Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: Discovery
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes:  15
  • Discs:  4
  • Network:  CBS (CBS All-Access)
  • Cast:  Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Jason Isaacs, Michelle Yeoh, Shazad Latif, Wilson Cruz, Mary Chieffo, Jayne Brook
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

This review includes some spoilers but seeks to not reveal major plot twists. Read with caution.

I really, really, really liked this newest version of Star Trek. First, it addresses two of the biggest issues I’ve ever had with Star Trek generally, especially Star Trek: The Next Generation – the non-alien appearance of aliens and the constant hitting of the reset button. First, ST always had “aliens” that didn’t look the least bit alien or different. Even Doctor Who, as low as it’s budget was, had aliens that looked more different – not like they had random lumps of plasticine stuck to an actor’s face for no reason. Saru looks alien – his face, his hands, and I don’t know if they digitally lengthened the actor’s legs, the actor is incredibly tall, or the actor wears stilts under his uniform – and I don’t care how they did it – Saru looks like a gazelle which is perfect for his character. They also really developed Saru’s background, while showing how who he is to his core can be an asset both to the rest of the crew and to him personally. And Saru, like the rest of cast, grows throughout the season, something I also really liked.

The second thing I liked about Star Trek: Discovery is that Season 1 is a continuous story. This is a Star Trek novel for television. Finally! It is also one addictive novel. I flew through the DVD set and not just because I had a lot of time on my hands. Most episodes end in a cliffhanger. The series continuously changes, even though it’s only a short fifteen episodes long. The characters also grow and change – this is not a flat character arc show, and it is so much better for it. Also, actions have consequences, and there is no reset button. Finally! This is a modern show in writing and execution and it shows how much better Star Trek can be with a continuing story and characters who change and develop and even die.

The two-part pilot (which is not marked as such on the DVD case, which is a problem) has our main character, a woman named Michael Birnham, serving on a ship called Shenzhou. She is the first officer and her captain is also a woman, Capt. Philippa Georgiou. The Shenzhou arrives at a binary star system – and most of the rest of the two-part pilot is actually irrelevant. What matters is the results. The Federation ends up at war with the Klingons. The Klingons actually have a good point – they believe that the Federation’s “we come in peace” is a lie and that if they join the Federation they will be forced to assimilate – that they will have to give up their own language, their own religion, their own culture. The Klingons believe that as part of the Federation they will be forced to assimilate completely. It is telling that the slogan of their leader is: “Remain Klingon”. They also are not a united empire but 24 Houses who more often than not are at war. The other thing the Klingon leader wants is to unite the warring Houses into a single Empire. Michael talks Capt. Georgiou into attempting to capture the Klingon leader. But instead, both Captain Georgiou and the Klingon leader are killed – making the leader a martyr – something Michael warned against. Since Michael had also attacked Georgiou and tried to get the Shenzhou to shoot first at the Klingons – she’s arrested for mutiny and other charges. Michael pleads guilty to all charges and prepares to spend the rest of her life in a military prison.

Enter Captain Lorca of the USS Discovery – he not only gets Michael out of her jail cell, but he also offers her a position on his ship. The Discovery was originally a science ship but now it’s one of a pair working on an experimental new drive system. Soon after Michael arrives on the Discovery, and while she’s still not sure about Lorca’s offer, the ship receives a distress call. It’s the Discovery‘s sister ship. Michael is on the team that goes to investigate. Everyone on the ship is dead, parts of the ship have been torn apart, and the ship itself wasn’t attacked from the outside but torn apart by a malfunction of the new drive. Michael and Paul Stamets, a scientist working on the new drive, investigate what went wrong. Paul thinks it was the length of the jump (the new drive allows instantaneous travel) but Michael believes it was the lack of an intelligent navigator. It turns out the “creature” they discovered, and that Lorca brought about the Discovery secretly, wasn’t a vicious attacking predator – it’s an over-grown microscopic organism that eats the mushroom spores that power the drive. Lorca and Stamets figure out some equipment they found on the other ship is a harness for it. They use it as a navigator. It works – but tortures the animal, finally nearly killing it. Stamets discovers he can be navigator instead.

In one episode Lorca is captured by the Klingons (remember there’s a war going on) and he shares a cell with Ash Tyler a captured Starfleet officer and Harry Mudd. Lorca and Ash escape. Over the course of the season, Ash and Michael become close. But Ash is also hiding a secret and it goes deeper than hiding his PTSD from being tortured by the Klingons.

