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The Ultimates Saga Continues!

May 27th, 2009

Yesterday I wrote about three terrific series that told the story of The Ultimates, Marvel Comics’ reinvention of their super-hero team, the Avengers.  In addition to those three phenomenal series that I discussed (The Ultimates, The Ultimates 2, and the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy), there have been a number of subsequent mini-series that have carried forward the stories of many of the characters from those series.  

Some have been excellent.  Others, not so much.

Let’s take a look!

Ultimate Vision, by Mike Carey & Brandon Peterson — Basically an epilogue to Warren Ellis’ Ultimate Galactus storyline, we follow Sam Wilson and the Vision (two characters that Ellis introduced to the Ultimate universe in his series) as they discover that one Galactus module has survived.  If they don’t destroy it, bad things will happen!  The story is really carried by Brandon Peterson’s magnificently detailed art, which I could look at all day long.

Ultimate Wolverine/Hulk, by Damon Lindeloff and Leinil Francis Yu — The promise of a Wolverine/Hulk battle authored by Lindeloff (one of the masterminds behind Lost) was very tempting, and the first two issues were a lot of fun.  Then the series ceased publication.  Last month, after more than 3 years, the third issue was finally released (with the assurance that the remaining 3 issues will be coming out monthly).  The jury is still out on this one.

Ultimate Power, by Brian Michael Bendis, J. Michael Straczynski, Jeph Loeb, and Greg Lang — This 9 issue crossover started with an intriguing premise: Reed Richards, desperately searching for a cure for his friend Ben Grimm (who was transformed into the Thing in the accident that gave the FF their powers), sends probes into alternate universes.  One of them gets contaminated and apparently winds up wreaking incredible devastation upon the Supreme Power universe (from the series Supreme Power, Straczynski’s reinvention of Marvel’s classic Squadron Supreme characters).  What followed was an extended super-hero slugfest.  Land’s art is beautiful, but the story was extremely choppy.  Instead of Bendis, Straczynski, and Loeb collaborating on all nine issues, each one of them scripted three issues.  I enjoyed the Bendis and Straczynksi issues, but Loeb didn’t stick the landing.  Characters suddenly seemed completely out of character, and in the end it all turned out to be a pretty stupid super-villain plot.  Lame.

Ultimate Iron Man, by Orson Scott Card and a variety of artists — I got very excited when it was announced that famed sci-fi novelist Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game) would be writing the origin story for Tony Stark, but sadly the execution left something to be desired.  Card’s story had a lot … [continued]

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The Ultimates!

May 26th, 2009

Last month I wrote several posts about my favorite graphic novels.  One of the works that I mentioned (saying at the time that a more lengthy review would be coming) was Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates.

In the early 2000’s, Marvel Comics launched their Ultimate line, in which they took several popular, long-running Marvel characters and basically started them over from ground zero.  Spearheaded by some of Marvel’s top talent, the idea was to make the characters fresh and dynamic again, and remove the burden of 30-plus years of back-story and continuity.  The Ultimate line kicked off with Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man.  This was an amazing, extraordinary piece of work, and it deserves a longer article of its own.  Suffice to say, I have never enjoyed a monthly Spider-Man comic as much, and I am still following the series every month.

Today I want to talk to you about Millar and Hitch’s reinvention of Marvel Comics’ premiere super-hero group, the Avengers, in their series The Ultimates that ran from 2002-2004.  (The series is available in two softcover collections or in one gorgeous hardcover.)

This is a magnificent, adult piece of work, and one hopes that it will be used as a template for the coming Avengers feature film.  The story begins at the end of World War II, as we witness the last mission of Captain America.  What might be a short 4-page flashback in another series is a lengthy (taking up almost the entirety of the series’ first issue) tale of gritty combat that sets the series’ tone of brutal intensity and incredible attention to detail.  

Then the story jumps forward to the 21st century.  It’s a brave new world filled with new wonders and new threats, both at home and abroad.  Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD, decides that the only way to protect America is to create a new team of American super-heroes.  Unfortunately, no one has been able to re-create the super soldier serum that turned scrawny Steve Rogers into the super-human Captain America.  But disparate events are about to come to a head that just might give Fury the elements he needs for his super-human task force: Scientist Bruce Banner injects himself with an experimental formula; brilliant industrialist and drunkard Tony Stark creates an extraordinary suit of armor; an anti-corporate hippie who claims to be Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, has begun to amass a legion of followers; and finally, the frozen body of Captain America is discovered, perfectly preserved in the Arctic.

