to the long-time fans. And I won’t lie… all of this backlash kind of frustrates me. Because I am not embarrassed to admit that I am a major fan of the J.J.-directed Trek films. In fact, I kind of prefer them to the older Trek films. And yeah… I know that this will be considered as complete ‘blasphemy’ amongst Trek fans. However, I’m about to go over why I will defend these films to the bitter end.  

But first, let’s put things into perspective. In the early 2000’s, the Star Trek franchise was pretty much at rock bottom. The most recent Trek film, Star Trek: Nemesis, the last film to star the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, was both a critical and commercial dud, just barely earning back its $60 million budget at the box-office. In fact, from a box-office perspective, it is the lowest-grossing film in the series worldwide. Meanwhile, on the TV front, things weren’t doing much better. The main Trek show at the time, the prequel series Enterprise, constantly suffered ratings-wise during its run and by 2005, the generally polarizing series was canceled after only four seasons. The following year, the franchise’s creative head, Rick Berman, was relieved of his duties. In short, the franchise was in one hell of a creative rut. As a result, the next few years saw numerous proposals for a potential resurrection of the franchise from various filmmakers including Bryan Singer and even Trek alums like Jonathan Frakes and William Shatner. Ultimately though, the honor to revive the franchise went to writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, with J.J. Abrams, fresh off of his feature-length directorial debut, 2006’s Mission Impossible III, chosen to direct. And we all know how that turned out. On May 8th, 2009, Star Trek was released in theaters and it was a solid critical and commercial hit. It certainly proved to be a success for non-fans of the franchise and opened the door for a new generation of Trek fans like myself. However, the same couldn’t really be said for long-time fans. And based on every single criticism that I’ve heard directed towards these films over the past few years, there are two main issues that the ‘Trekkers’ have with these films.


The first was the new film’s bold decision to establish an ‘alternate universe’. This concept of a ‘multi-verse’ had been previously explored in episodes of the various Trek shows but this was pretty much the first time that the films had ever gone this route. As the result of a supernova being turned into a black hole, the Romulan ship Narada ended up going back over a century in time and its attack on the USS Kelvin paved the way for a different series of events that still revolved around the franchise’s classic characters, namely James T. Kirk. A similar situation occurred last year with Terminator: Genisys and as you’d expect, that film also got flak for going that route. However, I actually think that this is a great idea as it allows the franchise to tell new stories within their universes with their classic characters without having to adhere to canon. But at the same time, another argument that people bring up about this kind of plot development is that it results in classic moments from the series ‘being erased from existence’… and I’ll just cut to the chase and say that this is not true. I mean, okay, it’s true that the creation of a new timeline does do away with beloved moments from previous films. However, it’s not like those films don’t exist anymore. If you can still go to a place like Best Buy and are able to buy the original Trek films without issue, then I don’t see what the problem is with a franchise establishing a new alternate reality. The main characters are still the same characters as before, expect that now they are being developed in different, and technically speaking ‘more modern’, ways.


The character that benefits the most from this new timeline is Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Of course William Shatner will always be the original Kirk but if you ask me, Chris Pine’s Kirk is actually a much more layered character. With Shatner’s Kirk, things usually ended up going his way no matter how difficult the situation was. After all, as emphasized in a classic scene in The Wrath of Khan where he reveals that he cheated on the infamous Kobayashi Maru test, a moment which was finally witnessed in the 2009 film, Kirk does not believe in the no-win scenario despite being told that it a situation that every Starfleet captain will likely face at one point. There were only a few instances where things didn’t really go his way, with the biggest one being when Spock died at the end of Wrath of Khan. Chris Pine’s Kirk, on the other hand, immediately starts off on a rough path. He had to grow up with the burden of having his father be George Kirk, who sacrificed himself to save the lives of the crew of the USS Kelvin, including his wife Winona and their then-newborn son [him]. So as a result, he became a reckless and arrogant delinquent until he was approached by Christopher Pike to enlist in Starfleet, ‘daring him to do better’ than his dad. I feel that this helped make Pine’s Kirk a very relatable protagonist, someone who has a lot of pressure on him to succeed. As a result, it’s cool to see how he matures as a leader over the course of these films. Plus, this idea of Kirk being under his father’s shadow seems to once again be relevant in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond as the second trailer opens with Kirk recounting how ‘he joined Starfleet on a dare’ and Bones remarking that now Kirk is trying to figure out who he really is.


As for Kirk’s eventual first officer Spock, the film further explores the character’s half-human, half-Vulcan heritage. Right out of the gate, he is shown to be ostracized by his Vulcan peers solely due to his father Sarek being a ‘traitor’ for marrying ‘that human whore’ Amanda Grayson. This prejudice is later seen when the heads of the Vulcan Science Academy remark about how successful Spock has been despite the ‘disadvantage’ of having a human mother. This effectively leads him to reject the invitation to the Academy and instead enlist in Starfleet. And while Trek fans of course know that Kirk and Spock are always portrayed as friends, the 2009 film actually doesn’t start out that way. When Kirk pulls his little ‘stunt’ during his Kobayashi Maru test, he is immediately accused of cheating by Spock and the two end up in a major moral conflict for most of the film, with Spock maintaining a generally cold and logical persona throughout. His emotions aren’t fully brought out until Kirk provokes him by questioning why he doesn’t show any emotion over the recent death of his mother, resulting in him lashing out at Kirk and subsequently relinquishing command to him on account of being emotionally compromised. This is then followed by Sarek finally admitting to him that he didn’t marry his mother because it was ‘logical’ but because he truly loved her. As a result, Spock is able to gain better control of his emotions, allowing for him and Kirk to finally set aside their differences and work together to stop the Narada from destroying Earth. Later, he is convinced to stay with Starfleet and be Kirk’s first officer, being told to ‘put aside logic’ and ‘do what feels right’. By whom, you may ask? Why, by his older self, of course!


Yes, the 2009 film pulled a major coup by having Leonard Nimoy cameo as an older Spock. His Spock is shown to be the one from the original timeline and was partially responsible for the establishment of the new timeline. When his attempt to save the planet Romulus from a supernova failed, it led to the creation of the aforementioned black hole and he and the Narada were sent many years back in time. When Kirk is marooned on the ice planet Delta Vega by the younger Spock, ‘Spock Prime’ (his credited designation in these films) helps him get back onto the Enterprise though he doesn’t come along to help Kirk take command of the ship, claiming that he cannot come into contact with his younger self. However, the two Spocks do end up meeting at the end of the film and the older Spock admits that he ‘lied’, or as he puts it, ‘implied’ about the whole time paradox thing. This is easily one of the best cameos in recent memory, though I use the term ‘cameo’ loosely because Nimoy’s Spock actually has a major role in the film. Nimoy is just as excellent as he’s always been in the role. At the time, it had been a long while since he last played the part but he slips back into the role with ease and gives the film plenty of emotional gravitas. Now I am aware that there were also plans to have William Shatner do a cameo but that ultimately didn’t happen. And to be honest, I think it’s actually a good thing because I feel that having both Shatner and Nimoy appear might have been a detriment to Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as the younger Kirk and Spock. By just having Nimoy appear, it allows for Pine and Quinto’s versions of the characters to stand on their own while still giving the film a means of connecting the new Trek with the old Trek. Nimoy would once again appear, this time truly in cameo form, in the sequel when the younger Spock contacts him requesting information about that film’s main villain (more on that character later). Sadly, this would be the last time that Nimoy ever played the part as he passed away in February of 2015.


