Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Hush (2016)

Introduction:

Don’t confuse this movie with Hush that came out in 1998 with Gwyneth Paltrow. This movie comes for the director of Oculus and the disturbingly dark Absentia. It moves away from the supernatural character based horror of his previous films. Instead we get a thriller that can sit along proudly with other recent takes on the genre like Grand Piano and Passion. You may want to get the edge of your seat ready for some use.

Summary:
Maddie (Kate Siegel) is an author working on her latest novel. She figured the best place to do this is in her isolated cabin, where her only companion is her cat. Her nearest neighbors are Sarah (Samantha Sloyan) and John (Michael Trucco). Sarah has become good friends with Maddie’s and the two spend time talking about her work.

Well Sarah is also practicing her sign language, because Maddie is deaf and unable to speak. This makes things especially problematic when a masked stranger (John Gallagher Jr.) arrives in the night and decides to add Maddie to his escalating kill count. But has this over-confident killer taken on more than he bargained for, or will Maddie’s silent death be the climax of this tale.

Good Points:
  • Kate Siegel gives an excellent performance in tough role.
  • Director Flanagan knows just how to ratchet up the tension
  • Excellent use of a single location to drive the isolation fear


Bad Points:
  • Anyone looking for a movie with lots of gory kills is going to be disappointed.
  • Fans of supernatural horror will be disappointed – no monsters here
  • I can see a few people finding this boring.


Overall:

While I wasn’t the biggest fan of Oculus I really did like this movie. Sigel does a great job in the role. You really like her and fear for her. Gallagher is menacing, and the script does a good job keeping him creepy but smart. Yes, the movie is a reimaging of Wait Until Dark, but I think this film does a fine job building suspense and thrills in equal measure. Well worth seeking out if you are looking for a good thriller.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 5
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 3
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


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Friday, July 22, 2016

Nostalgia Nugget: Star Trek was Always Around - Part 2

If you didn't get a chance to read part 1, check it out first to read my thoughts and memories about Star Trek the original series.

Q's Galactic Nets. Keeps freshness in and keeps
Picard out!
Star Trek was always around.

But I have to admit in 1987 I was way more into Star Wars. It was the ten year anniversary of my favorite space adventure series, and I was really getting back into it at that time. I was listening to the scores on cassette tape and reading my Role Playing Game book, and even writing my own fan fiction. But that is when I heard about a new Star Trek series coming to television

At this time I had a friend who insisted everyone call him Spock, even our teachers. Seriously. I went to school with "Spock" for two years of junior high, and he ended up going to a different high school. I ran into him a couple years later during summer school, and greeted him as "Spock". Wow, he looked like I had slapped him. The guy had gone all goth and Depeche Mode in the past couple years. Star Trek was far behind him. He may have insisted I call him by his true name, but I still thought of (and think of) him as "Spock".

Spot tried to watch Encounter at Farpoint.
I'm not sure what happened to "Spock" in those two years, but I can tell you what happened when I watched the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was actually a pretty big event in my house. We got the VCR ready to tape the episode, which was a full two hour (two episode) event. I don't remember if my grandmother was still living with us at that point (I don't think so), but we were still fans because of the films in the 1980s.

So Encounter at Farpoint starts, and we are enjoying the new characters, the new ship, the new look to everything, but also kind of puzzled at how much different everything looks and feels. Then about one hour into the episode one by one my family starts getting distracted and vanishing from the sofa. I was the only one left to see the ending. To this day, I don't know if the rest of my family has seen the whole episode.

Now, I do remember revisiting the taped version (commercials and all) a few times over the years and having the same issue. I thought maybe I just wasn't giving it a chance. But it took its damn time doing anything, and that the story just wasn't terribly interesting. I thought Q was pretty cool and funny, but the rest of the episode just felt kind of flat. I remember giving the next couple episodes a chance. But when you've got the one two punch of The Naked Now and Code of Honor, well let's just say, this isn't The Next Generation at its best. In fact Code of Honor is often listed as one of the worst episodes in the entire Star Trek franchise. You know right under Spock's Brain.

