Star Trek: New Voyages – The Holiest Thing

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Okay. I’m a Star Trek Geek. I don’t try to hide the fact that I am never happier than when I am watching Star Trek in any and all its various iterations…

…and that includes the fan productions.

The thing is… I know where these fan films are coming from. I understand the passion and the desire to create one’s own version of the things you love so much. And I love that they do it. Their efforts are laudable.

I was going to review the latest installment of the Star Trek: Phase 2 series of fan films, The Holiest Thing. The Phase 2 crew has been releasing Star Trek fan films since 2003 when executive producer James Cawley decided that there just wasn’t enough Star Trek. These productions have been getting better and better and they made a splash with episodes featuring some of the original cast members from the original Star Trek series reprising their roles in creative ways. They have also made use of the original series writers, including David Gerrold who directed the two-part adaptation of his infamously unproduced Star Trek: The Next Generation script, Blood and Fire.

As with all series, some episodes are better than others and, despite the fact that each film they produce gets better than the one before, it still has a number of flaws… squeaky wheels and bumps along the way.

The Holiest Thing has its share of them, but it is an ambitious attempt to bring to life the origins of Captain Kirk’s relationship with Carol Marcus in this “sort-of” prequel to Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.

I’m not going to review this. These people aren’t getting any profit from this aside from the pleasure of creating it and sharing it with fans. If you are dyed-in-the-wool Star Trek fan like I am you can forgive its flaws and take it for what it is.

The Holiest Thing is on Youtube.

DC Comics Movies: Why so Dark?

This blog post appeared originally on the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website.

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You all know DC Comics, right?

Superman. Batman. Wonder Woman. The Flash. Green Lantern. Aquaman. You know those guys, right? They’re superheros. They’ve been having adventures in the pages of comic books for decades. They wear brightly colored costumes and they fight for truth, justice and the (insert name of your favorite awesome country here) way.

Silver-Age-Justice-League-of-AmericaThese heroes’ brightly colored adventures inspired kids to want to be heroic and do good. They were fun, light and breezy. At least that’s the way I remember them. But it’s been a long time since all my pocket money went into buying comics. Maybe I’m out of touch.

I’ve blogged before about the colorful nature of the early superheroes, but that whole aspect seems to be getting lost in its translation from page to screen. The movies that are being made from these flashy comic book characters are, it seems, being made universally grim and dark.

christopher-reeve-supermanIt wasn’t always this way. Early films were a lot brighter (indeed, some of the earliest adaptations of these heroes were as serials which were filmed in black and white and yet still seem more colorful than some of the latest offerings). True many of these adaptations chose to play up the “camp” aspect of the comic books and are today pretty universally reviled. Even 1979’s Superman starring the late Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel cannot be watched by modern audiences with any degree of seriousness. Despite the impact it had on the moviegoing public at the time of its release, today’s audiences can’t help but be overwhelmed by the fact that it all seems to be played for laughs.

That’s not what today’s audiences want out of their superhero movies.

A recent special on the CW aired a day ahead of the premiere of one of their new superhero TV series, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. DC Films: Dawn of the Justice League, besides having Kevin Smith fangirling all over Geoff Johns, the Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics, offered a glimpse at the projects that DC Films is working on and some of the ones that are just in the development stage. It also talked about the upcoming Superman v. Batman movie and framed its subtitle in no uncertain terms. Dawn of Justice will be the dawn of the Justice League movie (which will be DC’s answer, belated as it is, to Marvel’s Avengers).

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The special also featured clips from the upcoming Wonder Woman film, which looked intriguing (Gal Godot is seeming more and more like the right choice for the role) and managed to generate some actual excitement for the project, but the one thing that struck me about these clips more than anything else was how dark they all seemed. I don’t just mean in tone, but the very images themselves all look like they were filmed Day for Night, even the daytime scenes.

What’s up with that? These are the Four Color Heroes. They are meant to be bright primary colors, not skulking in the shadows.

It used to be that DC Comics weren’t so grim and so dark. Then in the early 1960’s Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced a new type of hero with Marvel Comics – a type of hero that was a little darker, a little more grounded in reality. Yet the film adaptations of Marvel’s characters seem much more brightly colored than the film adaptations of the DC comics.

Take Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. The whole thing was filmed with such a muted color scheme. That seems appropriate for the darker, Dionysian Batman movies, but Superman is Apollonian… he even gets his power from the sun! Man of Steel and the Upcoming Dawn of Justice seem so dark I would expect Superman to be constantly running at half power.

391Oddly enough, the one upcoming film that should be dark and grim is the adaptation of the recent DC title Suicide Squad. It was tailor made for this dark approach, yet, if the recent trailers are anything to go by, this adaptation seems to have far more color than Man of Steel or any of the recent Batman movies, which is a wee bit ironic. Nevertheless, buzz is growing for this film which some have called DC’s “Guardians of the Galaxy“, ie: a sleeper hit that could put them ahead of their competition.