Mark Millar’s writing is very contemporary — the story really runs with the conceit that all these events are happening in our … [continued]

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More Love for Motion Pictures from Around the Net

May 22nd, 2009

Yesterday I mentioned two terrific reviews of the recent Trek coverage and comics here at MotionPicturesComics.com.  I’m also excited to report that we’ve been mentioned on several other fun sites from around the web over the past two weeks:

Star Trek author Keith R.A. DeCandido (whose amazing recent novels and short-stories have been showered with praise by yours truly) was kind enough to mention MotionPicturesComics.com on his blog a few times recently (here and here).  Motion Pictures also got a nice mention on the blog of another talented Star Trek author, William Leisner.  (He liked my review of his recent Star Trek: Myriad Universe story, “A Gutted World.”  Well, I really liked that story!)

Galactica Sitrep is an indispensable site devoted to Battlestar Galactica (should we keep referring to the show as “the new” Battlestar Galactica, seeing as it is now over and done with??), and they were kind enough to post a link to my recent review of the Caprica pilot.

Finally, Motion Pictures also rated a nice (but brief) mention recently on Trekmovie.com, the best source of Trek news on-line these days.  They cover all aspects of the Trek universe (the new film, of course, but also books, comics, fan films, and lots more).  It’s a great site, and one that I check daily.

Let’s hope that word about my little web-site continues to spread…

Have a great long weekend, everyone!… [continued]

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Motion Pictures Around the Net!

May 21st, 2009

MotionPicturesComics.com has been getting a little bit of love from around the net lately!

Jill Rayburn at Roddenberry.com posted a RAVE review of the site and my recent Star Trek comics.  Jill writes a regular blog on that site called Artistic License that is well worth checking out.  In addition to her regular Star Trek coverage (which is thorough — I particularly enjoyed her recent look at Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the new Trek film) she writes about comics, games, DVDs, and all sorts of other fun stuff.

We also got a GREAT write-up over at Axiom’s Edge, a terrific blog about all Sci-fi and fantasy movies, TV shows, etc.  Like this site, they’ve had a lot of Trek-related content up recently.  Lots of fun stuff to be found — like their in-depth coverage of the recent network announcements of their Fall TV schedules, lots of great comics reviews, and a whole heaping helping of fun Trek stuff.  It’s a fantastic site — take a look!


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Not Quite the Best There is at What he Does — Josh Suffers Through X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Hoo boy.

One of my first articles, when I started this blog, was about great franchises that have fallen on hard times.  I was writing about my once-beloved Alien and Predator series, but we can all now safely add the X-Men films to that list.  What in the world has happened to this series??  X-Men and X2 were so spectacular — but after X3 and now the rather verbosely titled X-Men Origins: Wolverine I am sad to report that the series is batting only two for four.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a Fantastic Four caliber catastrophe.  Some talented actors appear on-screen, there’s some exciting action, some familiar X-Men characters pop up (one in particular really surprised me), and we finally get to hear Wolverine say on-screen, “I’m the best there is at what I do.  But what I do best isn’t very nice.”  But the scant enjoyment I felt from those moments was short-lived.   X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a rentlessly dour and joyless affair, one that consistently reveals itself to be a truly B-Grade effort.  What do I mean by that?  Allow me to elaborate:

The film is filled with plot-holes, but more than that, it doesn’t hold together at all as any sort of coherent narrative.  I respect the filmmakers’ ambition in trying to capture a number of different periods in Wolverine’s life, from his birth in the late 1800’s, through his experiences in a variety of wars (captured really well, actually, in an exciting opening credits sequence), through his time with Silver Fox, his involvement in the Weapon X program, and beyond.  But none of the bits and pieces hang together.  Instead of merging together to form an expansive back-story, each jump in time left me with countless unanswered questions: Why would Logan, a Canadian, fight in so many of America’s wars?  Right from the first scene, he is established as a gentler soul than his mean brother Victor — so why would Logan hang around with Victor for so many years?  If Stryker and the team were so upset when Wolverine left them, how and why did the whole group disband soon after?  And why would Victor, of all people, be the one to remain in Stryker’s service?  I could go on.

