Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Review: Star Trek Back On Track By Going Beyond



I'm still smarting from Star Trek Into Darkness, not only because Benedict Cumberbatch playing Khan, but the presence of tribbles and Spock saying the one thing he shouldn't have (and yeah, it's what Original Kirk said in Wrath of Khan).

However, Star Trek Beyond is a big improvement over that with a fine story that would have worked in the original series. It's directed by Justin Lin, best known for directing four Fast and Furious movies. He borrows a couple of things from those movies to show that influence.



The story involves the Enterprise's main mission to boldly go where no one has gone before, but this time it comes at a price. The crew heads for uncharted space when an alien asks for their hope after her ship was attacked. They soon get challenged by Krall, played by Idris Elba. This guy doesn't like the United Federation of Planets boldly going in his direction. He and his termite-like ships literally tear through the Enterprise,and plans to do the same for a major space station nearby.

It's also a time for a couple of characters to face crossroads. Kirk (Chris Pine) thinks after nearly three years, the mission has become a bit tedious, and is thinking about being Vice-Admiral. Spock (Zachary Quinto), meanwhile, finds out Spock Prime has died, and is thinking about heading to New Vulcan. The conflict of Krall puts those subjects on the back burner, though.

Krall is one pretty nasty guy. He goes to great lengths to find an artifact that will put his plans into motion. He also shows he's willing to dissolve as many people are possible to make sure his plan works, including a crew member who tries to keep the item hidden until one of his minions threatens Sulu.



One of the best things about the movie is how they pair off characters to advance the story. Spock and McCoy was the best example. McCoy (Karl Urban)  is annoyed by Spock's logic, even when the Vulcan is injured, but they share a good moment when Spock tells him Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) is dead.

The other main pairing is Scott Simon Pegg, who co-wrote the screenplay) and Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who lost her family because of Krall. She's reluctant to help out at first, but soon joins the cause. She also has a "house" that's really a star ship that's the equivalent of a Tin Lizzie. It will become very helpful.

As mentioned before, the movie is directed by the same guy who directed Fast and Furious 3-6, and that influence is in this movie. For one thing, Jaylah is a fan of classical artists as Public Enemy and Beastie Boys (this is the distant future, after all). Kirk also uses an old motorcycle to set off a diversion, and his stunts look a little familiar,

Krall's motivations against the UFP may be puzzling, until the third act when Uhura finds an old video log from the ship. That's part of one of the trailers, which is why the twist wasn't much of a shock. The final battle between Kirk and Krall is very exciting, and also Fast and Furious.

There's also the fact that it's revealed Sulu is gay, but that moment is shown in a low key manner. He's still the sharp navigator, and even shows confidence he can get the ancient star ship off the ground...but only just.

Star Trek Beyond is a good story about how seeking out what's in uncharted space does have its risks. It also shows that sometimes the urge to explore can trump ambition.
Besides, it wouldn't be the same without those guys on board.
One more thing, they do the traditional "space, the final frontier" speech at the end, but it the best way possible.

Back From Comic-Con: Pretty Good Visit To Sauna Diego


This was the view from my hotel room at Comic-Con, and I still wonder why those two towers weren't forced to be a billboard for something, while the Marriott Marquis wasn't so lucky.

Actually, it was a pretty good Comic-Con aside from the heat. I was able to snag some bargains and won a couple of prizes, too. I was also able to actually provide some good video for Whedonopolis through covering a couple of panels on MST3K and Agents of SHIELD. I also was able to get inside Hall H and saw the Preacher Read-Through of last Sunday's episode.
Thing is, I got inside because Joss Whedon didn't sell out Hall H. There were actually many empty seats. That is almost as tragic as whatever happened at the Republican Convention that same week. Whatever project he has cooking, I sure hope it gets him back on top again.

My favorite moment was the MST3K panel where Joel revealed the new era will be at Netflix, also home to Marvel and House of Cards. That could be enough for me to dump my Amazon Prime subscription. It also inspired this..


Dr. Erhardt is so upset he's now the Brian Dunkleman of MST3K

If I'm disappointed about anything it's not getting into the premiere of Star Trek Beyond. I always wanted to know if an IMAX drive-in was possible. Since it turned out to be a hit, they're bound to try it again next year. The other bummer was not getting a ticket to a taping for Conan. I did manage to get one of his POP figures, so it worked out. I prefer to get one by being at the show, though. What surprised me is this..