Wow, this picture is filled to bursting with nerdy
goodness!
So I went back to Star Wars and kind of forgot all about The Next Generation for a while. I would catch episodes here and there. I specifically remember seeing Elementary Dear Data and Sarek which made a big impression on me. At some point I remember there being a big hullaballoo about Spock returning to Star Trek. I remember my family once again sitting down to watch both parts of Unification and wondering how it would all tie into Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. But time went by and I never really got into the series.

I still made a point of seeing The Next Generation films in theaters. But even though I found First Contact entertaining (Farmer Hoggit in SPACE!) I just didn't feel a connection to this crew. I ended up giving Insurrection and Nemesis a pass during the theatrical run, and saw them on home video.

Star Trek had a collectable card game too, but I
didn't care. TEAM DEATH STAR!
By this time we are in the 1990s, and I was still a Star Wars fan. But an odd thing happened in that decade. With Deep Space Nine and Voyager on the air, there was a saturation point to Star Trek that Star Wars just didn't enjoy. I think a lot of Star Wars fans got a little bitter about the whole thing and this strange rivalry started. Suddenly, you couldn't like both series, you had to pick one. I was on team Star Wars for sure, especially when the Timothy Zahn books and the collectable card games came out. With the Star Wars renaissance occurring I declared Star Trek too boring and cerebral to have fun. I ended up avoiding all things Trek (aside from the original series movies which already had the nostalgia glow on them).

Even Mr. Triquarter is begging him to stop.
Looking back on the whole thing it just seems silly. Kind of reminds me of the whole DC vs. Marvel debate going on these days. Trek vs. Wars - there was no winner. Because Star Trek ended up with Insurrection and Generations, and Star Wars got the prequels. We all ended up losing.

Still, when Enterprise was announced in 2001, I was willing to give it a shot. I liked the idea of tackling that period of history in the Trek universe. I also thought that Scott Bakula would make a great captain. It looked like there was going to be a good mix of adventure and action, so I was looking forward to it. So my wife and I sat down to watch the first episode Broken Bow and wow was it underwhelming. I thought it was going to be more about the prequel elements of the concept, but that didn't really seem to be the point. Instead it we were given some bland storytelling with a new coat of paint. And don't get me started on that odd decontamination massage scene - wow was that embarrassing.

"So we want you to take this survey after you watch
Broken Bow and tell us what you think."
We gave Enterprise about two more episodes, and they were mostly harmless, but not really engaging. Or at least not what we were expecting from something that was supposed to be leading up to The Original Series. It seemed way too much like The Next Generation, and missing a lot of the fun and adventure of the 60s series. The the trailer for the next episode featured the hilarious "pregnant man!" gag, and we just said "no thanks" and went back to watching anime.

I eventually changed my tune about The Next Generation. I knew too many folks whose opinions I respect tell me about some of the really great episodes of that series. Hell, even one of my video store friends (who was also a huge Star Wars fan) got into Deep Space Nine when the Dominion war heated up. He kept trying to convince me to give it a chance. I called him a traitor to the cause and tried to Force choke him - but yeah that just never works out for me.

A fan's vision of Star Trek anime!
Eventually The Next Generation appeared on Netflix download. I decided to give it a chance, and try watching a few of the episodes that people kept telling me were so good like Inner Light and Darmok and of course The Best of Both Worlds. That convinced me. Off and on over three years I watched all seven seasons of The Next Generation. It was quite a ride and I had a good time, getting to know and appreciate this crew and some of their stories and situations. It made The Next Generation films have a greater impact for me, and made me appreciate the Star Trek legacy even more. In the last couple years I've delved into Deep Space Nine and have been enjoying that series. Might be time to give Enterprise another chance too.

I really liked the series finale. Thought it was better than
most of the TNG feature films actually.
That said, Star Trek has always been around. There have been good stories and characters and bad stories and characters.  But I kind of like the comfort at having that galaxy out there. It is a vision of the future that is unique in some ways and so influential in others. With a new television series coming soon, I'm actually looking forward to it. I just hope that the first few episodes are more engaging then Encounter at Farpoint or Broken Bow.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

And Then This Happened... Star Trek

When it comes to Star Trek  the original series, there are plenty of goofy moments to pick from. But that is part of what makes watching the series so much fun. There are great stories, great characters and some really interesting and thought provoking plots. But there are just as many hilarious and over the top moments, not to mention silly looking costumes and giggle inducing dialogue. And let's not just pick on the original series here. Pick any episode from season one or two of The Next Generation and you can have some goofy fun as well. But today, you get to caption this scene from the episode Is There in Truth no Beauty?

