Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

(Note: There will be some spoilers)
 After 4 years of waiting, I decided to forego a good night's sleep and catch the midnight sneak preview. So, after a day to think about what I saw, what do I think?

 It's good, bordering on great.

 I know there are some die-hard Trekkies (Yes, I said Trekkies! "Trekkers" sounds ridiculously stupid and PC in my opinion) don't consider the movies made by JJ and company to be "real Star Trek". I could not disagree more. I am rapidly approaching my 44th birthday. I became a fan of Trek when I was seven, and have watched every single minute of film in the Trek universe. In short, I love Star Trek. I AM a Trekkie. Now, I may not put on Spock ears and go to conventions (though I DID have a Captain Kirk gold command shirt when I was seven, even wore it to school), but I love the universe Roddenberry, Berman, et. al. have created over the decades. Therefore, I think that my opinion on whether these movies are "real Trek" or not holds just as much weight as any other fan.

 This movie is "Star Trek".

 What makes it Trek to me is that the characters, as played by the new actors, are people I care about. Abrams has assembled a fantastic group of actors to portray these iconic characters, and I hope they stick around for more than just the third movie they're contracted for. Kirk, as played by Chris Pine, goes through the transformation he needed to make to become the Captain of the Enterprise. At the start of the movie, he's still a bit of the cock-sure punk who thinks it doesn't matter what the rules are, as long as he's doing what he thinks is right. Through the course of this movie, you see him learn some humility, and Pine makes it believable.

 Spock is still dealing with his planet getting sucked into a black hole, and as a result, his emotional control isn't quite what it should be. On top of that, he and Kirk are still struggling somewhat to actually be friends.

McCoy is still as irascible as ever, though the analogies he spouts started wearing thin. Fortunately, they did for Kirk, too, and he knocked it off.

 The rest of the cast is fine, though they aren't given as much to do (except maybe for Scotty).

 As for who's new this time out, we get Alice Eve as Carol Marcus. Her function in this movie is to help move the plot forward, and not much else (besides provide a bit of gratuitous underwear modeling). I would like to see her character expounded upon in the next film.

 Peter Weller as Admiral Marcus. Why isn't this man getting more work in Hollywood? He masterfully chewed scenery as the Starfleet Admiral willing to do the wrong thing in the interests of protecting the Federation. He's definitely an "ends justify the means" kinda guy.

 And now for the "big bad", Benedict Cumberbatch as "John Harrison" aka Khan. Yes, they used the biggest bad of the original series era for this movie. I have to digress for a moment. Like many other Trekkies, I consider The Wrath of Khan to be the pinnacle, the acme, the "ne plus ultra" of Star Trek movies. Ricardo Montalban gave the performance of a lifetime as the superman driven mad with revenge. That having been said, I do not consider this character inviolate, and is as fair game as anything in this new Trek universe. And Cumberbatch gives a fine performance. I'd say his Khan, in terms of motivation and characterization, is a mix of "Space Seed" Khan and "TWOK" Khan. He is driven for vengeance, but since he hasn't spent years dwelling upon the target of his wrath, he isn't mad with it. thus, he is able to be smooth and manipulative to achieve his ends.

 As for the "whitewashing" of this character? It doesn't bother me so much. Cumberbatch is a joy to watch (as anyone who has watched "Sherlock" can attest), so what if he doesn't look, act, or talk like a typical Sikh? Montalban played Khan with a Mexican accent, and the only thing that made him somewhat believable was the color of his skin. To me, it's disingenuous to criticize the casting of one, without doing the same for the other.

Like the '09 movie, this is one good-looking movie. I like the new warp effect better than the last movie, as it evokes more of the effect from the original movies. It works well in 3D, too! I like the added sets of the enterprise interior. Yes, Budgineering is still there, but it is not as obtrusive as before, and I LOVE the setting they used for the warp drive! Also, I really liked the multi-level open deck area. I wonder where exactly that was in the ship?

