Monday, May 26, 2014

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Before I started my 'Trek Quest' this year, I believe I only saw three of the original ten Star Trek films. Two were from The Next Generation crew, and I only recall seeing one with the original series crew, and I saw it when I was but a child on my dad's junk of a traction-prone VCR in the early '90s. My only memory of it was the film ended with Kirk, Spock and McCoy singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" around a campfire. Turns out that film is the one I will be covering today, which is the 1989 release of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (trailer).

Since Leonard Nimoy directed the previous two films, William Shatner was adamant he receive a turn at the director's chair and so he was granted that opportunity here. Both return on screen to play the roles of Spock and Kirk, respectively. I mentioned how the film ended with Spock, Kirk and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) singing around the campfire, well that is how the movie starts off too, because the crew of the Enterprise is on shore leave at Yosemite National Park when it is abruptly cut short when trouble is amidst on the planet Nimbus III. A Vulcan known as Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) is brainwashing the planet's inhabitants and his regime takes over the planet's only settlement known as Paradise. He takes human and Klingon hostages which prompts both species to send vessels to respond.

The Enterprises rescue attempt is foiled when it turns out the hostages are also brainwashed by Sybok. It ends up being a convenient plot device because there were extended periods I forgot about that being a factor, and then Sybok randomly goes on brainwashing sprees. Sybok demands and receives control of the Enterprise, and uses it to go to the fabled planet of Sha Ka Ree, where Sybok said he received a vision from god that he would find him there. I remember seeing Sybok's proclamation happen from out of nowhere right before they land on Sha Ka Ree, and being a little taken aback, thinking "OK, guess the film went into finding God mode with 20 minutes remaining." What they wind up discovering there is something quite different, and naturally it is out to destroy them. So the Enterprise crew must overcome this new threat and get the hell off Sha Ka Ree before it is too late.

Spoilers on the ending in this paragraph, so read at your own risk. Thinking on it now a couple of days after I saw it, the final scenes in The Final Frontier play out nearly identical to the final scenes from The Motion Picture, which is to say it could have went a lot better. Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Sybok come face to face with a presence representing some kind of god-like figure. After watching the behind the scenes features, it turns out Shatner wanted a group of rock men to chase them off the planet as the final big villain, but budget cuts forced them to improvise a giant hologram of a face representing some kind of 'god' that lured them there. The film jumps around a lot and tries to cover a lot of ground in under two hours. An extra ten minutes or so could have helped to flesh out some points and give a little breathing room.

I do like how this is the first Trek film not to go overboard with special effects. At least watching it in 2014 anyways I view it as a plus as all the previous films had certain showcase spots where they would dazzle some new CG or other special effects in your face they were now capable of, but now decades later comes across as laughable. Since about 80% of this film takes place at Yosemite Park and the desert themed planets of Nimbus III and Sha Ka Ree, it was a nice change of pace. Interviews with some of the crew members in the extra features comes as no surprise at them being disappointed with the lack of special effects and the disappointing quality of what special effects there were. I will give Paramount props again though for delivering another awesome HD transfer, with very little film grain or tearing being noticeable on my end.

I still think there is a good story buried somewhere in The Final Frontier. I still think Sybok's brainwashing abilities being a little too convenient of a plot device here, and as I said it just jumps around too fast, and the final act unfortunately crumbles to the ground. According to Shatner in the commentary and extra feature interviews, he lost a lot of battles with the studio and had to make a lot of unwanted changes to satisfy Paramount. I do like one of the central themes around this movie being Kirk, Spock and McCoy establishing their strong brother-like relationship, and there is a strong moment at the very end where the trio does wind up having their campfire sing-a-long in the film's closing shot.

For what it is worth, I am also glad this went back to being a more serious sci-fi flick, and not being a borderline comedy like The Voyage Home was, and went back to picking its spots for brief, but effective comedic timing instead. Do not get me wrong, I very much enjoyed IV and that overall tone was a great one time change of pace, but if that was how the franchise would have kept moving along I could see it evolving into hokey cheap laughs that take away and harm movies more than they help.

