Thursday, July 31, 2014

Star Trek VII: Generations

At the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Journey, we got what seemed like a conclusive sendoff for the original series crew. Paramount was poised to move forward with future films with a new cast fresh from finishing off the television series run of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It wound up Paramount backtracked just a smidge with the seventh film in the franchise with 1994's Star Trek: Generations (trailer). Yes, Paramount removed the numbering in the film titles starting here, but for the sake of organization in this blog I will have them numbered in the blog titles and in the ratings rundown at the conclusion of each blog.

It turns out the studio heads wanted an official passing of the torch from original series to TNG crew. Star Trek buffs may ponder how do you incorporate that when TNG takes place 70 years after the original series. That problem is easily remedied in the world of science fiction when you have a good old fashioned time travel plot device readily available. Generations opens with a retired Kirk (William Shatner), Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Scotty (James Doohan) as guests on the debut voyage of the Enterprise-B. A ship's distress call that is caught in an energy field quickly changes this initial voyage. The energy field is later revealed to be capable of producing lightning-like bolts that can zap individuals in and out of a purgatory-esque world called the Nexus. The Enterprise-B is able to escape with some survivors, but not before the field zaps Kirk into the Nexus.

We then flash forward 78 years, where TNG crew is having a promotion ceremony at sea for Worf (Michael Dorn). Everything is going well until Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) receives a distress call from an observatory that is under attack. At the observatory Riker (Jonathan Frakes) leads an investigation where they discover a survivor by the name of Soran (Malcolm McDowell), who we briefly saw 78 years earlier as one of the survivors zapped from the Nexus. Turns out he has been trying ever since to go back there, and he has been collaborating with those pesky Klingons all along to help him destroy a star system to enable him to get there.

McDowell is tremendous as Soran, and he is one of the best antagonists of the films since Kahn. I also am a fan of the side story of this film where Geordi (LeVar Burton) installs an emotion chip inside of Data (Brent Spiner). Generations was the only one of the first 10 films that I saw in the theater, and I the thing I remember most is getting a kick out of the formerly emotion-less Data now being overwhelmed with his new feelings and cracking jokes and breaking down in an instant throughout the film. Revisiting this film 20 years (damn) later, and I cannot help but think they overdid it a little bit, but it is still effective nonetheless. It is worth mentioning the special effects now are really starting to hold up and do not seem as dated now than previous films. The excellent HD remastering for BluRay definitely helped here too. There is one scene where Data and Spock are in a cartography room that has a 360 degree view screen that seamlessly zooms in and out of their projected trajectories. It still looks pretty high end and holds up well 20 years later.

I very much liked Generations for the most part, but things break down a bit in the final half hour. For those who want to avoid ending spoilers, jump ahead a paragraph. A needlessly convoluted, lengthy battle between Soran and Picard results in both being zapped into the Nexus. This starts off quite awesome as Picard meets up with Kirk in this purgatory where both are living out their ideal fantasy lives, and when the two meet it yields a intriguing dynamic of the two captains mixing it up for the first time ever. Then it breaks down as the two decide they must stop Soran and in an instant in their own volition warp from the Nexus and time travel back to reality where Picard failed to initially stop Soran, and then the two captains successfully vanquish Soran in his efforts. I am left scratching my head at the previous sentence, because it ostensibly played out a little too convenient. In the opening of the film I was left with the impression that only being caught in the Nexus's energy storm can zap people in and out of the Nexus, but then Kirk and Picard magically decide to leave on their own free will and just so happen to drop in on Soran in his super bizarre scaffolding set up in the mountains. I do not know, sometimes this sci-fi stuff can go over my head and maybe I missed a well placed line of dialogue explaining how the Nexus worked earlier, but the way that scene played out did not sit well with me and somewhat tarnished the ending for me.

Like the rest of the films in this BluRay collection, there are several hours of extras. All I can say is thank goodness for 1.5x speed playback on my PS3 to somewhat help speed up going through them. There are two commentary tracks, I watched the final half hour with new commentary from director David Carson and Manny Coto, and the opening act with the original series crew with original commentary from the two screenplay writers Ronald Moore and Brannon Braga. Wish I had time to listen to both in their entirety, but I learned a lot from what I caught of both, including how the original ending did not go over well with test audiences which lead to Paramount shooting and producing a new one in the final hours of post production and why Leonard Nimoy did not return as Spock in Genarations' opening act.

Commentaries aside, there are over three hours of original DVD extras and nearly an hour of additional BluRay features. Highlights include Creating Illusion, a nine minute look at how the special effects team created the aforementioned cartography scene. Uniting Two Lengends is a near half hour look at how TNG crew within weeks had to adapt from a television to film production schedule. Enterprise Lineage is a fascinating 13 minute look at actual vessels and crafts throughout history with the Enterprise name. Make sure to check out the deleted scenes, they are on the lengthy side running over just a half hour, but each scene has a mini-documentary leading up to it, which especially helps explain why Paramount did not run with the initial ending, and I am glad they did not, and you are going to have to see for yourselves what they originally had in mind. Some of the new extras that standout is a first part of an interview series with Brent Spinner that lasts 10 minutes profiling his career, and a 12 minute Trek Roundtable with four critics dissecting the film.