The film makes a total hash of the X-Men comic continuity.  There was a lot of precedent for this, of course, as the previous three X-Men films also mixed and matched characters and story-lines from different periods of the comics with great abandon.  But there’s a souless “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to this film as it ties a barrage of random Marvel Comics characters (Gambit!  Deadpool!  The Blob!) into Wolverine’s origin — and … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Big dumb summer movie trailer alert!  It’s the new trailer for Transformers 2, filled with lots of robot smashing action, and the new trailer for G.I. Joe, filled with Ninjas and, um, Eiffel Tower smashing action!  Sigh.  Hard to believe these two iconic and beloved cartoons of my youth are both now big-budget blockbuster movies coming out this summer.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were both really awesome?  Isn’t it sort of sad to know that they definitely won’t be?

For a peek at a movie that might actually be good, click here to check out District 9, the new sci-fi flick directed by Neill Blomkamp and executive produced by Peter Jackson (The Lord of The Rings).  Color me intrigued.

Keeping up with the trailers, here‘s a glimpse at the new film from Francis Ford Coppola, Tetro.  I never saw his last film, the critically-demolished Youth Without Youth, but this looks really interesting.  It’s a new film from Francis Ford Coppola!  Of course it looks interesting!

Did you know that Robert Rodriguez is working on a new Predator film??  If it happens, it’ll be called Predators (in a clever nod to James Cameron’s sequel to Alien, entitled Aliens).  Check out the tantalizing details here.  I need to see this movie RIGHT NOW.

So it’s been ten years since The Phantom Menace, huh?  Here’s an interesting look back.  I agree with this fellow’s thoughts about the two Phantom Menace trailers (among the finest trailers ever crafted), but I certainly don’t think anywhere nearly as highly of that dreadful turd of a movie as he does.  (You can read my memories of first seeing Episode I in theatres here, and my thoughts on the movie looking back almost a decade later here.)

Did you not have enough Star Trek content here on the site for the past two weeks?  Then check out this great piece from the Onion A.V. Club: “Space Racism is Bad and 17 Other Not-So-Subtle Lessons Learned From Star Trek.”  If you’ve never seen it before, you MUST scroll down to the clip of William Shatner’s Kirk reading the Preamble to U.S. Constitution in selection #12, from the absurd Trek episode The Omega Glory.  “WE… the… PEOPLE… not written for thekingsorthechiefsortherichorthepowerful but for ALLTHEPEOPLE!”  Classic Shatnerian magnificence. 

Since seeing J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film, I’ve been enjoying reading all the different reactions on-line and in the press.  I always enjoy Alexandra DuPont’s film reviews when they appear (not often enough to suit me) on aintitcoolnews.com, and her take on the new film is well worth your time.  (I remember well … [continued]

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“I definitely did not touch your woo-woo!” — Josh Reviews Choke

Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) is a sex-addict who works at Colonial Dunsboro, an 18th-century re-enactment village.  He’s also a con-man whose routine is to pretend he is choking in a restaurant and then befriend the person who rescues him, ultimately hitting that unsuspecting “hero” up for a handout.  Oh yes, and after reading the diaries of his dying mother, he begins to suspect that he might be a clone of Jesus Christ.  Or, at least, a half-clone.

What a marvelously bizarre movie!!

At this point I’ve become convinced that I will watch Sam Rockwell in anything.  I first noticed him in Galaxy Quest, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind has become one of my favorite movies.  He’s even great is smallish supporting roles, as he was in Frost/Nixon.  The energetic way in which Rockwell embodies Victor gives this film its life.  Adapted from a novel by Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club), the movie could very easily have become a dour, joyless affair.  But Rockwell’s Victor is just so entertaining to watch, even when he is being a total jackass, that he carries the viewer without any complaint through some of the movie’s rougher patches.  