While Kirk and Spock are obviously the main protagonists, the film also does a great job in setting up all of the other main characters. Not all of them get as much to do as the lead duo but they at least have one scene each that establishes their importance to the crew. While Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy has perennially been the third most important character of the series, the film actually promotes Lt. Nyota Uhura to that position. And sure, a sizable part of her role in the newer films does revolve around her romantic relationship with Spock but I actually don’t mind that as I feel that this relationship gives Spock a valuable human connection. Plus, I also liked how, early on, Uhura didn’t really get along with Kirk as a result of his generally brash demeanor. But of course the film doesn’t forget about the Enterprise’s reliable doctor, Bones, and of the entire cast, Karl Urban probably acts the closest to his predecessor, DeForest Kelley. Urban absolutely nails the character’s generally grumpy but still very much humane attitude, especially in scenes where he’s arguing with Spock (“Are you out of your Vulcan mind?”). Helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) gets to be part of a major action sequence when he and Kirk space-jump onto a Romulan drill, which harkens back to a famous moment from the episode ‘The Naked Time’ in which Sulu, while under the influence of a mysterious substance, brandishes a fencing foil (from the 2009 film: Kirk: “So what kind of combat training do you have?” Sulu: “Fencing.”). The sequel even hints at a potential future as a starship captain, something that did happen in the original timeline, when he becomes acting captain and threatens ‘John Harrison’ with the load of torpedoes at the Enterprise’s disposal (Bones: “Mr. Sulu… remind me never to piss you off.”).

As for ensign Pavel Chekov (played by the late Anton Yelchin, who tragically passed away recently meaning that the upcoming Beyond will serve as his final turn in the role), the film immediately sets him up as a young mathematical prodigy. Said talent comes in handy later on, especially in a scene in which he is able to beam up Kirk and Sulu when they fall off of the Narada’s drilling device. However arguably his best moment came in Into Darkness, during which he’s promoted to the role of Chief Engineer when Scotty decides to resign. Simply put, the look on his face when Kirk tells him to go put on a red shirt is priceless, showing that he clearly knows what happens to most redshirts in Star Trek. Thankfully that fate doesn’t end up happening to him. And of course we can’t forget about the Enterprise’s trusty engineer, Montgomery Scott, who is first introduced working at an outpost on Delta Vega before Kirk brings him onto the Enterprise as Chief Engineer. Like Urban, Simon Pegg absolutely nails the role from the accent to the mannerisms and the films certainly utilize Pegg’s comedic ability to great effect, from the scene in which he awkwardly remarks how exciting it is on the Enterprise after the whole ‘Kirk emotionally compromising Spock’ scene to the scene in Into Darkness in which he drunkenly argues with Kirk over coms while at a bar following his resignation. In short, every member of the Enterprise crew matters in the long run and these films do an absolutely fantastic job in establishing a phenomenal camaraderie amongst its cast of leads. 


But perhaps the biggest issue that most Trek fans have with the new films is the fact that it seemingly focuses more on action than the layered, cerebral plots that the franchise has perennially been known for. And while it’s true that the films definitely have a very action-heavy style, I don’t really see how that’s entirely a ‘bad thing’. Chris Pine was recently quoted as saying that it’s not really possible to do ‘cerebral’ Trek anymore in 2016, saying that “it just wouldn’t work in today’s marketplace” of big blockbusters… and you know what? He’s totally right! Like imagine if they ever decided to do something similar to Star Trek: The Motion Picture… that would be a colossal disaster from a box-office perspective. It’d do about as good as a Terrence Malick film. The other thing is that I’d argue that while the films do lean more towards being sci-fi action films, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have strong themes and character arcs in them. In the case of the 2009 film, there’s things like Kirk trying to deal with being in the shadow of his father and Spock struggling to deal with his emotions as well as dealing with his half-human/half-Vulcan heritage. Heck, Nero (Eric Bana) is actually a pretty decent villain as far as Star Trek villains go. He has an emotional backstory to him as he seeks vengeance against Spock (the older Spock, specifically, though this plot of revenge is later carried over to the younger Spock) for being unable to save his planet Romulus from destruction. So as payback, he makes Spock witness the destruction of Vulcan… and boy is that an emotional gut-punch of a scene, especially when Spock’s mother Amanda falls to her death right in front of her son. Heck this whole film is full of effective emotional moments, including the opening as Kirk’s father sacrifices himself right as his wife gives birth. What can I say? J.J. does a great job when it comes to scenes like this.


Speaking of the score, Michael Giacchino’s music for these newer Trek films are two of my all-time favorite film scores. In creating said score, Giacchino does something that David Arnold did when he did the music for the 2006 James Bond ‘prequel/reboot’ film, Casino Royale. And that is that he makes the smart decision to not primarily utilize the iconic Star Trek theme created by Alexander Courage. Instead, that piece is fittingly used during the end credits and I must say that Giacchino’s version of the theme is quite a rousing cover of it. But as for the rest of the film, Giacchino does an absolute fantastic job when it comes to creating motifs that can be either really emotional or invigoratingly thrilling during the film’s equally thrilling action sequences. In regards to the latter, this mainly comes in the form of this reboot series’ main motif (exemplified in this track, ‘Enterprising Young Men’). I absolutely adore this motif and I especially love how it can be used in both emotional scenes (e.g. ‘Warp Core Values’ from Into Darkness) and scenes of grand spectacle (e.g. the aforementioned ‘Enterprising Young Men’, during which we see the first look at the Enterprise, and ‘Sub Prime Directive’ from the opening of Into Darkness as the Enterprise rises out of the ocean). In the case of the former, just look at tracks like ‘Labor of Love’, which is played when Kirk’s father sacrifices himself while his wife gives birth, or ‘Buying the Space Farm’ from Into Darkness, when Kirk makes the same bold sacrifices that his father made and shares one last moment with Spock.