And then this happened...


Friday, July 15, 2016

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

Introduction:

Until Star Trek Into Darkness came out, this was the Star Trek movie most reviled by fans. It was also the movie that signaled the end of Star Trek as a viable film franchise. It came out the same year as Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Die Another Day. It pretty much failed to attract an audience in that crowded year. Is the movie as bad as history suggests, or is this a sci-fi gem that is dire need of rediscovery?

Summary:

Get your Sunday best ready, because Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) are finally getting hitched. It is nonstop shenanigans as Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) delivers his best man toast, and Data (Brent Spiner) sings Blue Skies. Geordi (LeVar Burton) sees what is inside one of the wedding gifts and cant figure out of Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) is a big ol’ perv or knows something about Riker that he doesn’t. As for Worf (Michael Dorn) he spends the whole reception staring down Wesley (Wil Wheaton) over a slight that that occurred over a decade ago but a Klingon never forgets.

What? That doesn’t sound like a great finale to the adventures of The Next Generation crew? Well how about a mysterious signal entices the Enterprise to stop by a world on the edge of the Romulan neutral zone. There they find a prototype of Data named B4 (also Brent Spiner). He isn’t quite as advanced as Data. This causes him to act like a five year old and make faces. Before (see what I did there) anyone can smack B4 too many times, the Romulans want to meet with Picard in person. Turns out their new leader, Shinzon (Tom Hardy) is eager to pursue peace. Picard is wary because the Romulans are tricksy folk. But he is an optimist. Shinzon turns out to be the leader of the Remans, a slave race that revolted against the cruel Romulans. But Shinzon himself appears to be human and even more disturbing – he is a young clone of Captain Picard. Before you know it Shinzon’s master plan to destroy Picard and the Federation is unveiled. Can our heroes defeat Shinzon and his massive new starship the Scimitar? And will one of our beloved heroes make the ultimate sacrifice to save the Federation?

Good Points:

  • Some of the best visual effects in the franchises history
  • Works an interesting theme of duality into the story
  • Patrick Stewart and Tom Hardy play off each other well

Bad Points:

  • The script is a mess
  • The movie can’t decide what it wants to be
  • Lacks the overall impact it should have

Overall:

As far as series finales go Star Trek: Nemesis tries so hard to deliver. On the surface a lot of things seem to work. The movie has great production elements and the cast seems on board and does a good job. But the script tries to do too many things at once and does none of them very well. It delivers some good action set pieces and fine character moments. But anyone looking for a fitting sendoff for these characters should stick with the television series finale.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 2
Music: 4
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

In Depth Review

Oh pointy ship, oh pointy pointy.
It is strange that Star Trek: Nemesis and Die Another Day came out the same year. Both films have many of the same goals and the same problems. Both films ended up being one of the most reviled of the franchise. How did something that sounded so promising turning out so bad?

Quite frankly this film came out around this time Star Trek was feeling long in the tooth for a lot of folks. While some Trek fans were completely engaged in The Next Generation era of adventures, the general public still clung to the original series and its cast as the definition of Star Trek. First Contact was a success and got excellent critical marks, but it didn’t make as much of an impact as Paramount wanted it too. Insurrection fared worse, and many critics and fans calling it an expanded television episode that relied too much on knowledge of the series to pull in new viewers.

The studio wanted Star Trek: Nemesis to avoid those pitfalls. They wanted a big adventure movie that would pull in the viewers with action and edginess. It was also intended as the final hurrah for The Next Generation cast. The film would need to be some kind of celebration of these characters and all the adventures viewers had shared with them. In addition to all that, Paramount wanted a fresh perspective to the film. This worked well for them when they pulled in Nicholas Meyer in for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. They turned to director Stuart Baird who had never directed a science fiction film or Star Trek episode before.