The supporting cast is equally phenomenal.  Brad William Henke (currently wondering what lies in the shadow of the statue on Lost) is hysterical as Victor’s somewhat dim friend Denny.  Anjelica Houston’s performance here reminds me of the similarly mysterious and flawed mother figure that she played in The Darjeeling Limited the year before, but that’s not a criticism.  She’s especially compelling in the flashback scenes, where we see how her particular brand of craziness sent Victor down the road to becoming the screwed-up fellow he is when we meet him.  Gillian Jacobs breathes a lot of heart and soul into her small role as Beth/”Cherry Daquiri.”  She is also, I might add, stunningly beautiful.  Speaking of beautiful, I found myself completely smitten (as is Victor) by Kelly MacDonald (Gosford Park, No Country for Old Men) as Paige Marshall, who Victor meets at the private hospital where his mother is being treated.  I can really believe that she is the individual who can shake Victor out of the terrible rut that his life has become.  

Choke deals quite frankly with sex and a lot of sexual situations.  In some indie movies I find that frankness to be a bit uncomfortable, but here the subject matter is treated with just enough of a touch of humor that I went along quite eagerly for the ride.  There’s a lot of weirdness to be found in Choke, and Victor’s habit of imagining the people he’s interacting with naked is just one small part of this!  … [continued]

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“I got mad love for you, shorty. That’s on the real.” — Josh Reviews The Wackness

May 13th, 2009

I saw this terrific movie on DVD last month, during the same week that I saw the lovely new film Adventureland (read my full review here), and although the settings are extremely different, I was struck by the similarities between the two films.  Both are “period pieces” set a few years back, and both tell coming-of-age stories, set over the course of a particularly transformative summer.

The Wackness takes place in New York City during the summer of 1994.  Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) has just graduated high school and is spending the summer hanging around the city and making money selling pot.  When we first meet him he’s in the office of Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Ben Kingsley), who is Luke’s psychiatrist and also one of his best clients.  At a post-graduation party, Luke reconnects with Dr. Squires’ daughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), one of his class-mates but someone with whom he has had little interaction (because, as Luke puts it later in the film, she is “mad out of [his] league”).  

The hip-hop music and lingo of 1994 are an enormous part of the film, something which writer/director Jonathan Levine has recreated with great care.  I can’t vouch for his accuracy, but the music and the unique, specific “street-talk” really give the film a vibrant pulse and a distinct feel.

Over the course of the summer, Lucas has to grow up in many ways — he is faced with the ups and downs of his first real relationship and his exposure to the failings and imperfections of the adults around him.  Dr. Squires goes through similar emotional turmoil.  He sees in Luke many of the opportunities that he feels he has missed in life, and he has to face up to the sad, empty shell that his marriage (to his wife Kristen, played quietly by Famke Janssen) has become.  That description of a troubled adult and a troubled youth learning from one another and changing for the better sounds terribly cliche (I’ve seen Good Will Hunting and a hundred similar movies, as I’m sure have you), but The Wackness manages to deftly steer clear of predictable developments and movie-happy “I’ve grown and learned a lesson” endings.  It is also surprisingly funny.

Credit goes not only to writer/director Levine but also to his terrific cast.  Josh Peck is quite compelling as Luke Shapiro.  He makes the role his own, bringing life to Luke and embodying him with specific quirks and characteristics that make him a pretty unique movie young-adult lead.  Sir Ben Kingsley, under a terrifically ridiculous mop of hair, is similarly magnificent as the bizarre Dr. Squires.  His friendship with Luke is the beating heart of the film, and the … [continued]

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Death in the Shadow of New Life — Josh reviews J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek!

It’s been a long road.  After walking disgustedly out of the opening weekend screening of the catastrophically terrible Star Trek: Nemesis back in December, 2002, I knew that Trek was at a low point.  It seemed uncertain what, if any, future the franchise had after the release of that bomb and the subsequent cancellation of the last Trek TV show, Enterprise.  Then, about 3 years ago, word came that a new Trek film was in the works.  Gradually news began to leak out, some very exciting, some rather worrying, and I soaked up every tidbit with great anticipation, some nervousness, and extremely high hopes that one day Star Trek could be great again.  A few hours ago, I watched the result of J.J. Abrams and his team’s efforts: the simply-titled Star Trek.

