Film Review: Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

Also known as: Star Trek IX, Star Trek: Nemesis, Star Trek: Prime Directive, Star Trek: Rebellion, Star Trek: Stardust (working titles)
Release Date: December 10th, 1998 (Cinevegas Film Festival)
Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Written by: Michael Piller, Rick Berman
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, F. Murray Abraham, Donna Murphy, Anthony Zerbe

Paramount Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“If a court-martial is the only way to tell the Federation what is happening here, Admiral… I welcome it.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard

This is my least favorite Star Trek film of all-time. Yes, I even like The Final Frontier more than this. The problem is that this just doesn’t work as a story or an event worthy of a Star Trek motion picture.

When you get to the end of this film, you realize that it is almost worth forgetting. It really just feels like a mediocre episode of The Next Generation TV show. It has some grandiose moments but it is a very small story when compared to the scale of what all the other Star Trek movies were. I mean, you just saved the Earth from a time traveling Borg invasion and now you’re off to La La Land to protect a mere 600 people from being tricked by a villain to live in a Holodeck that is made to resemble their village. I mean, really? This was the story? It felt like a rejected script for a filler episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

I liked that F. Murray Abraham was the villain and he did do a tremendous job in the role, fully committed to playing an insane person with a face that looked like beef jerky stretched over a basketball. But it wasn’t anywhere near enough to save this picture from being a lame and stale bore.

Star Trek films’ special effects have always been pretty amazing. However, even that area lacked in this picture. This was the first Trek movie to go full CGI instead of using models for its starships. The Enterprise-E looked good for the most part but the ship with the sails looked bad, the effects of the nebula weren’t well refined and then the attack drones on the planet’s surface looked terrible. It was like watching a cheap TV movie on SyFy from twenty years ago.

This film was also heavy handed with the lightheartedness and humor. Most of it was hokey and weird. There was an entire subplot about Lt. Worf going through puberty. He had a big zit, an angry teenage temper and pretty much just constantly reminded us that his body was going through some changes.

They also emphasized the relationship between Riker and Troi, which was actually fine but most of the scenes seemed out of place and sort of interrupted the flow of things.

Picard also had a love interest in the form of a 300 year-old woman that looked like she was forty-five.

The producers wanted a lighthearted movie after the doom and gloom of First Contact. They admitted to the fact that they were trying to do their generation’s version of The Voyage Home. It just didn’t work nearly as well, as The Voyage Home felt organic and natural where Insurrection felt odd, strange and incredibly dull.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t the death knell of the franchise. We would still get one more movie from The Next Generation‘s cast after this one.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Next Generation films: Star Trek: GenerationsStar Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Nemesis.

Comic Review: You Are Deadpool

Published: May 2nd, 2018
Written by: Al Ewing
Art by: Salva Espin, Scott Wilson

Marvel Comics, 22 Pages

Review:

This was a really cool experience and I like how it was organized and laid out. It’s more of a game than a comic but it was straightforward and easy to navigate.

For those of us who were kids in the ’80s, this comic is a blast. It takes the old Find Your Fate and Choose Your Own Adventure format and brings it into comic books. I’ve never seen the concept worked out and presented in a visual way but that was what made this so unique and fun. Plus, Deadpool was the perfect character to take this journey with.

As far as the plot, it was simplistic and not too exciting. It mostly just served the experience in creating a few gags and jokes within the adventure. Since Deadpool loves to break the fourth wall, the jokes are more hilarious, as he talks directly to you, the reader, whenever you make him crawl through shit or get beat up by a low level villain.

And while this was amusing for the one issue that I read, I don’t think that it can work as a series. I guess there are more coming out but I got the gist of the experience from this one issue and probably won’t pick up the others. It may have actually worked better had this been a double issue with a longer story and more options, as opposed to spreading this out over five or six separate issues, which is what they’re doing.

Unlike the Find Your Fate books I read in the ’80s, this doesn’t have enough narrative to keep you engaged for multiple read throughs. It needed more meat and potatoes, frankly. But still, it was an amusing fifteen minutes and I have to give kudos for the concept.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Anything starring Deadpool, honestly.

