A Tale of Two Treks

Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. Antz and A Bug’s Life. 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Sometimes 2 movies or TV shows with the same premise are released at the same time. Some people say that it’s the result of the zeitgeist. I believe that they are usually a coincidence since there is so much media. Either way, it’s the perfect setup for a head-to-head comparison, and unless you traveled through the wormhole to a desolate planet (or maybe just aren’t a trekkie), then you should know that we are witnessing the greatest TV show fight of all: The Orville or Star Trek: Discovery? Continue reading “A Tale of Two Treks”

Rewatching Star Wars as Movies

(Author’s note: there are really minor spoilers of the original and prequel trilogy, but there are no spoilers for Rogue One in the blog post ahead)

I was a huge Star Wars as a kid. I first encountered it in 1st or 2nd grade when I checked out a Star Wars juvenile paperback from the library and subsequently mispronounced “Jedi” when raving about it to my mom. Ultimately, my mom was the gateway to my soon-to-be obsession when she borrowed the VHS tapes for the original trilogy from the library, and we watched them as a family. Other than being very scared of Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back and needing my parents to cover my eyes, I was fully engrossed in every moment.

Many years and extended universe (now known as “Legends”) novels later, my Star Wars fandom has waned. However, it was given that I would see Rogue One. We ended up seeing it with Julie’s parents, and overall, I enjoyed it. I thought it was better than The Force Awakens, though seeing the gritty side of the Rebellion made me somewhat uneasy. I also was weirdly confused with the Michael Giacchino soundtrack sounding just like Star Trek, but that’s a minor issue. Continue reading “Rewatching Star Wars as Movies”

“The Martian” Review

Last November, I saw Interstellar in theaters and was surprisingly pleased by the use of physics to drive the plot. It takes creativity to turn time dilation into an interesting part of human relationships, and it takes even more to make it meaningful and compelling on-screen. The Martian, based on the novel by Andy Weir, goes further in creating suspense with plausible, basic science and making space travel look really fun.

The Martian is set roughly in the present time with technology seemingly not so different from our own. Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of a 6 man crew on a manned mission to Mars when a storm hits. As the crew goes for an emergency takeoff, Watney is hit by debris and presumed dead as Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) takes off without him. Watney comes to shortly afterwards and realizes that he’s stranded alone on Mars with limited rations and no way to communicate with Earth and needs to find a way to survive. Meanwhile, back on Earth, NASA (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, and more) discover he is still alive and work to figure out how to bring him home.

The movie largely follows the plot of the book and retains both the commitment to science and the humor along the way. Early on, Watney needs to create water: he figures out that he can burn hydrazine from rocket fuel, but it of course blows up and leaves him singed in a typical mad scientist sort of way. Watney himself is a bit of a wise guy, and much of the humor comes through the characters and their reactions to their situation. Although the plot is obviously geeky, each step is explained clearly and visually to make it accessible to a wide audience. Perhaps experts in particular fields may be more critical, but general consensus seems to be that the science is pretty good, the solutions are plausible, and the dangers are real, which makes it all the more inspiring to watch.

I haven’t spent a lot of time looking at pictures from Curiosity or other Mars missions, and assuming that the graphics are roughly accurate, the movie provided striking landscapes of Mars. From a story perspective, they certainly emphasizes how isolated Watney is, but I enjoyed it just as a way for me to visualize what Mars is like. Most hard science fiction comes as books, and even with the best descriptions, it can be hard to imagine alien planets, spaceships, and Mars habitats.

I will be “that guy” who points out that the book was better: I think that largely comes from how similar the book is to the movie. In some ways, the plot almost reads like a series of mystery stories, where each survival problem needs to be solved using science of some sort. Knowing what those solutions are and how they’re going to turn out took away much of the suspense, but as I mentioned above, it was still very entertaining to see live.

I opened by comparing the movie to Interstellar, and I will close with the same. There are many similarities such as cast, timing, and genre, but the two movies definitely have distinct characteristics. Interstellar is set further ahead in the future and uses science to motivate the story about the characters and their relationships, and those relationships are the heart of the movie. The Martian is, at its core, about solving problems with science and engineering, and it actually really works.

I finished Battlestar Galactica, and I have to talk about it

In this age of binge-watching, I continue to be bad at watching TV shows with any haste. I’m actually quite proud that Julie and I finished watching all 4 seasons and 75 episodes of Battlestar Galactica (BSG) in about 3 years. Although I’m about 6 years too late, I have to talk about it.

If you haven’t watched the show, there are spoilers ahead, and even if you don’t mind the spoilers, this post probably won’t make much. If you have not watched BSG and enjoy sci-fi, I recommend it.

Continue reading “I finished Battlestar Galactica, and I have to talk about it”

“Pacific Rim” Review

Before yesterday, I had never seen any giant monster disaster movies. GodzillaKing Kong, and other Kaiju never quite seemed appealing to me, but Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim seemed like a proper summer epic to see. In the trailer, giant monsters and giant robots beat each other mercilessly, and if that alone is enough to get you excited, you should enjoy the movie. Otherwise, you should probably pass since it doesn’t have much else going for it.