And yeah… let’s talk about Star Trek Into Darkness. This is one that I’ve been dying to stick up for these past few years because ever since it came out, it’s been subjected to much scrutiny from ‘Trekkers’. So much so that at a convention in Las Vegas that was held a few months after the film premiered, it was named the WORST film in franchise history, with one fan apparently claiming that the JJ films shouldn’t even recognized as Star Trek films… and boy does all of this piss me off. First off, Into Darkness is ‘worse’ than The Motion(less) Picture, the yawner that is Insurrection, or the actual near-franchise killer that was The Final Frontier? But the thing that really rubs me the wrong way is the statement about the films not belonging in the franchise. You know, the franchise that was pretty much dead and would still be dead if it wasn’t for the J.J. films? They seriously ranked a non-Trek film, 1999’s Galaxy Quest, higher than Into Darkness. That shouldn’t even count! UGH! So what is it about Into Darkness that Trek fans were so upset about? It was over the big bait-and-switch pulled by the filmmakers in which it was revealed that Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain character was in fact the legendary franchise antagonist Khan… except in the months leading up to the film’s release, everyone kept denying that he was Khan. And to make things more problematic, the film then proceeded to re-imagine some notable ‘moments’ from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, namely the bold sacrifice by a main character to save the Enterprise from being destroyed and the vengeful screaming of Khan’s name. However, is the film as big of a ‘rehash’ of Wrath of Khan as Trekkers claim? The truth is… it really isn’t…


If Star Trek Into Darkness was about Khan trying to find a terraforming device capable of giving new life to a dead planet or destroying every living thing if used on a planet with life, then I’d probably be more susceptible to call the film a ‘rip-off’ of Wrath of Khan but that’s not what the film is about. Instead, it’s about Khan enacting revenge upon Starfleet for using him and holding the rest of his people hostage. And really, you want to know how many things the film ‘borrows’ from Wrath of Khan? Aside from having Khan being of the villain, of course, as well as introducing the character of Carol Marcus, who gave birth to Kirk’s son David in the original timeline, there’s really only two major sequences from that film that are redone here; the aforementioned sacrifice and KHANNNN! scenes. Seriously Star Trek Nemesis was a bigger ‘rehash’ of Wrath of Khan. I’m not joking; the final battle of Nemesis is almost note-for-note the exact same finale. Two ships captained by a Federation captain and his greatest ‘personal’ nemesis fighting in a part of the galaxy where they are unable to target each other to attack, ultimately culminating in the death of probably the most popular character of their respective casts. Now as far as the whole thing about the cast and crew denying Khan’s identity before the film’s release, I actually don’t blame them for trying to keep the whole thing a secret. In the digital age, it’s become much harder for studios to prevent leaks of spoiler-heavy material. In fact, I already knew that Cumberbatch was going to play Khan months in advance due to someone at Entertainment Weekly making the idiotic mistake of identifying him as Khan when they debuted a pair of magazine covers for the film, one with Kirk and Spock, the other with Kirk and Khan.

And speaking of Khan, Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic in the role. He doesn’t try to be Ricardo Montalban’s version of the character and that was certainly a smart move… otherwise the film would’ve gotten even more flak from Trek purists. Cumberbatch brings a ‘Hannibal Lecter’ esque vibe to his performance, which of course is straight-up exemplified in scenes where Khan is held captive on the Enterprise. But perhaps the most interesting part about Cumberbatch’s take on the character is that this film’s Khan is in some ways a very sympathetic villain. When Khan reveals his true identity to Kirk and Spock, he then proceeds to recount his past history. His ship and crew were found adrift by Starfleet’s Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Marcus, who subsequently took Khan’s crew hostage in exchange for having him develop weapons and the Admiral’s new ship, the USS Vengeance. Ultimately this of course leads to Khan enacting revenge upon Starfleet when he is led to believe that Marcus had killed his crew. However, as we learn, he didn’t and instead had them placed in cryogenic freeze inside 72 of the advanced torpedoes that Khan had been developing. Marcus then proceeds to give said torpedoes to the Enterprise to use as leverage against him. Khan immediately recognizes this when Kirk and crew confront him on Kronos and he willingly surrenders. And boy is the scene in which Khan emotionally recounts how he was led to believe that Marcus killed his crew yet another emotional gut-punch of a scene, buoyed by Cumberbatch’s absolutely powerful performance as well as the final line of his ‘monologue’; “Is there anything you would not do for your family?”


Once again, the film does a fantastic job of portraying the relationship between Kirk and Spock, which hits another snag at the beginning of the film when Kirk violates the Prime Directive and lets the Enterprise be seen by a primitive race in order to save Spock from an active volcano. And because Spock is very much someone who goes ‘by the book’, he ends up reporting this to Admiral Pike and Kirk is relieved of his command as a result. Obviously Kirk is pissed and Spock’s general ‘lack of emotion’ once again proves to be an issue for him. It even strains his relationship with Uhura as a result of him seemingly embracing his death at her expense. The film also continues to focus on Kirk’s reckless behavior, as Pike comments that this kind of attitude could get everyone under his command killed. That ends up being Kirk’s arc in this film; learning to take better responsibility for his actions. Because when ‘John Harrison’ attacks Starfleet and Pike ends up being one of the casualties, it leads to him recklessly going after Harrison to avenge the death of the person who become the closest thing that Kirk ever had to a father figure in his life. And sure, while Spock is the one who is with Pike when he dies, Kirk’s reaction to his death is still pretty damn emotional as is the scene where Spock mind-melds with Pike before he dies. Ultimately by the end of the film, Kirk follows in his father’s footsteps by saving his ship at the cost of his life by entering the ship’s radioactive reactor chamber and realigning the warp core.


And folks, I won’t lie in saying that the scene in which Kirk and Spock share one final moment before Kirk dies from radiation poisoning brings me to tears every time that I watch it. And yes, I know that it’s almost exactly the same as that scene from Wrath of Khan but aside from one or two lines of dialogue that are lifted from the previous film (e.g. ‘ship out of danger’), the filmmakers actually do enough to differentiate this scene from its predecessor, namely in regards to context. In Wrath of Khan, this was pretty much the first time that Kirk truly has to deal with a ‘no-win’ scenario. In Into Darkness, this scene reaffirms the friendship between the two. All throughout the film Kirk tries to prove to Spock why he risked violating the Prime Directive to save Spock from the volcano and it is in this moment when Spock realizes why he did it; he wasn’t going to let his best friend die. And as for the once-again infamous ‘KHAANNN!’ scene, this time performed by Spock, yeah it’s ridiculous but the same could be said for when William Shatner did it in Wrath of Khan. With that said, some have argued that this scene is ‘pointless’ due to the fact that it wasn’t necessarily Khan’s fault for the Enterprise falling helplessly to Earth. And yet, like the argument that the film is a complete retread of Wrath of Khan, that’s not entirely true. Sure, most of the damage sustained to the ship was caused by the film’s other ‘villain’, Admiral Marcus, but Khan ended up taking control of Marcus’ ship, which then proceeded to further attack the Enterprise. So I’d argue that said further attack is what ultimately led to the ship falling to Earth. So yes, even if it’s only in a minor way, Khan WAS partially responsible.

