Thursday, July 31, 2014

'Star Trek: The Next Generation - Chain of Command' [Blu-Ray] (1992)

Starring Patrick Stewart, David Warner and Ronny Cox
Written by Ronald D. Moore, story by Frank Abatemarco
Directed by Robert Scheerer (Part I) and Les Landau (Part II)

Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is stunned when Admiral Necheyev (Natalia Nogulich) relieves him of his command of the starship Enterprise. But he quickly learns that she needs him to participate in a top-secret mission: Picard must infiltrate Cardassian space and destroy a dangerous new kind of biological weapon Necheyev believes is being developed there.

Picard is replaced aboard the Enterprise by Captain Edward Jellicho (Ronny Cox) who quickly finds himself at odds with Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes). While the crew struggles to adjust to Jellicho's command style and demands, Picard readies his team. He'll be going behind the lines with Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) and Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn).

But once their mission is underway, they learn the unfortunate truth: the whole thing is a ruse. Now, Cardassian forces are massing near the border in response to what could be an act of war on the part of the Federation. At the same time, Picard finds himself at the mercy of Gul Madred (David Warner), who is tasked with obtaining vital information about Starfleet tactical plans from Picard at any cost.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Sharknado 2: The Second One" (2014)

Starring Ian Ziering, Tara Reid and Vivica A. Fox
Written by Thunder Levin
Directed by Anthony C. Ferrante
Unrated - Violence, language
Running Time: 90 minutes

Fin (Ian Ziering) and his wife April (Tara Reid) are headed to New York City for a book signing. En route, their plane encounters a storm... full of sharks. Forced to take action again, Fin takes control of the plane after the pilots are killed, but April is injured in the ensuing chaos.

Arriving in the city, Fin seeks to locate his family including his sister Ellen (Kari Wuhrer) and her husband Martin (Mark McGrath). But of course, all hell is breaking loose. With superstorms approaching the city, New York finds itself under siege by sharks falling from the sky. With Manhattan in a panic, Fin must take control and figure out how to save everyone... including Matt Lauer.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

"Lucy" (2014)

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman and Choi Min-sik
Written and directed by Luc Besson
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language
Running Time: 89 Minutes

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is an American in Taipei who is forced by her boyfriend to deliver a briefcase to a man named Jang (Choi Min-sik). Inside this briefcase is a new synthetic drug that Jang's organization wants to smuggle to various countries around the world. To that end, they have kidnapped several other young people, cut them open and stuffed packets of this drug into their bellies and sent them on their way - unwilling drug mules, and they've decided Lucy will play that role, too.

But when Lucy denies the sexual advances of one of Jang's men, he kicks her in the stomach, rupturing the pouch and pouring the drug into her bloodstream. Amazingly, instead of killing her it begins to transform her. As the drug allows her to access more and more of her brain's unknown capacities, she gains more knowledge and otherworldly powers to match. Teaming up with a French police captain, Del Rio (Amr Waked) and a kindly professor of neuroscience named Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman), Lucy attempts to understand her transformation long enough to dismantle Jang's drug-smuggling operation and stop her body from breaking down.

Monday, July 21, 2014

"Homefront" (2013)

Starring Jason Statham, James Franco and Kate Bosworth
Written by Sylvester Stallone
Directed by Gary Fieder
Rated R - Violence, strong language, brief sexuality
Running Time: 100 Minutes

Former DEA agent Phil Broker (Jason Statham) and his daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) move to a sleepy southern town in Louisiana following the death of Maddy's mother. Trouble starts soon enough, however, when Maddy beats up a young schoolyard bully. The boy's mother, Cassie (Kate Bosworth), decides she can't let this stand and gets her brother Gator (James Franco) to put the fear into Broker and Maddy.

Gator happens to be a small-time meth dealer looking to make it big. Broker's friend Tito (Omar Benson Miller) warns him about Gator and his family. Broker makes several attempts to patch things over with Cassie, which are ultimately successful.

But things go from bad to worse when Gator realizes that Broker helped put a biker named Danny T behind bars, and that Danny T blames Broker for his son's death. Through his girlfriend Sheryl (Winona Ryder), Gator sets up a deal for Danny T's boys to come kill Gator and Maddy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Snowpiercer" (2013)

Starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-Ho and Jamie Bell
Written by Bong Joon-Ho and Kelly Masterson
Directed by Bong Joon-Ho
Rated R - Violence, strong language
Running Time: 126 Minutes

In 2031, seventeen years after the world was devastated by a failed experiment to reverse global warming, the human survivors live on a special train that continuously circles the globe. People in the front live a decadent life of parties, good food and endless comfort. People in the back live in a world of darkness, being fed rationed protein bars each day at the whim of brutal guards.

Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) lives in the tail section. With his friend Edgar (Jamie Bell) and mentor Gilliam (John Hurt), Curtis is planning a revolution: he'll take a group of men forward and seize the engine at the front of the train, which is operated by a mysterious man known as Wilford.

Between Curtis and his objective are dozens of cars filled with guards who will not hesitate to use lethal force, and leaders who will not allow him to upset their delicate balance.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Happy Trails: "Star Trek Into Darkness"

An Experiment: I'd like to take a look at the advertising campaigns for certain movies, and how I feel they're either successful or not. A good place to start, in my mind, was 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness

The Film:
I like Star Trek Into Darkness. In fact, I like it more each time I see it. I'm a huge Star Trek fan, and I loved the 2009 film, so I was predisposed to see this one. But I have to admit, the advertising campaign for the film did little to entice me. I had to rely on my general feeling of excitement about new Star Trek to really feel much of anything before the film was released.