Qualms with the ending aside, Star Trek: Generations was a great introduction of The Next Generation crew into the films. The amount of screen time the original series cast got was just right to "pass the torch" onto the new cast. It was long overdue, but yet still great to have a very convincing and fun to hate antagonist again in Soran. I am looking forward to the next three films with TNG cast as I have never seen First Contact or Insurrection, and only caught brief parts of Nemesis long ago. I will see you next month!

Star Trek Film Ratings

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
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - 7.5/10
Star Trek VII: Generations - 8/10

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

RoH Supercard of Honor VI

It is time to catch up on another past Ring of Honor event in my backlog. A few months back I reviewed Supercard of Honor V, so let us follow it up with its successor, Supercard of Honor VI! This show took place at an interesting time. Instead of happening on Wrestlemania weekend which was the tradition of all the other past events under this name, it took place a month and half later in May. This was also just fresh into Ring of Honor getting acquired by Sinclair broadcasting and wrapping up its initial two year run on the old HDnet channel, and now being broadcasted on Sinclair's syndicated regional networks.

Remember Kevin Kelley? He was one of the second tier announcers from the old WWF from the mid to late 90s, and his contract ran up and he disappeared somewhere in the attitude era. He just kind of vanished for about a decade, I imagined he found work elsewhere, but he returned in a major factor being a big part of brokering this Sinclair deal, and it landed him as RoH's new lead announcer. I am not a huge Kevin Kelley fan, but he is a noticeable improvement over the old lead analyst RoH was using from their inception.

Onto the event. And if you do end up picking up this video, make sure to check out the include the bonus feature video wires which contain about a half hour of clips of past events and exclusive interviews to hype up the show, and really help lay some background for some key matches. Unfortunately, losing their support from HDnet looks like RoH took a little step back again with their lighting quality and production values. It is passable for an indy show, but RoH is a bit more than that, and this is just laughable at how low-rent this lighting and staging is for a promotion nine years old at this point of production.

The opening bout is Michael Elgin taking on Homicide. Elgin is managed by Truth Martini and is part of his House of Truth stable, and he headlined the RoH event I went to a year later during Wrestlemania 28 weekend. I forgot how much I hate Homicide's music, and Homicide in RoH. I only really enjoyed his work when he was part of LAX in TNA. The match needed more room to breathe, as it was just spot, spot, spot until Homicide landed an Ace Crusher for the win. Next up, Adam Cole and Kyle 'O Reilly beat the Bravado Brothers. I do not see the bravado in the brothers' ring gear. Unfortunately one of them got a concussion in this match, but Reilly and Cole landed a brutal looking backstabber/codebreaker combo for the win.

Afterwards, Steve Corino took on Michael Bennett. Corino use to be a dreaded bad guy in RoH, and is now trying to make amends and change his ways but the RoH locker room is not buying it, so he enlists the returning Jimmy Jacobs, another former dreaded bad guy who changed his ways to be his sponsor and help him out. Jimmy gives a great heartfelt promo before the match, but security and commissioner Cornette will have none of it and kick him out of the arena! The match was not anything to write home about, except it was cool to see Bennett winning with an old school piledriver. The prematch shenanigans were far more entertaining.

The man currently tearing up NXT as Sami Zayne is in his final years as indy sensation El Generico here as he takes on Chris Hero. Generico has some goofy prematch antics where he tries to get Hero to do a Thor pose before the match. Initially Hero won by using the ropes, but in a move I have never seen transpire before, the ref restarts the match because he takes the fans at their word that Hero cheated. Ok, now maybe a more tongue in cheek indy promotion like PWG and Chikara could get away with that, but that booking just seemed surprisingly bush league for RoH. Of course, once Hero reenters the ring, Generico immediately lands a Yakuza Kick for the win. Charlie Haas and Davey Richards put on a technical showcase next, with the action getting really intense towards the end before Richards got the win with several sick looking kicks to the head of Haas. Haas's tag team partner Shelton Benjamin avenged his loss next however by beating Claudio Castognoli (who you know better now as WWE's Cesaro) with a top rope overheard suplex.

After a few intense matches, the crowd was allowed to breathe with Colt Cabana and Christopher Daniels having a more laid back, fun match that Cabana is known for. Cabana got the win with a unique looking torture rack-buster off the top rope. The Briscoe Brothers and All Night Express got the crowd instantly riled up again in a street fight match for the ages. All kinds of weaponry was used, and all but Kenny King ended up getting busted open. I love the Briscoes, and while great at high flying and wrestling, these street fights are their specialty and it was mighty gratifying they wound up with the crowd pleasing win.

