Star Wars: The Last Jedi – The Super Non-Spoiler Review

star-wars-the-last-jedi.jpgI thought I had had my fill of these fantasy universes and superhero films – even Star Wars disappointed me with Rogue One. But then I sat down to watch the latest instalment in the Star Wars and canon, The Last Jedi, and came out smiling.

This movie is quite different than any Star Wars movie that has come before it as the story doesn’t take its usual epic route of exploring various worlds and having one plan followed by another plan which is then substituted by another plan. In fact, the movie doesn’t move very far (even geographically speaking) from where it starts to where it eventually ends. Certainly, there are very important plot beats and character changes, but in all, the story is surprisingly compact and easy to follow. Now, I can definitely see how this may upset some fans who like the world-building and exploration side of Star Wars, but I thought it was executed well enough that the lack of sprawling “epicness” didn’t feel like a missing element.

The Last Jedi does feel it needs this epic thrust because it trusts its characters and the bond we have solidified with them from the last film. There are more than a few actions by our main group of heroes that seem half-baked and don’t even pan out as planned, but the movie manages to make you care for them in their desperation and forgive them when they make a mistake.

In fact, a line from the movie about mistakes being the greatest teacher is a theme which runs throughout. Nothing seems to go as planned on either side of the war but it doesn’t mean that ground hasn’t been broken and that personal victories aren’t won.

JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens did everything in its power to make a call back to A New Hope while trying to open the gates to the future – even in visual style. The Last Jedi takes an opposite approach.

Director Rian Johnson goes for darker palettes and muted colours. And although this movie is not dark at all (in fact it is damn funny in numerous parts), these changes make it feel heavier than its predecessor. The space battles are intense and brooding instead of fun and rollicking. The deaths feel more impactful and the consequences of the actions leave a more immediate bad taste in the character’s mouths – especially General Leah.

This style provided a pseudo-realism to the franchise that I had not seen before, although one can sort of make an argument for this in Rogue One; however, I felt the execution in that movie was weak mainly due to the boring characters and convoluted plot.

The Last Jedi focuses in on the batch of characters that will take this franchise into the future and they make it work. Everyone from Kylo Ren to BB-8 is engaging and have something worth investing in as an audience member. I found myself clapping and cheering on more than one occasion because I truly felt I was there with them when met with a challenge or foe.

The Last Jedi had a hard task in front of it, surpassing the buzz and success of The Force Awakens. I believe it not only did this, it also acted as a sort of pilot episode for what Disney may want to do with the franchise in the future – tell smaller stories. I believe that hardcore fans of the series may walk out of theatre happy but then going back and saying, “Hey, not a lot happened.” And indeed, the movie’s runtime almost feels in sync with the amount of time that goes by in the story. However, in the space of those 152 minutes, there was space for various emotional highs and lows and plenty of entertainment and well-choreographed space battles. Speaking of space battles, this movie really took the Star Wars name and ran with it – it was heavy on the war taking place in the stars with a lot less hand to hand fighting and light saber action. I appreciated this as a fan of battle scenes.

Now we await the last (or will it really be the last) episode in this new trilogy. It was quite open-ended, to be honest, so I have very little to comment on what I think the series needs to do moving forward or exactly where it wants to go. So, with that I say, “Go watch Star Wars!!” It was my favourite fantasy/action movie of the year and may the force continue to remain with the franchise.

Phil Ray

Follow me on Twitter by clicking here.

Follow me on Facebook by clicking here.

Follow me on Instagram by clicking here.

Read my review of Justice League by clicking here.

Read my review of Stranger Things by clicking here.

Read my review of Star Trek: Discovery by clicking here.

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in TV and Movies, Uncategorized, What I Am Watching | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pico do Jaraguá: One of São Paulo´s Green Wonders Hidden in Plain Sight

The Pico do Jaraguá lies within the capital city of São Paulo

São Paulo´s immensity never ceases to amaze me and the thing I like best about the city is how much greener it is than most people imagine. One of the largest green spaces in São Paulo is Pico do Jaraguá (Jaraguá Peak or “The Lord of the Valley” in Tupi). It is the largest mountain in the metropolitan São Paulo area, standing 1135 meters (3723.75 feet) above sea level. It and its towering television antennas are clearly visible from many parts of the city when looking out west.

 

When I first arrived in São Paulo I was drawn to this huge mountain in the distance and promised myself I would get there someday, so that is exactly what I did. I have climbed to the top, where one can take in a panoramic view of the sprawling Brazilian capital, at least three times, and each time I find something new to marvel at.