Since Conan will be back next year, expect people to try to trade the 2015 Conan POPs for what's coming next year (like maybe a Conan Star-Lord maybe?).

Here's some of my other photos:





















The last picture is the picture of irony, isn't it?

To be honest, I really wish Reno had a Wizard World even this year because it's not so crowded, and I can hammer out stories faster with better wi-fi from my house. I'll have to wait another year for that.
Still, I am pumped for next year. 2017 will be the year of the Slayer, and the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, among other things. D23 or not, Disney should show up for Comic-Con next year because that movie is the reason why San Diego's covered in Times Square-sized ads for a week.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Back at Comic-Con, How Things Have Changed


So far this is my favorite picture from Comic-Con. Just in case I can't pose next to Tom Servo and Crow, at least I have this.

Things have changed. As I have noticed, a basement at the US Grant Hotel was enough to house Comic-Con. Now, San Diego is barely able to house Comic-Con. It's wall-to-wall advertising with the hotels and restaurants being the billboards. It's like downtown is more Times Square than Times Square.

But we love it. We love seeing 20 feet tall Powerpuff Girls. We love a group of Mr. fSociety guys giving us their faces. We love having a chance to see a big movie early, rising dehydration to see Star Trek Beyond in Imax outdoors. That's never been done, and it will be enough to make Ghostbusters of any gender afraid.

It's just too bad it's almost impossible to see the panels we want because the lines are longer than Disneyland at the height of summer. Where else can people line up for Hall H panels for the next day before noon?? We all want that chance to see our favorite stars in person, and that's what made Comic-Con big.

I've been disappointed so far, but there's been good things. While I couldn't get a proper press pass (but can still help out with the annual "Once More With Feeling" showing with some very special added attractions), I still got some bargains and the Marvel posters I wanted, I missed out on Star Trek Beyond but saw SyFy's attempt to give fans nationwide a live taste of the event. Thanks to some quick thinking, I can still see the Con Man cast and Joel Hodgson thanks to special events. It'll be a miracle if I can see Joss Whedon at Hall H

The best thing, though, is that some big celebrities will be smart enough to appear in events where people don't need a Comic-Con badge. This will be helpful for Agents of SHIELD, who hopes this coming season won't be the last. MST3K also is going this route, although it doesn't need it that much.

So, my next plan for Friday is hoping to get a Conan figure by drawing the right ticket at the Hyatt. If that doesn't pan out, it's not too bad. I already have one. After that, I'm hoping to get a Time Lord's autograph, and who knows that else.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Should We Call The New Ghostbusters? Maybe



When people heard Paul Feig wanted to make a reboot of Ghostbusters with an all-woman crew, a fair amount were rather skeptical it would work. Others, unfortunately, thought it was ultimate blasphemy.

Now, it's clear it's not quite like the original back in 1984, but that's not its job. It's a new version, determined to stand on its own.

Before I finally saw it this morning (mainly to get away from the "stop complaining about Melania Trump's speech, you mean media, you" ranting on TV) I read parts of reviews, and even a comment during the Adam Carolla podcast with Ray Parker Jr. (highly recommended, because Parker has done quite well as a musician after writing the theme to...well, what else?). I got the sense people thought it was OK, but it could have been more. In order words, people had high hopes just like Batman v. Superman, and expected them to be dashed.

The movie is a reboot, not connected to the original GB-verse, and an origin story. Remember, we met the original Ghostbusters just after they establish themselves. This is different. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) , a physics professor at Columbia, is hoping for tenure, but it's threatened by a book she wrote with paranormal Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) that has re-emerged, Yates has a quirky partner in Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and all three girls eventually investigate a report of a ghost at a historic house. Erin gets slimed and admits ghosts are real. Too bad Columbia doesn't like that when they find out, and they fire her.

They soon meet Patty (Leslie Jones), an MTA clerk who also knows a lot about New York, after she encounters a ghost just after meeting a weird bellhop named Rowan (Neil Casey). He wants to unleash the undead on New York because he can, and he gets help on that from an unexpected source,

Most people think McKinnon is the most interesting of the group because she's really wacky, competing with Venkman's attitude. Unfortunately, we know the least about her. If only she was Venkman's niece. That would explain a lot. We do meet her mentor eventually, and it's a big surprise.
Wiig is the most reluctant only because her past interests ruined her career. Once the GBs get their business underway, she's more enthusiastic. McCarthy and Jones are also great as their roles.