Captain Picard is raring for off roading excitement!
One of the most obvious influences on Nemesis is The Wrath of Khan. This isn’t surprising, since Khan is considered by many fans and critics to be the best of the Star Trek films. In fact Khan’s influence looms large over all of the Star Trek films, usually to the other films detriment. So screenwriter John Logan has to frame his film like Wrath of Khan, with an over the top villain, a lot of space ship battles and kill a beloved character off. He also has to give each crewmember a moment to shine and give the film a finality to satisfy the Next Generation fans, something along the lines of the finale of The Undiscovered Country for the original crew.

It is tempting to call this script impossible. But lets just call it a supreme challenge. Sadly it was one that wasn’t conquered. The result is an unfocused script that harms a film with so much potential.

Let’s focus on some of the good points of Star Trek: Nemesis, because no matter how much it is hated, the movie does have some good elements. Visually, this is one of the best-looking Star Trek films. The visual effects hold up really well today and they looked spectacular when the film first came out. The starship battles are executed with skill and bring a lot of tension to the film. The Scimitar is one wicked looking ship, and is one of the coolest looking starships in the series.

Shinzon knows how to make an entrance.
The sets are pretty great looking too. My favorite is the Romulan Senate in the opening moments of the film. It provides a nice twist on traditional Roman architecture. Many of the ship interiors (where we spend most of the time) are also impressive. The room where Shinzon meets Picard for the first time is all shadows and mystery. It allows Tom Hardy to get a bit theatrical, and it works to his advantage.

One oddity is the decision to give this film a very dark look. Once the crew meets Shinzon most of the movie is a palate of grey, black and shadows. Even the Enterprise interiors are dimly lit. It is a stark contrast to the way the sets were lit in Insurrection and First Contact. It just feels like they were going for an obviously edgy feel, instead of working interesting lighting in as part of the story. That is something Star Trek: Generations did extremely well, and why it is probably the most visually dynamic of The Next Generation films.

"No seriously, that hair cut doesn't suit you."
I do like that the Remans look like aliens, not like humans with bumps on their head. I’m not sure why they look so different from the Romulans, it is never really explained. But I was just happy to see an alien that looked much different than a human. One thing I’m not a fan of is Shinzon’s outfit. I think they were attempting to make him look more like an insect with his iridescent chitin style armor. But there are some moments where he just looks silly and non-threatening, no matter how venomous Tom Hardy’s performance gets.

The sound effects retain all the traditional sounds of The Next Generation television series, but given a bit more power behind them. Since this movie features a lot of space battles, you get more weapon and explosion sound effects. Most of the new sound material revolves around the Scimitar and its weapons. All in all it is a solid mix of the familiar and new, just what you expect from a Star Trek sequel.

When it came to music, there was really no one else to go to. Jerry Goldsmith had provided scores to The Motion Picture, The Final Frontier, First Contact and Insurrection. He composed the main title theme for Star Trek: Voyager as well. In many ways Goldsmith was the musical sound of The Next Generation (along with Dennis McCarthy and Jay Chattaway who provided the bulk of the music for all the television series taking place in The Next Generation timeline). It was only fitting that Goldsmith compose the score to Nemesis.

That outfit... just... wow.
The movie Goldsmith was given to score was darker and more aggressive than any previous Star Trek film and this is reflected in his score. The primary theme is for Shinzon, and you can hear a really thoughtful and reflective version of the theme in the end credits suite. But through most of the score the theme is much more threatening and creepy. He works aspects of the theme throughout the score, underlining intense scenes or hinting at Shinzon’s role in the deception going on around the crew of the Enterprise.

Beyond that Goldsmith creates some exciting action music, using Shinzon’s theme, but also giving us a heroic version of his Star Trek theme from The Motion Picture. There is also a four-note motif that he uses quite a bit for the camaraderie of the Enterprise crew that he established in The Final Frontier and used in all his Star Trek scores since. He also reintroduces what some folks call the Federation motif that he used quite a bit in The Motion Picture whenever the crew was bustling around preparing for action.

This was one of the last scores Jerry Goldsmith composed for films. He was already very ill at the time of the composition. It was great to have him write music for one of the franchises he was best known for, and give us all one more spin around his musical galaxy.