The main event saw Roderick Strong take on Eddie Edwards for the RoH World Title. I believe I mentioned in the last RoH blog, but I am just not all that big of a Strong fan. He has some great moves, but like Homicide it usually is just spot, spot, spot for him with little breathing time. Eventually they got into a great rhythm for the closing minutes that saw Edwards successfully defend his title by getting the victory with a half boston crab/half repeated kicks to the head submission. After the bout, an angle transpires that sets up Edwards against his tag team partner Davey Richards for an RoH Title match down the line.

I think all together that Supercard of Honor VI had a better all around card compared to its predecessor I reviewed a few months ago. However, with it not taking place around WrestleMania weekend like the past installments, and no real big time atmosphere with surprise cameos or special vignettes of that nature that these shows usually have, it kind of hurt in a minor way the event did not have that special flair for events with this magnitude of billing I believe should have. A minor qualm, but a far superior show match quality and storyline wise compared to last year, so it gets a recommendation from me!

Past Wrestling Blogs

For All Mankind
Goldberg Ultimate Collection
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
RoH Supercard of Honor V
Warrior Week on WWE Network
WWE Wrestlemania 28
WWE Wrestlemania 29

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Source Code

Last month I went out and saw Tom Cruise's latest summer blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow. Once I realized what was going on with the film and how the events kept on repeating upon each increasingly hilarious Tom Cruise death sequence, I was on board with the film. It also reminded me quite a bit of the 2011 action/sci-fi thriller I will be covering today, Source Code (trailer). Talking to other people, I also heard comparisons to Groundhog Day, and while I am well aware of that movie is all about, I have somehow never seen it yet, but it is buried deep in my Netflix DVD queue, so rest assured one day I will. As it stands, Source Code happened to be in my backlog movie box that is the theme of this blog, and Edge of Tomorrow provided me with some inspiration to throw it in again.

One of the people interviewed on the extras best described Source Code as a hybrid of Groundhog Day and Speed. That description could not have been more spot on, but let us throw in a good dose of Quantum Leap to the mix to complete the analogy. US Army helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up Quantum Leap-style, taking over the identity of another man in midst of an everyday commuter train ride that is about to get bombed to bits in eight minutes. Once that happens he awakens to reality and finds himself talking to government agents Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) who eventually inform him that he will keep going back to the "source code" so he can find out who the bomber was on that train attack that happened for real earlier in the day, because the terrorist made public he plans on another attack very soon.

You get all that? I recalled being a little lost in the plot when I first saw this in the theater because everything is intentionally very vague for the first half hour or so of the film because Goodwin and Rutledge keep dancing around Stevens' questions on what the hell is going on with such blunt, frustrating responses as "there is no time, go back and find the bomber." Eventually things start to open up, and upon this second viewing and listening to some of the commentary and extra feature interviews I was able to piece things together better. As I have referenced before on this blog, I am admittedly a step or two behind most movie fans I talk to at putting these kind of plot points together so odds are you probably will not get as lost as I did on the first viewing.

If you have seen Edge of Tomorrow, you will recognize some similarities on how each repeated day Tom Cruise goes through, they very quickly montage through the opening moments until he branches off differently upon that day. The same thing transpires in Source Code where Stevens goes through the opening motions rapidly and then starts to have a little fun on the side by intentionally mixing up his conversation exchange he starts every source code jump off with Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) to some amusing results.

My favorite part of Source Code was how every eight minute sequence on the train played out. The first few times is Stevens' figuring out what the hell is going on and trying to get familiar with the other passengers and his surroundings. Then he thinks he starts to get clever, and seeing how his early attempts at trying to find the bomber backfire on him in hilarious fashion, or at points kind of go nowhere had me glued in to how each jump into the source code was going to play out. The last half hour of the film really rises to the occasion as everything starts to come together, and the aftermath starts to unfold when Stevens' tries to go into business for himself with one final jump into the source code. Immediately after finishing the film, I watched the last half hour again with the DVD commentary from director Duncan Jones, writer Ben Ripley and Jake Gyllenhaal, and that really added to what I got out of it because the three were able to expand on some of the little things that were slipping by me and helped piece together an understanding of the true nature of the ending for me.

I have the DVD release of Source Code, and I believe the BluRay has a few more extras, but the DVD has a handful of its own aside from the aforementioned commentary track. There is about a half hour worth of interviews with the cast and crew called Cast Insights, about what they got from their experience on the film and it was quite entertaining to hear them try and describe the plot and make sense of all the sci-fi intricacies of the movie. Next up is a throwaway 10 minute montage of animated shorts called Focal Points which play out in a PSA style of trying to explain how Source Code's version of warping into their source code world plays out. The DVD features are rounded off with a trivia track.

If you are all about these mystery thrillers and love piecing things together as they play out than Source Code is definitely the movie for you. It is the perfect movie to watch twice in a row to pick up on all the little nuances throughout. Even if I have not sold you on this film so far, go out of your way to Netflix or Redbox it because it is something refreshingly different than the average film out there.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

21 Jump Street
Bounty Hunters
Captain America: The First Avenger
Field of Dreams
The Fighter
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
Veronica Mars