Big thanks to TREKLANTA.ORG for organising the 2020 BJO Star Trek Fan Film awards. Delayed due to COVID-19 the awards took place late in 2021 and I am so pleased that The Holy Core (2019) was nominated for a number of awards and won two.
The Holy Core (2019) won BEST ORIGINAL STORY OR SCREENPLAY and BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM!
Here are some photos of Paul Laight (me/writer), Gary O’Brien (Director, Editor/Production) and Philip Wolff (lead cast member) with our awards.
And if you have never seen the film you can watch it here:
Screenplay by: Harry Bromley Davenport, Michel Perry, Iain Cassie, Robert Smith
Story by: Harry Bromley Davenport, Michel Perry
Produced by: Mark Forstater
Cast: Bernice Stegers, Philip Sayer, Simon Nash, Maryam d’Abo, Danny Brainin etc.
Cinematography: John Metcalfe
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Being a fan of the horror genre never fails to spring surprises, especially if you also love trashy-B-movie-exploitation-video-nasties too. Because what often occurs is a hidden or buried or previously banned film will reanimate and be located on one of the many streaming platforms we have today. I am both surprised and even more joyous if I find I have never even seen the said film. This is certainly the case with low-budget alien monster film, XTRO (1982).
There I was pressing play via Amazon Prime, thinking it was another schlocky American indie I had missed from yesteryear, only to discover Xtro (1982) is actually a bizarre British film which twists and riffs on the box office hit that was ET: Extra Terrestrial (1982). Xtro (1982), directed by Harry Bromley Davenport, is not a comforting family science fiction drama like its more famous counterpart though. Instead, it is a gory sci-fi shocker with many outrageously violent set-pieces and a budget lower than E.T.’s lunch bill.
Critically damned at the time, Xtro (1982), when released on home video in 1983, was subject to a prosecution case in relation to British obscenity laws and labelled a “video-nasty”. Watching it now I have to admit it is quite shocking still, but the practical effects are so gloriously over-the-top they are more humorous than sickening. Having said that there are some memorably gruesome moments involving alien births, crazy clowns, a live “Action Man” doll, weird space eggs, and transformative man-into-monster effects.
The film doesn’t hang about establishing character but propels, from the opening scene of a father playing in the garden with his son, straight into the disappearing parent plot. The father (Philip Sayers) vanishes without a trace and three years later his wife (Bernice Stegers) and son are attempting to repair their lives. Yet, the boy is suffering horrific nightmares when suddenly his father reappears attempting to reconcile. The familial drama within the script itself could have been further developed to some emotional impact. However, while Bernice Stegers gives a decent dramatic performance, the film soon descends into a mix of surreal and insane set-pieces, combined with the father’s metamorphosis into something from another world.
There’s much to like and much to loathe about, Xtro (1982), notably the gratuitous nudity sprinkled throughout. Yet, if you are drawn to exploitational B-movies there is much sick entertainment to be found in the blend of impressive practical effects and creature moments. Philip Sayer and Bernice Stegers keep the shlocky elements of the plot in check with sane acting performances and despite some eccentric writing throughout Harry Bromley Davenport and his team have delivered an out-of-this-world bona fide B-movie cult classic.
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #13 – STAR TREK – THE NEXT GENERATION FILMS!
I have to admit I started getting Star Trek fatigue having watched seven seasons of The Next Generation, the original series, and films over the last couple of years. Thus, I had a bit of a break. But now am ready to visit the many series of Deep Space Nine.
What of the The Next Generation feature films though? The creative danger of adapting television series into feature films is that they often fall into the trap of being two episodes stuck together without the texture , scope or feeling of a cinematic presentation. Not that the studio executives will care ultimately, because their films will likely make money due to the desirous power of the show’s fanbase. How successful were the TNG film releases in avoiding the pitfalls of small to big screen adaptations? Let us see.
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Generationssees Captain Kirk (Shatner) and Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) meet across the time-streams in a giddy mix of philosophy and temporal variance. Malcolm McDowell as an obsessive scientist, Soran, plays a good baddie. However, this is more a collection of fascinating concepts conjoined unevenly to get Picard and Kirk on screen together. What it lacks in proper cinematic drama and suspense, it serves the fans well with a fun mix of the original and Next Generation series actors. Who doesn’t love seeing Patrick Stewart and William Shatner inhabit their characters with gusto trapped in the mind-bending realm of the Nexus?