As for the story....while I liked wasn't quite as good (still good, though). The problem, I think, is that it feels somewhat rushed. It seems to me they've crammed a 3-hour story into a 2-hour movie. If there's one thing that this movie (and the '09 movie) suffers from, it's that Star Trek has primarily been story-telling format made for television. All of the Original Series and Next Generation movies had hours and hours of story-telling and character interaction to draw upon, so that certain things in those movies could be told in a sort of shorthand. Since the new movies don't have that, they have to cram a lot of that into a much shorter period of time. This is why you get things like (in the '09 movie) Kirk promoted from cadet to captain, and warp travel taking only minutes between Earth and Kronos.

The upside is that the powers that be actually listened to some of the complaints about the first movie. Early on, Kirk gets busted back to the Academy, though Pike puts in a good word and gets him back as his first officer. that, and with the movie jumping a year ahead before they embark on the "5 year mission", plus with the evolution of the character, having Kirk back in command seems much more believable.

There are references and homages throughout to original series movies, particularly TWOK. They were, for the most part, well done. Hardly the "rehash" some have been criticizing Into Darkness as. Going into the movie, I already knew that the "death of Spock scene" had been recreated for this movie, word for word at points, with the characters reversed. I dreaded this moment, because I could see no way that doing this would equal that iconic moment. The death of Spock and subsequent funeral were probably the only times I ever got misty-eyed watching a Star Trek movie. To my surprise, the scene actually worked! The reversal of the characters, and the way they played it out, fit the dynamic and character arc of this Kirk and Spock, and I found myself getting misty-eyed, even though I knew Kirk wasn't going to stay dead. Even having Spock yell "Khan!!!!" kinda worked.

In the end, while it didn't exactly measure up to the '09 movie, it was still entertaining and quite good. I will watch this at least once more in the theater. First, to make sure I didn't overlook anything, and second, because I watch to watch it in a full house. Some movies are best seen with a whole audience, and I think Into Darkness might just be one of them.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Back From The Dead: The Blog Returns!

Well, howdy, ho! I have returned to the blog after six months. One of these days, I might write this thing on a consistent basis.

Today's post is going to be a veritable potpourri of thoughts. First up, the 49ers. In following the title of this post, the glory of the Niners has certainly experienced a resurrection this year! Today, they sit at 10-2. They have won the NFC West and they are in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. After six seasons, Alex Smith has developed into legitimate NFL starter. Okay, quick show of hands: Who predicted this level of success for the Niners going into this season? Yeah, neither did I.

What has been happening in the Land of Red & Gold is a tribute to the value of good coaching. If you look at this team, barring the secondary, the personnel is not vastly different than the team that took the field for Singletary in 2010. The 2010 team I felt had some good pieces; they just needed to be utilized properly. Harbaugh has utilized them to hilt. And what he's done with Smith is nothing short of amazing. Or is it?

Alex Smith has had the deck stacked against him from the get go. He was picked too high in the draft (thus elevating expectations beyond his ability level). He was thrown into service midway through his rookie year with an offense that brought whole new levels of suck week after week. Since the Offensive Coordinator position was a revolving door of coaches, each year brought a new offense for Alex to learn. The one time he had a coordinator two seasons in a row, the guy was perhaps the worst OC to ever man the booth at Candlestick. Finally, his first two Head Coaches threw him under the bus publicly. Combine that with with a skill set that needed to develop to be effective, and you have the recipe for Smith's career coming into this season.

Most everyone under the sun (myself included)thought that Smith's time as Niner was done following 2010, and that he would be nothing more than a semi-competent backup QB. Jim Harbaugh looked at the twisted wreck that was Smith and saw a hot rod. All he had to do was give Alex the things that had been denied him. He's given Alex Smith an offense plan that was competent. He's trotted out the offense slowly, waiting until Smith had a good grasp of what he was being asked to do before opening up more of the playbook. But most importantly, he's had Smith's back.

And look at the results. Smith no longer resembles Steve DeBerg. While his yardage numbers are not stellar, he no longer is making the crucial mistakes he used to do. Amazing what a person can do when someone believes in them.

I have more to say, but it will have to wait until after the game!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Random Musings On A Sunday

Tried writing some poetry (actually a song) today. Why is it that whenever I try to write, the only thing that comes out is overly sentimental, drippy love poems? I think I need a muse...........