Let's talk about why.

The Posters:
First we have this rather apocalyptic shot of Benedict Cumberbatch, San Francisco burning behind him. "Earth will fall," we are told. 
Next up, one of the film's general release posters featuring the Enterprise crashing toward the Earth. This image was also featured on the soundtrack album cover and some of the home video release covers.
Four character posters released separately and in one large banner featuring Kirk, Uhura, Spock and Khan. 
Another banner poster. There were a lot of similar posters featuring the characters in dramatic action poses.

So what about these posters is problematic? Personally, I don't think they represent either the film or Star Trek all that well. Aside from the bold colors on the third poster, all of these images are fairly generic. Removing the Star Trek Into Darkness logo and one might not even guess from some of them that this is a Star Trek film.

But posters aren't really the most egregious part of this film's dull advertising campaign.

The Trailers:

What do these trailers do? Their major crime is that when you think about it, they really do kind of give away the entire film. All those shots of the ship crashing into San Francisco? The shots of Spock and Khan in San Francisco? The Enterprise falling apart as it enters the atmosphere? 

All that stuff is from the climax of the film. In their hopes of giving us the big money shots that will lure us into the theatre, the trailer editors did us a disservice because now we've seen a little bit of literally every major sequence in the movie. The film's major plot twist was one of the worst-kept secrets on the Internet in 2013, and the "kitchen sink" approach to the trailers wasn't helping anyone.

It's a problem too many movies suffer from these days - the trailer has almost become a condensed version of the film itself, rather than something designed to get us interested in seeing it. 

Coming out of the film, I found myself frowning, thinking about how the trailers had really shown me a lot of what I had just seen, and I didn't feel surprised about it. My general reaction to the movie was, "That's about what I expected." When I saw the film a second time, I enjoyed it a lot more. 

Star Trek Into Darkness is definitely an action film, no doubt about it. But it is also a Star Trek film, steeped in the lore of that universe as well as its common themes and social commentary. It is a bit darker than its 2009 predecessor, but it's also a colorful movie full of humor. Very little of that is represented in the posters or the trailers for the film, and worse, the trailers essentially give away all the big sequences. (And, hell, some of Benedict Cumberbatch's ominous lines aren't even in the movie.) Why should anyone bother to see the film after that? I went because I love Star Trek and because I had faith the team behind the 2009 film had made another movie I would enjoy, but not because of the advertising campaign.

I approached the movie with trepidation because of these factors. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" (2014)

Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke and Toby Kebbell
Written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Directed by Matt Reeves
Rated PG-13 - Violence, strong language, frightening images
Running Time: 131 Minutes

Ten years have passed since Caesar (Andy Serkis) led his revolt of genetically enhanced apes and retreated into the forests outside of San Francisco. While the apes set up their peaceful new society in seclusion, the outside world plunged into chaos: the sickness born from the same experimental drug that gave Caesar and his friends their enhanced intelligence ravages the human population, killing millions. Now, Caesar wonders if there are any humans left at all.

He's soon answered when a party of survivors from San Francisco, trekking through the forest to a nearby dam in hopes of reviving it for electrical power, stumbles across the apes and wounds one of them. Malcolm (Jason Clarke) returns to San Francisco and tells Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) that the damn will work, if only the apes will let them through their territory to do the necessary repairs. He takes a couple of men along with his wife Ellie (Kerri Russell) and son Alex (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and negotiates with Caesar.

Malcolm finds much in common with Caesar, who leads the apes but also looks to protect his family and friends, and the two begin to bond. But Kobo (Toby Kebbell), one of Caesar's friends and advisors, spent much of his life being tortured and experimented on by humans, and doesn't trust them. When he discovers that Dreyfus is arming the human colony for war despite Malcom's pleas for peace, he begins to clash with Caesar. With hatred and mistrust on both sides, Malcolm and Caesar realize that they may be the only ones who can stop the coming war.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

'Star Trek: The Next Generation' Season 6 [Blu-Ray] (1992)

Starring Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner
Created by Gene Roddenberry
Executive Producers Rick Berman and Michael Piller

Screencap by
The starship Enterprise continues its adventures patrolling the outer reaches of space, safeguarding the Federation and discovering strange new lifeforms. This sixth season contains some true high points, such as the second of the two-part episode "Chain of Command," but also some real lows - like the Troi-centric and painfully bad "Man of the People."

The first season produced entirely after the death of series creator Gene Roddenberry, Season Six shows the writers breaking out into some new territories that they had been forbidden to approach previously. A few familiar faces return, including John De Lancie's trickster Q in two episodes, Robert O'Reilly as Gowron, as well as Data's twin brother, Lore (Brent Spiner).

Though there are a few episodes that aren't up to snuff, the show is still firing hard when it gets going. Episodes like "Tapestry," "Chain of Command, Part II," "Starship Mine," "Lessons," "The Chase," and "Face of the Enemy" are examples of a show that, even six years in, still knows how to craft a top-notch hour of television... even if it is uneven, as a whole.