The one stand-alone episode of the season is the obligatory time-loop episode featuring Harry Mudd. The episode isn’t bad, it’s actually pretty good for a stand-alone episode. But it seems much weaker than the rest of the season because the arc-plots are put on hold and you could skip it entirely without missing anything.

Returning to the main plot, the Discovery goes to an “uninhabited” planet that turns out to be the sentient planet Mogo from the Green Lantern Corps. OK, not really, but it turns out that there are glowing blue sentient tiny balls of light that flood the planet. Because the planet is inhabited, the crew can’t, per Federation rules, do what they were there to do. Also, these beings create a high frequency “noise” that humans can’t hear but that has a profound, and negative, affect on Saru. The situation is resolved, and it even looks like the Federation has made a great stride towards winning the war against the Klingons.

But in what should be a normal jump to a nearby starbase – the Discovery ends up in the Mirror Universe. This is not the obligatory Mirror Universe episode, though, most of the rest of the season has the Discovery in the Mirror Universe. And not only do characters have to deal with the Fascist Terran Empire or meeting doubles of people they know (including people who died in the first two episodes), but they now need to find a way home. The disastrous jump that caused the Discovery to land in the Mirror Universe has also physically harmed Paul Stamets and he’s in sickbay in a coma. Ash Tyler’s secret and his health become issues, though he starts out accompanying Michael on her missions inside the Terran Empire. And let’s just say this, episode 12 “Vaulting Ambition” has one of the most stunning and shocking plot twists I’ve ever seen in Star Trek. I’m not going to spoil it, because even watching this show about a year after it aired on a streaming service I can’t physically get, I had managed to remain unspoiled and my jaw dropped.

The Discovery does manage to figure out a way to return to the Federation Universe and cripples the Terran Federation in the process (no I won’t say more about that either). While they are figuring out how to do this, and discussing plans, and drawbacks to the various plans, Paul, finally recovered, mentions he can now get the Discovery home, but there might be a displacement in time. I don’t want to discount what happens in the Mirror Universe, it’s a lot, several episodes worth, and it is fantastic, plus we see a lot of character growth, but it is also extremely spoilry and I do not want to ruin it. The Discovery makes it back to the Federation Universe, nine months later. And the Federation is losing the war.

Once back in the Federation Universe, and up to speed, with Admiral Cornwall on board, a new plan is put together to defeat the Klingons – with input from a Klingon prisoner and a prisoner from the Mirror universe. These are not the best people to be asking for advice. In addition, the Federation has suffered great losses – ships, starbases, territory, civilians – Cornwall is desperate. Tilly figures out that the “plan” Cornwall and the Mirror Universe character came up with is different than what they agreed to with the Discovery‘s crew and other Starfleet military leaders – and it is truly horrifying. Michael and Tilly stop the Mirror Universe character and also manage to end the war for good, while their Klingon prisoner becomes the new Klingon leader. (The Klingon, L’Rell had been the second in command for all intents and purposes of the Klingon Empire. But with the leader dead, another Klingon took control who kicked L’Rell out of her place in the rather tenuous Klingon leadership. L’Rell implies this is a reason she wishes to “defect”, something considerably more complicated than it sounds.)

The series ends with Michael giving a very good speech about what it means to be Star Fleet and the importance of the ideals of the Federation, especially at times of war. All the main crew of Discovery is decorated by Starfleet (some posthumously) and it’s noted that Saru is the first Kelpian to receive such an honor. Michael’s record (the mutiny and other charges) is expunged and her dishonorable discharge is reversed and she’s accepted back into Star Fleet officially.

I loved Star Trek: Discovery. It’s more like a page-turning thriller than what one normally expects from Star Trek, but this is the Federation at war, and the Federation at war can be a scary thing. Captain Lorca was a character that as he was introduced I would normally hate, but I found that the way Jason Isaacs played him made him understandable and even likable. He also seems to be the typical maverick Star Trek captain and war covers a lot for some of his questionable actions. There is more to who Lorca is but’s it’s a spoiler. Yet, all the characters in Star Trek Discovery, even bubbly cadet Tilly are not simply well-rounded, but they are characters who grow, who change, they are not the same in the last episode as they were in the first episode we meet them. I really enjoyed seeing a Star Trek series that has a continuing plot and characters who actually change and grow. I loved the fact that Saru looks, acts and talks like he’s alien – but that he isn’t mocked for this. Star Trek: Discovery was already darker than most Star Trek series because: war, and then the show spends most of the back half of the season in the Mirror Universe, but, tellingly even in this situation we see the characters shine and more Star Trek optimism and decency of character. In a situation where the easy path was there and loud voices suggest taking it, the series itself goes the other way, and that is what creates the Federation we know as opposed to the Terran Empire we learn a lot more about. Also, when Paul Stamets mentioned “time displacement,” I thought the Discovery would end-up at the Battle of Binary Stars and the entire season would be re-written. I was extremely impressed the writing staff didn’t take this obvious easy way out and the Discovery turned-up nine months after it had disappeared from the Federation Universe.