Yesterday, I learned that being a guy at a bachelorette party qualifies you for the "Good Sport Of The Year" award. Which is all good, as I'm always a good sport! I was even up for wearing a tiara, but the ones they had were held in place with a comb, and I lack the crucial ingredient to make that work! Besides, this was an opportunity to spend all day drinking wine with a group of attractive women; I saw no downside to that. (Not that it actually got me anywhere. Of the four women I was with, three were married/engaged, and the fourth barely paid me any attention at all. Apparently, she wasn't looking for a middle-aged guy with a shaved head who looks like he should be riding a Harley. Oh well!) We went wine tasting up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and it was an enjoyable experience (Note to self: Next wine-tasting trip, take your B-1 before you go, and drink lots of water!)

Driving home the other night, I heard this song on the radio that sounded just like The Cars. Turned out it was a new song by The Cars! I had no idea they had got back together, particularly since Ric Ocasek has long since poo-poohed any thought of a reunion. The song was pretty cool; they sound just like they did back in the day. Don't take my word for it, though. Listen for yourself!

To me, this is what modern music sorely lacks. This song sounds fresh and lively, unlike all the pre-packaged, auto-tuned crap that passes for pop music these days. Anyways, they're supposed to tour this year, I just might buy a ticket to that!

When I came back to this blog again, I started re-reading some of my earlier posts and I had a bit of a realization: I'm a better writer than I think I am! whenever I do a post, I always struggle with the feeling that I don't express myself well enough, or that I could somehow be wittier, funnier, etc. But I took a look at my old postings with a fresh eye, and I could see that I do express myself well. So, yay me!

Well, that's it for now, except one thing: If you read this, please comment below. One thing I would love is feedback on what I write. Plus it lets me know that actual live beings are reading this stuff!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Green Lantern: It wasn't bad at all

I went and saw Green Lantern this weekend. I had been hearing nothing but bad things about the movie, but I went anyway. Mostly because my old friend Jeff Wolfe has a part in the movie (it was really cool seeing him 20 foot tall on the screen!). He played Bob Banks, who is the main guy of the three that beat up Hal Jordan in the parking lot, before Hal smacks them down with a giant green fist.

I'm going to digress from my main point a bit, because I wanted to say how proud I am of my friend Jeff. Eighteen years ago, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. Now,at the time, I think I probably thought what most people think when they hear a friend or family member wants to act for a living, something on the order of, "Yeah, right!" I should have known better. When I first met him, Jeff was a singer, and a good one to boot. He and his guitarist (our friend Hoffy)never quite seemed to get much going, but the stuff they recorded was simply awesome. To put it bluntly, Jeff is a talented guy. He's also sure of himself. He's also a martial-arts expert, so I first started seeing him here and there in some martial-arts B-movies. He actually had a sizable role in a Jet Li movie called Once Upon A Time In China And America, where he played, basically, a kung-fu cowboy (the movie, BTW, has some strong parallels to Shanghai Noon).

As time went on, Jeff started making his mark as a stunt performer and stunt coordinator. He's worked on all the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies. He did the sword-fighting choreography for Hidalgo. And then he landed a part for Green Lantern. I originally thought it was more stunt work, but he ends up being in about two scenes of the movie, and actually has some dialog with Hal Jordan. Sitting in the theater, watching him, it hit me, the dude made his dream come true. Maybe he was never going to be a movie star, but then that's not what he told me what he wanted to be. He is an actor and making a good living at it, and for that, I say good work buddy!

Now, what was I saying? Right! Green Lantern. It's not a bad movie at all. It may not be a great one, but it certainly is a good one. What makes the movie good is, for the most part, the actors portray characters that are interesting to watch. Ryan Reynolds has certainly come a long way from his Van Wilder days. He plays Hal Jordan with enough charisma that I felt interested in the character and cared about what happened to him. Same with Blake Lively. The story may not have been perfect, but what shortcomings were there were not glaringly apparent, and the movie moves along well enough that it didn't feel like it dragged anywhere. Oh, and the CGI was just amazing! This was also the first 3D movie I saw that my eyes weren't stinging by the end of the movie (apparently, this has something to do with getting the color right).

