Review of “Star Trek Picard” Season 1

For the full audio review and discussion with the Besotted Geek Podcast, click HERE.

Engage! Captain Jean Luc Picard is back in CBS All Access Star Trek Picard! The premiere season wrapped up this past week, and I absolutely loved every minute of it. And it’s not just getting to see the definitive captain of the Enterprise or a handful of familiar, beloved characters from Next Generation and Voyager; this show has the warp core of TNG whilst delivering a fresh story, perfect for 2020. What separates Star Trek from Star Wars is the former’s character-driven exploration of humanity at the core of every episode. While there may be action and adventure in most episodes, the action elements are serving as a conduit through which the characters explore what it means to be human–whether organic or synth. When the show was formerly announced by Sir Patrick Stewart, he made a point that Jean Luc Picard would not be the captain that you remember from TNG, that the events of Star Trek Nemesis greatly impacted Picard. And he was right. At least, in part. However, he is still very much Captain Picard, just a version whom has been disillusioned by Starfleet that has lost its way and carrying the burden of losing a close friend due to self-sacrifice.

We sometimes remark that we may have the weight of the world on our shoulders, but Picard quite literally has the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders. Throughout the TNG series, Captain Picard gave his officers and crew, and by extension the audience, the impression that he was consistently as strong as a mountain, even though we still got glimpses into his softer side on occasion. The Picard we follow in Star Trek Picard is a relatable, believable Picard that that has withstood decades of psycho-social trauma, but in his heart, he remains the Picard we have known and loved since his first took command of the Enterprise D. This first season of Picard follows our title character as he is on his journey to rediscover the self that made him great.

Without getting into spoilers, retired Admiral Picard finds himself caught in the middle of a war between synthetic humanoids and the vile, calculating Romulan Empire after encountering a young lady he believes to the the daughter of Data whom is later assassinated by Romulan covert operatives. When a Starfleet synth researcher at the Daystrom Institute informs Picard that Data’s daughter may have a twin, Picard sets out to find her and stop the Romulan covert operation. When Starfleet refuses to temporarily reinstate Picard, he takes matters into his own hands, and finds a crew and ship for one last mission. Along his mission to find out why the Romulans are attacking Synths and to find Data’s other daughter, he encounters Star Trek Voyager’s Seven of Nine (who later becomes a regular on the show), Will Riker and Deanna Troy, and other familiar characters. While the series is incredibly thrilling, it manages to still drive home the philosophical ideas that have always been at the foundation of Star Trek.

When developing a series based upon a beloved one that is so incredibly engrained in popular and geek culture, there is a risk that it may either pay too much fan service in order to appease lifelong fans, sacrificing a truly original story; or it may do the opposite and sacrifice what fans love in exchange for taking a familiar IP in new directions to attract new fans. Thankfully, Star Trek Picard falls somewhere in the middle, skewing a little towards the former more so than the latter. But ultimately, it is on brand with TNG (and a little STV). In the beginning, I didn’t particularly like Picard because I was looking for the captain that I remember; but therein lies what makes this series deep. Audiences are rediscovering Captain Picard as he is doing very much the same. It took most of this season for him to remember who he truly is. And little by little, I began to get glimpses of the captain that we all respect and love. Just as time, in real life, changes, so does time in a TV series. Starfleet is not the same as we remember, but that is to be expected after nearly 20 years since we last saw it. Some of the moments that may make longtime friends have tears in their eyes is when we see the Enterprise D and Picard in his TNG uniform. Won’t lie, there are moments that this series did bring tears to my eyes.

I can only imagine that in the series’ development, the writers and producers thought of which past characters to include in this new series as regulars or one-offs. And it’s of no surprise that Voyager’s Seven of Nine was likely at the top of their lists. She is inarguably the most popular fan favorite out of Star Trek Voyager. In many ways, she was STV’s answer to Data and Spock, and truly brought the former series into its own after she was introduced in Season 3. Like Picard, she too has changed over the nearly 20 years since we last saw her. But she is, at her core, still the Seven we respected and loved from Voyager. I can liken Picard to Voyager in that the introduction of Seven was the missing element from the cast and plot in order for it to feel fully fleshed out. She still challenges authority when the logic doesn’t compute but seeks to understand what it means to be human and a team player throughout her return to the Star Trek universe. Something that I don’t particularly care for with the return of Seven, she is much more of an action hero than engineering genius or intellectual as she was on Voyager. I miss her oddly precise moral compass and inquisitive nature from Voyager; but, it’s not a big deal. I will chalk it up to one of those stubborn fan ideals. Even as much as I appreciate and enjoyed Star Trek Picard, even I have things that I miss about the old series and would have liked to have seen.

I am excited for the second season of the series! I approached this new series with cautious optimism, and it mostly met, and even exceeding my expectations a few times. Yeah, there are elements with which I am disappointed, but that is naturally the case whenever an older series is reimagined more than twi decades since the TV series ended to make way for the movies. All in all, I am not disappointed in anything that keeps me from enjoying season one and looking forward to season two. After an interview with Sir Patrick Steward on The View, we learn that Whoopie Goldberg will be reprising her role as Guinnan in season two. I hope we also get John de Lancie back as Q! Outside of my favorite TNG character of Picard, Q is right up there! Every episode of TNG and even the 2-3 STV episodes he was on were crowd favorites because his chemistry with Picard (and to a lesser extent Janeway) was priceless. At the heart of this series is what has long since given Star Trek greater depth than Star Wars, and that is the blending of social commentary with what it means to be human. Those same philosophical questions are alive and well in Star Trek Picard, and if you’re a fan of TNG and STV, I’ve a feeling that you will mostly likely enjoy this new series as much as I did.

Don’t miss the two-part discussion on the season finale and a recap of the whole series on the Besotted Geek Podcast, where I sit down with Stork and Peacock.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Logan” movie review

loganUncanny! 20th Century Fox, Marvel, and TSG Entertainment’s Logan is a compelling, grizzly, organic superhero movie that is the last to feature Hugh Jackman as Logan (Wolverine) and Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier. Prepare to have your mind blown as the action unfolds in such a way that your heart will be pounding, racing, and pumping adrenaline through your body and then tug at your heartstrings as emotions run high. Logan is quite possibly the most comprehensive and diegetically dynamic superhero movie ever, and perhaps best X-Men film in the long, successful franchise. With a penchant for thrilling, action, and even horror films, director James Mangold pulls out all the stops in the last chapter in the story of The Wolverine. While there have been several films about Logan/Wolvervine outside of the main X-Men films, this cinematic adventure will have you on the edge of your seat with anxiety and holding back tears simultaneously. Some of the responsibilities of the final chapter of a character or an actor portraying a long-standing character are striking a delicate balance between nostalgia, closure, but still providing audiences with a new story; overwhelmingly, this film delivers the absolute best as we bid farewell to Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart from the X-Men universe and exceeds any and all expectations.

In the not too distant future, an aging Logan (Jackman) is caring for an increasingly ailing Professor X (Stewart) near the US/Mexican border. With the professor’s cognitive health in a downward spiral, Logan illegally acquires medications that ease the Professor’s seizures…seizures that are telekinetically powerful enough to leave devastation in their wake–and have. Logan is challenged to hide the Professor from the world in an effort to shield him from those who seek to kill him. While operating as a limo driver, Logan encounters a bizarre woman at a funeral who begs for his help. As Logan has always been the solitary type who mostly cares for himself, he ignores her cry for aid. In a bizarre turn of events, he finds himself caretaker of her daughter when she is found dead in her hotel room. After she follows Logan to the hideout, Professor X pleads with Logan to take her to a place called Eden. This soon becomes a bloody road trip as the three of them hide from and attempt to outrun those who want to kill Logan, the Professor and take the girl back to Mexico.

What do James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma and Logan have in common? They are both grisly western films. Evidence of this is not only seen in the character development, pacing, and overall tone of the film, but can also be seen within the film itself as Professor X and Laura (Dafne Keen), the young girl traveling with Logan and Xavier, watch a western film on TV–a film that Xavier references several times as he reminisces about films from his childhood. While many think that the American Western film died out with Hollywood Golden age, it has certainly not retreated from cinemas. In fact, many of Quinten Tarrantino’s films are westerns, the original Star Wars: A New Hope was a post-modern western, and Mangold’s Logan is yet another example of a reimagination of the American Western film. Reading the film as a western enhances the visceral experience of the film. Although directors seldom pit cowboys against indians anymore, there are subtle references to that relational dynamic from early western movies within this film. Much like the Lone Ranger and many of John Wayne’s characters, Logan is also a solemn solitary character being pulled into a world built upon the idea of relationships but his baggage makes it incredibly difficult. Emotions run high in Logan; and it’s these emotions that provide audiences with a comprehensive experience that fulfills the desire for gritty action plus moments that may stir you to tears.

Although we are just coming out of this year’s award season, it’s entirely possible that Logan may be the first superhero motion picture to be nominated and even win Best Picture at next year’s Oscars. All the elements that make up a Best Picture nominee can be found in Logan. It has drama, romance, a little humor, feels organic, deals with prejudice (by extension), and is based on a book–a comic book that is. The R rating is also important because it (1) serves as further evidence in the direction Fox is going to proceed with films like Deadpool and X-Force–gearing toward an adult audience (2) it allowed for audiences to see the Wolverine at full bloody force, which has been a desire for quite sometime and (3) the degree to which the film can deal with real adult problems physiologically and emotionally. The financial success of Logan will depend on adult audiences speaking the word about the outstanding nature of the film and even bringing more mature younger superhero fans to see the movie. Since most of the film contains disturbing imagery in regards to both the bloody violence and with Professor X’s debilitating cognitive disorder (most likely a severe form of dementia), I would not recommend bringing those under 13 to the film until you have screened it for yourself. It’s an incredible, film; but, there is content that may not sit well with those that are quite young.

Before Logan begins, fans of Deadpool will be excited to know that there is a short film (glorified promo, really) for Deadpool that does a successful job at promoting the highly anticipated sequel to last year’s blockbuster. Its placement is also important to Logan in that it provides some levity before the rather somber tone of the feature film that follows Ryan Reynolds’ offensively endearing witty charm as Deadpool. Logan is proof that superhero films can take the more serious route without sacrificing the art of the story. Both Jackman’s and Stewart’s acting is on point, and probably some of the best of their respective careers. Stewart, more specifically, delivers a command performance as Professor X and demonstrates that an accomplished actor who was primarily first known as Captain Picard can excel in both the horror (Green Room) and superhero genre films, all the while continually adding the touch of class that comes with his formal Shakespearean training as a performing artist.

This is NOT repeat NOT a kids superhero movie. Unless you have screen the film first, I would not recommend bringing anyone under the age of 13 with you to the cinema for Logan. There may not be “adult” content in the conventional sense; but, there are themes, subtext, and some violent content that may not be suitable for a younger audience who typically flock to superhero genre movies. Over all, Logan is an outstanding film, not just of the superhero variety, but also in general. From the writing to the directing and technical elements, this movie is a fantastic example of a superhero film that attempts to be and successes at breaking the mold and cementing itself as serious cinema.

Disney’s “A Christmas Carol” (2009) movie review

d_a_christmas_carolAn exhilarating visual array of breathtaking motion-capture animation with a touch of the macabre! Disney’s A Christmas Carol directed by Robert Zemeckis is an outstanding adaptation of the literary classic. Instead of attending the cinema this week, with the box office offerings on the anemic side as we gear up for the bulk of Oscar season heavy hitters, I decided to rewatch Disney’s A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens’ masterpieces have long sense been a source of inspiration for film adaptations of literature. Specifically, A Christmas Carol was actually one of the earliest films period–let alone adaptations. The first adaptation of A Christmas Carol was a British film in 1901 titled Marley’s Ghost. This classic work has been adapted for film, theatre, radio, and television more than 100 original/separate times, collectively. But why??? Why this novel? Quite possibly, this single work of literature has been brought to life for the stage, speaker, or screen more than any other with only a few possible exceptions. Perhaps, because it is simply timeless–transcends all generations. Writer-director Robert Zemeckis showcases his ability to put his spin on the timeless tale by perfecting the motion-capture animation techniques that made his adaptation of The Polar Express so visually stunning. Although Patrick Stewart’s Scrooge in the TNT original movie from 1999 is my favorite Scrooge, I feel strongly that Zemeckis’ film is closest adaptation to the spirit of the novel and brings it to life in the way Dickens himself may have imagined.

London may be anxiously awaiting the arrival of Christmas Day, but the old miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) could not care any less. He much prefers the company of his money and micro-managing his humble clerk Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman) at his counting house. After begrudgingly allowing Cratchit to have Christmas Day off, Scrooge heads home. Upon arrival to his stately but lonely townhouse, Scrooge encounters the ghost of his dead–and there is no doubt about that–business partner Jacob Marley (Oldman). In an effort to spare Scrooge his horrifying fate, Marley informs Scrooge that he will be listed by three spirits (Carrey). The ghosts of Christmas past, present, and yet to come respectively take Scrooge on a terrifying journey through his his life in hopes of transforming his selfish bitterness and embrace the selfless love and joy of Christmas.

Prior to analyzing this adaptation, as it is a story most of us know and cherish, I’d like to look at why. Why has this work of literature been adapted for nearly every storytelling medium? The short answer is that it is a story that is as relevant today as it was in the 1800s. Much like with his other masterpieces, Dickens captures so much about the human condition, in what amounts to a short story. The novel is not terribly long. With many in the U.S. feeling as though, much like in Dickens’ world, that we are being divided up into the rich and poor, this novel rings especially true. In fact, there are definitely high profile people in our economy echoing Scrooge’s words “have we no prisons; have we no work houses???” Not that we have a physical debters’ prison or work houses (in the old fashioned sense), but there are certainly elements of our society which parallel them. The story hits close to home for many. Furthermore, the novel, and subsequent adaptations, are regarded so highly because Dickens encapsulated every aspect by which mankind judges one another: past, present, and future. This is the foundation of a single person or people as a unit. Through Scrooge, Dickens shows us that if we look at our past, present, and future, then we can see the impact we have on those around us and even ourselves. By seeing how we really are, we can make the decisions to develop an approach to change ourselves to be about the business of mankind.

Interestingly, the ghosts show Scrooge how Christmas past was a time of magic (although it ended in heartbreak for Scrooge), Christmas present depicts how commercialism and greed have all but wiped out the magic with a glimmer of hope as shown by Cratchit and Fred, and Christmas yet to come shows Scrooge–and us–a world without the magic of Christmas: a world that we created. Another reason why this story is so powerful is because Dickens wrote the character of Scrooge to be a complex, multi-layered human who acts very much like a mirror to many of us. On the surface, he looks like a stereotypical old miser, but after looking into his past, we are given a glimpse of how he evolved–not unlike many of us. This story is also powerful for those who recognize the religious origins of Christmas or not. The focus of the story is on generosity, hospitality, love, compassion, as well as selfishness, greed, and sociopathy; but, it very much includes and makes reference to the religious underpinnings of this special time of year. Simply stated, this is a dynamic story of redemption that transcends generations of people.

Zemeckis’ adaptation is a beautiful usage of 3D storytelling technology. Ordinarily, I am not a fan of 3D movies, but this one is an exception for sure. I did not watch it in 3D last night, but I remember watching it in 3D when it came out in 2009 at the [then] Downtown Disney AMC. Zemeckis is one of few directors who knows how to use 3D effectively without it seeming like a gimmick. His use of 3D in A Christmas Carol greatly enhances the visceral appeal of the movie. One of the principle differences between this and other adaptations is just how supercharged it is with visual effects, intense chase scenes, and flying through the street of London. But, as Scrooge himself acknowledged, spirits can do anything–they’re spirits. Zemeckis does not hold back on the dark elements of the story. If you have read the novel, you will recognize that there are very dark parts. In many respects, A Christmas Carol is a supernatural horror film. After all, how else was Scrooge going be so scared that he would make a 180 and change his miserly ways???

It’s no surprise that Jim Carrey can be seen in the character of Scrooge; however, it is not as apparent that he is the infrastructure of the look of the characters he voiced, as was the case with Tom Hanks’ characters in Zemeckis’ The Polar Express. And this trend is even less apparent with Firth’s, Oldman’s, and Wright’s, respective characters. I love Zemeckis’ embrace of the macabre mood of the story. So often, adaptations of this story lose the very horrifying elements that absolutely terrify Scrooge. Although I remember hearing parents comment that this version was too scary for their kids, I think that having a version that is skewed towards teens and adults was important. Another great element in this film: the score! Alan Silvestri’s score sneaks in some traditional Christmas carols, but you have to listen for such as “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” when its distinctive cadences turn sinister during a perilous flight through London.

There are few Christmas movies that capture the spirit of the season better than A Christmas Carol. Zemeckis’ adaptation is my pick for best translation of page to screen. The cinematic excellence of Disney storytelling is woven throughout this film and makes for a thrilling journey. If you are planning to watch some Christmas movies this holiday season, I highly recommend this version of A Christmas Carol. But if you have very young children, it may be a little too scary for them. Whether you are young or young at heart, the magic of Christmas rings all too loudly in this timeless story brought to screen once again.

“Rebirth” web series review

RebirthGritty and visceral. NonHuman Films’ Rebirth is a new web series that will beg for your attention. Pulling out all the cliche stops, and whatever else comes with AfterEffects templates, the prologue and episode I attempt to draw you in; and they are quite successful. The problem is that it is such a train wreck that you cannot look away. Complete with a highly ambiguous plot, choppy editing, and color temps and audio all over the spectrum, Rebirth needs to die and try to come back again another day. Adapted from the original series JacobRebirth is inspired by CreepyPasta and other urban myths. Mostly shot in the POV style, the majority of the cinematography is stylistic. However, not every style needs to leave the think tank at the fashion studio. YouTube and Vimeo present fantastic opportunities for aspiring professional visual storytellers to get films in front of people without having to rely on a distribution company; but because of this wide open door, there is a lot more mediocre content to sort through while searching for that movie with which to fill your weekday evening.

Structurally, the video suffers greatly. A traditional web series should be divided up into short segments that all tie together in an over-arching story. It should not come across as a short film that has been divided up simply by cutting the segments out of the main timeline. Unfortunately, the Prologue and Episode I come across as the latter. It is important for each web series video to follow the three-act structure while the whole series also follows the same. The dialog lacks development much in the same way the characters do. As videos (or film) are a visual medium, it is important for writers to “show, don’t tell;” and the perpetual narration serves as a distraction and occasionally comes across as redundant. For a sloppily produced web series, I’ll give it this: the editing stye is creative. I’m not claiming that it’s edited well by any means; but I can definitely infer the direction the editor was going. It’s sloppy and crude, but there is definitely potential there for horror film editing.

It is not unusual for a series to have a weak opening, although it is perhaps the episode that is the most important to hook the audience, as many will not progress past the first episode. That was certainly the case for me when I watched the then-anticipated Scream Queens on Fox. After the first episode was so painful to watch, I never gave it a second chance. Since web series don’t have near the money or publicity behind them, they more often than not have a difficult time hooking an audience. So, when I was invited as a member of the blogosphere to an early screening of Episode I part II, I went in with an open mind because perhaps it was walking out of the starting gate instead of sprinting. Unfortunately, I am left wondering what happened even after watching it twice. Due to the POV style of shooting and the disorienting music, I had great difficulty in following the story. However, it is certainly macabre and creepy. In many ways, it kind of reminds me of the previews for the Green Room horror movie featuring the accomplished Patrick Stewart, of all people. I cannot help but conclude that NonHuman Films does, albeit a moderately long shot, have a future in horror filmmaking. Just because a series is crudely produced, doesn’t mean that it is devoid of potential. I see the potential, but the company needs to spend more time developing the narrative and polishing the post-production elements.

Perhaps this cult series will find an audience, as so many online video do; but, it will not likely become material picked up by YouTube Red or other outlets for professional online distribution–not in its present form. This is one of those series that clearly has some budding talent behind it; but the leadership of the film series needs to regroup and identify methods to correct the presentation and storytelling.