Like the previous four films I saw, this one is jam packed with extras. There is two and a half hours of behind the scenes extra features, and also two commentaries on top of it. A watched about 15 minutes each of the previously released commentary with William Shatner and his daughter Liz, and the new one featuring commentary from Mike & Denise Okuda, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Daren Dochterman. If I had the time to watch both in their entirety I would because from the little I did watch, both provided interesting insight, especially Shatner with him going on about his battles with the studio executives.

A lot of the extras are carried over from previous DVD releases, of those I highly recommend checking out The Journey which is a half hour making of feature all about Shatner getting his turn at directing and going on about his forced cutback demands from the studio and how The Final Frontier wound up the way it did. They have an original 1989 press conference prior to the film's release, with the Enterprise crew in full wardrobe and I got a kick out of how some hardcore Trek fans must have snuck in as reporters and slipped in a couple serious Trek fan questions in the midst of a barrage of general PR questions. There is a great 19 minute piece honoring the career of Herman Zimmerman, the set designer for most of Star Trek's run on how he was inspired and how most of his set designs came to be which was a fascinating watch. Finally, check out Cosmic Thoughts which is a 13 minute look as the cast and crew speculate what lies beyond the stars and the role religion has played throughout the history of Star Trek. Aside from the commentary, the three new BluRay extras are not worth going out of your way to see. Of them, Star Trek Honors NASA is a decent 10 minute interview with various folks from NASA theorizing where a god-like planet would be, but is not essential viewing by any means.

Upon doing some research for this film, I was surprised to see it received as poorly as it was. Obviously it is a step down from Star Trek II & IV, but to see V win the Razzie for worst film of the year, with Shatner also taking home an additional two Razzies for worst actor & director seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. I am guessing there must have been a lot of serious Trek fans on that particular judges panel. While I would say The Final Frontier is a noticeable step down from The Voyage Home, I still think it is a couple steps up from The Motion Picture and there are enough redeemable aspects in here to not consider it a total wash and worth seeing at least once. You can see how it compares in my ratings for all of the Trek films I have watched this year thus far below.

Star Trek Film Ratings - Now updated by factoring hindsight and perspective! Only adjustments made here were knocking down ST I & III a half point each. I think I was a smidge too generous initially with those two.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture - 5.5/10
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn - 10/10
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - 7.5/10
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - 9/10
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier - 6.5/10

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bounty Hunters

Last weekend a couple friends and I engaged in what is usually our quirky quarterly tradition - bad movie night! We all selected a movie to endure, and usually we try to go with something so cheesy bad that it is fun to just rip apart as we go along. One of the films was the Pauly Shore hit, Jury Duty, which still has great moments, but mostly does not hold up well at all. Another friend picked out a Mystery Science Theater 3000 film. It has been over a decade since I saw one of these! I forget the name of it, but I think it had "final" in the title, and was a abysmal action/chase flick taking place in the middle of the Canadian wilderness that we enjoyed watching the MST3K crew rip apart.

One of my buddies Matt has a tradition of buying me a random movie with wrestlers in it I have never heard of, and usually is among the direct to video fare. That is exactly what we watched for my pick, which ironically also happens to be a Canadian action flick too. I am talking about the 2011 straight to video thriller that is Bounty Hunters (trailer), or as it is known in Canada as Bail Enforcers, which I am guessing that title has more pizzazz then Bounty Hunters up there.

Former WWE Diva sensation Trish Stratus makes her feature film debut as Jules, who by day....or night actually works part time at a strip club to help make ends meet, while at day is part of a three person crew that is known as the Bail Enforcers Agency (BEA). Jules and her two fellow BEA partners Ridley(Frank J. Zupancic) and Chase(Boomer Phillips) are making a routine bust when they stumble upon intel that sends them on a mission to hunt down a prized $1 Million bounty. Of course it is not that easy, and the trio run across plenty of opposition along the way in hopes of making their ultimate bust.

Trish is from and currently resides in Toronto, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this is where it is shot because a majority of the actors here have heavy Canadian accents. They even wrestle a little bit of it back into Trish who use to mask it for years in her WWE days. To give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, they never outright say where this film takes place, so it could be taking place anywhere with a city that has a surprisingly strong Canadian sector. I do not mean to poke fun at the accents so bad, but Matt was obsessed at pointing this out throughout the film so I feel obligated to dedicate a paragraph to this here.