Rowan, the Big Bad, is a disappointment. While he wants to rule the world with evil ghosts, there's no effort on why he wants to do that. He's actually more interesting when he takes different forms.
As for Chris Hemsworth, who plays Kevin the dopey receptionist, he's also more interesting when he takes a different form.
Some of the original cast also make appearances, and if you look close, you'll find them. One character makes a big return, much to the gals' chagrin. However, they seem more of a gimmick than part of the plot. The exception is Bill Murray as a ghost debunker who finds out if they really exist...the hard way.

It would have been better if there was some connection with the original, like at least Dr. Gilbert being a former student of Dr. Spengler (Harold Ramis). If Columbia's hoping to make this a franchise, though, at least it's a better start than how DC relied on Batman v. Superman to launch the Justice League. The new Ghostbusters can make their mark, now that they're together. For those who prefer guys doing that, though, they'll have to wait. Besides, who you gonna call? Chris Pratt was proposed but he'll be busy. Jim Parsons or Simon Hedberg or Michael Pena? Maybe.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Next Year's Animation Oscar Race: Dory vs. Judy and Nick


Next year's Academy Awards may be more than seven months away, but there's one category where the race is well underway:  best animated movie.

This picture shows the two front-runners, Finding Dory and Zootopia. One takes a look at a fish's search for her family, while the other takes an unusual look at judging a book..or an animal...by its cover.

This reminds me of 2013 when Brave took on Wreck-It Ralph for the big prize. Brave won because it had two things:  a new type of Disney princess and Pixar's reputation. Wreck-It Ralph could have won because it's about a big lug who doesn't want to be the bad guy in a video game even if he's the most important part.

Several other films may wind up in the running including The Secret Lives of Pets, Moana and Kubo and the Two Strings. Still, it seems these Disney movies will wind up as the front-runners, and not just because they're smash hits.

Finding Dory is the long-awaited sequel to Finding Nemo. This time, the blue tang fish who has a memory problem suddenly remembers she has a mom and dad, and has to find them. Marlin, who's still a bit shell-shocked from the last movie, tries to stop her, but there's no stopping her or Nemo. They head to the Marine Life Center thousands of miles away to find them, if they are there. It has a very impressive supporting cast including an octopus who's a master of disguise, a nearsighted whale and another whale who's having problems with his sonar. For most of the picture, it seems like the original, with Marlin and Nemo trying to find Dory because they're worried about her being alone. It still  has some extra touches that makes it very special. One of them is showing baby Dory learning some very important lessons from her parents that helped her deal with her short-term memory problem. There are a couple of others, but we'll get to that later.

Zootopia would have the edge over Finding Dory mainly because of its unique lesson on prejudice. When we meet Judy Hopps, she's a young girl who dreams of being a police officer for Zootopia. Thing is, in a world where predators and prey live together in harmony, certain animals can only do certain jobs. Sloths are with the DMV, gazelles are pop stars, and bunnies are farmers, Judy won't hear of that, though, She becomes a meter maid, but is also determined to find out what's behind the disappearance of several animals. She crosses paths with a sly fox named Nick Wilde, who eventually helps her out. The interesting thing about him is that society has decided he can't be trusted, and he decides to agree because he can't prove otherwise. Judy gives him a reason to show he can be trusted even with the slyness. What's also interesting is that while she tries to make the city a better place by solving the disappearances, she inadvertently makes things worse. While fear does play a role in the main crime, especially who's really responsible, Judy finds a way to get justice and change things for the better. Some slyness from Nick especially helps out. There's also a sly comment about Disney's most popular animated feature in the past ten years.

Still, I can't help but think Finding Dory will wind up winning Best Animated Feature because of its Pixar edge. There are two other reasons, though. There's a scene in the third act where Dory is reunited with her fellow blue tang fish. She's told about her parents' efforts to find her, then something bad happens that we see through her eyes. That's a scene that would make anyone shed a tear. It's followed by another scene that is guaranteed to make people cry. Oh, and there's a post-credit scene that tops similar scenes from Frozen and Brave. That could be enough to get an Oscar next February.

So, when the Oscars roll around, it turns out Pixar's reputation will once again edge out a story about someone who wants to defy stereotypes.  Then again, maybe pets or a guy with two strings may surprise us.