Jaraguá State Park

 

Access to the Pico, which is located at the Parque Estadual do Jaraguá (Jaraguá State Park) on Rua Antônio Cardoso Nogueira 539 – Vila Chica Luiza, is rather uncomplicated. There are plenty of bus lines that drop one off right in front of the entrance to the park. Some of the buses leave from Lapa and some from downtown São Paulo. There is a bus that leaves from the Vila Clarice station on the 7 Rubi line – I have actually gone on foot to the Pico from there once, although I would not recommend it to just anyone. If one chooses to go by car or other personal transport, there is access through Km 18 of Via Anhanguera.

 

 

11923236_406130022913481_3632443724279591425_n.jpg

The Jaraguá Park is quiet and relaxed.

As I stated, the Pico is actually part of the Jaraguá State Park. Once inside the park one is met with sprawling green landscapes, bike trails, small ponds and leisure areas for barbecues and picnics. It´s pretty common to see people gathered enjoying the park without taking the trail that will lead up to the top of the mountain.

 

For those that do venture up, the most popular route is the “Trilha do Pai Zé” (The Father Zé Trail). This 3,600 meter (about 2.2 milles) trail winds its way up the mountain through thick Atlantic Forest. The walking path is very wide and only very steep at some junctures. It shouldn´t be too difficult to climb for even the least experienced hiker and depending on your pace you can finish the trip in about an hour. But moving at a fast clip will make you miss out on the surprises on the way.

Pico do Jaraguá is the habitat for many fauna and wildlife. I got lucky my last time up and ran into some extroverted monkeys and a few South American coati (from the racoon family) who were extremely curious and friendly.

At the end of the wooded trail, the ground gets a bit harder and there are fewer trees. We are nearing the end of the first part of the journey and already one can look to one´s right and see the city from up above. This is the view facing the suburbs of São Paulo and so there are only a few houses sprinkled across the vista with more and more rolling mountains as a backdrop.

This part of the trial is thankfully short and ends at a wooden staircase which lends access to the second part of the park – the top of the Pico do Jaraguá!

 

11949282_406129532913530_3311649044908413911_n.jpg

The top of Jaraguá Peak

At the top of Pico of Jaraguá, one can stop for some refreshments or simply rest one´s legs. I have even seen events tents set up there for the kids in the summer.

 

You’ll also discover a dirty little secret at this juncture. There is a paved roadway which goes from the bottom of the mountain all the way to the top which is usually lined with the cars of those who chose to skip the trail. I don´t recommend taking this route unless you physically must. Word is that there is a lot of traffic on the way up and nearly nowhere to park your vehicle. This means you will probably be walking up hot concrete to reach the peak. Your feet will thank you out later.

The top of the Pico do Jaraguá is where you can begin seeing the metropolis side of the city. The endless sea of buildings is astonishing as it given visual testimony to the manic urban sprawl which is the city of São Paulo. The trip is not over yet, though.

 

11951138_406129619580188_5290500117625367742_n.jpg

This last staircase is the real challenge

Atop the mountain, there are huge television transmission masts. One must brave the long staircase to reach the platform where they stand, but once there, the 360º view is even more spectacular. São Paulo from afar is a sea of green mountains on one side and white and grey buildings on the other.

 

Standing above the city of São Paulo is not like the feeling when atop the Christ Statue or Sugarloaf Mountain, where the beauty of Rio de Janeiro sits like a perfect postcard below. Standing above São Paulo is more like allowing the feeling of one’s smallness to overtake them. Down below millions of lives partake in their separate dramas, the buildings and avenues seem mammoth and overwhelming, and the noise of the city drowns out our thoughts and plans. But above, on the Pico, those same lives, buildings, and noises are all just tiny specks on an expansive canvas. We can attribute as much meaning to them as we can to a star in the sky.

Going to the Pico do Jaraguá is a worthwhile venture for the adventurous person who wants to escape the city and be in nature but doesn´t have the time or stamina to take on larger green adventures.

My tips for visiting the area is to pack light but bring a lunch. There is food up top but it can get pricey. Also, bring a lot of water and try to arrive around 9 or 10 am so that you are not getting the brunt of the sun on your way up to the top. The area outside the Jaraguá Park can be a bit sketchy, so I don´t recommend taking any excursions around the surrounding neighbourhoods. The park itself has plenty of security guards, is clean, and feels very safe with plenty of carefree children, couples, and families enjoying themselves.

 

11885265_406129866246830_7978830605305848981_n.jpg

Until Next Time

 

If the concrete jungle starts to get you down, take some time off and visit the Pico do Jaraguá, one of my favourite spots in the city of São Paulo.

P. Ray

Follow me on Twitter by clicking here.

Follow me on Facebook by clicking here.

Follow me on Instagram by clicking here.

Read about my long hike through the São Paulo mountainside by clicking here.

Read about my walk through SESC Pompeia by clicking here. 

Read about my favourite park in São Paulo, Agua Branca by clicking here.

