I think I see your problem. You have this list. It’s a list of people you need/want to buy a Christmas gift for. The trouble is that they’re into home theatre, and you don’t know Star Trek from Star Wars. You couldn’t tell a Wolf Man from a Wolverine. And you always thought that Paranormal Activity was something too kinky to talk about. Fortunately, Upcomingdiscs has come to the rescue every Christmas with our Gift Guide Spotlights. This time we turn our attention to Paramount/CBS.
Star Trek: Into Darkness 3D:
“You think you’re safe. You are not. Is there anything you would not do for your family?”
The Star Trek family is gathered once again. Kirk (Pine) and crew are in the middle of a mission gone wrong as the film opens. Kirk and McCoy (Urban) are running for their lives on an alien planet as Spock (Quinto) is setting off a device to save the primitive planet from destruction. That pesky prime directive is in the way, and Kirk is called on the Starfleet carpet for his actions. He’s about to lose his command to Christopher Pike (Greenwood) when Starfleet succumbs to a terrorist attack at a secret spy station in London called Section 31. The man responsible is one of their own, a man named Harrison (Cumberbatch). Kirk appeals to Admiral Marcus (Weller) to pursue the villain into Klingon space. He’s given the go-ahead and 72 special new photon torpedoes to take the guy out. Marcus isn’t looking for a trial. This is all-out Bin Laden-style find-and-kill-with-prejudice time. Kirk’s fine with the idea, but it presents a moral dilemma for many in the crew. Bringing Harrison back alive is going to be problematic, particularly when many players aren’t who they appear to be. Kirk can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys and has to fly on instinct, a process his Vulcan science officer doesn’t quite get. By the end of the film the two come to a greater understanding of each other, and we see just a flash of the relationship yet to come.
One of the reasons for Star Trek’s longevity is that it’s never the same kind of story, or at least it doesn’t have to be. In Star Trek you can tell a courtroom story one time and an action thriller the next. You can tell a western or a buddy-cop story. The canvas is blank, and you don’t have to be bound by one single framework. That’s what makes this film even better than the last. Abrams delivers many kinds of films rolled into one. There is a Die Hard scene where Kirk is battling a futuristic helicopter. The opening scene looks like something out of Avatar. There’s political intrigue. There’s even a scene straight out of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.
Abrams delivers his Star Wars audition reel here as well. There’s a space chase/fight that looks right out of the Death Star battle. Remember the Millennium Falcon’s sweet sideways escape through the closing doors? It’s here with a shuttle that’s saucer-shaped enough to even look like The Falcon at chase speed.
Good movies rely not only on great heroes but equally great villains. Benedict Cumberbatch has already shown great skills in his BBC Sherlock Holmes role. Here he gets to show his chops as one of Trekdom’s better bad guys. He’s the kind of character who can kill with a look. He’s a man with tremendous control over those around him. He’s used to being in charge. Cumberbatch portrays it all with minimalistic movement and speech. It’s the perfect example of less is more, if you make the most out of the less. Like many Trek baddies before him, he’s almost Shakespearean. Peter Weller adds to the mix with a man totally comfortable with his own sense of morality and patriotism. He’s a fanatic who doesn’t see himself as anything more than a pragmatist. It’s the most dangerous kind of villain there is, isn’t it?
Star Trek has found the place we fans always believed it could. This is a crowd pleaser throughout, and you do not have to be a Star Trek person to get it. If you are, all the better, of course. The end credits are worth sitting through. There is no extra footage there, but the Alexander Courage theme is, as are some very sweet 3D effects.
Star Trek: The Next Generation On Blu-ray:
“Space… The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission, to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before.”
Nearly 20 years after the original Star Trek left the network airwaves, Gene Roddenberry set out to discover if he could catch lightning in a bottle once again. Some say he did an even better job with Star Trek: The Next Generation. There are times I tend to agree. The Star Trek sequel series had a lot more advantages from the moment it was conceived. Star Trek, a series that barely registered on the ratings during its three-year primetime voyage, became a huge sensation in syndication. By the time Next Generation came on the scene, the original show had been syndicated in over 20 different languages all over the world. It had launched an animated series, and a fifth feature film was already in the early stages of consideration. So it isn’t quite fair to judge the success or quality of The Next Generation over the original series. One thing is inarguable. The second would never have existed if not for the first.