In the movie, Kaiju emerge from the sea to terrorize the world. In response, the world decides to build massive robots to fight back. These “Jaegers” require 2 people to join minds to control the robot together and beat down the Kaiju. Becket (Charlie Hunnam) is a Jaegar pilot who suffers a major loss early in the movie and is called back into service several years later by his commanding officer (Idris Elba) when the situation becomes more dire. Assisting them are 2 scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) who try to understand the Kaiju in their own wacky ways. Continue reading ““Pacific Rim” Review”

“Star Trek Into Darkness” Review

Just over 4 years ago, JJ Abrams rebooted the Star Trek series with Star Trek, a movie made for the modern moviegoer with a young, hip cast. Star Trek Into Darkness is the sequel and is again directed by JJ Abrams, who again takes the audience on another thrilling adventure with the crew of the Enterprise.

The film is centered around Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and his pursuit of John Harrison, a rogue Starfleet agent played by Benedict Cumberbatch (best known as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series Sherlock). After committing a terrorist act on Earth, Harrison flees, and the Enterprise is responsible for dealing with the threat. Pitching in are first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana), medical officer Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), and more. Continue reading ““Star Trek Into Darkness” Review”

“Tron: Legacy” Review

Although I first played the Tron game in high school, I didn’t watch the 1982 movie until arriving at college. At that point, the technology, both in the movie and the special effects, were dated, and my friend Jordan and I laughed at the 80s culture. Even so, the imaginative take on the inner world of a computer was well-classified as neat. The updated “Tron: Legacy” pulls in today’s special effects to build out an even more incredible world with special effects and artistic design that should impress everyone.

In the original movie, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) attempts to hack the mainframe at ENCOM (perhaps best thought of today as Microsoft) and ends up being transported to the Grid, the inner world of the computer, with its primary residents as programs and has battles with light cycles and gladiator games using thrown discs. In this movie, his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) goes into the Grid almost 30 years later to find his dad who disappeared mysteriously when he was young. There, he finds an equally oppressive world as the one that his dad has faced and tries to find a way back out with his dad. That said, the plot isn’t compelling. A son searching for his father is a classic, which isn’t inherently bad, but it doesn’t have any depth. The parallels between the Flynns are emphasized, and the steps are somewhat predictable.

The acting was solid. Hedlund as Sam had the right temperament to be placed in the Grid and avoids the confused awe of a Keanu Reeves Neo and the overdramatic enthusiasm of Shia LaBeouf in “Transformers.” Jeff Bridges reprises his role as Kevin Flynn well, mixing the expected wisdom of a fatherly figure with just a little cool you would expect from Bridges. Michael Sheen’s role as a program adds a little whimsy to change the pace, and Olivia Wilde fits into the movie as well.

As to be expected, it looks great. The visuals largely reflect the same style as the original movie, yet work far better with the updates to computer-generated graphics. Whether it’s the gruesome “derezzing” of a program shattering or a look across the landscape, the Grid and its inhabitants should thoroughly impress. Even though the digital world lacks the organic detail and richness of a Pandora, you should feel just as immersed into its foreignness. I saw it in 3-D (though not IMAX), which was subtle, like many other recent 3-D movies. Spring at it if you get a chance, though don’t worry about missing too much if you have to watch a regular showing of it.

The most notable fact about the movie is how seriously it takes itself. My moviegoing buddy, Trey, asked me before the movie if we might see references to any internet memes, and I knew that there wouldn’t be any. Just like the original, this movie throws out computer jargon and plot points without acknowledging what a stretch some of it is. At times, the dialogue comes out heavy-handed in trying to emphasize the significance of certain ideas, and even these are somewhat predictable. Overall, it’s worth watching if you think you’ll enjoy seeing the instantiation of the world of Tron. Otherwise, there’s not much to go for.

Star Trek Review

I had only just gotten out of my seat, not even to the aisle, before I already wanted to see the sequel.

This evening, my dormmates and I went to a late 11:00 showing of “Star Trek.” Having watched the trailers, I got the gist of the movie. We were going to rewind all the way to young Kirk and Spock where they would fight some great Romulan threat. And as soon as the movie begins, you can see the massive Romulan ship as it destroys the Federation starship from where Mrs. Kirk escapes while giving birth. Having just seen “Wolverine” last week, I was in the mindset to immediately jump into the action, and it felt good to get the rush in a legitimate way. Sometimes, it’s good enough just for the action to look amazing. But it works out much better when it’s actually well done as well.