As far as the actual movie goes, well it lives up to the straight to video fare. There is a decent amount of action and fight sequences throughout the film, but the build up to them is all over the place and just does not feel nearly as epic as your big screen encounters. It gets painful to watch Chase ham it up as the comedic relief for the film, who plays the knucklehead partner getting himself into more trouble and usually tripping over his own feet. Probably the biggest plus to this film is that it is just shy of 80 minutes, because around the hour mark my friends were starting to wonder how much we had left to endure.

There are a couple of brief extra features on the DVD release. There is a brief three minute behind the scenes clip of Trish and an adversary rehearsing a fight scene, and about another ten minute interview with Trish who spends the bulk of the time talking about how much fun she had doing the fight scenes. Neither of these are particularly insightful, and are not must see by any means. The same can be said for Bounty Hunters in general, where unless you want to make somewhat of a unique night of it as part of a bad movie night like I did, you should absolutely avoid at all costs.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

21 Jump Street
Captain America: The First Avenger
Field of Dreams
The Fighter

Friday, May 16, 2014

Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection

My memories of Bill Goldberg range from all over the realm of good and bad. I remember the awesome early years of his WCW career when he was destroying the entire roster and plowing through everyone with his awesome undefeated streak gimmick that lead to him being insanely popular. Hell, I even bought his autobiography in the midst of his WCW heyday, and devoured it in quick order. I have fond recollections of him being my go to man in WCW/nWo Revenge on N64 and spearing the crap out of everyone I waged war against. I remember him being booked in godawful storylines as WCW went into a downward spiral in its final years which lead to Goldberg looking like a buffoon on many occasions. I remember his abysmal one year run in WWE, where despite winning the World title, he was made to look like a pushover and played second banana to Triple H. The last several years I have better memories of Goldberg, like him hosting one of the few reality TV shows I can endure, the cross country race show Bull Run, and now WWE has finally put out a DVD and BluRay of his wrestling career with Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection (trailer).

WWE has primarily two ways of cranking out home videos focused on a single superstar. One is either a nicely produced documentary feature with interviews of the themed wrestler of the feature and many of his friends, family and foes in and out of the ring and then throw in a good chunk of their best remembered matches as extra features. The second is well, just a collection of a bunch of matches with some little quick narration packages every several matches, and unfortunately that is all we get here. I have no idea why WWE could not track down Goldberg to interview for this. He has not been under contract with WWE for a decade now, but WWE did track him down for a series of new interviews for the 2009 Rise and Fall of WCW DVD. I imagine WWE could have at least ripped a few random little quotes out of that and with other former WCW and WWE colleagues to have a little bit of a documentary feel, but I guess WWE just wanted to rush this release out with no real effort and it shows. All we get is like I mentioned above, every three or four matches is a quick little narration clip that sets up one of the next matches.

I picked up the BluRay release because the wrestling nerd in me demanded the hour of extra content on it. Disc one focuses entirely on his WCW career, and is nearly four and a half hours long. Disc two is the last two and a half hours of the feature that is all about his WWE run, with a little over an hour of bonus matches, four from WCW and one from WWE. Disc one has a whopping 21 matches on it, this is not as shocking as it sounds as a good chunk of these matches are under five minutes, especially from the early parts of his career where he was just running over everybody. We get his first two WCW matches from September of 1997 against Hugh Morrus and Barbarian, and it is interesting to see how far Goldberg came from those days as he was trying all kinds of different moves back then before he settled down with his trademark power moves.

A lot of older WWE home video releases tried to cut corners to get as many matches in as they could on the disc so sometimes they would cut out the entrances and we would get just the bell to bell action. Not the case here since about half the matches are under five minutes; because of that we are treated to Goldberg's elaborate walk out of the locker room and vintage enhale-the-pyro entrance, and plenty of post match highlight recaps from the announcers. I still love and adore Goldberg's entrance as it was all part of his mystique and got me jacked for his matches, but by the second disc I was just fast forwarding through it. It also is a bummer that WWE dubs over his WCW theme with their inferior remix they used for his WWE run.