Read my review of Justice League by clicking here.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to Be an Entitled Expat in Brazil in 5 Easy Steps

Nothing irks me more than entitled expats in Brazil. These are the expats that live in their lovely little bubble of love and joy while wasting little time demeaning any other expat that does not see Brazil exactly as they do. To be clear, there are many expats in Brazil who have managed to make a good run at it, but at the very least they can recognize that life isn’t all roses for the majority here – this message is not directed towards them. I can actually respect their position. I have little love or sympathy for the entitled expat, though.

What does it take to become a part of this elite group, you ask?

Generally speaking, to be an entitled expat requires a dose of lack of empathy, mixed with a strong sprinkling of self-righteousness and perhaps just a dash of mental imbalance and asshole-ness. Below I have detailed how one puts these basic ingredients into action. Be sure to add your tips in the comments sections.

1. Pretend Brazil Is Not As Dangerous As It Is 

Brazil is the country in red.

To achieve this you must ignore that Brazil has homicide rates akin to war-torn countries. Ignore that tourists actually die when visiting one of the country’s landmarks cities, Rio de Janeiro. Ignore that nearly everyone you meet has either been a victim of crime or knows someone who has been a victim of crime.

After ignoring all these things and more, you must then have the mental fortitude to say Brazil is really not that bad and that it is just as dangerous in (pick a first-world nation from the bunch).

There is a catch, though. You can only make these bold statements under certain conditions.

One is if you live in a  compound with bars surrounding your house, apartment building, or front yard. You can also only take Übers and taxis to go everywhere at night.

Two would be that you have to live in a reasonably middle class or impoverished area and not mind dressing down so that people think you are just another favela resident, therefore somewhat avoiding being a target for crime.

Last is simply being lucky. It took a British friend of mine nearly 5 or 6 years of the nightlife in São Paulo before a gun was pointed at his face.

Whatever the case may be, your security bubble will bathe you in the light of righteous indignation when you hear another expat say that this country is an extremely unsafe and violent place to be in the majority of the cities where expats are able to find house and work. When your light shines bright you can then tell them they are wrong and stupid and should look at how dangerous it is in Chicago right now. Don’t forget to mention Brexit or Trump.

2. It’s All About The Benjamins, Baby

 

I can’t live without my dollars.

 

Come to Brazil with enough money to leave Brazil at any time – either because you are on a business contract or you simply rock that Master Card Gold.

While here, eat at the best restaurants, go to the best parks, live in the best housing, travel a lot, and have the option to go back to your home country at any time when the going gets rough.

Once that step is complete then please complain about other expats who complain about Brazil and who don’t have the same conditions as you do to simply pick up and go.

Also, make sure that you have a cosy home and job waiting for you when you get back to your home shores just to make your repatriation process all the much easier.

3. Keep it Solo and the Baggage Light

 

The fewer people you get to know the better life is.

 

Stay single, don’t fall in love, and make few friends and strong bonds that really matter. Once you have accomplished this feat you can yell at stupid expats who don’t leave Brazil by saying, “If you don’t like it that much then just leave!!!”

Make sure you enjoy the hell out of your stay in Brazil as basically a long-term tourist by also not paying taxes, not finding registered work, not trying to put a child through school, and certainly not dealing with in-laws. This way you can have a clear conscience when you decide to leave the country behind once it gets to be a little too rough for you.

4. Get on the Free Money Train

 

Nothing like getting paid for doing nothing.

 

Receive a sufficient allowance, whether from retirement, pension or other funds, in a currency other than Reais to keep you afloat.

Feel the power of your currency in your hand as the Real sinks into oblivion.

Then chastise expats who are barely scraping by with their salaries paid in Reais.

You can take this opportunity to rub in how things are actually cheaper in Brazil due to the exchange rate and that they should see the price of milk “back home.”

But most definitely use those foreign currencies to get yourself back into your own country when the government policies that you supported here, “to help the poor” start making even you feel the pinch. Please wave at us while leaving on your fast jet.

5. Be All Expat Be All Pride

Families that travel together leave the country for home together.

 

Come to Brazil with your foreign-born spouse and kids (make sure those kiddos are in the best private schools, by the way).

Once you make that sacrifice, you can feel free to get angry at stupid expats who won’t leave the country because their spouses can’t get a permanency visa back in their country of origin. Better yet, chastise the expats who are either separated and divorced whose ex-spouse won’t let them travel with the child or worse.

Live life in Brazil to its fullest while firmly holding on to you and your family’s “Get Out of Brazil” card. I am sure the rest of your family will be glad to see you when you get back.

Continue reading

Posted in Brazilian Life, Society, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

What I Am Watching: Justice League – a super non-spoiler review

The movie that seemed like it would never happen finally happened. And there I was, the DC fan that I am, on opening night to see if Justice League would be the improvement that the DC Movie Universe needed to keep itself afloat.