Abrams and his brain-trust — consisting of Damon Lindeloff (one of the top minds behind Lost) and screen-writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman — dared to do what no man has done before: to re-cast the iconic roles of the Original Series characters.  As everyone knows by now, instead of creating new characters and situations and moving the Star Trek universe forward beyond the adventures of Picard-Sisko-Janeway-etc., they decided to go back and tell an Original Series story, with new actors playing younger versions of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and all the other familiar characters.  This was an incredibly risky move.  While similiar “how it all began” prequels such as Batman Begins and Casino Royale worked well, audiences had already become accustomed to seeing lots of different actors take on the roles of Batman and James Bond.  But could someone other than William Shatner play Kirk?  Could someone other than Leonard Nimoy play Spock?

Although sadly this film fails in some powerfully annoying ways (more on that in a few moments), I am happy to report that, in this respect — that is, in regards to the viability of rebooting and recasting Star Trek — the film succeeds magnificently.  Bravo to the choice of talented actors selected to be the new command team of the Enterprise — there is not a weak link in the bunch.  None of the actors resorts to mimicry, and yet they all, somehow, truly manage to embody their characters!

Let’s start with Chris Pine as James Tiberius Kirk.  He’s got the swagger, he’s got the arrogance, and yet he’s able to also convey a tremendous likability.  You can see that this is a man that others will follow.  The film doesn’t shy away from the “lady-killer” aspects of Kirk’s persona, but Pine never crosses the line into camp or, on the other hand, into boorishness.  Rather, there’s terrific fun to had … [continued]

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Star Trek: Myriad Universes

Star Trek fever continues here at MotionPicturesComics.com!  Did you miss my list of the Top Twenty Episodes of Star Trek?  Then check it out!  Previously this week I’ve written about Pocket Books’ excellent two-book Star Trek: Mirror Universe series, as well as their follow-up Mirror Universe collection “Shards and Shadows.”

Based, I presume, on the success of the two-book Mirror Universe series in 2007, this past summer Pocket Books released a similarly formatted two-book collection (each containing three novellas, just like the Mirror Universe volumes) entitled Star Trek: Myriad Universes. While all six Mirror Universe novellas charted the future-history of that one particular parallel universe, Myriad Universes contains six stories that are each set in entirely different alternate universes.  These aren’t return visits to alternate pasts or futures that we saw in any of the Trek TV shows — these are all completely new creations of the authors involved.  As with the Mirror Universe stories, these tales are all fantastic fun.

Volume I: “Infinity’s Prism”

A Less Perfect Union, by William Leisner — In the final episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, as Earth took its first tentative steps towards uniting with the nearby alien races it had once feared and hated (the Vulcans, the Andorians, the Tellarites) to form what would one-day become the United Federation of Planets, a xenophobic hate-group called Terra Prime began gaining influence and followers on Earth.  In this story, we are introduced to a United Earth where the followers of Terra Prime convinced Earth’s government to reject the nascent interstellar alliance and instead expel all aliens from the planet.  Nearly a hundred years later, Captain Christopher Pike, in command of the U.E.S.S. Enterprise, comes across a distress signal from an old Earth vessel that has apparently crash-landed on a distant planet called Talos.  Astute readers will immediately recognize the story of the original Star Trek pilot, The Cage.  Unfortunately, things go a little differently for the United Earth Starship in this reality than they did in our familiar version of the story.  Captain Pike, along with several members of Earth’s government, begins to realize that the time may finally have come for Earth to once again reach out to its neighbors in the galaxy… and the one surviving member of Jonathan Archer’s Enterprise might be the key.  From the brilliant first chapter, which tells a so-familiar yet so-different version of the famous opening scenes of The Cage, right up through the parallel version of the Babel Conference (originally told in the great Classic Trek episode “Journey to Babel”) which forms the bulk of this novella, this is a marvelous story.  It is emotional, intense and, at the same … [continued]

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Continuing Adventures in the Mirror Universe

Yesterday I discussed the two terrific collections of Star Trek: Mirror Universe novellas, “Glass Empires” and “Obsidian Alliances.”  I commented that my only real complaint was that so many of the stories ended on cliffhangers that seemed to beg for further tales to be told.

I still sense that there’s a lot more to the Mirror Universe story that we have yet to see, but for now I have to be content with Pocket Books’ recent follow-up, “Shards and Shadows.”  Rather than a collection of novellas, “Shards and Shadows” contains twelve short stories written by a “who’s-who” of great Trek authors and spanning hundreds of years of Mirror Universe future-history.