Including the BluRay extras on disc two, there are 25 WCW matches all together, and I cannot think of an important one they skipped off the top of my head. It has his first big title win on here where he won the US title from Raven that established him as a big time player in WCW, and his unforgettable World Title win against Hulk Hogan on the Georgia Dome episode of Nitro in front of a sold out crowd. I wish they did not include his loss to Kevin Nash on here that ended his streak, but at least they got his redemption win on here from a few months later. When Goldberg faced bigger names, he still usually won but I am guessing a lot of big names probably did not want a clean loss to this quick upstart so they usually involved a lot of nasty interference or crap DQ finishes that were not necessarily crowd pleasers.

Probably my two favorite matches on disc one are his main event match against DDP at Halloween Havoc '98 which told a great story from start to end, and has no crazy BS going on like a lot of his other matches following did, and a No DQ match against Scott Steiner of all people at Fall Brawl 2000. It was far better than it had any right to be, as it was just the two miraculously not screwing up and exchanging nonstop power moves against each other in a memorable slugfest. If this was the match that Goldberg and Brock would have delivered at Wrestlemania XX, than they would have tore the roof off the place, but more on that later. There is also a pretty solid match in here against Ric Flair from an early '99 episode of Nitro, where the two had a interesting clash of styles that turned into a good encounter, but unfortunately it suffered from a ton of run ins at the end and the match and was thrown out.

It is worth mentioning there are some duds worth skipping over. He has two matches on here against Sid Vicious which are downright torturous to watch, especially the first one where they stop the match due to blood loss. Those two just did not mesh well together at all. Also do not watch the disc two bonus Goldberg vs. Bret Hart match from Starrcade '99. It features tons of crap ref bumps, run ins, and an unbelievably awful finish to the main event of WCW's most vital PPV of the year. Oh yeah, it was also the match where Goldberg got a little careless with one of his kicks and wound up giving Hart a career ending concussion.

Disc two is all about his WWE run, which has nine matches and one bonus WWE match. Goldberg's WWE debut against the Rock has some interesting highs, but unfortunately there is a lot of lulls and stalling that marred the beginning of Goldberg's WWE run. He did have a couple of good outings after this against Christian and Chris Jericho, but for the rest of the matches I could not help but wonder if a lot of WWE talent did not want to put over Goldberg clean here because there are a ton of interference and shenanigans going on with most of the other matches. Goldberg got the shaft in the Summerslam Elimination Chamber match and lost, and is only really featured in the last five minutes of it, but the entire half hour bout is here. A ton of interference is going on in his encounters against Triple H, Mark Henry and Batista which really diminishes those match ups. There is a pretty good match against Shawn Michaels, but more interference rears its ugly head at the end to take away from it.

This collection is rounded off with his final career match to date so far against Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania XX in 2004. This match is notorious because it was well known by wrestling fans at the time that this was both superstars final match going in. It was common knowledge among insiders that Goldberg's year contract was up and he was unhappy and not renewing, and Lesnar a week prior gave his notice that he was leaving to pursue the NFL. Naturally, fans could care less about how this turned out and they crapped all over the match, and just watching the opening minutes with just Goldberg and Lesnar staring at each other while the crowd went crazy hating on both of them was unfortunately the highlight of the match. The crowd obviously effected both combatants not getting a rhythm for the match and just stinking up the joint while the crowd entertained themselves with multiple "this match sucks" chants throughout the fight. For what it is worth, Goldberg got the win in a clean finish I might add, but this was a train wreck from start to finish, but worth watching for the sheer debacle it turned out to be. Again, it would have been great if they got Goldberg and Lesnar interviewed for some comments to reflect on this not-so-legendary encounter, but WWE just could not be bothered for the effort.