The answer to that question is a tricky one.

It’s been a long time since I have come out of a movie – especially a superhero movie – without a clear feeling about it. These movies aren’t that difficult to decipher – and either I love, like, dislike or hate them. Justice League sort of left me scratching my head – for all the elements of an entertaining movie were there, but it lacked weight and a driving force to make me care much about what was going on on screen.

The only thing that seems to make sense to me at the moment is that perhaps the producers tried too hard to move away from the über-weightiness of both Man of Steel and the even darker and more brooding Batman V Superman and in the process forgot about the core of these characters.

Let’s break it down

Batman is Batman – he never smiles.

Wonder Woman lost the love of her life.

The Flash has serious family issues and no friends.

Aquaman – has been in self-imposed isolation because, well, he lives in the ocean.

Cyborg is not exactly happy that he became a Post-Morten scientific experiment.

And Superman – died!!!

 

None of these characters has reason to be chirpy and slinging unfunny one-liners at one another, which is what they do more than I felt comfortable with considering their backstories. In fact, the movie works best when it acknowledges their darker side and lets the audience understand that saving the world can be just as exciting as it is a burden. Unfortunately, those emotions were not explored at all.

What was most frustrating was that the movie left wide open spaces for this deeper interaction to take place. Take for example one of the best lines of the movie (shown in the trailer) when Alfred says, “One misses the days when one’s biggest concerns were exploding, wind-up penguins.”

This line could have been a great segue into understanding the state of the modern world and the hero’s role in them. Yet, as quickly as a scene got serious and looked as if it were going to dig into these themes, it gave up on itself in order to feed us yet another one-liner about Aquaman talking to fish … because the movie has to be “more fun.”

This leads me to believe that the DC Movie Universe seems to be truly uncertain of what it wants to be. The pressure (although they would never admit it) is to be more like Marvel, whose last offering, Thor: Ragnarok, proved superior to even the last few movies in Marvel’s own catalogue by being light on its feet. If this is the path that DC wants to take, I believe it will fail miserably.

What makes Marvel unique is that at its core most of its popular heroes are truly fantastical. These are characters who mostly all acknowledge and embrace their super abilities and strive to accept their differential nature from humans.

The DC universe mostly takes the opposite approach. Their heroes also have immense power, but they try their hardest to be one of us – human, grounded, and most importantly flawed.

To illustrate this, compare how the two respective genius billionaires from each universe carry themselves. Tony Stark is pompous and even giddy about all that he knows and can do. Bruce Wayne, however, almost sees his power, knowledge, and influence as a curse. Iron Man is a product of “I do this because I am that cool” while Batman is a product of “I do this because I am that self-loathing.”

Even, Superman, who is often mistakenly described as a grown-up boy scout, spends a lot of his time trying to be the best Clark Kent he can be because he already has the Superman bit down pretty well.  Compare this to Marvel’s most popular blue and red donned hero, Spider-man, who is a very rounded Peter Parker that spends most of his time trying to be the best web-slinger he can be.

Marvel’s characters either want to be super or have fewer issues being super – this automatically lends itself to a lighter atmosphere and laughs when it comes to a film. Flying around saving people and punching bad guys is something they enjoy and can laugh about with their other super friends.

DC does not and should not work like that. DC characters mostly seem like they want to retire into their alter-egos and oftentimes question how and when they should use the full extent of their powers – and when they don’t, they usually have to deal with the consequences as in The Flashpoint Paradox.

And while I agree with most critics and fans that both MOS and BvS took the heaviness factor too far, bypassing the gravitas of each of the Justice League members misses an essential ingredient in their team dynamic – friction. Without friction, there was no drama. Without drama, there was no character growth or revelation. Each member of the Justice League started the movie essentially the same way they ended it.

So, does this mean Justice League was the train-wreck some people are hoping it would be? Far from it. Like I said, it will keep you entertained. But for a movie that had so much riding on it and that fans have waited so long for, it plays at about the level of a decent DC Animated Feature.

I will probably sit and watch it again – and I won’t have a difficult time doing it like I would for Suicide Squad, for example. But though, it managed to brighten up the gloom of its first two entries of the DC franchise, it fell short of the heart and emotion that Wonder Woman brought to the screen earlier this year.

Put this one down as another DC movie that had a lot of good parts, and which I can give a bit more leniency towards as a DC fan, but didn’t quite get it all down right. I believe that once the reviews and box-office come in, the DCMU think tank will be back to the drawing board again.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized, What I Am Watching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Stranger Things 2 – Universe Building While Still Maintain Its Allure – a daunting task.

I caught wind of last year’s runaway hit, the Duffer Brother’s Stranger Things, through word of mouth. It took me just one rainy day to get through the eight chapters. I was anxious to hear word on season two but at the same time, I had my trepidations.