So, what do you think? Are you wondering where the colorful heroes of the past have gone, or are you just fine with DC’s new grimdark persona?

Dredd (2012)

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To be perfectly honest, I was never a huge fan of Judge Dredd.

I loved 2000 AD. The British anthology comic was one of my favorites growing up and I could never get enough of them particularly living in Canada and having to rely on relatives or importers with a high markup to obtain copies.

My favorite strips were Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters initially, and later of The Ballad of Halo Jones, but I never really warmed to Judge Dredd, the violent hero of the comic strip created by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra. I read it, of course, but it was never really a favorite.

So when Judge Dredd was made into a movie starring Sylvester Stallone, I thought; “Well, that’s it. Judge Dredd will never get another screen treatment after this!”

Turns out I was wrong.

Dredd adapts the comic series in a far more gritty and street level way then the previous film. One thing about the character from the comic books is that he never shows his face. He is always hidden behind his helmet. That wouldn’t do for Stallone, but Karl Urban gamely steps up and does the whole movie without showing the top half of his face. In that regard he captures the character far better.

This adaptation is raw and gritty and, in some ways, hardly looks like a science fiction picture at all. Sure, the film explains that this is Mega City One, the only sity to survive the irradiated wasteland of the Cursed Earth, but it feels just like today’s inner cities. That kind of disappointed me at first. In some ways I was missing the futuristic city scape from the previous film. It seemed to have more of a kinship with the original Robocop movie than the comic book that I remembered.

Once the action gets going, however, and the fight turns to the struggle between Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson against the gangs in a locked-down building, I was finally able to get into the picture.

I enjoyed it more or less. It had the requisite shoot-em-up scenes, explosions and slow motion visions of bullets tearing their way through human flesh, but it also had a small shred of humanity in the character of Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a telepath as in the comics, but here a rookie under the tutelage of the senior Dredd.

It was an interesting redemption for a character who has had an unfortunate cinematic history, and I could see how this could easily become a Netlix series (a possibility that many on the internet are talking up), It felt like a pilot episode. But then it also felt like a music video.

In the end I’m not sure what Dredd actually was, but it certainly wasn’t pretty, or over-glitzed with CGI. It felt small and a little claustrophobic and maybe that’s just one Judge Dredd storyline, but it certainly wasn’t the best.

It was a better treatment of the character to be sure but as a film, I can’t give it much more than that it was watchable… as long as one is not squeamish.

It’s on Netflix now.

After Earth (2013)

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After Earth is a film that got severely and unfairly panned when it was released. Its box office performance was dismal and that was a shame because the movie is a real gem. Fortunately it’s on Netflix and I would encourage you to give it another go if you passed on it in theaters. This film is head and shoulders above the other post-apocalyptic film released that year, Tom Cruise’s messy Oblivion.

Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith take the two leads in this picture and although Will Smith is the heavier screen presence, the film’s star is definitely Jaden.

In the near future, an environmental cataclysm forces the human race to abandon Earth and settle on a new world, Nova Prime.

One thousand years later, The Ranger Corps, commanded by General Cypher Raige (Will Smith), comes into conflict with the an alien race called the S’krell, whose secret weapons are the Ursas, large predatory creatures that hunt by “sensing” fear. The Rangers, however, have developed a technique called “ghosting” wherein they can mask their fear and remain invisible to the Ursas.

Cypher’s son, Kitai (Jaden Smith) is training to become a Ranger, but his application is rejected because of his lack of proficiency in the field. The general is disappointed and there is the expected father-son anger. Before he retires the general is going on one last trip and his wife Faie convinces him to take Kitai along, presumably in the hopes that it will help heal the rift between them.

There is a lot to work out, however. In flashbacks we learn that Kitai blames himself for the death of his sister Senshi (Zoë Kravitz) at the hands of an Ursa. He also blames his father for not being there to rescue them both. Cypher is stoic and undemonstrative, qualities that make him an excellent general but not an effective father.

During flight, their spaceship is caught by an asteroid shower forcing them to crash-land on the now-quarantined Earth. Both of Cypher’s legs are broken, and the main emergency rescue beacon damaged. Cypher instructs Kitai to locate the tail section of the ship, which broke off on entry to the atmosphere. Inside is the backup beacon which they can use to signal Nova Prime.

This is where the film really begins and where Jaden really shines. Unfortunately the character that he plays has obvious problems. He is willful, does not listen  and is prone to panic. It is these characteristics that his character has to overcome in order to succeed and to stay alive.

Despite the story being somewhat predictable, the film still manages to launch some surprises at the viewer and even a few genuine scares. The scenery is lush and beautiful and the cgi effects are subtle and understated for the most part. Will Smith spends most of the rest of the film laid up and only able to offer advice but his presence mitigates Kitai’s adolescent behavior until the communication is severed and Kitai is forced to manage on his own which, when he finally does, provides a satisfying payoff.