TV Review: Knights of Sidonia (2014- )

Also known as: Sidonia no Kishi (Japanese title)
Release Date: April 11th, 2014 – current
Directed by: Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by: Sadayuki Murai
Based on: Sidonia no Kishi manga by Tsutomu Nihei
Music by: Noriyuki Asakura
Cast: Pete Sepenuk, Ryôta Ôsaka, Takahiro Sakurai

MBS, TBS, CBC, BS-TBS, AT-X, Aniplus Asia, Sentai Filmworks, Animatsu Entertainment, Netflix, 24 Episodes (so far), 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

After really enjoying Attack On Titan, I decided to watch other modern anime series. Interestingly, Netflix just debuted an anime series under its own banner. That show is Knights of Sidonia.

What turned me onto this show initially, is that it seemed to have a Robotech vibe to it. Although set in deep space and not primarily set on or around Earth like the original run of Robotech, this series presents the all too familiar anime staple of following the lives of badass pilots in badass mecha. That is a compliment, as this is a formula that I doubt I will ever grow tired of and in a way, shows like this and Robotech give me what I always wanted in a Rogue Squadron film or series, which the Star Wars people have never given the masses.

The premise of this show reminds me of Attack On Titan except this takes place in space, as opposed to walled in villages on Earth. Also, the gigantic threat to humanity isn’t hungry man-eating Titans, it is gigantic humanoid rock creatures called Gauna that can shapeshift and rip things apart with massive tendrils. Gaunas can also grow to immense size like some sort of outer space kaiju.

Overall, this is a beautiful show and it was enjoyable. It is short, only having twelve 25 minute episodes, so it is a quick watch. Although from what I hear, there is a second season in the works.

The art, the style and concepts explored on the show are the selling point here. There is nothing exceedingly exceptional about the overall package of Knights of Sidonia other than it is pretty solid and well-balanced and the Gauna are a sight to behold. The mecha are pretty cool too but ultimately they make me miss the Veritech fighters of Robotech. Sorry, it is hard not to keep comparing this series to the one just mentioned again.

The weak point of Knights of Sidonia is that they spend quite a lot of time developing characters. While this shouldn’t be a problem, it does seem to be a waste when character development is such a focal point but all the characters feel one dimensional and stereotypical.

In the end, this was an engaging show. It is awesome visually and some sequences within the series were impressive.

I just hope that the second season fleshes things out more and that they speed things up story-wise.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: RobotechMacross stuff from Japan, VoltronNeon Genesis Evangelion.

Comic Review: The Amazing Spider-Man: Go Down Swinging

Published: March 7th, 2018
Written by: Dan Slott
Art by: Stuart Immonen, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Jim Cheung, Humberto Ramos, Alex Ross (covers)

Marvel Comics, 148 Pages

Review:

Let me preface this review by saying, “Holy shit balls!”

Man, oh, man… I friggin’ loved this story and this is the best Spider-Man story arc that I have read since before that 2008 catastrophe Brand New Day, which made me quit reading Spider-Man after two decades of loyalty. Yes, I even made it through that godforsaken Clone Saga in the ’90s without quitting.

While Dan Slott was a big part of Brand New Day and continued to keep writing Spider-Man for a decade, including this story, his last, I had heard good things over the last few years. But it wasn’t until I heard about this story that I figured that I’d finally give the guy another shot. Well, he’s really undone the damage of Brand New Day and also seems to be righting the ship with some of the things that have changed since then. Well, at least this arc starts with Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson making out. That’s a big giant leap out of the Brand New Day muck.

So Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin, has acquired the Carnage symbiote. He sort of has it under control and used it to remove the restrictions that Peter Parker put in his blood to prevent him from ever being the Green Goblin again. So what we have now is the Green Goblin and all of his powers enhanced by the Carnage suit. So to paraphrase what the official story arc write-up said, “This is Spider-Man’s greatest villain merged with his most deadly.” Basically, shit just got real.