Watching the movie, it’s clear that it’s not your traditional Trek. Indeed, the cast including Sylar, Harold from “Harold & Kumar,” Hot Fuzz, the oracle from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” an assassin from “The Bourne Supremacy,” and some guy from “Princess Diaries 2” doesn’t sound like it’ll work. Obviously no one in the world can be Captain Kirk like William Shatner, yet it absolutely works better that Chris Pine doesn’t try. Instead of the vaguely cheesy style of classic Trek, he actually plays a believable character faithful to the cockiness and humor of Kirk, without the halting speech. Karl Urban does just as good a job pulling off a McCoy accent and maintaining his cantankerous nature. The best acting, however, came from Zachary Quinto as Spock, who’s inner conflict as half-human and half-Vulcan comes off in a truly believable way.

Another major tip-off that they weren’t going to stick to classic Trek aspects is the completely re-designed look of the ship and bridge. From the clips in the preview, you can see that the crew is no longer working on boxy, black-and-white displays, but actually have something that looks sharper than an iPhone. Even so, the general layout of the bridge remains the same with the captain’s chair in the middle, viewscreen straight ahead, and the crew in a circle around that. Combined with flawless special effects integration, and the visuals won’t disappoint.

More importantly, I think the movie works because of how it decides to maintain the Star Trek feel. It would’ve been very easy for the producers to just re-hash Star Trek in all its glory one more time. Find the old props and throw them in. Keep the transporter effect. Use the same costumes. Tell the same jokes in the same ways. But instead, they amazingly tastefully discarded just about anything unnecessary from Star Trek and kept only the spirit to appease the trekkies.

So the pace of the movie is remarkably unlike that of any Star Trek to date. It’s hip, it’s sexy, it’s dramatic, it takes itself seriously. Not to say it doesn’t stick to a couple good laughs for old time’s sake. But when Scotty yells, “I’m giving her all she’s got!”, he actually means it. The token gestures to classic Trek lines might or might not be familiar to you, though if not, I’d bet that the only reason why’d you know is the trekkie snickering in the corner at a seemingly random time.

The verdict is that this movie is fantastic. Screw the fact that it’s Star Trek; it’s a damn good movie on its own merits. Argue whether the Star Trek universe actually has the merit to pull something like this off; I don’t care. It’ll run the full gamut of amazement, humor, action, and empathy that you want a movie to make you feel. My vote’s in; cross-referenced with my “favorite movies” on Facebook, it’s the best movie I’ve seen

And I’m so glad for it, because for the first time in human history, it’s cool to be a trekkie.


Yesterday morning, I IMed George during the day about potentially going to see “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” that evening. We had mentioned it previously, but even I, attendee of opening day Star Wars three times (including one midnight), didn’t feel the obligation to go. I’m not sure many people knew about it, but yes, LucasFilms did release one more Star Wars movie, but without the advertising and hoopla of the other movies. Critics slammed the CG animation. And in the only midnight showing at that theater, the mostly empty theater seemed to reflect a similar enthusiasm. Which I’m kind of confused about. Of the intrepid quintet who at 11:19 decided to go, none didn’t enjoy it.

This movie is not the next Star Wars movie. It’s a movie that happens to be set in the Star Wars universe with a familiar cast. Roger Ebert comments (perhaps complains) that it’s “basically just a 98-minute trailer for the autumn launch of a new series on the Cartoon Network.” Which may be true, but isn’t really a problem when considering the quality of the movie. Feel free to debate whether it was worth the 10.50 for admission, but it entertained.

In the movie, Anakin and Obi-Wan are assigned a mission to rescue Jabba the Hutt’s son who was abducted by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee’s character) and Asajj Ventress (a Sith apprentice) in an attempt to manipulate the Hutts. The plot doesn’t delve deeply into the meaning of fate, or demonstrate the consequences of hubris, but Star Wars, to me, was never about plot. Star Wars presents spectacle, from massive space battles with advanced technology to fantastic abilities of telekinesis and foresight. And to that end, I don’t think the CG animation is a problem; if I’m willing to suspend disbelief for sound in space, I can imagine the Thundercats-like people to be just as real as reality.

Those expecting a Star Wars movie like those before will be disappointed. The series is more similar to the hand-drawn “Star Wars: Clone Wars” cartoons aired on Cartoon Network a few years back. This particular movie actually reminded me even more of “Jackie Chan Adventures.” Just like the new movie (soon to be a TV series), the source material comes from live action movies, yet the new format allows them to do more than reality permits. An addition to the main cast is the movie is Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s new padawan learner. Just like Jade from “Jackie Chan Adventures,” she provides a teenage liveliness that fits so well with the energy of the animation. Besides, the Anakin and Obi-Wan relationship only has so much depth.

I enjoyed the movie because I enjoyed the cartoon before it, yet I feel like some of that also comes from elements that made the live-action movies great (well, at least they made the original trilogy great). Taking a step back from years of extended lore in books, I watched the original trilogy again this past year and was amazed by how ridiculous these movies are. Just like “Indiana Jones,” the action is carefully spliced with humor that borders on outrageousness. Mindless banter between battle droids? A enemy leader who sounds like Sean Connery? Some might say that the inconsistencies ruin the canon of Star Wars. Others might say that George Lucas is continuing the decline of the Star Wars franchise. Who cares? It’s fun.