The show did have some things working against it. There was the wrath not of Khan but of millions of Star Trek fans if they didn’t get it right. Beloved shows are almost never successful a second time. The show was also going to appear directly in syndication, where the first show really broke out. That’s fine for second run, but it was not a smart move in 1986 for a first-run series. It had never been done successfully, and it would mean markets where the show simply wouldn’t even be available. There was no internet or streaming shows back then. Now, this did also provide an advantage in that there were no network censors to deal with, and Roddenberry would finally have the freedom he never had in the 1960s to tell the stories he wanted to tell in the way he wanted to tell them. With all of this, the future didn’t look so bright for this sequel.
But the one thing Roddenberry did do right was to expand rather than remake his original show. It was still too early for fans to accept other actors in the roles of Kirk and Spock. Too often shows try to reinvent characters that appear to kiss off the original fans. ABC’s attempt to remake Kolchak: The Night Stalker is a good example. Imagine if their character had been a relative of the original Kolchak instead of trying to completely change the personality of the original. Roddenberry wasn’t remaking Star Trek. He brought us a new Enterprise with a new crew and a glimpse nearly 100 years into the future of the old show. It was a rather brilliant move, and it certainly resurrected Star Trek to new heights. We felt like we could fall in love with these guys without betraying the ones we already loved.
With the help of an infusion of cash from Netflix to be the exclusive stream supplier of Star Trek television, Paramount decided to give the series a high-definition facelift. You won’t find the dramatic effects changes here that you did on the original series. Where it was possible to find original material the crew used it and remastered it all in high definition. There are some notable exceptions where new complete effects were provided. The crystalline entity is a very glaring example. The new effect blows away anything you might remember having seen previously. Often the raw footage from the ILM model work was discovered and rescanned at the high resolution. The non-effects work was easily converted as it had been originally shot in 35mm film. The result isn’t quite as splashy as the work on the original series, but it is quite impressive. Suffice it to say that you’ve never truly seen this show until you’ve had a chance to catch these Blu-rays. I don’t care how much money you spent on the laserdiscs, DVD’s, or even VHS copies that currently occupy your video shelf. No self-respecting Star Trek fan can be caught dead without these discs and the ones that are promised to follow.
Star Trek: Enterprise On Blu-ray:
“It’s been a long time getting from there to here.”
35 years to be exact. Enterprise is the fourth spinoff from the original 1960’s hopeful series. The Earth is finally ready to send its first starship to explore the vast galaxy. This first starship Enterprise is smaller than the ships we’ve become used to. There are no shields or photon torpedoes. The transporter has only been cleared for inanimate objects. Not that this stands in the way of its occasional “emergency” use. The ship is very much like the cramped spaces of today’s submarines. It adds an even greater sense of reality to the show. The crew is composed of Captain Jonathan Archer (Bakula), First Officer and Vulcan High Command liaison, T’Pol (Blalock), Chief Engineer Charles (Trip) Tucker (Trinneer), Tactical Officer Malcolm Reed (Keating), Denobulan Dr. Phlox (Billingsly), Pilot Travis Mayweather (Montgomery) and Linguist/Communications Officer Hoshi Sato (Park).
With no Prime Directive to stand in their way (did it ever stop anyone before?) this crew has carte blanche to discover the wonders of the cosmos. Most of this season finds the crew battling new enemy the Suliban. (Can anyone say Taliban?) A Temporal Cold War is also introduced that places the crew in the middle of factions from the future.