The story sees Osborn hellbent on destroying Spider-Man, which is made easier when he finally remebers that Spidey is Peter Parker. That’s where it becomes an all out assault on Parker and his loved ones. Osborn tells Parker to stop being Spider-Man and if he abides by this, his loved ones will be safe. Peter’s allies unite in an effort to take on Osborne but ultimately, Peter Parker has to put the costume back on and have a big showdown with this new Red Goblin for all the marbles.

The story is intense, really intense. It was hard to put down and the big 80 page finale that was issue 800 was perfection. I understand people’s reservations with Slott’s epic run on The Amazing Spider-Man but this story arc was some grade A stuff, especially in an era where Marvel hasn’t been putting out a lot of quality books.

This served to not just up the ante and give Spider-Man one of his toughest threats of all-time, it also gave closure to a lot of plot threads that have stretched decades. There is an important death in this but it was done tastefully and only made that character better. Also, it was a decades long redemption story that gave a sad but satisfying payoff for those who hated and then learned to love this character over the years.

I also thought that the art was incredible. Marvel has been letting amateurish looking art creep into their titles but The Amazing Spider-Man has kept the best of the best and the quality of Go Down Swinging is such a great contrast to the terrible Marvel books I see, wall to wall, in every comic book shop I frequent.

I can’t praise this enough. And thank god they pushed Mockingbird out of the equation, as that relationship never seemed to work for me (and others from what I’ve read).

Dan Slott may have started out throwing gasoline on a dumpster fire but he ended by giving us one of the high points in the long history of The Amazing Spider-Man.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Since this is the big finale of the long and storied Dan Slott run, all of the Slott Spider-Man stuff before this. However, you may want to pickup the story arc Threat Level: Red, as it serves to setup this big finale. Try to avoid Brand New Day unless you’re into torture.

Book Review: ‘Appalachian Trials’ by Zach Davis

*Written in 2015.

Appalachian Trials: A Psychological and Emotional Guide to Successfully Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail is what I would consider a must-read before setting off on the long journey. Granted, I have never hiked the Appalachian Trail but it is something I consider doing more and more each year.

Zach felt the need to create a book dealing with the psychological and emotional aspects of hiking the Appalachian Trail, which has never been the subject of a book before. I agree with him that penning something like this was pretty vital, as every field guide in the world can’t prepare you for the real challenges. And sure, this may not fully prepare one either for something so tough and arduous but at least it gives good information on what one should expect and it also provides tales and lessons to help the reader better understand the trials ahead on an emotional and psychological level.

The book gets straight to the point and doesn’t waste much time. It is concise yet packed with essential information. It is also well-written and an enjoyable read.

If you are like me and have seriously considered hiking the Appalachian Trail, this most definitely should be read before you start your trek into the wild.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: A Walk In the Woods and Wild.

Comic Review: G.I. Joe, Vol. 2: Threat Matrix

Published: February 25th, 2014
Written by: Fred Van Lente
Art by: Steve Kurth, Jamal Igle
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Hasbro

IDW Publishing, 152 Pages

Review:

Threat Matrix is the second volume of IDW’s third G.I. Joe run. It picks up from the story in Homefront and happens alongside the events in G.I. Joe: Special Missions and The Cobra Files.

The story is mostly focused on a big terror attack by Cobra in New York City. Cobra is led by the Mad Monk, who had an important story arc way back in the G.I. Joe: Origins series. Here, he is hellbent on ruining the life of Duke. We also see Destro and the Baroness unite in an effort to undermine Monk, as neither have faith in him or his mission and think that he can be the undoing of the Cobra organization. Also, Cover Girl suspects that Duke is a Cobra spy and all the signs she’s looking for seem to support the unfortunate theory.

This is a complex and layered G.I. Joe story and I loved it. There are lots of suprises, there is a ton of action and the art does a great job of conveying the energy of the story.

The big reveal of what Duke’s secret is, however, was really convenient and pretty stupid. I’ll just leave it at that, as I don’t want to spoil the actual story itself.

The last chapter in this is a bit slower and the overall arc concludes in the second to last issue in this collection. The final chapter is mostly just a flashback to Roadblock becoming a member of G.I. Joe. It doesn’t necessarily serve the greater narrative but maybe it leads into something important in the next volume after this.