If you are a big time Goldberg fan then it is disheartening to say WWE only went halfway on Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection. Goldberg has a great story to tell about his meteoric rise and how he quickly walked away from wrestling, among his outside the ring endeavors, but WWE did not want to tell it. If all you want is to just relive his greatest matches, you will probably be better off just searching for them on YouTube instead of shelling out the cash for this hastily thrown together collection.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Legends of Mid South Wrestling
RoH Supercard of Honor V
Warrior Week on WWE Network
WWE Wrestlemania 28
WWE Wrestlemania 29

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Field of Dreams

It has been well over a decade since I last watched the 1989 classic baseball movie, Field of Dreams( trailer). Since we are a few weeks into the new season of America's past time, it gave me the perfect reason to dig this movie out of my backlog box. Damn me for remembering this of all things, but I recall our family owned this on VHS because it was one of a few movies along with Wayne's World, and I want to say Adams Family Values that we got for free at McDonald's with the purchase of a value meal for a promotion they ran in the early 1990s.

In case you do not remember the premise behind, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Kostner) is just your average Iowa farmer, until he hears a voice in his cornfields inspiring him to build a baseball field over his crops so he can get a visit from banned baseball player, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta). Somehow Ray convinces his wife (Amy Madigan) to support him on this journey which also leads to him tracking down retired writer Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) and former ball player Moonlight Graham (Burt Lancaster).

This came out when I was obsessed about baseball, and a huge A's fan back when the Bash Bros. were ruling the diamond and before the strike of '94 that turned me off of it for nearly 20 years. I remember watching this many times before I was 10 and being utterly confused at which members of the cast were dead, who were alive, who were ghosts, etc. Seeing this movie for the first time since I was a child made things a lot clearer to follow this time around. Part of me was thinking the whole silly-on-paper concept of creating a baseball purgatory would not hold up, but I am still loving this movie all these years later.

Part of the reason why I still dig this movie is because I am a country boy at heart, and I love the whole "baseball diamond in the middle of a farm field" aesthetic the film is going for. Another reason is because there is a stellar amount of performances provided by all the actors. Kevin Costner is in his prime here as the innocent farmer just going with his gut instincts and Amy Madigan is fantastic as the super supportive, do-not-mess-with-me wife (Nazi Cows anyone?). I have not been a huge Ray Liotta fan this past decade, but he is priceless as Joe Jackson in here. Burt Lancaster absolutely nails it as the cup of coffee ball player who just wants one big league at bat in one of his final roles, and James Earl Jones nearly steals the entire movie away from everyone else with his unforgettable "People Will Come" speech. Almost anytime someone says the word baseball, I usually instantly hearken back to Jones' vintage, deep voice saying it with the right amount of candor like no other in one of sports films all-time classic scenes.

Another reason to watch Field of Dreams is that it is not your stereotypical baseball movie. It is not about the cliché underdog team that rises through the ranks for a feel good victory at the end. To me, it is about going with your gut and doing the right thing at all costs, no matter what obstacles are in your path and whoever is telling you otherwise. If you are lucky, you may find what you are looking for at the end of that journey, and for Ray Kinsella, well, it was making peace with his dad (Dwier Brown) in another classic scene to end the movie.

I have seen a few different editions of this video in retail. From what I have gathered, the BluRay release has a few more extra features, but the DVD I own has its fair share of extras too. There is a commentary track with director Phil Robinson and director of photography John Lindley. Phil Robinson also introduces all the deleted scenes, which actually have some decent background on the supporting cast and flesh out a few other details in the movie, so make sure to give these a watch. Finally, there is a 38 minute feature "From Father to Son: Passing Along the Pastime." It is a well put together documentary on the making of film, going over how much of an impact all the cast members made, and interviewing current MLB players about some of the film's memorable moments. It really is an insightful watch, but for whatever reason, Universal could not track down Kevin Costner to interview for this. They got nearly the rest of the entire cast, including Liotta, Madigan, Earl Jones and they even tracked down Dwier Brown for a touching story on his involvement from his small, but vital part in the film, so I am baffled as to why Costner did not contribute to this.

I have seen countless movies about baseball, but Field of Dreams will rank among the best because it is like no other. The only movie that tried to somewhat replicate it was Angles in the Outfield and that was absolute trash, but Field of Dreams is a classic and probably ranks easily somewhere in my top three baseball movies of all time along with Major League and Moneyball.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

21 Jump Street
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Fighter