Rick Berman decided to set this series about 100 years before the days of Kirk and Spock. Enterprise has certainly taken a ton of heat since its debut. While much of the whining by the “get a life” fans can be delegated to the “Nitpicker’s Guides,” some of it is well deserved. The most egregious infraction is the liberty the show has taken with the established timeline of Star Trek. At times it does appear Berman has decided to insult the very fans who have made the program so enduring. The writers try too hard to make Enterprise the underdog in every fight. It sure seems like everybody else has shields and better weapons. Makes you wonder how Earth became the dominant member of the Federation. With that said, I have found this to be the most entertaining Star Trek since Picard and his crew flew their Enterprise in The Next Generation. The characters, with the notable exception of Hoshi, are the most compelling in many years. Finally there is a trinity of characters reminiscent of the Kirk, Spock, and McCoy relationships. Great effort has been made to create this chemistry with Archer, Trip, and T’Pol, the newest Vulcan. I particularly liked the nice touch of having the three often dine together while discussing the business of exploring space.
Dexter Morgan (Hall) is a forensic lab rat for the Miami-Dade Police. He really knows blood splatter. He should, because he moonlights as a killer. It seems that poor old Dex just can’t help himself. His parents were criminals, and he witnessed his mother’s brutal slashing by a chainsaw gang when he was just a young boy. He was adopted by Harry Morgan (Remar), a police officer. Harry saw the killer instinct in Dexter and taught him how to channel the urges for the sake of good. Dexter adopted Harry’s Code, which means he only kills others that he’s able to prove were killers themselves. Working for the police with his officer sister, Debra (Carpenter), Dexter is constantly just on the verge of getting caught. He has to adapt and evolve to avoid capture. Dexter’s also trying to have a relationship, mostly because he knows it helps him blend in. Buffy and Angel’s Darla, Julie Benz, plays Rita. Dexter doesn’t really feel anything, but he’s trying to act the way he sees others act in the same environment.
The first thing that makes Dexter work is its star Michael C. Hall. You might remember Hall from his days on Six Feet Under, where he played the conflicted and very gay funeral director. His deadpan style and somewhat offbeat timing make him perfect for these rather quirky characters. If you thought he was good as David Fisher, you’re simply going to love him as Dexter. It amazes me how different he looks and sounds. It was at first very difficult for me to actually identify him, he gets so completely immersed in character. You’ll find yourself rooting that Dexter doesn’t get caught, if for no other reason than you don’t want the show to end. The other actors and characters are also quite good. You’ll particularly like Erik King, who plays Doakes, the only detective in the squad who senses the evil in Dexter. He’s a great adversary for Dexter.
We learn about “the code” and we watch him deal out his own special brand of justice. He’s confident and sure of his mission. But as that season unfolds we see Dexter become conflicted and even worried about getting caught. He discovers a brother who he must contend with; at the same time it brings out feelings for Harry that make him question “the code”. Of course, Dexter deals with the situation without getting caught, or we couldn’t have a second season.
While the final season did have its share of disappointments, you can’t leave Dexter off that list.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation:
Retaliation resumes sometime after the original movie. Duke (Channing Tatum) is now leader of his own team which includes Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), Snake Eyes (Ray Park), and Flint (DJ Cotrona). After completing a successful mission, the team returns to base camp and awaits extraction. Dropping their guard, the group enjoys downtime; however, when a security patrol arrives ahead of schedule, it does not go unnoticed. Their suspicions are proven right, as a massive assault devastates the camp. Unable to adequately defend themselves, the team suffers heavy casualties including a vital and precious member of the team. (I’m sure you’ll have no trouble figuring out who.)
There is a competing storyline involving Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow which eventually ties into the principal storyline; however, in my opinion the overall story could have done without it. I’m not suggesting the removal of Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow, just suggesting that they should have been tied into the central story instead. This storyline is geared to allow redemption for a character that should not be redeemed.
Retaliation is a welcome and worthy addition to the franchise. Action-packed, comedic at the right times, and preaching the brotherhood strictly found among those who serve together, it escapes the sequel curse by managing to outdo its predecessor and paves the way for the third incarnation which is currently in the beginning stages.
“Who is Jack Reacher? Born Jack, not John. No middle name. He’s a ghost. Served in the military police. A brilliant investigator, troublemaker, too. And two years ago he disappears. You don’t find this guy unless he wants to be found.”
