Thursday, June 27, 2013

"First Blood" (1982)

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy and Richard Crenna
Written by Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim and Sylvester Stallone
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Rated R - Violence, strong language
Running Time: 93 Minutes

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is a drifter. He roams the country, no job, just making his own way, rejected everywhere he goes. Eventually he comes to a town called Hope, looking for an old Vietnam war buddy, but discovers that his friend has passed away from cancer. Soon enough, he's picked up by the town sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) who doesn't abide drifters and vagrants in his town.

But Rambo also won't abide the treatment Will gives him. So after Will drops him off at the edge of town, Rambo heads back in, looking for something to eat. Will arrests him and brings him back to the police station for processing. There, his mistreatment at the hands of Will's small-town "big-fish" police force escalates, triggering Rambo's memories of being tortured as a Vietnam POW. He escapes, setting off a dangerous chase.

Will gathers his forces, determined to take down Rambo, but soon discovers that while he's the big man in town, he and his batch of country cops are no match for Rambo's Green Beret training and hardened warfare experience.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

'Hannibal' Season One (2013)

Starring Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen and Laurence Fishburne
Developed by Bryan Fuller
Based on characters created by Thomas Harris

Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is a gifted criminal profiler with a somewhat unique ability to put himself into the mindset of the nation's sickest serial killers. Recruited to assist on FBI investigations by Special Agent-in-Charge Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), Graham goes to work on a case involving young women gone missing. The case becomes more intriguing to Graham when one of the girls is returned, and he suspects this is actually an apology from the killer.

Graham's friend, Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) is worried about Will's emotional state and requests that Jack bring aboard a psychotherapist named Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) to assist. Soon after, another girl is found murdered and mounted on deer antlers. While the FBI initially assumes this is the killer's next stage of escalation, Graham believes that the case has garnered a copy-cat. Graham and Hannibal eventually track the killer, a man named Garrett Jacob Hobbs. When they arrive at Hobbs' home, they discover that someone has tipped Hobbs off, and he's already killed his wife and wounded his daughter Abigail (Kacey Rohl). Graham kills Hobbs to save Abigail, but that is only the beginning.

Tormented by what he's done, Graham begins to see Hannibal as a patient. And as their cases grow more and more grotesque, the specter of Garrett Jacob Hobbs grows like a cancer in Graham's mind. He begins to suffer delusions and lost time. But Hannibal, in the guise of a therapist, may not have Graham's best interests in mind.

Because Hannibal Lecter also has a secret: He himself is a serial killer, and a cannibal... working for the FBI.

Monday, June 24, 2013

'Star Trek: The Next Generation' Season Three - 1989 [Blu-ray]

Starring Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner
Created by Gene Roddenberry
Saved by Michael Piller

After a disappointing Season 2 release on blu-ray, Season 3 of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," often cited as the season that saved the show and thus the future of the franchise, warps into HD with much better results.

Gone is the soft, bland image of Season 2 - restored at the hands of an outsourced company that thought the show should still look like 1988 - and back again is the warm, filmic and exciting visual palette of Season 3. The detail on display in these episodes is, again, truly incredible. While occasionally the sets or props will look cheap, much of the show is actually quite well done even these decades later. The main areas of the Enterprise, such as the bridge, Captain Picard's ready room or the engine room all look amazing.

There are a few standout restoration moments worth mentioning here. The first is an episode called "The Enemy," in which the Enterprise answers a distress call from a Romulan ship crashed on a harsh, barren world. La Forge (Levar Burton) becomes trapped on the surface with a Romulan survivor. Previously, on TV and on DVD, a lot of the episode was practically unwatchable. Shot in dark cave sets with lots of dust floating around the air because the planet is supposed to be inhospitable, in SD this episode looked as murky as can be. But in HD, it's a revelation. Detail is crisp and clear, even in the deepest, darkest shadows. The muck on characters' clothing, the wounds and grime on their skin are all crystal clear. It's like watching the episode for the first time.

Enough cannot be said about the quality of the restoration work on the special effects in this season, some of which are huge. From the opening episode, "Evolution," which has shots featuring the Enterprise in front of a twisting stream of stellar matter, to the asteroid belt in "The Booby Trap," to the space-combat in "Yesterday's Enterprise," to the new orbital shots in "Deja Q," it all looks incredible. The Enterprise reappears in all her glory in this season, no longer washed out and dull as it was in Season 2.

Further, there aren't so many glaring errors in the new composites, either. The ship doesn't disappear partially in the frame, or have misaligned lighting passes or any of the other nonsense that plagued the previous set. Colors are bold, lighting is fantastic and subtle. It's great. This set is a joy to watch.

And then, of course, there's "The Best of Both Worlds," one of the show's biggest and most famous episodes. Don't miss it!

All is not super rosy, however. There is a noticeable drop in quality over the course of the season. This is not the fault of the restoration; rather, it's the fact that the show's visual style was changing. Things start out looking really amazing on the first disc, with much of the live-action photography looking very, very stunning and film-like. By the final batch of episodes, however, the lighting on the show has grown flatter, which robs the production of some of its glory. It still looks incredible for a show of this age, it's just a shame that the actual production is becoming somewhat lackluster.

If you're a fan of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," you owe it to yourself to watch these high-definition versions. There are so many great episodes in this season, and they've been lovingly restored. It's incredible.

'Continuum' - Season One (2012)

Starring Rachel Nichols, Erik Knudsen and Victor Webster
Created by Simon Barry

In the year 2077, corporations have replaced government in ruling the people. While this dystopian future is advanced and many people live lives of comfort, freedom is a thing of the past. People are born with "life-debts" that they can never erase, always forced to work for the corporations for "life-credits" to earn their amenities.