And yeah… maybe I should talk about the big elephant in the room. And that is in regards to the film’s major McGuffin, Khan’s blood. As shown in the beginning of the film, Khan is able to blackmail a Starfleet officer into bombing a Starfleet facility by offering to help save the officer’s terminally ill daughter with the use of his blood. And as you might expect, Khan’s blood is what is ultimately used to save Kirk. Bones realizes this when a dead Tribble that he has been experimenting on suddenly comes back to life as a result of the blood. Is it ridiculous? Yes. Is the part with the Tribble rather blatant fan-service? Yes. Am I in any way bothered by this plot-point? No. Because believe me, the Star Trek franchise has seen plenty of silly plotlines over the years, like in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home when the villain was a giant space log that was trying to talk to humpback whales. And yes, I think it’s pretty clear that this plotline of, to quote its critics, ‘magic blood’ probably isn’t going to brought up again in future films, which would effectively make this ‘new discovery’ that could fix a whole lot of problems rather pointless in the long run. But again, I’m not too bothered by that because at the end of the day, Into Darkness is just like its predecessor in being a very fun and action-packed adventure buoyed by effective emotional depth and terrific character development. Worst Star Trek film of all-time this is not… not by a long shot.

Now I will admit… I’m quite biased towards the J.J.-era films. I’ll admit that prior to 2009, I knew little about the Star Trek franchise but I was interested in seeing the 2009 film after hearing that it got really exceptional reviews from critics. So I went to go see it with my dad, loved it, and afterwards, I learned that he was a fan of the series. As a result, I started to get into the series more and more. But time and time again, I found myself coming back to the 2009 film, mainly after I bought it on iTunes (which was pretty much the first major film ‘home media purchase’ that I ever made) and then proceeded to watch it numerous times. So yeah… you could say that the 2009 film is a very personal one for me and because of that, it legitimately has become one of my Top 10 favorite films of all-time. As a result, Into Darkness became my most anticipated film of 2013. When I first saw the film, I gave it a 4.5/5 rating but then had to start dealing with the slowly increasing backlash towards the newer films, mainly brought on by Into Darkness, to the point where I wondered if I was being a bit too lenient towards it. But when I bought on Blu-Ray on the week it came out, I re-watched it and was thrilled to see that not only did I still love it, it was even better in my opinion the second time around. So I updated my rating to 5/5. I’m an unapologetic fan of the J.J.-era Trek film and feel that they are far better than what Trek purists constantly put them out to be. Sure they may appeal to non-fans more due to their more action-focused pacing but I argue that they still do enough to capture that Trek feel, namely through the great characterizations of its protagonists and its strong emotional depth.

You can bet that I’m very much excited for Star Trek Beyond, which clearly has a lot to prove. It certainly hasn’t been easy to appease to long-time Trek fans, especially considering that they hired another ‘action’ director, Justin Lin, to take over for J.J. Abrams, who of course was busy working on a different Star film that you may have heard of. However, I don’t see how that’s a ‘bad’ thing due to Lin being one of the best action directors in recent years thanks to his work on the recent Fast and Furious films. Plus, Lin has made it clear that he is a fan of Trek, which I guess you can say is better than what was the case with J.J., who admitted that he was a bigger fan of Star Wars (But I sure as hell ain’t holding him to that, mind you). The film surely will also benefit from having Scotty himself, Simon Pegg, handling script duties as Pegg’s sci-fi fandom background as well as his work on the Cornetto trilogy will no doubt provide the film a solid pedigree. However, when the film’s first trailer was released, the ‘too much action’ argument was brought up once again, with Pegg admitting that even he wasn’t a fan of how the action-oriented trailer was put together. Me personally, though, I thought the trailer was perfectly fine. I also didn’t really get the complaint about the use of ‘Sabotage’ by the Beastie Boys being out of place considering that this was part of a major sequence in the first film. However, thankfully the second trailer was received much more positively and based on all of the clips that I’ve seen from it, many of which once again showcase the amazing camaraderie amongst the new cast members, I’m confident that Star Trek Beyond will be yet another super fun sci-fi adventure. However, I’m also hoping that this one will fare better with Trek purists because, well, I’m getting sick of having to defend these newer films against them.

And that marks the end of my very, very long defense of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films. Anyone else share my thoughts towards the newer films? And if so, are you excited for Star Trek Beyond regardless of how long-time Trek fans might respond to it? Be sure to sound off in the comments below.


Next time: My review of Star Trek Beyond


Monday, July 18, 2016

TREK WEEK - Top 10 Favorite Episodes of Season 1 of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'


“Space… the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It’s five-year mission… to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”


Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s second annual ‘Trek Week’ in which I cover highlights from one of the most iconic franchises in all of pop culture history; Star Trek. The last time I did this was back in May 2013 during the week of the release of the then-newest film in the series, Star Trek Into Darkness. And as you might have guessed, I’ve started it up again in honor of the impending release of the now-newest installment of the franchise, Star Trek Beyond. And this new film happens to come at a very special time as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the franchise. We’ve certainly come a long way since the original Star Trek series, created by Gene Roddenberry and starring William Shatner as James T. Kirk, captain of the USS Enterprise, and Leonard Nimoy as his Vulcan first officer, Spock, first aired on NBC on September 8, 1966. And while the show unfortunately only lasted three seasons, it would end up becoming a phenomenon once it hit syndication and would ultimately go on to spawn a full-blown media franchise ranging from multiple TV spin-offs to feature films. And today, we’re looking back at the classic series that started it all. Now originally my goal was to do a ‘full review’ of the entire series. However, due to time constraints (e.g. me wanting to have this and the next ‘Trek Week’ post posted in time for Beyond), I realized that this would be rather impossible to do. So instead, I decided to just list my Top 10 personal favorite episodes of the show’s first season which, to be perfectly frank, was the season that arguably had the series’ most iconic episodes. As for Seasons 2 and 3 of this show, I promise that I will try to do posts for each of those seasons in the future. For now, though, here are my Top 10 favorite episodes of Season 1 of Star Trek: The Original Series.