"So, you seen Lore lately?"
One of the elements of the script that actually works well is the concept of duality and the concept of nature vs. nurture. Brent Spiner got to play off this with Data and B4 interacting in the film. The androids allowed Spiner to play to different roles, with B4 coming across as an even simpler version of Data. What is interesting is that the emotion chip that played a crucial role in Generations and First Contact isn’t referenced in Nemesis. There are a few moments where you think it would come into play, but it doesn’t. Still Spiner gives a very good performance as Data and B4, especially his farewell to Picard and the crew before he makes his final sacrifice.

Mirror mirror?
But the real highlight of the acting goes to Stewart and Hardy. The two men make for great counterpoints to each other. Obviously Stewart has played the role of Picard for years by this point, so he was very comfortable with the character. But I really like his performance as he faces a younger version of himself, one that was raised in an environment of hate and fear. Is there an innate quality of nobility and compassion in the DNA of Picard that can be brought forth? Or is Shinzon a completely different man, one forged by the fires of his experience. Hardy does a great job showing the potential for either option. His attempts to gain Picard’s trust feel genuine, but as the film progresses Hardy becomes more and more disturbed and vengeful. While not all of his motivations make sense (why attack Earth at all? Isn’t destroying Picard enough?) Hardy plays them to the hilt. He makes for an effective and challenging villain, certainly one of the best of the franchise – if he had only been given a script that was a bit more solid.

A couple of other new faces appear in Nemesis. Ron Pearlman plays the creepy Viceroy that hangs around Shinzon and looks sinister. Kind of a shame they don’t use Pearlman to better advantage, but he does a good job glowering at everyone. Dina Meyer as the Romulan commander Donatra gets a bit more meat to her role. She provides the Enterprise with some much needed information and aid. There is even a fun cameo by Kate Mulgrew as Admiral Janeway where she delivers some exposition, but it was nice to see her on the big screen.

The rest of the cast gets to have their moments to shine and all of them do a fine job. Frakes and Sirtis probably get the most interesting moments in the film, but they also seem like the most shoehorned into the plot – just to give them something to do.

Some of the best action in the franchise.
That brings us back to the main issue with Star Trek: Nemesis, the horribly messy script. With a cast of characters this large, it is very difficult to get them all involved in some way. But it can be done. As much as people like to dismiss Abrams recent Star Trek films, his scripts always managed to give key plot moments and dialogue to all the characters. Nemesis does the same, but in such a clunky fashion. Obviously Picard and Data are the main draws for most fans, and most non-fans do recognize these two characters. So the script focuses all the conflict on these two characters.

But the rest of the cast has some minor moments to work on. Dr. Crusher helps analyze Shinzon’s blood and determine the medical issues the antagonist is facing. She helps Geordi with B4. Speaking of Geordi, he is pretty much around to be Data’s friend so when the big death scene happens he can look depressed. But Geordi and Data had formed a bond in the show and that does get played into a bit here. Worf gets to glower and say some ironic lines. But mostly he is around to shoot from the back of a dune buggy.

Some of the goofiest action in the franchise.
Yeah, that whole moment with the dune buggy chase and the lasers and aliens and Picard going all X-games on us… Well, it is just hilariously out of place. I end up laughing each time I see it. This is one of the main reasons the film feels so shallow at times. You get the feeling that these scenes were manufactured to get teen boys riled up about Star Trek. But I doubt it worked.

Then you have the whole Viceroy/Troi/Riker thing. In an attempt to give Troi something to do, the writers say that she can use her empathic abilities to find the Viceroy in the cloaked ship? How is this possible? Because the Viceroy and Shinzon try to mind rape her at one point in the film. Um… yeah. It is never explained why they attempt to mind rape her. Shinzon thinks she’s hot? I don’t know. Anyway it happens when Riker and Troi are getting steamy and it kind of kills the mood. Riker doesn’t like anyone killing his mood. So when the Viceroy leads an attack on the Enterprise Riker and the Viceroy engage in a pretty uninvolving and extended fight scene. Yeah Riker was always the man of action, but I’m sorry it just doesn’t work in Nemesis.