So, while this movie is no Spider Man, or Dark Knight, or even Iron Man, it's still a worthwhile movie. Heck, it's definitely better than either of the Fantastic Four movies!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Survivor: Redemption Island Episode 4: Pony Boy vs. Gollum

What can I say, in the battle of Good vs. Evil, Good triumphed! Russell comes into Redemption Island all piss and vinegar, but when Matt beats him in the duel, how does he go out? Crying like a little girl with a skinned knee. I try not to engage in schadenfreude, but for Russell I made an exception. To his credit, once his crying jag was over, he did his best to go out swinging. He ragged on his tribemates enough that Ralph tried to add insult to injury by telling Russell he found the idol. Bad move, Rooster! If it was just you and Russell, that would be fine. But you have Special Agent Phillip and Kristina from the other tribe there too, and you're giving away info they don't need to know.

This episode best exemplified what I've been saying about the difference between Russell's Game and Boston Rob's. Russell is a one-trick pony. Boston Rob changes up his game when appropriate. He's got a clue to the idol. He needs to get everyone out of camp so he can look for it. So, while Special Agent and Dead Meat are witnessing Russell's demise, Rob plans for a "beach day" complete with a made up game for all to play. Leading up to the excursion, he hints at his plumbing being backed up, and when they all head out to play, he conveniently gets a "bowel move" and runs off to "handle it". Fifteen minutes of furious searching rewards him with the idol. I tell you, I think Rob's gonna be in the final 3!

Last thought: Stephanie is a real bitch. the more she talks, the more she reminds me of Gina Kincaid form Beverly Hills 90210, almost to the point I think I will start calling her that. She is sore as hell about what happened to Russell, and she isn't about to let anyone forget about it. Worse, she doesn't let off with full fury and anger. Rather, she snipes and makes sarcastic quips about throwing the challenge. I think she's inherited that big red target Russell had on him.

BTW, I called Kristina Dead Meat, 'cause that's what she is: Omatepa voted her off, and she has to face Pony Boy on RI.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Thoughts on Van Halen

You may or may not have heard that Sammy Hagar's autobiography Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock is coming out on March 15th. What seems to be getting the most press is the part where he talks about the apparent mess that was the Van Halen 2004 reunion tour. While I believe Sammy is right to tell the story of how Eddie Van Halen's alcoholism threw a guitar-sized monkey wrench into that tour, I am afraid that that is what people will emphasize as Eddie's true behavior. It's not. I have a fair deal of experience in my life with people who are alcoholics, and if there's one thing I know, they tend to be completely different people drunk than sober. Remember, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde was originally about alcoholism (read the story, and think 'alcohol' wherever you see 'magic potion'). I tend to think that Eddie's true personality is more like what Dweezil Zappa experienced when he met Eddie.

But enough on that. What I really wanted to talk about was the band itself. Van Halen has been my favorite band ever since I first heard Van Halen II in 1983. That was when my musical tastes shifted from Top 40 pop music to Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Unfortunately, my father deemed me too young to go see a concert during the 1984 tour without adult supervision (and it was going to be a cold day in hell before he EVER went to see a band like Van Halen play!). By the time of the 5150 tour, I was not only old enough, but I could pay for my own ticket. But you may recall there was a small change in the band between those two tours.

When it comes to Van Halen, there are fans generally divided into two camps: Those who prefer the David Lee Roth era, and those who prefer the "Van Hagar" era. I am not either of those people. Personally, I think it is a stupid dichotomy. Yes, Van Halen with Sammy doesn't sound quite the same as Van Halen with Roth. But for me, the musical change coincided with my change from a teenage boy into a young man. While they still made hard rocking and fun songs, there was a seriousness to the music that I don't think a Roth-fronted band could never have achieved.

If there was a downside to Sammy's tenure in the band, it was that Sammy had an aversion to singing Roth songs. It's not that he couldn't handle them (contrary to the opinion of some, Hagar is a better singer than Roth). Rather, he didn't want to sing them. Therefore, the first six years of the band's history was progressively marginalized on all of the Sammy tours. This means I never got to hear Dance The Night Away live (at least, not until 2007).