We’ve found him. The character of Jack Reacher comes from a series of thriller novels written by Lee Child. From the very start you know that this is going to be a different kind of Jack Reacher than fans have come to know and love from the books. He described as being 6’ 5” and about 250 pounds. Tom Cruise doesn’t really fit any of those description elements. He does, however, fit two very important descriptive elements when it comes to Hollywood. He’s still a big name and a pretty reliable box office draw. He also put up some of his own cash to produce the movie. Now that’s how you get cast for a part very physically different from yourself.
It’s pretty much a straightforward thriller film. It starts with a scene that is going to draw more attention than it might have if not for the horrible events at Sandy Hook Elementary. We’re all a little sensitive to this kind of scene. Some are going to be more so than others. Still, this film follows a sniper as he carefully preps his equipment and takes his position. Then we linger through his scope as he hunts for his targets and eventually takes them out. It’s a very effective scene even without the current events.
Beyond the focus on sniper activity and shooting, there are many standard thriller/action elements to be found here. Cruise engages in one of the better car chases I’ve seen in a couple of years. But the film doesn’t rely too heavily on just the action stunts and a lot of shooting. The best thing about this film happens to be the cast. Yes, purists won’t like Cruise in the role, but he really plays it well. Lately, Cruise has found himself in some off-the-wall films playing odd characters. This is a return to real drama and a more serious character for Cruise. The result just might be my favorite Cruise performance to date. I did not read the books, so I do not carry the baggage of character preconceptions. All I can say is that Cruise delivers a balanced character that can be both deadly serious and quite light and flippant as well. It’s certainly his most balanced character in years. There’s a wonderful phone conversation where Reacher delivers a speech very much like Neeson delivers in the first Taken to the kidnappers as they are grabbing his daughter.
Cruise isn’t left to carry the burden alone. I’ve loved Richard Jenkins since Six Feet Under. This is a guy who really deserves more meaty parts. He almost gets it here. The only thing wrong with the part is that there just isn’t enough of it. I don’t always buy Rosamund Pike as much as I’d like to, but I was happy that the film avoids the expected forced romantic elements here. There’s a clever scene that actually pokes some fun at that convention. David Oyelowo is a scary dude here. Any hero is only as good as his nemesis, and Oyelowo makes it easy for Cruise as Reacher to put in a solid showing. This is the kind of bad guy that really doesn’t need to say much to get the point across. Finally, the cast includes a wonderful showing by Robert Duvall as a gun range owner who teams up with Reacher in the film’s energetic climax.
Criminal Minds: The Complete 8th Season:
To the point, Criminal Minds is very compelling television. Ever since The Silence Of The Lambs and perhaps long before, we have been fascinated by serial killers and the profilers who try to get inside their heads. To see evidence of the continuing trend, one needs only look toward the success of films like Zodiac and shows like Dexter. Of course, serial killers are not the only prey this FBI team pursues, but they are certainly the marquee item on the agenda. To be sure, there are equally disturbing subjects such as arsonists, bombers, kidnappers, and rapists to give the show a touch of variety, but let’s face it, it’s the killers that keep us tuned so attentively to Criminal Minds.
Let’s not take anything away from the show’s true force here. This is an excellent cast being fed brilliant scripts playing to an awesome crew. Everything just clicks on this series, and it only got better in the second year. I am truly impressed with how much these characters are fleshed out and how much we learn about them without the need of office romance. No precious show time is squandered on excessive personal life stories. We’re given just enough to bring the characters alive beyond their team dynamic, which is quite strong. Each character is constructed through the subtle nuances the actors infuse their performance with. From the moment you watch your first episode, you will find this team believable enough to care about them and their work. Surprisingly, the show often gets muddled in a ton of exposition, but somehow it’s carried off by the cast so that you never find yourself going numb with clinical information overload. Granted, the material itself is attention-worthy, but these guys pull it off no matter how interesting the information might be. Add to the stellar portrayals a writing team second to none in the industry. The support teams do everything they need to make sure these talents are never wasted.