Now there's a Romulan!
Finally there’s the big sacrifice moment. You can see the writers attempting to mimic Wrath of Khan. It has never been confirmed, but I believe it was Paramount who keeps insisting the Star Trek films mimic Wrath of Khan time and again. The thing is, they miss the real reasons that Wrath of Khan is so beloved. It gives us a villain with stakes, a villain with a driving need to directly attack our heroes. It also gives us a sacrifice that is earned. We feel the death of Spock like a gut punch. Each time they attempt to do Wrath of Khan again, they fail at one of these elements.

In the case of Nemesis I think they actually got the antagonist correct. He does have a real reason for wanting to destroy Picard. The mirror can’t keep seeing itself. There has to be a “real” person. For Shinzon, Picard is the reflection that must be destroyed. Because of the medical issue of his cloning, he must kill Picard to save his life. Those are high stakes and they make perfect sense. But adding the destruction of the Federation to the mix is pointless and clutters the story in a way that is never delivered.

The sacrifice fails because of how it is resolved. I was invested when Data makes his final move. It feels right that he should attempt to save his friends and his father figure: Picard. It completes his journey to become human. Likke his human companions, Data is no longer immortal. He can die, and he chooses to die out of compassion – an emotion that he has developed over the journey of the story.

So far, so good.

"Is that seriously the last episode of Enterprise?
What the hell was that?"
But then you get B4 and the fact that all of Data’s memories were slid over to him. The film ends with a funeral that seems so subdued. Sad, yeah, but also kind of limp. When B4 wanders in, you get the feeling (right or wrong) that the crew realizes they still have Data around, and he’s been reset to Season 1 (or even earlier) so they can start all over again. Data isn’t really lost. This feels like such a cop out. Were the writers that afraid of killing Data? Nemesis loses its entire gut punch in those final scenes. And you realize that the only reason B4 was even in this mess of a script was to give them an out when they killed Data. Is that because they thought Nemesis would be a huge success and they might be able to squeeze out another film? Was it to give Spiner a chance to reprise his role in a later television series? Who knows. But it comes across as very misguided. The same issue would hurt Star Trek into Darkness.

Even at a wedding you can keep Picard from speechifying.
Director Stuart Baird ended up with a lot of footage for this film. He ended up having to trim it down quite a bit, and most of what was cut were character moments to celebrate the crew of The Next Generation. We found out what happened to Wesley, why Worf was hanging around and all kinds of stuff. But all that material had to be trimmed to keep the movie at two hours. Baird did the best he could, but the film ends up paced really strangely. It moves briskly and has plenty of action, but you feel all two hours. I’ve seen this film a few times and I still can’t figure out why the pacing feels so off.


Sadly Star Trek: Nemesis falls apart. All the seams in the script become painfully obvious. The manufactured feeling of the film further undermines the final experience. Insurrection has its flaws, but in many ways it feels like a better script more realized and grounded in the world of The Next Generation. Nemesis feels like a franchise flailing for relevance. It didn’t need to flail. It needed to trust its characters and the world it created to deliver an excellent, exciting and relevant story. At its core Nemesis has those kernels, but they never quite sprout. By the end of the film, you’ve had an entertaining time with the crew, but it feels like a missed opportunity.


The fine crew on their last voyage.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Nostalgia Nugget: Star Trek was Always Around - Part 1

Just seeing this title screen brings back the warm
fuzzier of nostalgia.
Star Trek was always around.

That said, I honestly don't remember the very first time I saw an episode or a movie. I just seemed to always know who Captain Kirk was. I knew Mr. Spock was logical and calm. I knew that McCoy was a doctor dammit! I know I must have seen some episodes of the original series before I saw Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan, because Spock's death upset me. I suppose I could blame the emotion on James Horner's excellent score and the performances, but I had an idea who these characters were.

I know I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture in the theaters in 1979, but I honestly don't remember seeing it. I have more vivid memories of the Happy Meal carton with The Real McCoy match game on the side and the Starfleet iron ons that came with it. I may have watched the film on VHS a couple times before 1982. At that point in my childhood I was watching anything and everything with spaceships and aliens (Battle Beyond the Stars and The Black Hole were definitely on the VHS rotation).