But first, here are two Honorable Mentions:

THE MAN TRAP (EPISODE 1)


While it isn’t the official ‘pilot’ episode, ‘The Man Trap’, which was actually the series’ sixth produced episode, was the very first episode of Star Trek to air. And ultimately it did start off the series on a solid note with a dark storyline that had a solid emotional arc for Dr. McCoy. The episode starts off with the Enterprise crew traveling to the planet M-113 to offer medical assistance to a professor and his wife who are stationed there at a research facility. And to make matters even more interesting, it is revealed that McCoy was once romantically attached to the professor’s wife, Nancy. But when they arrive on the planet, they find that something is off about Nancy as she appears differently to each of them. While to McCoy she appears as if she hasn’t aged a day, Kirk sees her as a much older woman. As it turns out, this is not Nancy but instead a shape-shifting creature that feeds off of salt. So yes, this creature is, at least according to fans, a ‘salt vampire’ and it then proceeds to attack members of the crew for the salt in their bodies. All in all, for an episode that was criticized for its ‘excessive’ violence when it first aired, this is a solid plot built around a really nice emotional arc for McCoy. To escape its pursuers, the creature ends up coming to McCoy as ‘Nancy’ and the feelings that he still has for her (note: at this point he’s not aware yet that this isn’t really Nancy) end up getting in the way of Kirk and Spock’s efforts to subdue the creature. However, when the creature reverts back to its natural appearance and proceeds to attack Kirk, McCoy finally snaps out of it and fires his phaser at the creature, which turns back into ‘Nancy’ one more time before McCoy finishes it off for good. One can only assume how troubling this whole situation must’ve been for the Enterprise’s chief medical officer.

THE MENAGERIE PARTS 1 AND 2 (EPISODES 11/12)


Now from a technical perspective, ‘The Menagerie’ is more or less just a simple ‘clip show’ episode. While there is a main plot, which consists of Spock ‘kidnapping’ his former commander and former Enterprise captain, Christopher Pike, and attempting to bring him to a planet, Talos IV, that’s designated as being ‘off-limits’ to any Starfleet personnel, most of this two-parter story (the only two-part episode of The Original Series) consists solely of archive footage, shown during a court-marital for Spock for his apparent act of defiance against Starfleet. However, said archive footage is actually rather special because it is of the ‘original’ pilot episode of Star Trek; ‘The Cage’. This episode was made back in 1965 when Jeffrey Hunter was originally set to star as Captain Christopher Pike, with Nimoy having appeared in the episode as well, still in the role of Spock. However, the pilot was rejected by NBC for being too cerebral and the show went on to become what we know it as today with Shatner taking over the lead role as Kirk. As for ‘The Menagerie’, this episode was a case of Roddenberry being able to cut down on production costs as well as dealing with growing delays affecting the show’s production due to its extensive use of visual effects, with this episode only requiring about a week of filming. The only major difference is that in scenes set in the present, Pike is played by Sean Kenney due to Hunter being unavailable, with the character being shown to have suffered severe burns following a recent accident during a training exercise. As a result, he is now confined to a wheelchair, only able to communicate via the wheelchair’s ‘light’ system; one flash for ‘yes’ and two flashes for ‘no’.

Even though this is just a ‘clip show’ episode, I do think that there actually is a decent amount of depth in the main plot, namely in regards to Kirk having to do the unthinkable and question the actions of his friend. However, as it turns out, Spock did have good intentions for his actions. During his court-martial, Spock shows footage of what happened the last time that the Enterprise, as captained by Pike at the time, traveled to Talos IV (‘The Cage’). During this mission, Pike and the crew came across a group of aliens known as the Talosians who are capable of projecting illusions. For example, they manage to fool the crew of the Enterprise by projecting a whole camp of survivors from the crew of the Columbia, a ship that disappeared many years ago. The Talosians then proceed to capture Pike and attempt to have him mate with another captive, a young woman named Vina who actually was a part of the Columbia’s crew, in order to repopulate their planet. Pike and the crew are able to escape but it is revealed that Vina is, in reality, heavily disfigured following the crash that left her as the only survivor of the crew of the Columbia. As their ‘captive’, the Talosians have been projecting their illusions onto her to give her the appearance of a beautiful young woman, so she stays with them. Many years later, 13 to be precise according to the series’ canon, Spock’s actions are shown to be orchestrated by the Talosians who offer to give Pike the same ‘treatment’ as Vina. And so Pike is transported down to the planet to live the rest of his life with Vina and Spock is cleared of all charges. So while it may be a simple episode in terms of execution, ‘The Menagerie’ is still a pretty interesting episode of Star Trek. When it aired, it allowed audiences to view the original pilot of the show for the first time ever, as it wouldn’t be until many years later when the episode was finally aired in full on TV.  

And now… The Top Ten…

10. SHORE LEAVE (EPISODE 15)


This was a pretty darn fun episode of the show and also one that was rather surreal in some places. How surreal, you ask? Well the episode begins with McCoy fantasizing the White Rabbit and Alice from Alice in Wonderland. Yep… it’s that kind of episode. In this episode, the crew of the Enterprise travel to a planet in the Omicron Delta system where they plan to stop for some much needed shore leave, hence the title, after three long months of operations. However, when they beam down to the planet, the landing parties then proceed to come across all sorts of strange occurrences. McCoy has his aforementioned run-in with the characters from Alice in Wonderland, Sulu finds an antique revolver, the landing parties are attacked by WWII fighter planes, and Kirk comes across an old girlfriend, Ruth, as well as the cadet, Finnegan, who constantly bullied him during his days at Starfleet Academy. As it turns out, these are all just a series of illusions (sound familiar?). Kirk and crew are then approached by the ‘Caretaker’ of the planet who informs them that the planet is an ‘amusement park’ meant to entertain weary travelers and apologizes to them for any misunderstandings that occurred as a result of some of the more ‘dangerous’ illusions. All in all, a very entertaining episode of the series and one that was actually handled very well given the nature of its plot. This could’ve easily turned out to be a very, very campy episode but thankfully it never goes to ‘that level’.

9. THE SQUIRE OF GOTHOS (EPISODE 17)


This is another really fun episode, in this case mostly due to its main antagonist. The episode sees the Enterprise crew confront a mysterious and eccentric figure named Trelane who acts like he’s someone who came straight out of the French Revolution (“Tallyho!”). He also happens to somehow have the ability to teleport objects and even people from place to place and manipulate matter to his own will. This leads to one particularly memorable conflict as Kirk tries to fight the omnipotent being, who at one point even puts the captain on trial for ‘treason, conspiracy, and fomenting insurrection’. In fact, the general nature of Trelane’s powers would no doubt go on to inspire another famous Star Trek character, Q, the cosmic being that constantly came into conflict with Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew in Star Trek: The Next Generation. This connection is so apparent that in a non-canon novel, Q-Squared, it is established that Trelane is indeed a part of Q’s alternate dimension, the Q Continuum, and that Q is his godfather… but again, that’s only in a non-canon novel. Still, the episode is really fun namely due to two things. The first is all of the wacky situations that the crew gets into as a result of Trelane’s powers. The second great thing about this episode is Trelane himself, played by William Campbell. Campbell clearly had a lot of fun playing the part and its shows through his energetic and playful performance. All of this comes together for another highly memorable, and occasionally surreal, episode.

8. THE NAKED TIME (EPISODE 4)


A personal favorite of George Takei’s (Sulu), it’s easy to see why this early episode of Season 1 is a classic. It even went on to inspire an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, though with that said the TNG episode in question is generally disliked by fans for its rehashing of the original episode’s plotline. Anyway, the TOS episode begins with the crew investigating a research facility on a planet, Psi 2000, that’s on the verge of dying. One of the members of the landing party ends up coming into contact with a mysterious red liquid and once they return to the ship, the crew member ends up acting irrationally, somehow dies from a minor injury even after it was patched up by McCoy, and the liquid ends up affecting other crew members as well. For example, Sulu brandishes a fencing foil and starts acting like a swashbuckler a la The Three Musketeers while another crew member, Lt. Riley, starts embracing his Irish heritage (e.g. repeatedly singing an Irish tune over the intercom) and hijacks the engineering section, declaring himself as the new Captain. And if that wasn’t bad enough, this puts the Enterprise in a particularly compromising situation as the ship’s orbit around the planet begins to decay, resulting in it running the risk of crashing into the planet. All in all, a very tense episode throughout but one that is full of memorable moments as a result of how various crew members are affected by the mysterious substance. It even sort of sets up the method in which the series would explore the concept of time travel, which would later be seen in future episodes as well as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

7. THE DEVIL IN THE DARK (EPISODE 25)


This was the second episode of the series that I ever saw, so yeah it’s definitely one of my favorites. It also happens to be William Shatner’s favorite. In this episode, the Enterprise is called to a mining colony on Janus VI in order to deal with a creature that has been causing them trouble. Said creature has already killed 50 crewmen and is destroying the colony’s equipment via corrosive materials. Kirk, Spock, the crew, and the members of the mining colony then proceed to pursue the creature through the mine. But when they finally come across it, they realize that this silicon-based lifeform, known as a Horta, is only trying to protect its eggs. Kirk and Spock then manage to coordinate an agreement between the miners and the Horta, allowing for them to work together and mine the area without harming anybody, namely the Horta’s children. It’s a very thought-provoking episode in regards to how Kirk and co. come to understand the creature’s true motives, initially thought to be threatening but instead just being a case of it trying to survive. And even though the Horta itself is basically just a walking lava carpet in terms of its design, it’s still a fairly fascinating creature to behold. Another great thing about this episode is its setting, set almost entirely within the mines of Janus VI. It certainly gives the episode a noticeable sense of claustrophobia, especially whenever someone is confronted by the Horta. That, the strong writing, and the solid performances from the leads all come together to produce an all-around terrific episode.

6. THE ENEMY WITHIN (EPISODE 5)


It’s Kirk vs. Kirk in this episode, as a transporter malfunction causes Captain Kirk to be split into two beings; one good and one evil. But instead of just being a simple ‘evil doppelganger’ storyline, there’s actually quite a lot of depth to this one. The real kicker to this whole situation is that it’s shown that the evil Kirk is a more confident ‘leader’ than the good Kirk. As a result, the good Kirk begins to question his actions which puts his status as the ship’s captain at risk. There really is a lot at stake in this episode while also showing Kirk at perhaps the most vulnerable point of his entire life. Oh yeah and if that wasn’t troubling enough, there’s also the pressing matter of the Enterprise trying to get the transporter fixed so that they can beam up the landing party that is stuck on the planet Alpha 117, where it gets really bitter cold at night. For such an early episode of the show, this story arguably has one of the best moral conflicts of the entire series, with Kirk trying to balance out his ‘dual’ personalities while also trying to become ‘one’ again because otherwise he’d doom himself and his crew as a result of his inability to make decisions due to his lack of confidence. It also features one of William Shatner’s best performances in the role as he gets to take on a ‘dual’ role in this case as both the good and evil Kirk. For me, this was the very first episode of The Original Series that I ever watched. If I remember correctly, I watched this episode just a few days after watching the 2009 film for the first time. So yes, like ‘The Devil in the Dark’, this is another personal favorite of mine.

5. ARENA (EPISODE 18)


Definitely a classic episode of the series; in fact, it’s arguably the series’ most iconic episode period. This episode sees the crew of the Enterprise pursuing a rogue enemy after the latter attacks a Federation outpost on Cestus III. However, when the two ships end up in unexplored territory, they are suddenly ‘taken captive’ by an alien species known as the Metrons, who then beam Kirk and the other ship’s captain, part of the reptilian race known as the Gorn, down to a rocky planet and pits them against each other in a battle to the death. Now admittedly the action in this episode can be a little cheesy at times but to be fair that’s kind of what you’d expect from a show made in the 60’s. Despite that, this really is an excellent episode that’s well-paced and creates a great amount of tension as Kirk finds himself on his own trying to evade his dangerous adversary. Because even though said adversary is a rather slow dude a la an 80’s slasher villain, Kirk clearly won’t be able to outrun him forever. So how does he defeat the Gorn? With Science!!! Specifically, he uses the various resources on the planet, including sulfur and bamboo stalks, to create a makeshift projectile-firing weapon that is able to subdue his enemy. But instead of killing the Gorn, as ‘ordered’ by the Metrons, Kirk spares the Gorn’s life as he learned that the Gorn attacked the outpost only in self-defense because the Federation had entered their territory. And so both ships and their crews are spared, serving as a fitting finale to one of the most iconic hours in TV history.

4. THE CORBOMITE MANEUVER (EPISODE 10)


This is definitely a personal favorite of mine and another episode of Trek that creates a great amount of suspense. When the Enterprise comes across, and subsequently destroys, a strange cube-like probe, they are then taken captive by a giant sphere-like ship, the Fesarius, commanded by the mysterious Balok… who has one of the creepiest faces ever. Anyway, this is another tension-filled episode as it appears that there isn’t very much that the Enterprise can do in this situation. And that does end up affecting certain members of the crew, particularly navigator Lt. Bailey. However, Kirk is able to get the Enterprise out of their current predicament by pulling a good old-fashioned poker-style bluff. Before Balok’s ship is able to destroy the Enterprise, Kirk warns him that the ship contains a substance known as Corbomite, hence the title, that would destroy anyone who dares to attack the ship. Obviously no such thing exists but Balok falls for it and after the Enterprise manages to break free of his ship’s control, Kirk, McCoy, and Bailey beam over to the Fesarius to offer assistance when part of the ship is disabled. As it turns out, the Balok they thought they were talking to is only a dummy with the real Balok (played by Ron Howard’s brother Clint in one of his earliest roles) looking more like a small child and admitting that he was only testing the Enterprise. Because he operates the ship by himself, he greatly misses company so Lt. Bailey offers to stay with him to act as an emissary for the Federation. Quite a nice upbeat ending to a tense episode, which was actually the very first episode of the show produced after the two ‘pilots’. However, it ended up being the 10th episode broadcast.

3. BALANCE OF TERROR (EPISODE 14)


‘Balance of Terror’ is quintessential Star Trek with its tense action sequences and great moral dilemmas. This episode sees the Enterprise confront a rogue Romulan ship when the latter begins to attack Federation Outposts. Said outposts are stationed near the Neutral Zone that was set up as part of a peace treaty following the Earth-Romulan War a century ago. Due to the lack of visual communication at the time, neither side has ever seen the other. But this time, the Enterprise is able to see just what the Romulans look like and to everyone’s surprise, they look a lot like Vulcans. Heck, the commander of the Romulan ship is played by Mark Lenard, who would go on to play Spock’s father Sarek in future episodes of the show as well as some of the films. But first he was this Romulan commander and the similarities between the Romulans and Vulcans causes some tension on the Enterprise with some major bigotry directed towards Spock, namely from the ship’s navigator, Lt. Stiles, who lost many members of his family during the war. Obviously that causes some problems amongst the crew but most of the episode is a greatly paced game of cat-and-mouse, as Kirk and the Romulan commander try to outwit one another, with the Romulans sending out a nuclear device hidden amongst a pile of debris and the Enterprise capitalizing on the Romulan ship’s flaw of having to de-cloak whenever it fires a torpedo. Ultimately Kirk and co. win out but the episode ends on a sad note. The whole episode began with the impending wedding of two crew members, Lt. Tomlinson and Ensign Martine. Sadly, this ends in tragedy when Tomlinson dies during the final battle and the episode ends with Kirk consoling the grieving Martine in the ship’s chapel, perfectly illustrating the horrors of war. All of this is why ‘Balance of Terror’ is easily one of the greatest Trek episodes of all-time.

2. SPACE SEED (EPISODE 22)


‘Space Seed’ introduced a character that would go on to become one of Trek’s most iconic villains; Khan Noonien Singh, played by Ricardo Montalb├ín. Before he went on to threaten Kirk and the Enterprise crew in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, we first met the tyrannical ‘superman’ in this Season 1 episode. The Enterprise comes across a derelict spacecraft, the SS Botany Bay, which contains a party of genetically-enhanced humans in suspended animation, all of whom were from the 1990’s, which was a time when the Earth went through its ‘most recent’ global conflict, the Eugenics Wars. Kirk and co. awaken the leader, a man named Khan, and bring him onboard the Enterprise. However, Khan intends to rule mankind and plans a coup on the ship with the help of historian Lt. Marla McGivers, who becomes attracted to him. In short, this is another phenomenal and suspense-filled episode especially thanks to the terrific performance from Montalb├ín in the role of Khan. This episode very much set the stage for what would become the legendary second film in the Star Trek film franchise. And sure, the final fight between Kirk and Khan in Engineering does contain some very obvious stunt double use but as a whole, ‘Space Seed’ is an absolutely great episode which gives Kirk and co. an excellent adversary that would come to haunt them again many years later.

1. THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER (EPISODE 28)


I’m very much well aware that this can be viewed as a blatantly obvious choice to many of you Trek fans out there. But in all seriousness, this really is one of the best episodes of not only TOS but of all Trek in general. It certainly helped that the episode was written by legendary sci-fi author Harlan Ellison and he certainly crafts an emotional and dramatic story built around these characters. The Enterprise comes across a ‘being’ known as the ‘Guardian of Forever’ who allows anyone to travel to any point in time via an ancient stone-ring monument. Unfortunately, this proves to be a problem when Bones, who became delusional after accidentally injecting himself with cordrazine as a result of the ‘time displacement’ distortions caused by the ‘time gate’ (“KILLERS! ASSASSINS!”), travels back to the 1930’s, which effectively changes history and leaves the crew stranded on the ‘time planet’ without an Enterprise to return to. Trying to figure out what happened, Kirk and Spock travel back in time to 1930’s New York right in the midst of the Great Depression. While there, they meet and befriend a woman named Edith Keeler (Joan Collins) who runs a homeless shelter. Kirk even falls in love with her. However, Kirk and Spock soon learn of what McCoy did. He saved Keeler from dying as the result of being hit by a car. And while that may seem like a good thing, it ultimately isn’t because she ended up starting a pacifist movement that kept the U.S. from entering World War II, effectively allowing enough time for the Nazis to win the war.

And that, folks, is the kicker of this episode; Kirk realizes that in order to set the timeline right, his new love will have to die. And you can bet that this is a tough decision for him and also one that is very thought-provoking. Because even though Edith is right in promoting peace, to quote Spock “she was right at the wrong time” and if her death is prevented, then it would impact the future in the worst way possible. It’s kind of like the controversial scene from Man of Steel when Pa Kent told Clark that perhaps he shouldn’t have tried to save those kids in that sinking bus. Obviously that overall speech could’ve been written much better but the general idea that both Pa Kent and this episode of Star Trek is trying to get across is that no matter what, not everyone can be saved. So the deed is done and Kirk prevents McCoy from saving Edith as she is hit by a truck. It’s very much clear how emotionally devastating this is for Kirk, and this is probably William Shatner’s absolute greatest performance in the role, as he looks away from the accident while he subdues McCoy. McCoy asks him if he realizes what he’s done and Spock replies by simply assuring McCoy that he knows. The trio return to the ‘time planet’, everything is back to normal, and a completely traumatized Kirk simply informs the crew that it’s time for them to ‘get the hell out of here’. This was very much an emotional heavy-hitter of an episode and because of it, it’s easily the best episode of Season 1 of Star Trek: The Original Series. In fact, it might just be the series’ absolute best.

And those are my Top 10 favorite episodes from Season 1 of Star Trek: The Original Series. Be sure to sound off in the comments below about what your favorite episodes of Season 1 are.


ON WEDNESDAY: “In Defense of the J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek films”


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016) review


Well… you’ve probably heard about this film quite a lot these past few months and suffice it to say, a lot of the discussions about it weren’t very positive to say the least. Somehow, for some reason, this was the one reboot in a current film landscape full of sequels, remakes, and reboots that people JUST couldn’t handle. And to me it’s rather strange that this film is getting as much flak as it is because Ghostbusters is one of the most famous franchises in pop culture history, mostly thanks to the 1984 titular comedy classic. Following the not-so-beloved (but seriously not as bad as many put it out to be) sequel in 1989, there were numerous attempts at doing a third Ghostbusters film. However, pretty much all of those plans ended up falling by the wayside, namely due to Bill Murray’s reluctance to return. And when franchise star Harold Ramis tragically passed away in February 2014, it seemed as if that would be it for the paranormal investigators on film. And then, just a few months later, that changed when it was announced that director Paul Feig would be directing a brand new Ghostbusters film. However, instead of being a continuation of the franchise, this new film would be a ‘reboot’ starring a cast of female leads… and to put it simply, quite a lot of people on the internet got really mad about this. How mad, you ask? Well, the first trailer for the film is the most disliked trailer on YouTube. There’s seriously no other film trailers on that site that have that many down-votes. And ultimately a lot of that backlash turned out be quite premature because the film is a genuinely solid crowd-pleaser. Is it perfect? No, not at all but it certainly isn’t as bad as a certain part of the internet claims it to be.

Sometime prior to the events of the film, scientists Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) published a book on paranormal activity claiming that ghosts are indeed real. However, the book fails to be a success and Gilbert decides to distance herself from it. However, when she is about to start teaching at Columbia University, she finds that, to her horror, Abby had republished the book without her permission. As a result, the two of them end up getting shunned from academia but after a legitimate encounter with a ghost, they decide to continue their research with the help of Abby’s new assistant, engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). They set up their new ‘office’ on the top floor of a Chinese restaurant, recruit the dim-witted but extremely good-looking Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) as their receptionist, and also gain a new teammate in the form of Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), an MTA employee who recently had a run-in with a ghost as well. Together, they come to be known as the ‘Ghostbusters’ and attempt to prove themselves to the people of New York by documenting and capturing ghosts. As this is going on, they also investigate into the increasingly frequent appearances of ghosts all over the city, which unbeknownst to them is being caused by an occultist named Rowan (Neil Casey) hell-bent on bringing about the apocalypse.  

So I guess the big question that some of you might be asking is how does this film fare as a comedy. And to that I say that the film does have a solid amount of humor. Now I’m not saying that every single joke in the film worked and there is a considerably noticeable lull at the halfway point. Still, the hit-miss ratio is still pretty darn solid; I’d say about 70-30. But another question that fans have raised in regards to the film is over the fact that instead of being a continuation of the franchise, it is instead a reboot with new characters. Whether or not this was the best move is debatable but at the very least, I feel that it worked because the film does manage to stand on its own as a unique entry in the franchise… though with that said, there are a few scenes in this film that do very much parallel scenes from the original film (e.g. the first ghost encounter). Also, there are quite a few callbacks to the original, namely the appearances of certain characters, but they didn’t bother me too much. This also included the cameos made by the original film’s cast, which actually weren’t that distracting (if I had to pick a favorite, it’d be Dan Aykroyd’s cameo). From a technical perspective, this film is certainly very well-made in terms of its action and visuals. Obviously in terms of the visuals there is a lot more CG used for the ghosts this time around but it all still looks really good and the film carries a solid visual style throughout. I mean, in terms of both visuals and action sequences, I feel that this film very much delivers in terms of being a modern-era Ghostbusters film all while still maintaining the same light-hearted spirit of the original films.

But of course one of the key elements to any Ghostbusters film is the strong camaraderie amongst its leads. And in the case of this film, that very much is the case with the group of Yates, Gilbert, Holtzmann, and Tolan. Not only that, but the film also very much succeeds in terms of making them endearing and likable characters. Both McCarthy and Wiig are solid and to reiterate a point that I made in my review of Paul Feig’s last film, Spy, this film is another case of proof that McCarthy’s truly at her best working with Feig. Their two primary co-stars get plenty of scene-stealing moments as well. Kate McKinnon is most certainly the most eccentric of the group as Holtzmann. It may be a bit too much for some but she certainly steals the show in quite a few sequences. The same goes for Leslie Jones as Patty, though she actually doesn’t go as over-the-top as McKinnon sometimes does. But it ain’t just the ladies who get great material to work with in this film. Chris Hemsworth once again shows off his great comedic chops in the role of Kevin. Simply put, the film very much plays up the fact that his character isn’t very bright (e.g. the first time the phone rings while he’s on the job, he doesn’t answer it because he assumed the actual phone was the one in the office’s fish-tank) and it’s hilarious. Of the cast, the only major weak link is, unfortunately, the villain. Nothing against Neil Casey, who’s mostly been known for his work behind the scenes as a writer on shows like SNL and Inside Amy Schumer, but the character of Rowan is admittedly rather bland, mostly just coming off as weird.

Now before I get to the conclusion for this review, I do have to address all of the backlash surrounding this film. Simply put… a lot of this backlash was really frigging stupid. I mean, seriously, out of all of the reboots, remakes, and sequels that have come out over the years, this is the one film that fanboys just couldn’t accept. I mean by comparison you don’t see people get that worked up over remakes of films like Point Break or Ben-Hur now, do you? And as much as some have actually tried to deny it, a good chunk of said backlash towards the film legitimately has been due to the fact that the film oh so dares to star women in the lead roles. And let me tell you, in 2016 this kind of sexism is just frigging embarrassing. What the hell is so wrong with having women be Ghostbusters, a franchise that has very much been dominated by male leads for the entirety of its existence up to this point. In having women be in the lead roles this time around, this film will no doubt give young girls great new role models to look up to. Now for the record, I know that the backlash towards this film wasn’t all about the whole ‘women are Ghostbusters’ thing. When the trailers did come out, even those who weren’t trolling the film weren’t too positive on them and I’ll admit that they were far from being ‘great’ trailers. However, just because a film has a lackluster trailer doesn’t automatically mean that the film is going to be bad. Thankfully, reviews for this film have been positive for the most part. So that shut up the trolls, right? NOPE! They then just proceeded to accuse anyone who dared to give the film a positive review of being ‘paid’ to do so. Oi… talk about setting fandom back many years.   

So with all of that said, what do I, someone who is NOT paid by Sony, think about the new Ghostbusters? I like it, I like it a lot. Is it perfect? No! There are some issues, namely in terms of pacing, and obviously not all of the jokes hit. If I were to compare this to the original film, which for the record I’m NOT trying to do here at all, I would still give the edge to the original film. But obviously that’s just because the original is still very much a classic and a tough act to follow. And yet that fact shouldn’t be held against this new film that much. Because aside from some scenes that do go off of scenes from the original film, this new film does succeed in being its own thing and as a result, this franchise’s new cast of leads prove to be a very badass new group of Ghostbusters that are very much worthy of standing toe to toe with the franchise’s original leads. In short, this film is, at the very least, a very fun crowd-pleaser. Will it appeal to absolutely everyone? No. I mean it’s pretty clear at this point that any of the trolls who have been bashing this film since the beginning will hate it no matter what. But you know what? Forget about them! If you were one of those people who were genuinely excited for this film, then by all means go see it. Don’t let those trolls spoil your fun. Seriously, even if I ended up not liking the film, I would’ve still encouraged you folks to see it because at the very least, at this point it does deserve to be given a chance. Because Paul Feig and the talented and funny group of actresses leading this film did not deserve any of the crap that they got from misogynistic and entitled fanboys at all.

Rating: 3.5/5


(P.S. There’s been a lot of talk about the film’s post-credits scene and I’ll just be honest… it’s not really worth it to stay through the credits. In fact, without giving any of it away, I guarantee that it might even elicit a groan from long-time fans because it does pull one very big callback to the original film. Here’s hoping the potential sequel doesn’t try to re-do the specific storyline that this scene alludes to.)