The film is directed by M. Night Shyamalan, but has none of that filmmaker’s usual plot twists and turns. Shyamalan brings a stately and an understated approach to the action and the alien creatures. He does yeoman work as a director-for-hire in bringing Will Smith’s movie to life.

The only issues I have with this film is its predictability. As soon as Kitai is told that he will not be graduating and joining the Ranger Corps and the reason why, then you know that the character will have to overcome that very flaw in order to survive. As soon as you see that the ship on which they are traveling contains a giant Ursa egg… well, as Anton Chekhov said: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” Here the Ursa egg is shown prominently in act one, so it’s no surprise when a fully grown Ursa threatens Kitai by Act Three.

I also really did not buy the role of the giant eagle. It was more a mythical Roc than a natural eagle and its implied self-sacrifice to save Kitai was patently ridiculous. Also… lions climbing trees to raid nests? I know this is a future Earth, but… come on!

Still, aside from those there was a lot to like. I loved the look of the film. I loved the interesting look of the technology and how the film doesn’t hit the viewer over the head with heavy explanations about what it is and how it works. There is very much a “show, don’t tell” attitude about it and that I very much liked.

I also loved Will Smith’s understated performance as General Raige. It was the perfect counterpoint to Jaden’s hyperventilating turn as Kitai.

It’s a real shame that this film did not do very well at all in theaters because there is a lot here. I hate to say this but I really do believe, despite Will Smith’s box office power, that this film would probably have done better at the box office if the cast were white. The only film with a majority black cast that does big business in movie theaters are ones where they play slaves or servants.

In a science fiction film… and in charge of humanity? America don’t buy that, apparently.

But you should watch After Earth. It’s on Netflix. Check it out.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

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I saw the first episode of the CW’s new show DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

I doubt I will be watching the second episode.

It’s not that there’s nothing to like about this first episode… there is… but for me, there’s just not enough of it to outweigh the really awful elements.

I mean, take Arthur Darvill. Who didn’t love him as Rory Williams on Doctor Who? Who wouldn’t want to get to see him as rogue time traveling hero Rip Hunter? Seeing his take on the Doctor’s role was something that I was really looking forward to.

However, this isn’t Doctor Who. This is an American show and American shows have to have certain level of “hero-ness” in their heroes. Darvill provides, but clearly it’s not something to which he is accustomed. His performance veers crazily over the top at times, particularly in the introductory scenes. I almost turned it off at that point.

I liked Victor Garber’s character as Professor Martin Stein, one half of the hero Firestorm. His appearances on The Flash were some of the high points for me so it was nice to see him here as well. And Wentorth Miller as “Captain Cold” Leonard Snart. I liked his character on the Flash and, again, it’s good to see him here.

Same with Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer, The Atom from Arrow and the new characters Hawkman and Hawkgirl. I loved them in the comics and it was great to see them here.

However… A TV show is not a comic book. It has a different structure and different expectations (and, yes, physical limitations, despite the wondrous age of CGI in which we live). Those elements… the setting up of the parameters that will go towards defining the sories that the subsequent episodes will tell… well, it was just too tedious. The story arcs were obvious and the twist reveal three quarters of the way through came as not much of a surprise.

I wanted to like it. I really did. But I’m afraid I have to heave a heavy sigh and call DC’s Legends of Tomorrow less than legendary.

Time Like Broken Glass

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Okay. This is the post where I say: Buy my book. You can click away if you want. I’ll understand.

On the other hand, if you’re on the hunt for a book for your Kindle or other e-reader and you like fantasy novels, then this just might be the post for you.

Time Like Broken Glass is a fantasy novel but it is also a time travel story. If you like Doctor Who, you might like this book. If you like fantasy novels with lots of magic, then you’ll like this book. If you like urban fantasy… if you liked Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere… then you may well like this book.

It has elements of Medieval fantasy, Elizabethan fantasy and Urban fantasy all mixed together. And it has time travel.

If you like any of those things then you may well like Time Like Broken Glass.

So… buy my book!

http://www.amazon.com/Time-Like-Broken-Glass-Magistria-ebook/dp/B00XT97DKO

There. I said it. Now let’s move on to something else…

Two Gun Bob

 

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See this guy? This is Bob.

It’s his birthday today. He would have been 110 years old if he hadn’t taken his own life in 1936.

He was a bit of an oddball. He lived his whole life in a small town in Texas and never traveled very far from there.

They made a movie about him, though. Well, it was really about his girlfriend. Vincent D’Onofrio played him.

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Bob wrote a lot stuff in his short life and people still read it today. I have five big trade paperbacks in the bookshelf to my right that is filled with his words.

Bob created this guy:

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So, Happy Birthday, Bob!