Nobunaga, by Dave Stern — Continuing the story begun in the Enterprise two-parter “In a Mirror, Darkly” and the novella Age of the Empress, this story follows the sad final days of Charles “Trip” Tucker.  His body has been broken and his mind scrambled by too many years working in close proximity to the dangerous energies produced by starship warp engines.  But beyond the pain of dying, Trip is tortured by scattered memories of something he can’t quite recall.  Was he involved in a plan by Empress Sato to construct a second ship like the miraculous 23rd century Starship Defiant?  If he was, what happened, and why can’t he remember?  Dave Stern’s story is a great mind-bender of a fractured narrative.  It also hints at what happened to the character re-introduced in the final pages of Age of the Empress, but I am still left wanting to know more about that character’s full story!  Hopefully some-day soon…

Ill Winds, by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore — A story of the Mirror Universe Robert April (commander of the Enterprise before Christopher Pike and James T. Kirk).  April and his crew aboard the I.S.S. Constellation are sent to investigate the rumors of a new super-weapon being constructed by the Klingons, but which crew will prove to be the more ruthless?  A great, brutal ending fits right in with the Mirror Universe.

The Greater Good, by Margaret Wander Bonanno — It’s the tale of how James T. Kirk gains command of the Starship Enterprise, how he meets Marlena Moreau and how he gains possession of the powerful Tantalus Device (a key plot device in the very first Mirror Universe episode, Classic Trek’s “Mirror Mirror”).  It’s one of the most well-written stories in the collection, gripping and fast-paced.  At the same time, it’s a little disappointing in that it all seems a little too, well, easy.  Kirk just happens to find the Tantalus Device?  I’d have hoped for a more epic story about his acquisition of that amazing and mysterious … [continued]

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Star Trek: Mirror Universe

One of the most delightful surprises about the last few years of Pocket Books’ Star Trek novels (about which I have waxed poetic here, here, and here) has been the way the writers and editors have fleshed out the Mirror Universe.

This concept was first introduced in the Classic Trek episode “Mirror Mirror,” written by Jerome Bixby.  A transporter accident throws Kirk, Bones, Scotty, and Uhura into an alternate universe where the beneficent United Federation of Planets has been replaced by a vicious, evil Terran empire populated by darker versions of all the familiar Trek characters.  Year later, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine explored the idea further through a series of episodes (“Crossover,” “Through the Looking Glass,” “Shattered Mirror,” “Resurrection,” and “The Emperor’s New Cloak”) in which we discovered that the Terran Empire had been conquered by an even more brutal alliance of Klingons and Cardassians.  Finally, the two-part Enterprise episode “In a Mirror, Darkly” gave viewers a look at the origins of the dark Terran Empire.

That’s quite a number of Mirror Universe episodes that I just listed, but the Star Trek authors and editors at Pocket Books clearly felt that there was a lot more that could be done to flesh out the Mirror Universe, and thank goodness for that!  The Mirror Universe has played a large role in the recent Deep Space Nine novels, but it was really pushed into the limelight with the two-part series Star Trek: Mirror Universe, each of which contained three novellas by some of Pocket Books’ best Trek authors.

Volume I: Glass Empires

Age of the Empress, by Mike Sussman with Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore — This story picks up moments after the end of Enterprise‘s “In a Mirror, Darkly,” with the newly-crowned Empress Sato in command of the fearsome 23rd century Starship Defiant.  It’s not long, though, before her rule is threatened by enemies from without (a band of rebels with whom T’pol has gotten involved) and within (a coup organized by Sato’s consort, the Andorian Shran).  The tale is just as much of an action-packed romp as the two Enterprise episodes were, although it fails to answer my biggest question that was left hanging by those episodes, which is what happened, ultimately, to the Starship Defiant?

The Sorrows of Empire, by David Mack — The highlight of the series.  Spock’s exposure to “our” universe’s Captain Kirk (in the original Trek Mirror Universe episode) has convinced him that the Terran empire is illogical and must be replaced by a kinder, more just society.  Mack’s tale unfolds over the decades that follow, as we watch Spock’s eminently logical plan unfold, step by step.  In … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

May 4th, 2009

In March, 1977, filmmaker Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown) was arrested and charged with raping a 13 year-old girl at the home of his friend, Jack Nicholson (who was out of town at the time).  Polanski eventually agreed to a plea bargain and pled guilty to one felony count of illegal sex with a 13 yea-old girl.  In early 1978, before a sentence could be imposed, Polanski fled the country, never to return.