What made season one so unique was the call back to the 80s. It’s also what made it a bit gimmicky in parts. The middle of season one had quite a few sections that dragged on a bit longer when the focus went away from the main storyline and the 80s touches. Still, the Duffer Brother’s managed to keep a decent pace which made even the less interesting episodes entertaining. I wondered how they would manage to keep the second season exciting while not repeating themselves. The show would have to grow beyond “That 80s Show” gimmick and universe-build to top what they did the first time around. So, did they manage it?

Well, I  watched all nine chapters of Stranger Things 2  on its premiere date and my verdict is – yes!!!

Now, this is not to say season two definitely felt like it was on wobbly legs on more than a few occasions, but like season one, it felt very certain about the story it wanted to tell and drove it forward enough in each episode to keep me clicking “next episode”.

Season two starts with a bang. It doubles down on trying to build a universe outside of Hawkins, Pennsylvania with a car chase in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and whole new cast of actors who look like they stepped straight of a Charles Bronson Death Wish movie.

Kali’s gang.

This is a cool little opener which left me wondering how these characters would come into play in the story – it would take until episode seven for that. After the opening credits, we are instead quickly taken back to familiar turf – Hawkins.

Back in little town U.S.A., life is more or less back to normal after the incidents of the year before. Our four kids are still the coolest nerds in town, while Will visits a doctor to help him come to terms with the events of the year before.

I liked that the show wasted little time in letting us know how everyone was – including Eleven (although I must admit that the result of her trip to The Upside Down was a bit anti-climatic – more on her character soon). And although everyone’s state is firmly established within the first episode, this season takes a little more time to get the central storyline going than last year. It wasn’t until about episode four (after Dustin’s little pet, which he conveniently finds in his trashcan, begins to grow) that I felt I was starting to really get a grasp of where they were going with the story – and the pace picks up.

It was clear from the Twin Peaks-esque season one cliffhanger (and what the Duffer Brother’s themselves have said) that The Upside Down would play a larger part in season two, but it wasn’t as plainly drawn out as Mike’s disappearance in the first episode of season one – which essentially put the plot of the show into motion.

Related image

The kids are back from top left clockwise: Lucas, Eleven, Mike, Dustin and Will

And that is where Stranger Things felt wobbly. The showrunners demonstrated last year and again this year that they really struggle when they have to flesh out believable scenarios outside of the main plot.

Max and Billy

An example of this is the introduction of the new character, Max. While she certainly held her own among the original four boys playing the role of the “new mysterious girl” much in the vein of Eleven, the payoff to her mysterious background was not nearly as satisfying as the former’s. She was most interesting when there was less focus on her backstory and she actively participated in the adventure at hand. The older kid, Billy, that she shows up in Hawkins with, also felt like he was being built up to be a tragic hero in the vein of The Lost Boys – but the resolution to his arch and the revelation of his and Max’s past felt like wasted screen time.

The worst victim of universe-building was, unfortunately, Eleven. She went from being the strongest link in the series last year to the weakest link this year. First, as I mentioned, Eleven’s trip into The Upside Down from last season’s finale felt like a wasted sacrifice given how anti-climatic (and quickly) that arch was resolved. She then goes on a season-long journey of self-discovery which leads her very far from Hawkins but adds very little to her character – other than the very cliche realization of knowing where home really is.

More frustrating (without giving too much away) is that a segment of this journey, which takes up all of Chapter Seven, felt more like a propaganda for a spin-off series than anything that she seriously needed to do in order to come back to her senses. Although I understood the necessity for this arch on an emotional level for Eleven (after all she has many demons to deal with), I felt the execution was poor and she didn’t have enough chemistry to hold her own without the help of the main cast.

Yet, despite these narrative shortcomings, which are basically the same narrative shortcomings of season one, Stranger Things (again, like in season one) seems to understand itself better than anyone else. Even while these seemingly loose threads were being introduced into the story, they never felt completely out of place – and most importantly, while they flirt with feeling longer than necessary, they usually don’t overstay their welcome before we are back to the main storyline.

And the main storyline is what keeps Strange Things 2 afloat. Despite taking a more roundabout approach, we eventually start to understand the implications of Mike’s visit to The Upside Down and what terror that dimension brings with it to our own world. Soon, everyone is on board in their attempt to stop The Upside Down from implanting itself firmly on our plane of existence.

Another thing I loved is how, (unlike season one), season two is actually a bit more adult and even scarier. The Duffer Brother’s did well in laying off as many cute 80s references and letting the story develop for itself, especially since this year we already had IT give us a dose of 80s nostalgia. There were scenes in The Upside Down and a very intense Exorcist-like bit at the end that had my heart racing.

So, although it takes season two a bit longer to get going and a few of the side-ventures felt unnecessary, Stranger Things 2 delivers on its promise to be bigger and better. This felt much more like its own show than last year’s gimmicky “lighting in a bottle” hit, which had one-hit wonder written all over itself.