Threat Matrix was a good read and better than I thought it would be, as the IDW G.I. Joe universe seemed to be losing some steam in this third phase of titles. I just hope that the finale to this phase goes out with a much needed bang and doesn’t just come and go with a soft wimper.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The other G.I. Joe stories that happen at the same time: G.I. Joe: Special Missions (IDW) and G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files.

Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Also known as: Indiana Jones 4, Fourth Installment of the Indiana Jones Adventures, Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods, Raiders of the Lost Ark Sequel, The Untitled Genre Project (working titles)
Release Date: May 18th, 2008 (Cannes Film Festival)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: George Lucas, Jeff Nathanson, David Koepp
Based on: characters by George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Shia LaBeouf

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“Leave it to Ox to write a riddle in a dead language.” – Indiana Jones

After this film came out, people seemingly hated it. Well, I hate those people because the hate for this film is pretty silly.

Okay, I get it, there are some really goofy things in this picture and you could argue about the stupidity of a few bits but ultimately, this was still a great adventure and a lot of fun. Yes, this is the worst of the Indiana Jones movies but that’s like saying sirloin is the worst cut of steak. It’s still friggin’ steak, man.

I like the fact that the film’s setting was in line with Harrison Ford’s increased age since last being seen as Indiana Jones in 1989’s The Last Crusade. Sure, you want to see Indy punch Nazis in the face but the Soviets were a good replacement as were the Cold War fears of the time.

I enjoyed Cate Blanchett’s Colonel Dr. Irina Spalko as the villain. She wasn’t as good as René Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark or Mola Ram from Temple of Doom but I thought she definitely had the edge over Walter Donovan from The Last CrusadeIndiana Jones movies have always had great villains though and Blanchett lived up to that task, being one of the absolute high points of this movie.

I also loved that the older Indy wasn’t focused so much on chasing tail and that he, for the first time on the big screen, was reunited with a love from the past. Marion Ravenwood was nearly everyone’s favorite “Indy Girl” of them all and it was really cool seeing them reunited and there being a romantic happy ending for both characters. I’ve always loved Karen Allen and her return makes almost all of the bad shit in this movie worth it, especially since we got to see her and Indy ride off into the sunset.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the Shia LeBeouf addition to the cast and the whole bit about him being Indy’s kid but he did okay with the material and really, I don’t think another actor could have salvaged some of his poor dialogue anyway. But I am glad that he wasn’t given the reins of the franchise.

I guess the hardest pill for me to swallow as a fan is that Sean Connery, Denholm Elliot and John Rhys-Davies aren’t in the picture. I get that Connery didn’t want to do it and that Elliot had passed away since The Last Crusade but even a cameo by Rhys-Davies would have been awesome. Especially, for the wedding of Indy and Marion, as he was good friends with them both.

Most people didn’t like the alien twist and I get that. However, looking at what Indiana Jones is supposed to be, which is a modernization of the old school cheesy movie serials of the 1940s, it sort of fits the style. Sure, I would have rather gotten those long rumored Bermuda Triangle or Atlantis plots but I didn’t hate the premise of this film. It did feel strange and somewhat out of place at first glance but hey, there was a vampire story in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and that show is canon.

I, like almost everyone I’ve talked to about this movie, rolled my eyes at the refrigerator scene, the Tarzan homage and the giant ants. But looking beyond those weird bits, this film still has a lot more good stuff than bad or cringe inducing stuff. And none of it was as bad as dancing Emo Spidey from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was the best summer blockbuster of 2008 after The Dark Knight and Iron Man. There weren’t many films that were more fun than this one was that year.

Harrison Ford was still great and his chemistry with Karen Allen was perfect. I also thought that John Williams did a fine job with the score and the tone of the film was just right.

The first three Indiana Jones films were all given a perfect score here at Cinespiria. Obviously, this isn’t a perfect ten but all things considered, I’d say it’s a solid eight. But I also really love Indiana Jones.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Indiana Jones films.