The above three sentences about sums up what I knew about this famous case.  (In all honesty, I probably didn’t even know quite that much before watching this film!)  What is most fascinating about the recent documentary by Marina Zenovich, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, is that the issue the film focuses on isn’t the act that Polanski committed, but rather on what happened afterwards.  

What actually occurred at Jack Nicholson’s house isn’t the subject of much debate, apparently.  There is a little bit of a “he said, she said” back-and-forth at the start of the film, as Zenovich compares and contrasts Polanski’s version of the story with that of the girl (Samantha Geimer).  There are a few important details on which they differ.  But Polanski does not deny having sex with the girl, nor does she seem to suggest that he forced himself on her.  The film does not spend a lot of time trying to defend Mr. Polanski’s actions, and rightly so.  Whether the sex was consentual or not, Polanski’s actions in sleeping with a 13 year-old girl were abhorrent.  

No, the focus of the film is on the even more shocking events that transpired after Polanski was arrested.  Ms. Zenovich lays out, in great detail, the ways in which the escalating chaos of the media circus and the publicity-hungry judge assigned to the case waylaid any attempt at justice.  Through a lively mix of fascinating archival footage from a whole host of sources and a wonderful array of insightful new interviews that Ms. Zenovich conducted with almost every single key figure in the case, including Samantha Geimer herself, viewers are walked through the stunningly tortured legal process as the case unfolded.  

The most fascinating elements of the film are the new interviews with Polanski’s lawyer, Douglas Dalton, and the Assistant D.A. who lead the case for the prosecution, Roger Gunson.  Both men come across as remarkably intelligent, honest men, and both are very candid in their interviews.  One might expect a film like this to demonize one side or the other, falling back on easy caricatures such as a depiction of Polanski the sadist defended by his showboating lawyer… or the stiff-laced DA blinded by self-righteousness.  But Zenovich resists any such … [continued]

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The Twenty Greatest Episodes of Star Trek — Part IV!

May 1st, 2009

At last!  The conclusion to my list of the Twenty Greatest Episodes of Star Trek!  Click here for numbers 20-16, here for numbers 15-11, and here for numbers 10-6.

5.  Cause and Effect (ST:TNG season 5, episode 18) — The Enterprise blows up.  Over and over again.  What a great idea for an episode!  This is a classic Next Gen spatial anomaly mystery/mind-bender, as the Enterprise gets caught in a temporal loop in which the ship meets with terrible catastrophe over and over again.  I know some people find this episode to be boring (it basically depicts the same events, five times), but I absolutely adore the way subtle differences start to emerge with each repetition, as the crew slowly realizes what is happening to them and try to come up with some sort of way out.  From the intense opening tease (where the Enterprise is annihilated right in the middle of Picard’s desperate cry for all hands to abandon ship) right up through the end (with Kelsey Grammer — Frasier!! — guest starring as the unfortunate Captain Morgan Bateson), this is one of my very favorite hours of Trek.

4.  The Inner Light (ST:TNG season 5, episode 25) — Captain Picard is struck by a beam from an alien probe and awakens on an alien world.  As months and then years pass, Picard eventually gives up hope of escape or rescue and settles into a life with the friendly people of that planet.  Right away it is made clear to the viewer that all of this is happening only in Picard’s mind (as there are occasional cut-backs to the Enterprise crew, trying to awaken their Captain, in which we can see that only minutes are passing for them while years pass for Picard).  While there is a mystery aspect to the episode as the viewers wonder what exactly is going on, the real focus is on the wonderful, touching story of Picard finding for himself the peaceful family life that his devotion to Starfleet has always prevented him from having.  In the end, Picard comes to realize that the probe contains the records and memories of an alien culture that has long-since been wiped out by a terrible natural disaster.  The people who Picard (and we) have come to love — his friends, his wife, his children, and his grand-children — are all long-since dead.  It is a sad, haunting episode, and one that has colored the character of Picard ever since.  The mournful flute melody that Picard learns, and that plays over the final moments of the episode, is one of my favorite musical motifs of the show, and a not-to-be-overlooked key to this … [continued]