Grab the popcorn and sit back because Stranger Things 2 is probably better than most that Hollywood has been able to offer this year in the shocks and thrills territory on nearly every front.

Thanks for reading. Leave your comments and opinions below.

Follow me on Twitter by clicking here.

Follow me on Facebook by clicking here.

Follow me on Instagram by clicking here.

Read my review of IT  by clicking here.

Read my countdown of the best A Nightmare on Elm Street movies by clicking here.

Read my review of Star Trek: Discovery by clicking here.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

What I am Watching: Star Trek: Discovery and Seasons Three and Four of Star Trek: Voyager

Star Trek: Discovery 

Well, it’s a sci-fi extravaganza for this latest blog post. This past Sunday CBS and CBS All Access premiered the first two episodes of the long-awaited new Star Trek television series Star Trek: Discovery.

There’s a lot riding on this show, as it is Star Trek’s first attempt to reconquer the small screen after a 12-year hiatus. Before this, Trek had had an impressive run of 18 years of uninterrupted programming on the small screen – from the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987 to the end of their last television show Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005.

Enterprise was the first of the series since TNG to be cancelled early, only reaching its fourth season instead of the usual seven. This, combined with the lacklustre box office of Star Trek: Nemesis, made for a lot of dead space in the Trek universe until the release of Star Trek: 2009.

The J.J. Abrams-produced film and its two subsequent sequels sparked life and, most importantly, interest back into the Trek universe and no doubt opened the door for where Star Trek shines the brightest, the small screen. And after much speculation, debate, and uncertainty, we have the first two episodes. My verdict is – they are winners.

I want to start by mentioning the hurdles this show had and still has to jump and how it has managed to do so fabulously in its first two episodes.

First, it has to please old Trek fans who have been waiting for more than a decade for a weekly series. They are the heart of the fanbase and most likely to tune into a weekly show as opposed to the casual fan who may dish out some cash to watch a Star Trek movie, old or new.

Second, the new fanbase needs to be catered to. Much to the chagrin of some in the old fanbase, J.J. Abrams brought in a new wave of Trek fans who expect a certain modern aesthetic and visual element to Star Trek that the older shows simply could not afford to have. The younger fanbase may never watch an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series or Star Trek: Voyager in their life, but they are part of the family now and the producers have to make a show that speaks their language too. Three, Star Trek: Discovery needs to operate in the rhythm and storytelling beats of modern television viewers. While it can surely take a deep breath and allow for moments of “Trek-

Three, Star Trek: Discovery needs to operate in the rhythm and storytelling beats of modern television viewers. While it can surely take a deep breath and allow for moments of “Trek-losophy”  to fill the storyline, it also has to show that it can play with the big boys like Stranger Things and Game of Thrones in pacing and the visual and special-effects game. Discovery, to be taken seriously, has to adapt to today’s television standards or sink in the blackness of television space.

Last, the show needs to be accessible to non-Trek fans. It’s been 12 long years since Enterprise went off the air. There are plenty of people out there who haven’t seen any of the new movies and know little to nothing about the classic series and movies. They are the casual viewer who wants to escape for an hour and be treated to a well-produced television show. The show needs to operate on a welcoming level to this new fans, otherwise, it will lose them during the first monologue about the importance of the prime directive.

Star Trek: Discovery managed to do all these things on firm legs (with a few wobbles here and there) in its first two episodes and leaves all possibilities open for further exploration of Trek themes as the series continues.  There were moments to please the old school Trekkie who loves universe-building and questions of morality in tough situations. There was plenty of modern special-effects wizardry and fast-paced action. The show also laid out its main storyline which will be followed throughout the season. And the show also did not spend too much time trying to explain itself, outside of its first opening sequence in the desert, where exposition was rattled off at copious amounts.

Star Trek: Discovery wasted little time flexing its muscles and thrusting us into the middle of a major conflict between the Klingons, led by the messiah-like figure of T’Kuvma, and Starfleet, led by Captain Georgiou and First Officer Burnham on the starship Shenzhou. T’Kuvna feels that the Federation is a threat to the individuality, purity existence of the Klingon race and the Shenzhou is drawn into his first move in a long chess match for power.

It seemed the writers were inspired by the more chaotic aspects of space life, best portrayed in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the most well-crafted and nuanced of the Trek-series when penning these episodes. It pits US vs THEM and questions the moral high-ground of The Federation. One of the most effective scenes is T’Kuvman’s mocking of the Federation’s catchphrase, “We Come in Peace.” Parallels to peaceful nations of our time that always manage to find themselves in some sort of military conflict are not lost in that message, and as this series is set in the early days of The Federation, it’s quite possible that they themselves are still working those kinks out.