I am glad the Brothers Van Halen reunited with Roth, as the reunion tour in 2007 meant that I got to see a show the 14 year-old me missed out on. I hope they finally do come out with an album this year, as they have been away from the music scene for far too long. At the same time, I am sad that the rift between Eddie and Sammy is still so great, because any tour with Roth means that the entire Hagar catalog will be completely ignored. David Lee Roth can't even sing like David Lee Roth anymore, let alone try belting out anything Sammy sung.

I had some more thoughts, but it's late. Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on Survivor: Redemption Island Episode 4-Pony Boy vs. Gollum!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Survivor: Redemption Island Episode 3 - Francesca vs. Pony Boy

Aaaand here we go!

Finally, we get to see how the 'duel' format was going to work. The producers were smart when they decided two have only two members of each tribe picked randomly to witness the event. This adds a level of complexity to the game, as the witnesses are not obliged to tell the truth of the proceedings to the rest of their tribe.

As for the duel, it essentially plays out like a one-on-one challenge. Basically, Pony Boy and Francesca have to break themselves out of jail by fashioning a pole out of sticks and twine to reach past a locked door to grab three keys to open three locks. First one to open the door wins. Francesca rushes to an early lead, but her pole breaks before she can get the third key. This gives Pony Boy the edge he needs as he catches up and passes Francesca, opening the locks and winning the duel. Francesca is the first person actually eliminated from Survivor.

I have a bone to pick with CBS. I expected Ashley to go on a raging tear based on how they teased this week ("hell hath no fury" and all that....). Instead, we are shown Boston Rob giving her the full-on Robfather speech ("I did what had to be done"), and her securing his promise that Kristina and Phillip will be voted off first before her. Then, we see her crying when she brings up in a confessional what Rob did to her pretty Pony Boy. Yeah, she's upset at Rob, but this is not the firestorm I was led to believe was coming.

Remember what I said about witnesses at the duel not having to tell the truth about what happened? Well Steve and Dave at Zapatera decide to lie through their teeth to Russell and tell him that Francesca won the duel. See, this tribe wants Russell gone in the worst way. He is described as a "black hole": he does nothing but suck the light and energy out of everything. They want him gone so badly they decide on a risky venture, throwing the Immunity Challenge. The lie about Francesca would essentially be adding insult to injury.

Throwing an Immunity Challenge is a very risky strategy. It's generally a high risk-low reward proposition. But since the target of this is Russell, I say the risk is worth it. Problem was, they were so obvious about it. From Steve barely pushing the wheel, to Julie missing the buckwet when she spat, to Dave actually stopping to move puzzle pieces (to his credit, he did pantomime like he was still trying to figure the puzzle out in his head) you would have to be blind not to see that the challenge was thrown. They even managed to make it obvious to Gollum (my new name for Russell).

Gollum knows he's in a bad spot. He has been unable to find his 'precious', he has a minority alliance, and now his tribe just threw a challenge. Even disfigured hobbits can read the writing on the wall. His only chance is to try and pick off the "Tyson" from the main alliance. So, he sends in Stephanie (she of the "Biggest blindside E-VER!" hyperbole) to do a sell job on Julie. Julie actually seems to become charmed by the idea of flipping, and apparently expresses an agreement to do just that. In her confessional, she expresses ambivalence about flipping, and so we head off to tribal with a possible blindside in play.

It ends up being for naught, as Julie sticks with her alliance and Gollum is sent off to fight the Pony Boy.

I have to say that so far every Tribal Council has delivered the goods big-time! Tonight we had Stephanie flip her bitch switch and lay into the tribe for throwing the challenge and for not recognizing the blazing genius that is Gollum. As she went on, I realized she reminded me of Gina Kincaid (as played by Vanessa Marcil) from Beverly Hills 90210. Gina was also a petite brunette with a bitch streak in her as long as the Bay Bridge. She whispered to Julie after the final vote that a "Storm's a coming!" This one, I'm certain will deliver on her threats!