Mark: 7 out of 11
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
In First Contact, Picard and crew fight the formidable Borg with the former flexing both his verbal and physical muscles. This is great and easily one of the best Star Trek films. Patrick Stewart is always brilliant, but you can see his Picard is driven, Captain Ahab-like, to pursue revenge against the Borg, even ignoring Starfleet orders along the way. Alice Krige as the Borg Queen is particularly memorable too. Time travel is integral again to an involving plot. Senior crew members led by Riker (Jonathan Frakes) go back in time to when warp was invented by unlikely legend, Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell). With two strong narrative strands combining to create superb drama and conflict, First Contact, is both entertaining and moving, standing as a fine tribute to thirty years of Star Trek.
Mark 8.5 out of 11
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
With a title suggesting uprising and revolution, Insurrectionrather slows the pace down when compared to the dynamic, First Contact. Moreover, in the “fountain of youth” themed plot, Captain Picard falls in love, with Patrick Stewart flexing his romantic muscles here. I actually enjoyed Insurrection with the crew of the Enterprise endeavouring to protect a peace-loving community called the Ba’ha from several surprising foes. I am aware the script went through a number of drafts and iterations, so the narrative holds up surprisingly well. The thematic exploration of the prime directive, vanity and mortality provide emotional depth. Although the biblical metaphors of Picard leading the natives to the “promised land” is a bit much. Still, F. Murray Abraham is brilliant as antagonist, Ru’afo, even under all the prosthetics. Overall, Insurrection, while a mixed bag of ideas and story strands, is certainly very entertaining.
Mark: 7.5 out of 11
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
More interesting for the casting choices rather than the strength of the screenplay, plot and themes, Nemesis (2002) was unfortunately a box office failure. It isn’t surprising though as Stuart Baird was arguably not the right director for the franchise, as the film is helmed like a generic action film without the essence of true Next Generation style. Having said that I quite liked the concept of Picard facing Shinzon (Tom Hardy), an enigmatic character who knows a lot about the Enterprise captain. Despite some energetic set-pieces Nemesis (2002) doesn’t quite catch fire dramatically, but Stewart pitting his acting chops against a very young, Tom Hardy, provides some frisson of excitement. Mostly though this could be any bog-standard sci-fi story and is a disappointing final TNG cinematic salvo.
Screenplay by: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth
Based on: Dune by Frank Herbert
Produced by: Denis Villeneuve, Mary Parent, Cale Boyter, Joe Caracciolo Jr.
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, etc.
Cinematography: Greig Fraser
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
I truly hope Dune: Part One (2021), an epic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s legendary Dune literary series, has a second part, otherwise I would have wasted well over two hours of my life watching the Denis Villeneuve helmed film version. Having said that, there were times where I felt the glacial pace of the narrative caused time to stand still, boring me in the process. But, I get it. It’s part one and setting all the major players up and building a strange world both visually and imaginatively. As such perhaps Herbert’s books may have suited a HBO TV adaptation rather than a cinematic version.
Maybe I’m jaded and cynical though. Have I seen too many films and stories? Is Dune: Part One (2021) even worth the journey and perhaps it’s too old-fashioned a sci-fi story to create resonance for myself and these times? Well, it absolutely looks amazing. The special effects, sandy landscapes, behemoth buildings, underground monsters and space vessels are rendered with such believable authenticity they genuinely looked real on the screen. Frank Herbert’s (I haven’t read the books) vision is astoundingly realised as this futuristic world in a far, far galaxy felt like a moving work of art. But, it was extremely beige and brown and sandy looking on Arrakis, so much so that I was glad of the dark contrast in the scenes involving House of Harkonnen. By the way, I’m not often a fan of the natural cinematography style used here where during big action scenes at night I could hardly see anything. Moan over.
The story of Dune (2021) felt a bit old-fashioned as a classic hero’s journey. It didn’t help that the in-the-sand screenplay and Denis Villeneuve’s meditative, confident direction was too subtle for this story. I mean why do we care about Timothee Chalamet’s Paul Atreides and his family’s inheritance of the spice world’s of Arrakis? Without giving anything away it becomes a poisoned chalice politically in this world and Paul’s, his parents, and the House of Atreides’ lives all become endangered. So, while Frank Herbert’s novel was originally released to powerful acclaim in 1965 and five other novels would follow year’s later, a film version of Dune (2021) now feels outdated in terms of subtext. Villeneuve is a genius filmmaker, but I’m not sure, aside from the beautiful look of the locations, sets and actors there is much of a narrative to get our teeth into. Just another ‘white saviour’ quest, which is so drawn out in terms of the interminable slow pace at times.
Of course, the cast are wonderful to look at, but Chalamet is miscast for me. He is an incredibly talented young actor, but he is not given any character to get his teeth into. Villeneuve does a less-is-more style that I love and he’s obviously playing the long game withDune (2021), yet he really needed a young Ryan Gosling to carry Paul Atreides as Chalamet isn’t given enough to do in terms of acting. Yes, there are massive worms and big explosions and floating fat men, but the story dragged. Thankfully, Jason Momoa injected some movie star charisma in his action sequences, while Rebecca Ferguson and Javier Bardem sprinkled some of their own spice amidst the over-controlled Villeneuve design.
I really wanted to like Dune (2021). I won’t see a more attractive and technically perfect rendition of a sci-fi world in the cinema in years. But, I could not connect with the narrative or drama. I mean, Paul is possibly the chosen one or something or other but why do we care? His mother is connected to some weird cultish sect — with the “Force” — and there are big worms which made me want to watch Tremors (1990); a far superior and shorter version of the hero’s journey. Watch that instead.
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #12 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 7 (1993 – 1994)
Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry
Season 7 writers (selected): Joe Menosky, Jeri Taylor, Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, René Echevarria, Michael Piller, Naren Shankar, Jean Louise Matthias, James E. Brooks, Michael A. Medlock, Christopher Hatton, Nick Sagan, Spike Steingasser, Dan Koeppel, etc.
Season 7 directors (selected): Les Landau, Cliff Bole, Winrich Kolbe, Alexander Singer, Robert Weimer, Robert Scheerer, Adam Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gabrielle Beaumont, James L. Conway, LeVar Burton,Gates McFadden,etc.
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden, Michelle Forbes, Majel Barrett, Rosalind Chao, John De Lancie, Wil Wheaton, Kirsten Dunst, Paul Sorvino, Dwight Schultz, etc.
Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway
Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television
**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****
My Star Trek journey started when I was a kid many moons ago. I used to watch the original series on my portable telly in the kitchen while eating dinner. I loved the adventures of Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhuru and the rest of these bold space heroes. Thus, it was surprising that the whole of the Next Generation era of shows, including DS9 and Voyager, passed me by. Nonetheless, I have, since writing and producing two Star Trek fan films, been on a dedicated mission to watch every episode and film of the franchise that has been released.
This escapade began with the original series and my first blog review can be read here:
Subsequently, and three engrossing years later, I have finally completed watching the last season of The Next Generation. I have to be honest that this marathon viewing project is certainly a big cultural task. Furthermore, I still cannot work out how the hell they managed to produce so many episodes per season for TNG. It truly beggars belief the amount of high quality TV that was produced. I mean, I was exhausted watching it, so how those making it felt I do not know. I guess the fan’s respect and money and joy of being part of the Star Trek legacy was more than compensation.
Season 7 was again a mammoth twenty-six episode tranche. One might think there would be a drop in quality and there was some element of this in certain episodes. However, that was more to do with attempting to crowbar in a satisfactory ending for certain characters, notably Wil Wheaton’s anaemic, Wesley Crusher. Family ties and dramas linked many of season 7’s narratives, yet there was also the usual high concepts and socio-political themes explored throughout. Thus, dearest Next Generation, I thank you for taking me on a bold ride to the final frontier of journey’s end. Here are six of my favourite episodes of season seven!
ATTACHED – EPISODE 9
One of the great pleasures of watching The Next Generation is that the show always gave us mature romantic relationships. The “will they-won’t they” romance of Dr Crusher and Captain Picard is directly addressed in Attached, as the two find themselves shackled physically and telepathically by a paranoid alien race. As they attempt to survive and escape capture the two explore their hidden feelings in a moving episode of some power.
THE PEGASUS – EPISODE 12
Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is portrayed as a dynamic action hero of strength and skill, so it is always interesting when his character is tested. In The Pegasushe is faced with both the sins of the “father” and of his own past. The surrogate father is this case is Captain Erik Pressman, portrayed brilliantly by Terry O’Quinn. Pressman is determined to track down the lost ship, ‘The Pegasus’ before the Romulans get to it. He places pressure on Riker to keep confidential the secrets the missing vessel has as the episode contains great drama and conflict.
HOMEWARD – EPISODE 13
When shows have been going for many seasons they often have to introduce previously unknown siblings, parents or love interests to manufacture storylines. I totally get this and often it creates fantastic episodes. In Inheritance we get to meet Data’s “mother”, but an even better episode is Homeward where Worf’s foster brother, Nikola (Paul Sorvino) rebels against the ‘Prime Directive’ to save the Boraalan people. It’s a great episode full of twists and some excellent scenes between Paul Sorvino (not playing a gangster for once) and the ever-excellent, Michael Dorn. The use of the holodeck as an integral part of the narrative is highly inventive too.
LOWER DECKS – EPISODE 15
Most episodes of Star Trek will focus on the core characters with a leaning to one or two of the main cast. But Lower Decks turns that around with the fantastic premise of profiling some of the younger crew members. It’s a well written narrative which focusses attention on a Starfleet promotion with Ensigns Sito Jaxa, Sam Lavelle and Taurik in “friendly” competition to achieve the goal. We immediately warm to their personalities as the witty dialogue adds much fizz, but the drama of the piece is heightened when Bajoran, Sito Jaxa, is sent on a dangerous mission, leading to a powerfully emotional denouement.
GENESIS – EPISODE 19
I loved this episode because it contained a fantastic melding of sci-fi and horror genres with some monstrous creatures on show. With Gates McFadden directing her only episode, the story finds the Enterprise crew falling ill and regressing to various animal states. Worf has reverted into an aggressive predator attempting to mate with Troi; Riker an Australopithecine (Caveman); Troi an amphibian; and Barclay a spider. Even Spot the cat has become an iguana. While it may sound weird and a bit silly I loved the imaginative animal transformations as the cast shed both their human skin and inhibitions.
ALL GOOD THINGS – EPISODES 25/26
As they say all good things come to an end. So, after boldly going for many seasons, The Next Generation finally concluded with a moving and inventive two-parter. I must admit that while it was clever to call back to the first episode, Encounter at Farpoint, I was never a massive fan of the character, Q. Even though John De Lancie’s performance always brought great energy to every episode, I just felt that this character with uber-God-like powers could always resolve the drama with a Deus ex Machina click of the fingers. Nonetheless, the idea that he was always testing humanity was a great theme, and once again in All Good Things, he puts Jean Luc Picard through a trio of trials in the past, present and future. It’s a superbly written, acted and directed finale and possibly one of the best final episodes of a long-running TV show of all time! The last scene with Picard finally joining his crew at the poker table is truly logical! Make it so – Number One!
Produced by: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, John Krasinski
Written by: John Krasinski
Based on characters created by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck
Cast: Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou and John Krasinski
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cinematography: Polly Morgan
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Ah, the difficult second album. Well, how do you follow up a genuine classic horror thriller such as A Quiet Place (2018)? I mean, it had everything, including a simple but devastating premise and an imaginative set of rules for the monstrous dangers facing the Abbott family. With hardly any fanfare or major marketing campaign the original film really got audiences flexing their “word-of-mouth” muscles. Throughout A Quiet Place (2018)my heart was literally living in my mouth, as my fingers and knuckles clenched and whitened during the whole tense escapade. Plus, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski’s “every-couple” and their three children brought a believable humanity to the characters, with Blunt especially on phenomenal form in her reaction and character work.
The sequel opens with a prequel sequence which illuminates how the world descended into chaos. Sadly, and not surprisingly, we only get a short time with John Krasinski’s action-dad, Lee Abbott, before he dives back behind the camera to direct this rattlingly good and highly tense horror/sci-fi mash-up. Thus, the weight of part two is left with Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and the less effective, Noah Jupe character. Once again, the trio, plus baby, rely on dead silence in an attempt to remain uneaten by the blind-but-deadly alien creatures hellbent on making Earth’s inhabitants lunch. Along the way they bump into an apparent loner, Emmett, portrayed by Cillian Murphy. His jaded, shell of a man, hides a tragic secret and the last thing he wants is other people around to attract more devourers.
The story develops as the relationship between the Abbott’s and Emmett, while initially distrusting, becomes less hostile. However, he still wants them gone, much to Emily Blunt’s frustration. After all, any good mother wants to protect her children, as evacuating the factory setting could mean certain death. I have to admit I felt Emily Blunt’s major acting talents were not as well utilised as the first film. Indeed, it was Simmonds’ character, Regan, who had more development and heroic moments. It is Regan who is determined to discover a way out from the dark recesses of the filthy basement and clanking pipes. She may be foolhardy to some, but Regan has guts and makes important life-changing decisions for her family. Simmonds is compelling as she gives another mature performance in the role.
Overall, A Quiet Place – Part 2 (2021) is not as much as a surprise as the original film. How could it be?! I mean we now know what defeats the monsters, yet that doesn’t stop them being fierce predators and foes. Moreover, the use of sound design that was so brilliant in the first film is presented equally superbly in the sequel. While the film lacks for a decent plotline, as anyone who has their fill of zombie apocalypse films could testify, there remains some incredibly exciting chases and well directed set-pieces. Krasinski clearly had the Spielberg playbook to hand and that is certainly not a criticism, because I think he is definitely a talent to keeps tabs on. Thus, as my first film back at the cinema after yet another lockdown, I can definitely recommend A Quiet Place – Part 2 (2021), to take one’s mind off the horrors of real life for ninety-odd pulsating minutes.
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #10 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION (1991 – 1992) – SEASON 5
Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry
Season 5 writers (selected): Michael Piller, Michael Wagner, Rick Berman, Jeri Taylor, Lee Sheldon, Melinda Snodgrass, Richard Manning, Ronald D. Moore, David Bischoff, Joe Menosky, Drew Deighan, Brannon Braga, J. Larry Carroll, Hilary J. Bader, Harold Apter, Stuart Charno, Sara Charno, Maurice Hurley, Susan Sackett, Sara Charno, Stuart Charno, Randee Russell, Peter Allan Fields, Rene Echevarria etc.
Season 5 directors (selected): Jonathan Frakes, Winrich Kolbe, Corey Allen, Robert Weimer, Les Landau, Robert Scheerer, Cliff Bole, Paul Lynch, Chip Chalmers, Timothy Bond, David Carson, Gabrielle Beaumont, Patrick Stewart, David Livingston, Marvin V. Rush, Chip Chalmers, Peter Lauritson, Robert Lederman, Paul Lynch, etc.
Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Gates McFadden, Michelle Forbes, Majel Barrett, Rosalind Chao, plus guests: Matt Frewer, Ashley Judd, Kelsey Grammer and Famke Janssen etc.
Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway
Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television
**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****
I have just finished boldly watching Season 5 of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and it was an extremely excellent raft of science fiction television episodes. I have to say though that TWENTY-SIX episodes was a hell of a lot of TV to produce. I know they had big budgets and an army of staff working on the show, but to produce such high quality viewing, albeit within the established formula, is overall incredibly impressive.
Season 5 was up there in consistency of quality writing, acting and directing with the superlative Seasons 3 and 4. Once again the creatives and storyline team explored issues of the day (i.e. 1990s) and married them to the STAR TREK values and philosophies. Of course, we get the usual alien enemies, such as the Romulans and Ferengi, paying a visit to the Enterprise. Yet, we also found new foes, obstacles and allies encountering the Enterprise. Lastly, the formidable Michelle Forbes as the Bajoran, Ensign Roe, was a welcome addition to the crew.
Sadly, Gene Roddenberry passed away during this particular season’s making. This would cause create sadness in the STAR TREK universe, but the production was, by now in very safe hands, as they paid fine tribute to their creator during Season 5. Here are SIX of the best episodes well worth visiting or revisiting. Live long and prosper.
REDEMPTION – PART II – EPISODE 1
The concluding part to the prior season’s cliffhanger found Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) continuing to fight for honour alongside his brother, Kurn (Tony Todd), against the Duras hordes. There are many moments of high tension throughout the episode with Dorn impressing again as the divided, but ultimately united and redeemed Klingon. Overall, the episode is full of memorable plot turns and fantastic Romulan and Klingon villains, notably Lursa and B’Etor.
UNIFICATION – PARTS I & II – EPISODES 7 & 8
Chosen more for nostalgia as opposed to stellar storytelling, UNIFICATION is a two-parter which sees the return of a famous Trek character, namely Spock (Leonard Nimoy). We also get Mark Lenard’s final appearance as Spock’s father, Sarek, as he and Picard (Patrick Stewart) share a thoroughly moving final scene together. The story finds Spock attempting to repair years of conflict between Vulcans and Romulans, however, Starfleet believe he has defected. Thus, Picard and crew attempt another search for Spock. The narrative pace is steady, nonetheless it is great to see Nimoy don the ears and ultra-logic for a further outing as Spock.
CONUNDRUM – EPISODE 14
While STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION had more than its fair share of emotionally powerful episodes, sometimes a fast-paced and twisting plot with a bit of space espionage was more than welcomed. In CONUNDRUM, the Enterprise crew have their memory wiped by an unknown force dedicated to destroying an alien race. The audience finds suspense and dramatic irony in knowing the crew’s minds have been tampered with as they race against time to prevent war. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Ensign Ro’s (Michelle Forbes) simmering sexual tension adds romance and humour to a packed storyline.
CAUSE AND EFFECT – EPISODE 18
Easily one of my favourite TNG episodes of this and many a season. This is because it features a fantastic temporal-causality loop plot and extremely high stakes where the Enterprise is concerned. Here the crew are trapped in a perpetual time cycle where the end of it results in the destruction of the Enterprise. Essentially GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) in space (even though this episode came before that classic film), it truly fizzes along with a brilliant script and powerful drama. Kelsey Grammer also guests, adding to the overall quality on display.
I, BORG – EPISODE 23
Could an evil machine ever be humanized? That is just one of the fascinating questions posed in this thoughtful and provocative episode? While they owe much to the Cybermen, the Borg remain a powerful weapon in the STAR TREK storytelling arsenal. The only problem is they are virtually invincible, so tough to write stories for. Rather cleverly in I, BORG, the episodes isolates a single unit and Picard, Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) and La Forge (LeVar Burton) especially, confront their hatred and desire for revenge. As the Borg unit, or Hugh (an excellent Jonathan Del Arco) as he becomes known, spends time on the Enterprise he positively changes. This provides much to consider for the crew with their emotions shifting toward Hugh/the Borg.
THE INNER LIGHT – EPISODE 25
Not only is this one of the best episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, but it is also one of the best episodes of STAR TREK ever. The story is precipitated by an unknown probe which scans the Enterprise and directs an energy beam at Picard, who wakes up to find himself on Kataan, a non-Federation planet. Here Picard attempts to escape his existence as Kamin, but over time he grows into this strange new life. What begins as a simple body swap plot, unfurls into something all the more emotionally grander. We know Patrick Stewart is a fine actor, but he imbues Picard/Kamin with a gravitas of enormous propensity. I also loved how Picard, the Captain, is humbled by a more domestic life full with life and love. Lastly, Jay Chattaway’s score is absolutely beautiful.
Executive producers: Alex Garland, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin, Garrett Basch
Cast: Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Offerman, Jin Ha, Zach Grenier, Alison Pill, Stephen McKinlay Henderson, Cailee Spaeny, Karl Glusman, Jefferson Hall, Liz Carr, Janet Mock, Aimee Mullins, Linnea Berthelsen etc.
Cinematography: Rob Hardy
Composers: Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow, The Insects
Distribution / Screening Platform: FX / Hulu / BBC
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
“I read more about science than anything else, and it started with two things. One was getting my head around this principle of determinism, which basically says that everything that happens in the world is based on cause and effect. . . One is that it takes away free will, but the other is that if you are at a computer powerful enough, you could use determinism to predict the future and understand the past.”Alex Garland – Creator of Devs
Alex Garland has an impressive literary, cinema and now televisual curriculum vitae. He gained acclaim as the writer of the novel, The Beach, before moving onto screenwriting duties with fine films such as: 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), Never Let Me Go (2010), and Dredd (2012). He made his directorial debut with Ex Machina (2014), which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. His second film,Annihilation (2018), garnered further acclaim, so much so, FX bypassed a pilot and went straight to series for his latest science fiction narrative, Devs (2020).
While I am a massive fan of Garland’s work, I wasn’t too enamoured of Annihilation (2018). I found it brilliantly made with some fantastic concepts and incredible moments, yet overall it was too slowly paced. With the eight superlative episodes of Devs (2020), Garland has kept the meditative pace of Annihilation (2018), but also delivered a story which really connected with me this time. With Devs (2020) he has successfully merged a compelling technological espionage plot to an intelligent exploration of philosophical thought and behaviour. Moreover, Garland presents a complex group of themes and characters relating to Silicon Valley tech firms and how their work could control individuals, companies, governments, society as a whole, and actual time itself.
Set now in San Francisco, the narrative opens with two employees of the Amaya Corporation, Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno) and Sergei Pavlov (Karl Glusman), attending work. Sergei has a big presentation to pitch to Amaya CEO, Forest (Nick Offerman) and chief designer, Katie (Alison Pill). It goes well and Sergei is invited to work on the mysterious DEVS project. At DEVS he finds wondrous halo-style lighting in the woods and an incredibly expensive set of buildings, capsules, platforms, workstations and screens. Dominating the landscape also is a gigantic model of a young girl (Forest’s daughter, Amaya) who looms over the company and the San Franciscan horizon. These spectacular props, sets and locations are complimented by impressive cinematography from Rob Hardy throughout the eight episodes.
Sergei’s tenure at DEVS does not last long though as he goes missing. Lily, who was in a loving relationship with Sergei, is distraught and, with the help of ex-CIA head of security, Kenton (Zach Grenier), attempts to locate him. When Sergei turns up dead from an apparent suicide, Lily is convinced there is a conspiracy occurring in the Amaya company so begins a dangerous investigation. Even more intriguing, however, is the work that is occurring at DEVS itself. Led by Forest’s desire to “resurrect” his deceased daughter, this complex computer programme can somehow view events from the past, recreated via particle-driven software and projected on huge screens. Using this application the developers and programmers are attempting to determine the future from what has occurred in the past. If they can determine the future they may be able to control it. Mind blown yet? Safe to say, Lily’s investigation into Sergei’s death and the DEVS system become inextricably linked as the drama unfolds. As such, the drama works well as a conspiracy thriller as well as thoughtful sci-fi as Garland punctuates the brooding pace with some crushing stunts and brutal murder set-pieces.
I’ll be honest, the technological side of Devs (2020) was outside my knowledge repertoire as I do not comprehend coding or programming jargon. Nonetheless, I did understand what was occurring in the narrative as it was presented in a clear and digestible fashion. Unlike say the most recent seasons of HBO’s Westworld, which tied itself in knots with looping and over-lapping timelines, Alex Garland’s deft script, excellent direction and fantastic cast make Devs‘ (2020) complex science and tech theories comprehensible throughout. While Garland is dealing with theories relating to free will and deterministic cause and effect, the elegant structure, both linear and with flashbacks, builds a gripping narrative which maintains emotional impact for the characters and the choices they must make. Indeed, Lily Chan is a very empathetic leading protagonist and Sonoya Mizuno gives a compellingly magnetic acting portrayal. It was also fascinating to see Nick Offerman outside of his Parks and Recreation ‘Ron Swanson’ persona playing a highly driven and grieving father. Thus, to conclude, if you enjoy clever, meditative and Kubrickian style television in the science-fiction genre, then you should definitely use your free will and be determined to watch Devs (2020).
Screenplay by: Lewis John Carlino – based on the novel, Seconds, by David Ely
Cast: Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph, Richard Anderson, Will Geer, Karl Swenson, Jeff Corey etc.
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
So, I continue my articles on films which have perhaps fallen off the radar and deserve more recognition. The rules are simple. An under-rated classic can be a film I love, plus satisfy the following criteria:
Must not have won an Oscar.
Must not have won a BAFTA.
Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.
Seconds (1966) is a science fiction drama which is very much of its time, but also truly relevant today. It deals with identity and lifestyle transplants. The film explores notions of escaping one’s everyday existence and living out one’s dreams through plastic surgery and scientific procedure. However, it also contains an important message, that whatever physical, social and personal changes you make there are no guarantees your life will be better. Perhaps, it is best to accept what you have and work with what nature gave you. Make positive changes to your mind and body, but know that there is no such thing as a quick fix.
The character of Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) certainly finds this out to his cost in the narrative of Seconds (1966). His life is reasonably good, but he is dissatisfied with his job, and love for his wife has dissipated. He discovers an outfit called ‘The Company’ can, at a price, exchange his body and life, allowing him to be reborn a new man. After the procedure that man happens to be called Tony Wilson, who has the movie star looks of Rock Hudson. Hamilton/Wilson settles into a creative and hedonistic life by the beach. Yet, the sand is always softer on the other side. Soon, holes begin to show in Hamilton/Wilson’s new life.
Seconds (1966), is a psychologically eerie body-swap-sci-fi-horror film. It’s shot in crisp black and white by influential cinematographer, James Wong Howe, and contains some psychedelic visuals, weird angles, mirrored images, fish-eye lens shots, and images of actual rhinoplasty during the transformation sequence. Brilliantly directed by John Frankenheimer, it is also thematically very powerful. Aside from the dystopic warnings about plastic surgery, it also explores the nature of cults and closed communities. Rock Hudson gives a career best performance as Tony Wilson. His desperate and paranoiac scramblings in the second half of the film are painfully stressful as the character realises he has not only lost his identity, but possibly also his mind. Overall, it’s important to reiterate that organic change in itself is a positive thing, however, as Seconds (1966) demonstrates, there are no shortcuts to happiness or success.
REVIEWS OF THE BOYS (2019), THE EXPANSE (2016) & PREACHER (2016)
So, we are now a few weeks into the lockdown scenario caused by the COVID-19 virus and I have been off work for around that amount of time too. Tragically people are dying, and we owe it to be responsible by continuing to follow the rules laid down that will prevent the spread of the infection. It’s tough for everyone including families, employees and businesses. The capitalist system has taken a massive hit, and some will not survive in terms of life and work. I am not a religious person, but I pray to everyone’s God, whoever that may be, society comes through this. We are digging tunnels, looking for light and an escape. It cannot come soon enough.
In terms of escape it has never been easier to find both the time and formats with which to fill the gap. Thankfully the internet is still up and running, thus I have been filling my time in — aside from some minor administrative work-from-home stuff — writing my film reviews, editing and posting short videos, exercising and watching quite a lot of television and film content. Anything to stop me from becoming a beer monster or functioning alcoholic – AGAIN! The latest focussed viewing has been of Amazon Prime, and the many boxsets they have. So, here are mini reviews of three shows I have seen recently. All with the usual marks out of eleven.
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
THE BOYS (2019) – SEASON 1 – PRIME VIDEO
Based on the comic book series created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, this violent superhero comedy is the complete antithesis of the Marvel Universe. Taking savage satirical swipes at huge corporations and United States foreign policy, it features a group of vigilantes, led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) called ‘The Boys.’ For a variety of reasons, including good old-fashioned revenge, they have targeted the most powerful business in the world, Vought International. Vought control and monetize ‘The Seven’, a group of all-powerful superheroes who happen to mostly be narcissistic, unstable and psychotic arseholes.
The initial episodes started slowly for me and I found it difficult to warm to any of the characters. This could simply be superhero fatigue or certain weaknesses in the writing throughout. However, the spikes of tremendous action, vicious humour and spectacular violence kept me on board. Elisabeth Shue and Antony Starr impress as the nefarious villains, while Erin Moriarty shone as the one decent superhero, Starlight. The least said about the shockingly bad English accent Karl Urban delivers the better. I mean his acting is impressive, but mate – come on!!
Mark: 8.5 out of 11
THE EXPANSE (2015) – SEASON 1 – SYFY/AMAZON PRIME
Usually when I see something is on the Syfy channel I baulk slightly. I mean the shows are pretty decent as a rule, but some right old fantasy schlock can get dumped there. So, with a saturated streaming market offering a plethora of U.S. cable shows, sometimes the Syfy channel shows get short shrift. It’s a shame because The Expanse is a really good science-fiction programme which began airing on Syfy, but is now on Amazon Prime. The sci-fi show hangs tonally betweenAlien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and the Philip K. Dick-style “Mars v Terra” stories I have read. Indeed, while it doesn’t contain actual aliens or Dick’s surreal explorations of the psyche, it is, in fact, a fantastically plotted and styled industrial, political and humanistic set of narratives.
Based on James S. A. Corey’s (a pseudonym I believe for two writers), The Expanse(Season 1), is set hundreds of years into the Earth’s future and space has been colonized. But it’s not a utopia. Mars, Earth and an outer-planetary system of space stations called ‘The Belt’ are all conflicted on the brink of civil or galactic war. The multiple narratives follow the likes of the always-excellent, Thomas Jane, as a grizzled cop investigating a missing person and a space freighter gang led by Stephen Strait. The latter’s crew go from episode to episode finding life-threatening situations throughout. It’s a space-rock solid production full of twists, action and conspiracies; retaining a cynical, noir and unglamorous edge which makes me want to watch further seasons.
Mark: 8.5 out of 11
PREACHER (2016) – SEASON 1 – AMC/AMAZON PRIME
Developed by Hollywood players Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, along with Breaking Bad writer, Sam Catlin, this darkly comedic post-modern vision of heaven and hell is based on a comic book by Garth Ennis (that man again) and Steve Dillon. Starring the very reliable Dominic Cooper as hard drinking and former career criminal-turned Preacher, Jesse Custer, we find him losing faith in a small Texan town and a dwindling set of hopeless parishioners. That is until one day he is struck by some twisted divine interpretation. Then, literally, all hell breaks loose as Custer battles his inner demons and the local slaughterhouse baron portrayed with callous joy by Jackie Earle Haley.
Like The Boys, I initially found Preacher a little bit slow in terms of setting up the story and characters. But I think that was deliberate as there are so many crazy concepts relating to religion and the afterlife in here, a balance had to be given to combining the fantastic and more realistic elements. I’m not sure they’re wholly successful, however, Cooper is great, and he is ably supported by the effervescent Ruth Negga as his tough-talking ex-girlfriend, Tulip. Moreover, English actor Joseph Gilgun steals the show as the Irish sidekick with a dark secret. While the narrative moves steadily, with arguably too many secondary characters, the bloody gore levels during the fight scenes are absolutely spectacular. If, like me, you enjoy irreverent bible-black comedy which offends most religions and contains lashings of ultra-violence, then Preacher is definitely one to pray to the lords of television for.