The acting on the show felt a bit wooden at times, but I dare you to find a Star Trek series that doesn’t feel wooden on first viewing. In fact, almost all of them take nearly up to the third season before things really start to gel. Discovery lives in the television-world of “come fully produced or get canned,” though, so it can’t afford to wait three years before it gets going. This affects the series positively because although there are a few clunky scenes here and there, for the most part, the show felt sure-footed.

Discovery also managed to accomplish its biggest challenge, serving all of its masters! The action-packed premiere will no doubt keep the younger Trek fans and casual viewer happy, but the pauses that the show took to explore Michael’s character and flesh out some of the bridge crew leaves me to think that this is an area that Discovery will go back to in future episodes and pleased me as an old-school fan.

My favourite parts are the ones that seem to want to analyze the sacrifices and effects of war. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine went into this at length but almost always from the perspective of the senior officers. Here we are going to get a look at war from the perspective of those who don’t always have a say in the decision-making – the soldiers of war. Again, with all the conflicts raging across the world, this leaves room for Discovery to play out like the best of Star Trek in being a mirror for our own experience. When it was announced that the series wouldn’t be from a captain’s perspective, I was unsure of how that would work. Having watched these first two episodes and the previews for the season, it made me very excited about going on this journey with the crew.

Just so people don’t think I am glossing over the negatives, YES, there was a bit of an issue with too many dark tones and too much lens-flare, and camera tilts – but hey, new generation of fans happy. Thankfully the previews for the rest of the season showed a lighter colour palette and less shaky camera work. Episode two already felt like it shied a bit further from that, and I actually enjoyed it more for that reason.

Overall, I give Discovery high marks. Historically, it’s been nearly impossible to judge Star Trek series from their first outings. Perhaps only the original series came out of the gate being pretty much what it was going to be for the rest of its short run. Discovery was solid enough to make me want to see more, though. It not only proved that it has its feet firmly planted in classic Trek-tropes: light techno-babble, dialoguing and diplomacy, moral dilemmas and questioning of right and wrong, it also deals with more modern and down to earth tropes like sometimes having to fight or die, conflict between people’s separate viewpoints, not always succeeding in a mission and it has the visual spectacles to boot.

This is not your grandparents, nor even your parents, Star Trek, but that is not a bad thing. Every new Trek show tried to be a bit different. This is why there are throngs of fans who love Star Trek: Voyager but who can’t really sit through more than a few episodes of The Next Generation. There are also legions of fans who will swear by the greatness which was Deep Space Nine, while others who to this day think that show betrayed everything that Gene Roddenberry stood for. This is the beauty of Star Trek, it can be many things to many people while still existing in one universe. Let’s hope Discovery only gets better as the weeks unfold.

 

Star Trek: Voyager Season Three and Four

I was so happy with Season Three of Star Trek: Voyager. When the ship finally left the Kazon behind and Janeway let her hair down, it seemed the show flourished with new adventures and its very own brand of Trek. It became clear to me that Voyager would not carry on the serialized and dark nature of Deep Space Nine, nor would it take the lofty philosophical high-ground of The Next Generation. Voyager was about adventure, and The Original Series would be its closest member of the family. Once Voyager itself seemed to come to terms with this and produce high-octane stories to go along with their style of Trek, the show became much more enjoyable. Season Three is a culmination of this.

This season also impressed me with the cinematic scope that took on many occasions, most notably in the time-travel escapade of Future’s End: Part I and II and the season finale Scorpion: Part One. Voyager’s strength shines in its muscles. Janeway makes questionable decisions at times, but she follows through 100%. She shines in these moments when her back is up against the wall and her death stare has become one my

Voyager’s strength shines in its muscles. Captain Janeway makes questionable decisions at times, but she follows through 100%. She shines in these moments when her back is up against the wall and her death stare has become one my favourite things to watch out for. Janeway, much like Sisko, is someone I would not want to run into on the outer edges of space. Her ship, like his Defiant, is small but carries a punch.

There are a few clunkers in Season Three, but that’s expected of any Star Trek show, but for what it’s worth, I breezed through this season with the same momentum that I had while watching the back end of Season Two.

I was hoping that this fun-filled trek through the stars would continue onto Season Four, and for the most part, it did, except for one big hiccup in the name of Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine.

The issue is not her character, per say, she made for an interesting addition to the cast – even if her attempt to do robotic monotone gets on my nerves at times. The problem is that the producers understood how she became a rating’s draw and therefore shifted most of the show’s attention to her. As someone who had finally warmed up to Captain Janeway and her style of command, it was frustrating to see the focus of the show being adjusted elsewhere. Even Trek’s most beloved sidekicks, Spock and Data, were mostly explored through the lens of their respective captains. Janeway was not afforded this same treatment. There are more than a few rumors that Kate Mulgrew was not happy about this. After watching this season, I can understand her position.