Police officer Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) is ordered to witness the execution of a band of terrorists, the leadership of a group known as Liber8, who blew up a corporate congress building and killed thousands. But when the execution gets underway, the terrorists reveal their secret plan: In a flash, they travel back through time to the year 2012 and prepare to begin their revolution again in an earlier time, to rewrite history in their own image.

What they didn't count on was that Kiera would be thrown back in time with them. Posing as a government agent, Kiera works with the Vancouver Police Department, partnered with Detective Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster) to track down these terrorists and put them away for a long, long time. She also forms an alliance with a young technical genius, Alec Sadler (Erik Knudsen) who in the future will run one of the world's largest and most impressive corporations - and only young Sadler knows the truth about Kiera's identity.

As Kiera attempts to adjust to life in 2012, the members of Liber8, including their vicious and charismatic leader Edouard Kagame (Tony Amendola), grow more cunning in their methods to undermine government and police authority. And at the end of the day, Kiera wonders if, even after she's defeated Liber8, will she ever be able to go home to her husband and son?

Friday, June 21, 2013

"World War Z" (2013)

Starring Brad Pitt, Mirielle Enos and James Badge Dale
Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard
Directed by Marc Forster
Rated PG-13 - Zombie violence, peril, language, frightening situations
Running Time: 116 Minutes

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a former investigator for the United Nations who left his job to spend more time with his wife Karen (Mirielle Enos) and children. One day, an outbreak of an unknown virus spreads quickly across the entire world and Gerry and his family are caught in a riot in Philadelphia. Gerry witnesses a man bitten by another person, and then sees that man reanimated as some sort of flesh-eating creature in under fifteen seconds.

Escaping Philly, Gerry is contacted by his old boss Thierry Warmbrunn (Ludi Boekin) who offers Gerry's family safe passage aboard a UN vessel in exchange for his help tracking down the source of the infection. Gerry and a team of United States Navy SEALs heads to South Korea to investigate a memo dated a week earlier that may be one of the earliest mentions of the outbreak. As the world's governments crumble and the population is being turned into ravenous, bloodthirsty zombies, Gerry and his dwindling group of allies must discover the source of the outbreak and, hopefully, find a cure before it's too late...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"Man of Steel" (2013)

Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams and Michael Shannon
Written by David S. Goyer
Directed by Zack Snyder
Rated PG-13 - Superhero and sci-fi violence, language
Running Time: 143 Minutes

On the distant, dying world of Krypton, scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayalet Zarur) have just given birth to the planet's first natural child in centuries. Jor-El hopes that his son, Kal-El, will lead the rebirth of Krypton - a world that has given up choice and freedom for strict population control and a rigid caste system. Having exhausted its natural resources and abandoned its ancient colonies, Krypton is on the verge of destruction after a foolhardy attempt to harvest energy from the planet's core.

Because of this, military leader General Zod (Michael Shannon) leads an attempted coup to ensure his vision of Krypton's future after the planet's coming destruction. In the heat of battle, Jor-El steals a valuable codex containing the DNA patterns of Krypton's unborn children and sends it and his infant son to planet Earth, away from Zod and his power-grabbing minions.

The child grows up on Earth, raised by kindly Kansas farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Kostner and Diane Lane). Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is a man who doesn't understand his place in this world. He feels abandoned by his birth parents, but also has trouble relating to his adoptive ones. He's developed fantastic powers, stronger than any human and practically invincible. But this makes him alone. When he hears that some sort of strange object has been found deep in the ice of northern Canada, he travels there and meets Lois Lane (Amy Adams), reporter for the Daily Planet.

Clark discovers that the object is a Kryptonian scout ship, buried there long ago. He learns his true heritage, and begins to understand what purpose he might serve in his life. Unfortunately, that discovery comes with dire consequences: Zod and his forces, having survived the destruction of Krypton in the Phantom Zone, are alerted by an automated signal from the ship and travel to Earth. Zod, desperate to rebuild a new Krypton in his own image, demands that Clark surrender himself or let Earth face the devastating consequences.

"Furious 6" (2013)

Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez
Written by Chris Morgan
Directed by Justin Lin
Rated PG-13 - Violence, vehicular mayhem, language
Running Time: 130 Minutes

Following the events in Rio that netted career criminal Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and former FBI agent Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) millions of dollars in stolen drug money, the two men and their growing family have escaped to a non-extradition country to live their lives in peace and luxury. But a series of heists across the globe, executed with extreme precision by a terrorist named Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), forces federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) to track down Tom and Brian and ask for their help in catching Shaw.

It seems that Shaw has set his sights on putting together a weapon of great technological power that could blackout an entire country, throwing the economy and society in general into chaos. Terrorist organizations across the globe would pay huge money for such a weapon, and Shaw is only one piece away from completing it. In exchange for full pardons for themselves, family and friends, Dom and Brian agree to take on Shaw's team of highly-trained drivers and operatives.

But there's one big twist that gets Dom's attention: one of Shaw's drivers is none other than Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom's former lover whom he thought killed by Mexican drug runners. Dom and Brian gather their team, including fast-talking Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), tech-wiz Tej Parker (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges), street-racer extraordinaire Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang), and former Mossad agent Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot) to take on Shaw. They're joined, whether they like it or not, by Hobbs and his partner, Riley Hicks (Gina Carano), in the race to stop Shaw from selling his dangerous weapon to the highest bidder. But for Dom, this adventure is more personal: It's a chance at saving the woman he thought he'd lost.