Space and Greek Gods! Sign 8 year old me up!
At some point after seeing the Wrath of Khan I started watching the original series on syndication. My grandmother was a big fan of William Shatner (and action movies in general, she loved TJ Hooker). She lived with our family for a number of years in the 1980s and I remember us watching the adventures of Captain Kirk and his crew. I have vivid memories of a few episodes, like seeing Captain Pike in mangled form in The Menagerie, the reptilian Gorn in Arena (I always loved lizard men monsters) and most vividly Who Mournes for Adonis.

The reason that episode really caught my attention is because it combined two things I loved: spaceships and Greek mythology. In that episode the crew of the Enterprise runs into the Greek god Apollo. He turns out to be a real jerk, and of course Kirk is about to outwit him. That always disappointed me a bit, because I really like the concept of the Greek gods and heroes. I lay the blame firmly at the feet of Clash of the Titans for that.

Seriously this was a real episode? I thought it was
some kind of candy fueled fever dream from the 80s.
I must have seen about half the episodes of the original series with my grandmother. I eventually picked up the DVD releases of the original series, and was surprised how much the imagery came back to me in these odd nostalgic flashbacks. The strange puppet alien from The Crobomite Manuver, the myriad of alien races from Journey to Babel and the odd journey to the old west in Specter of the Gun. For years I thought that was just some bizarre dream I had about Star Trek and cowboy hats.

As a kid what stuck out to me were the strange aliens, bright colors and spaceships zipping around. I really didn't remember much about the plots or the themes of the episodes. I mean I remembered Kirk and the Gorn wandering around in the desert trying to kill each other, but I didn't remember why.

What I did remember was the music. Obviously there was the main theme, which pretty much anyone who's seen an episode of the original series remembers all too well. But I also remembered certain cues that were used time and again. On of the most distinctive was the music from Amok Time composed by Gerald Fried. I always associated it with Kirk fighting (since I think it was used in many Kirk fight scenes after it's first appearance here). I don't think I ever saw Amok Time until many years later, so this music will always be Kirk's Fighting Music. I remember laughing my butt off during an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when Joel and the bots suddenly break out into an a cappella version of this music during a fight scene in Hercules Against the Moon Men.



Another distinctive piece was for the episode The Doomsday Machine. Composer Sol Kaplan provided this memorable theme and again it was reused throughout the series, usually when something intense was occurring. it just stuck in my memory and when I revisited this episode in the late 2000s, the score brought back a slew of memories about my grandmother and hanging out watching Star Trek.


For the rest of the 1980s the original crew of the enterprise were always around in the theater. I loved that Spock came back in the spoiler-rific title The Search for Spock. Just like everyone else in 1986 I thought The Voyage Home  was a ton of fun, feeling most like some of the classic episodes I remembered watching. I remember thinking The Final Frontier was Ok at the time. But I also remember Batman being a lot more entertaining that same year. By the time The Undiscovered Country rolled around in 1991, I was losing interest in Star Trek, but still though the movie was good. Any movie that had David Warner in it and surrounded by floating Klingon blood is a good movie.

Every few years in the 1980s you could count on a Star Trek
film to hit theaters.
In a strange twist of fate, one of the very first CDs I ever purchased with my own cash from my job at the video store was the score to The Undiscovered Country. The moody and dark score really appealed to me, even though I was getting into Mtv and SNL at that same time.

I also remember watching a few episodes of the original series on VHS around this time. I tried to watch them in some kind of order following the VHS releases that had two episodes per cassette. I didn't get very far into them. I think I saw The Squire of Gothos episode and it was so goofy that I decided to just stick with the movies.

I eventually came back to Star Trek because of a friend, who was very much a Trekkie, got talking about the classic series. I mentioned the fond memories I had of the show and also that I hadn't seen it in years. Well he had the newly released box sets on DVD that came out around 2008 or so. He generously let me borrow them.

The colors on the remastered Trek are so vivid
Mr. Spock needs shades.
That summer my wife and I watched all three seasons of Star Trek the original series and had a blast with it. It was so colorful (much more colorful than I remembered from the old syndicated prints I watched in the 80s) and the updated visual effects and surround sound was so much fun. Yeah there were clunker episodes, but even the goofy ones had an energy and fun to them that kept us watching. I was surprised my wife enjoyed them as much as I did, but it turns out she grew up with Star Trek always on the television too, her dad was a big Kirk fan. I ended up returning the box sets to my friend, but turned around and bought them myself.

I still revisit the series from time to time. It has a lot of nostalgia for me, and now I can enjoy some of the really excellent episodes the original series had to offer. Mr. Spock is still my favorite character, but I've grown to really like Dr. McCoy as well.

The Enterprise never looked this good on my 80s
televison set!
As for the rebooted series that J.J. Abrams brought to us in 2009. Well, I've enjoyed the first two films quite a bit. Not quite the Star Trek of the 1960s, but I honestly wouldn't expect that. Its fun and entertaining and filled with great action. But like many modern blockbusters, feels a bit empty inside. While I think Star Trek needs to change with the times, I do wonder if this change is going to end up being a problem when Star Trek Beyond comes out later in 2016. Only time will tell.

So Star Trek was always around, especially when it came to Kirk and the crew. But I have a whole different set of memories when it comes to The Next Generation and all the series that followed. Stay tuned for part 2 of this nostalgic trip through space... the final frontier.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Score Sample: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

When it comes to Star Trek the movie franchise has a pretty impressive legacy. Jerry Goldsmith knocked it out of the park with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and followed it with the excellent score to The Final Frontier a decade later. In between James Horner brought us to tears with The Wrath of Khan and to thrills with The Search for Spock. Now we have Michael Giacchino giving us top notch scores for Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek into Darkness.

But there have been a couple of other composers who got to tackle a single movie. They tend to get lost in the shuffle, and I wanted to spotlight the work of one of them today: Cliff Eidelman and his music for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. His score is much different from the ones that preceded it. Instead of starting with a bombastic fanfare he gives us a dark brooding opening theme that builds and builds in intensity until it erupts into a barrage of notes at the end. it does a great job of setting us up for the darker movie we had coming our way. But I also want to share Eidelman's cue Sign Off which acts as a wonderful farewell to the cast. The heroic theme plays as each cast member's signature appears on the screen before erupting into the classic Star Trek theme for Shatner's name. Eidelman composed one of the best scores of the series, and deserves some recognition for it. So please enjoy two samples, the Overture and the Sign Off cue from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Overture


Sign Off

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Big Eyes (2014)

Introduction:

There are some things that we see all the time and it never crosses our minds to think about where they came from. One of my favorites comes from Calvin and Hobbes where Calvin ponders who was the first human to look at a cow’s udder and say, “I’m going to drink whatever comes out of this.” But I digress. I had seen the big eyed little waif pictures before, but I had never thought about who painted them. And lo and behold, Tim Burton decides to make a movie about this. Well this ought to be interesting.

Summary:
Life is tough for Margaret (Amy Adams) and her daughter. She’s left her husband to make a life in San Francisco. There she meets fellow artist Walter Keane (Chrisoph Waltz) a charming man who sweeps her off her feet. The two marry and attempt to make ends meet selling their paintings. But when Margaret’s big-eyed waif paintings start selling like hotcakes, Walter accidently tells a few folks that he painted them.

Soon the lie gets out of control, and as the popularity of the art grows, so does Walter’s fame. Margaret is pushed aside to paint in a secluded room in their own house (even hiding the truth from her own daughter) while Walter finds more ways to exploit their fame. But this secret can’t stay buried forever, and when it gets out that Margaret may have painted all the paintings with Big Eyes, Walter isn’t going to let her get away with it. Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp and Jon Polito round out the cast.

Good Points:
  • Solid acting by the whole cast
  • Some great use of colors and visuals
  • Moves at a good pace 
Bad Points:
  • Follows the typical biopic beats – no surprises here
  • Comes across a little less visually interesting than you’d expect from Mr. Burton
  • A few characters seem to get lost in the story only to reappear when needed
Overall:

This is one of those movies that will be a great find for those interested in the Keane’s saga already. For everyone else, it is solid entertainment, but is missing that extra something to really knock it out of the park. Part of issue is expectations. Burton crafted the amazingly entertaining Ed Wood so I was expecting something with a bit more of a unique flavor. But this is not even in the same league. It is closer to Lovelace. Not a bad film by any means, but not one you are likely to remember a year or two from now.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 3
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 3
Music: 3
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3


Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.