The episodes in this season are well produced and watchable, for sure. But while season three took me a few weeks to finish, this one took me months. The development of Seven of Nine as a character bored me to bits, and kind of killed any momentum the series had carried over from its previous one and half seasons.

I know that many people really love Season Four of Voyager, and they especially love Seven of Nine, but I would give this season an average score. “The Seven of Nine Show” was not exactly what I wanted from what Voyager had started to become. The saving grace is that the scenes that Seven does have with Janeway prove how strong both women are as personalities and actresses. This interplay is crucial to warming up to Seven’s character and carries on to Season Five … which is a much better season –  but more on that at a later date.

Thanks for reading. Leave your comments and opinions below.

Follow me on Twitter by clicking here.

Follow me on Facebook by clicking here.

Follow me on Instagram by clicking here.

Read my review of the first half of season two of Star Trek: Voyager by clicking here.

Read how I rank the Star Trek films by clicking here. 

Read why I think DS9 is the best Star Trek series by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in TV and Movies, What I Am Watching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What I am Watching: IT (2017)

 

I just came home from watching the pre-premiere of IT and my senses are overloaded.

This much-awaited reboot of the original made-television mini-series had a lot riding on its shoulders. IT is one of Stephen King’s most famous works, and the 1990 television movie, although not dreadful, only managed to scratch the surface of the horrors which lie in the extremely long novel. You can read my full review of it here.

So did it work? Was IT worth it?

The short answer is, “Yes!”

But before I get into all the reasons this movie is worth the price of admission, let me spend a little time on the things which turned me off.

Dare I say that it was a bit light in parts?

I actually caught myself having fun while watching some parts of this movie. This is mostly due to the uneven directing by Andrés Muschiettm. He played a lot of the story by the numbers with jump scares galore, twisted faces superimposed on each other chasing screaming kids in the dark, sly camera-pan angles around corners – in short, nothing we haven’t seen in every horror film before this one and perhaps even some episodes of The Walking Dead.

He also tried very hard to make these kids likable – and indeed they were. There were plenty of dick jokes, and 80s pop-culture references, which instead of adding textures to the characters, actually detracted me from the would-be seriousness of the film. What the original televised series did so well, is dig deep into each of these kids fears and allow their paranoia to build to a simmer before eventually boiling over. I felt these kids could have been any kids and the story wouldn’t have suffered any.

Worst of all is that with every nerdy joke, 80s reference, and bike riding scene, I kept being reminded of Stranger Things. And while I understand that Stranger Things is a direct homage to movies like IT, it’s not a show that operates on a pure horror level. In fact, it’s a lot of “fun” – which is what I didn’t need IT to be.

Unfortunately Muschiettm never really found the perfect balance between the best parts of the film, which were truly horrific, and the lighter parts of the film, which were truly funny. He also didn’t seem to know what to do with the story of the real-world bullies who tormented The Losers. They came off as an add-on and a waste of screen time which could have benefited from more exposition into our hero’s lives.

Having said all that, I came actually came away happy!!!

IT understands that its audience wants to jump out of their seats in horror and it delivered. I imagine that someone must have written the word, “visceral” all over the set because that is the only way I can describe the parts of IT which worked. Every time Muschiettm decided to throw away the “been there done that” horror playbook, he came up with memorable blood pumping sequences and IT would transform into an exciting horror-action film with everything at stake.

I left the theatre (and even while I write this) with my head pounding. Muschiettm throws visuals at the screen with lightning speed and dares us to keep up. This is most evident in Bill Skarsgard’s portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. He had big shoes to fill replacing Tim Curry in the role but did an admirable, albeit imperfect, job.

It_08312016_Day 46_11374.dng

Overall, Skarsgard is at his worst when he tries to deliver dialogue which is supposed to scare on a psychological level. His speech is too quick and enunciation is off – this is Curry’s masterful territory and his iconic slow and methodical performance is one the main reasons why the televised movie remains a cult favourite.  However, when Skarsgard reveals himself for what he is – a maniacal death machine – his performance, and the movie, benefit. He drives his madness into the audience like a jack-hammer and dares us to look away. What he manages to do with his eyes, face and body (with a bit of CGI help) make up for his lack of vocal presence. He certainly held the mantle of Pennywise high – but will give you scares for very different reasons than Curry.

I recommend seeing IT even if it is devoid of the psychological horror that was the main allure for me in the original IT movie and book. But even while working as a pseudo-slasher/adventure film, it knows what buttons to push and pushes them well. It offers more than a few surprises and genuine laughs – and makes for an overall enjoyable movie experience. Let’s hope Chapter II, the adult story-line, operates on a more cerebral level.

Phil

Continue reading

Posted in TV and Movies, Uncategorized, What I Am Watching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment