Saturday, June 27, 2009

David Carradine Dies at Age 72

Actor David Carradine perhaps most famous for his role as Caine in the classic TV series Kung Fu died while filming a movie in Thailand on June 3rd 2009. I was not overly familiar with the show and I know Carradine more from his part in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. I and II. I also remember seeing Carradine in the TV miniseries North and South as consumate asshole Justin LaMotte. He's done a lot more stuff over the years, but I can only really speak to the work I've seen. It was still pretty cool that at age 72 he was still hard at work making movies and perfecting his craft. Sudden death always seems a lot more tragic and Carradine's case is no different, no matter the circumstances. I have no doubt that his memory will live on for generations to come, cemented as he is in pop culture most notably as the aforementioned Caine. You will be missed young Grasshopper, you will be missed.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Boldly Going Where Many Have Gone Before

Judging from the title of this entry many readers might feel that my opinions about the new Star Trek film are negative or jaded. That couldn't be further from the truth. I just figured it was a clever title seeing as this is the latest in a long, long series of Trek films of varying degrees of quality ranging from pure shit to complete awesomeness. This new film definitely falls into the latter category.

It was, however, with great trepidation and a general air of disapproval that I originally greeted the idea of a remake/reboot/prequel to the shows and movies I had loved and spent so much time with as a child and young adult. (Stress on the "young".) It just seemed like another sign of the times that most of Hollywood was a bloated, dead corpse canibalizing itself for old ideas because it was too stagnant and stupid to come up with anything new. And in a way, I suppose, it still is. But as the release date came ever closer and I heard more and then saw some of the trailers my utter disgust and disdain gradually evolved into a cautious optimism. And with the maverick director like J.J Abrahms I had even more hope for the film. Maybe it wouldn't completely suck balls. Maybe it would just tickle them a little with its tongue and leave the beloved Star Trek canon rest in piece until the great Star Trek Wars (not to be confused with the equally great Star Wars Trek) profesied in Futurama.

While I hoped for (at best) mediocrity, what I got was pure movie gold. The film was fantastic in (almost) every aspect and very accessible both to the hardened Trek fan and to the Star Trek virgin (and by this I mean people who have not seen the show or movies, and not a true virgin like 99% of Trek fans under the age of 60). First let me issue the standard warning for all you crybabies out there that yes this post does indeed include spoilers.

Let's start with the plot / concept. This was hands down the single best idea I've ever seen to reboot/reimagine a major motion picture property. The story starts off with the Federation ship USS Kelvin being attacked by a bad-ass Romulan vessel which we find out later has travelled back in time from the future. During the ensuing firefight a young George Kirk takes command and saves the lives of countless crewmembers, including his son James T. Kirk who is born during the cluster-fuck of the Romulan assault in one of the all-time most intense birth scenes in cinematic history. Then we see a young Spock on his homeworld of Vulcan dealing with his mixed heritage (human/vulcan). Flash forward a few years and Kirk is a motorcycling rebel without a cause whose life changes with a chance encounter at a local bar with a young Urhura, a bunch of beefy Starfleet cadets and Captain Christopher Pike who sites Kirk's father's courage and gets him to enroll in Starfleet.

So Kirk enrolls in Starfleet, promptly meets a young Dr. McCoy and they quickly hit it off. During his time at the academy Kirk butts heads with Spock. During an emergency mission to rescue planet Vulcan from an attack from the rogue Romulan vessel, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Uhura end up on none other than the famous USS Enterprise with young Sulu and Chekov. The virgin (tee-hee!) crew of the Enterprise then set out to first try to stop the rogue Romulans from detroying planet Vulcan and billions of alien lives resulting in: A) Captain Pike getting captain-napped: B) Some crazy sky diving stunts: C) Sulu pulling out some crazy wicked samurai moves with a totally sweet futurisitc fold-out sword and : D) The complete destruction of the planet Vulcan.

Now that the shit has officially hit the intergalactic fan the crew of the Enterprise becomes the one last, best hope for humanity what with the renegade Romulans making best time to Earth to try and set the record for most genocides committed within a twenty-four hour period. A beef with Spock ends Kirk stranded on some Hoth-like ice world (sorry for the comparison, but I mean, come on!) where Kirk meets the last piece of the Enterprise puzzle: the Scottich engineer named (wait for it...) Scotty! Oh yeah, he also meets a time-travelling Spock from the future who gives Kirk a little inside info into Starfleet regulations to earn him the captaincy (not sure if that's a real word, but suck on it Websters) to try to "make things right" and save an importantn and enduring friendship.

So Kirk and Scotty hightail it back to the Enterprise where Kirk uses the info from old Spock to dethrone young spock and take control of the mighty starship. So Kirk and young Spock bury the hatchet to head on a rescue mission for Captain Pike, and attempt to save Earth from the same fate as Vulcan which results in: A) The salvation of Earth: B) A crazy shoot-out/rescue scene and: C) The new crew of the Enterprise setting out on its continuing mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out life and new civilizations... and so on and so forth.

There were a shit-tonne of references to the original Trek series which was a real treat for any existing fans. There was Captain Pike (originally portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter in the original, original Star Trek pilot) who ends up in a wheelchair at the end of this movie and who was completely crippled by a fire and ended up in a wheelchair in the original series. There was the reference to the infamous Kobayashi Maru test taken by all cadets, and passed only by Kirk who cheats, as referenced in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. There was also the evil Romulan Nero calling out "Spock! Spock!" much like Kirk famously yelled out "Khan! Khan!" in Wrath of Khan. There was also the simple fact that the Romulans were the bad guys, a tradition dating back forty-odd years. There was also a very subtle reference to a phenomenon known only to trekkies/trekkers about starfleet officers in red shirts who, in the original series, would always beam down with the away team and sure as shit get killed by the alien/evil force/unknown disease to let you know just how dangerous the situation was. This happens during the crazy space-jumping scene, which was sadistically satisfying to watch. There are the references to some special Vulcan abilities like the famous Vulcan Neck pinch and the mind meld. And of course all the technology was beautifully handled to pay homage to the original while updating it to look more "realistic" or at least believable (no orange, thank God).

The cast was excellent and did the perfect job of capturing the collective essences of the original characters while not simply immitating them. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock respectively were perfect for their roles. Pine did a fantastic job of capturing the devil-may-care attitude and womanizing of the action junkie Captain James T. Kirk. Quinto -aside from the fact that he looked uncannily like a young Leonard Nimoy- did an excellent job of portraying Spock as a young man caught between two worlds and giving the classic eyebrow raise. Also notable were Karl Urban as Dr. "Bones" McCoy who did a pretty good Deforest Kelly without going to over the top. I also have a soft spot in my heart for Simon Pegg who I thought did an excellent Scotty. Zoe Saldana, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin also turned in great performances as Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov respectively. All in all the cast seemed to have a great raport with each other and it really translated well on screen.

I think the scene that best expresses the new take on Trek was the scene where a young Kirk steals a car and "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys is blaring on the radio. The way the writers handled this new entry into the Star Trek canon walked that fine razor's edge between satisfying the old fans while being accessible to a new audience. This was easily the most action-oriented Trek which draws in the new audiences who are easily entertained with bright lights and flashy things.

Then there is the whole idea of an alternate dimension/timeline created by the travelling back in time by the Romulans and Spock so technically all the stuff from the old films still happened independently of the events in this movie so we can all be happy and move on, even though some of us may have had problems with certain romantic relationships involving a certain pointy-eared alien and Uhura, which I'll admit kind of bugged me. In my mind the one thing that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga really fucked up with their inheritance of the Star Trek universe is the Vulcans. I mean, Gene Roddenberry (for those of you who don't know, he's the guy who dreamed up all this craziness back in that turbulant time known simply as The 60's) really did a lot to set up the Vulcans as a drastically different species who had different drives and different philosophies on how to approach the universe, but now they just seem like mean-spirited old men who are more stoic than devoid of all emotion. But that's the nerd coming out in me.

Alright, I'm through rambling and it's been about two months since I've seen this so I'll publish this motherfucker before I make any more spelling mistakes. Overall one of my favourite movies of the year so far, and now that I've seen a few other summer blockbusters, easily the best summer blockbuster this year.

My rating is 9/10 = One Logic-Infused Vulcan Head

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Chin's Last Ride

I can't say I'm the largest fan of late night television, usually because after work and playing with my daughter my wife and I end up in bed hours before any of the craziness starts and so I never have a chance to see it and develop any kind of emotional investment. But I have watched a fair amount of late night material over the years, and I think that Jay Leno was definitely my favourite. The key difference between Leno and his closest rival, David Letterman, was that Leno seemed to be, well, funny. The only good thing about Letterman's show was the Top Ten Lists, and even some of those were kind of shaky.

But for as long as I can remember Letterman and Leno have essentially been the kings of late night, so news of either of them stepping down is like the end of a dynasty. I guess Carson retired from the Tonight Show in my lifetime, but at the time I was so young I was never allowed to stay up late enough to see his show. So instead I'd stay up all night banging my head against the wall to get back at my parents. I'm not sure how this was supposed to facilitate my revenge against them, but in all fairness the severe damage my brain sustained from years of continuous blunt force trauma has definitely affected both my long- and short-term- memory and as a result I tend to ramble whenever I talk or write and get completely off topic. Nachos are great with cheese.

Where was I? Ah yes, Jay Leno's last night as host of the Tonight Show. Even though I haven't really followed the show I still got a sense of nostalgia and a weird tingling sensation in my bathing suit area when I heard that he was handing over the reigns to another late night icon- Conan O'Brien. So naturally I had to tune in for this momentus event in television history. Jay was pretty cool about the whole thing, and the show much like the man was endearing and unpretentious. There wasn't a huge fanfare, and I guess it really wasn't too sad of an ending because aparentlt Jay is going to start his own show in the fall. The main guest was his successor Conan O'Brien, who I must say has really come into his own over the years. The story of how he came to be a late night talk show host directly after working on The Simpsons (back in the Golden Era before Marge got breast implants and other stupid shit) was kind of cool and it was very fitting that his very first appearance on TV had been with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show years earlier.

I think the best and most emotionally poignant part of the show was the ending where Jay Leno answered a question posed to him earlier about his legacy by talking about how many couples had gotten together from the production crew and then brought out all the children who were born to these couples. It was a touching moment to see how the whole crew had grown together as a family and it was a nice, classy way to end an impressive seventeen-year run. Way to be, Jay.