I simply loved this series. It may be my favorite Star Trek series ever, and that includes Classic Trek. I liked Michael, she’s not the typical lead character, especially for Star Trek, and she grows just as much if not more than any other character. I highly recommend Season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery and I have no idea what they will do for Season 2. I hope it’s just as good.

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Justice League Gods and Monsters

  • Title:  Justice League Gods and Monsters
  • Director: Sam Liu
  • Date:  2015
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Fantasy, Action, Animation
  • Cast:  Benjamin Bratt, Michael C. Hall, Tamara Taylor, Jason Isaacs, Richard Chamberlain, Penny Johnson Jerald, Carl Lumbly
  • Format:  Widscreen, Color, Animation
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“At least fifty dead in the embassy massacre, and not just dead – dismembered, burnt alive, sucked of their blood, a virtual house of horrors. Granted the victims were part of a terrorist organization… but what about our terrorist organization? What about the Justice League? It’s not like we haven’t been warned.” – Female Newscaster
“What the government has sanctioned is more than a Super-SWAT Team, it’s a weapon of absolute power. We all know where that leads.” – Lex Luthor

“We’re being framed! Someone’s actively trying to frame the Justice League? Who would have the balls?” – Superman

Gods and Monsters is an alternative universe story, DC calls these types of stories – “Elseworlds”, and before that “Imaginary Stories” (to distinguish them from the main continuity) as pointed out on one of the special features that accompany the film. This tale gives us three very different versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The film starts with Superman’s new origin story. In Gods and Monsters Superman’s father isn’t Jor-El but Zod. This is shown in the opening scene where Zod pokes his finger into a genetic device that will develop into a baby in the spaceship that’s sent to Earth. Once the ship lands, he’s rescued by a migrant laborer couple rather than the Kents. This Superman is very different – he’s brash, arrogant, and even rude. He also knows very little about his genetic parents or Krypton, because Luther stole his baby spaceship and everything inside.

In the film’s present, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are on a US-sanctioned mission to destroy a terrorist cell. Steve Trevor is marginally in charge of the mission, but they neither listen to him nor do they wait for Trevor and his troops to arrive before totally trashing the cell and everyone in it. This shows the violence of this alternative Justice League, and their willingness to let the end justify the means.

However, before long, a series of scientists – many who were known as “Luther’s Whiz Kids” are getting killed in horrible ways – and the crime scenes are designed to look like the Justice League is guilty. But since we see the robots committing the crimes from the beginning the audience knows that this Justice League, as twisted as the are, aren’t responsible. Though, like all mysteries – who is responsible isn’t revealed until the end.

While telling the mystery story we also see flashbacks explaining the origins of Batman and Wonder Woman. Batman is Kirk Langstrom, who attended university with Will Magnus, and Tina. Kirk was suffering from some form of cancer or blood disease (it isn’t spelled out exactly what) and is experimenting with bats. He ends up becoming Batman, a vampire.

Wonder Woman isn’t from Paradise Island, but New Genesis. Bekka was to marry the son of Darkseid, Orion, whom she had actually fallen for – despite the fact that the marriage was arranged and she was actually a bride-price to stop an eons-long war between New Genesis and Apokolips. Just after the wedding, however, her Grandfather, known as High Father (Richard Chamberlain), and his troops break up the wedding by killing everyone they can, including Bekka’s very new husband. Angered at both the carnage and the death of her consort, Bekka turns her back on High Father, and New Genesis, and makes her way to Earth via Motherbox (boom tube – basically a type of very long distance teleport).

The rest of the story involves the attacks on the scientists, the Justice League finding out about the attacks – and various people calling for sanctions against the League, including Amanda Waller, who had been their government liaison and handler.

Superman decides to challenge Luther as well (Luther is still his arch enemy) – from Luther he finds out the truth of his origins. However, this Luther, though initially overly cautious (thus his refusal to share the information from Krypton with Superman), is won over by his use of Kryptonian technology to study the universe.

Gods and Monsters is a surprisingly violent story – fifty people are killed in close to the opening scene (after the background scenes on Krypton), the scientists – Victor Fries (now a climatologist), Silas Stone, Ray Palmer, etc. are first killed one by one, but then there’s a bloodbath to kill any scientist who had opposed the Justice League. At times, it seems both Batman and Superman have real blind spots when it comes to protecting themselves when solidly framed. Batman, though a vampire and having a completely different back story, does have good investigation skills – but not good enough to see what’s going on until it’s almost too late. Superman, upon realizing they are being framed is incredulous, as in, “Who dare be dumb enough to frame us?” Still, as in all good mysteries – the League does figure it out and with some surprising help, is exonerated.

The Blu-Ray includes a documentary on DC’s history of Alternative Universe, “imaginary stories, and “Elseworlds” stories, starting with the example of, Gotham by Gaslight. The Blu-Ray also includes a documentary on Jack Kirby, New Genesis and Apokolips. And finally there’s a making-of documentary that’s excellent. Just the comics history and information in the documentaries make the Blu-Ray worth having.

Overall, I enjoyed this film, though it was very dark. Still, it was a good, alternative take on the big three DC Heroes.

Recommendation: See it
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: When Harry Met Sally

Green Lantern Emerald Knights

  • Title: Green Lantern Emerald Knights
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2011
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, SF
  • Cast: Nathan Fillion, Jason Isaacs, Elisabeth Moss, Henry Rollins, Arnold Vosloo
  • Format: Widescreen, Color, Animation
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“He held the first construct, no longer a scribe, now a warrior, the First Lantern.”— Hal Jordan, Narrating

“When you shape the light of your ring, you walk in the footsteps of the First Lantern.”— Hal Jordan, Narrating

Emerald Knights is really six short stories interwoven into an arc-plot. Each of the separate stories are written and directed by different people, though this is part of the DC Animated Universe, so Bruce Timm produces and Andrea Romano is the voice director for the entire thing. The stories are pulled directly from the DC’s Green Lantern Corps comic books. I loved the movie. In many ways, I liked it better than the live-action Green Lantern movie, which was only so-so. This film really showcased the rich history of the Green Lanterns, bringing in several characters and plot lines. And because Hal is telling these tales to Arisia, a new Green Lantern recruit, it’s like he’s explaining the history to the audience. Nathan Fillion does an excellent job of playing an older, more experienced, Hal — who still remembers his younger days and wishes to help a fellow recruit get her feet under her.

The six stories are:

  • The First Lantern
  • Kilowog (based on “New Blood”)
  • Mogo Doesn’t Socialize
  • Abin Sur (based on “Tygers”)
  • Emerald Knights
  • Laira (based on “What Price Honor?”

My favorite in terms of pure story was “The First Lantern”, just because it was so awesome to see how the Lanterns first came to be — and I love how Avro wasn’t willing to give up, and thus figured out how the rings were supposed to be used. I also loved the visual image used to show the first Lantern’s ring being handed down from Lantern to Lantern throughout the centuries, and finally to Abin Sur and from him to Hal. That was awesome!

“Mogo Doesn’t Socialize” was amusing. It’s a great story, and probably would have had more impact if I hadn’t had it spoiled for me.

“Kilowog” gives background and a bit more of a human side to the Lanterns’ drill sergeant by showing us his own drill sergeant. Still, it’s the same old “new recruit is terrorized by the drill sergeant but learns to love the tough love approach” story we’ve seen many times before.

“Abin Sur” is weird because it shows he and Sinestro working together, and also the criminal that Abin Sur arrests and jails makes several predictions, which I’m guessing come true in the GL continuity. Abin Sur, of course, doesn’t believe the predictions, especially of Sinestro, his dear friend, going rogue.

“Laira” is probably the darkest of the stories — but it’s fascinating and highly, highly enjoyable. I really liked that one too.

Finally, “Emerald Knights” is the name of the wrap-around story and the finale. Yes, it’s excellent. The entire film is extremely well done, enjoyable, and I just loved it. I highly, highly recommend this movie.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Batman Under the Red Hood

  • Title:  Batman Under the Red Hood
  • Director: Brandon Vietti
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2010
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Action, Mystery, Animation
  • Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris, Gary Cole, Jason Isaacs
  • Format: Color Animation, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Could you just once say – ‘Let’s get in the car’, Is that so hard?” — Nightwing, as he finds himself talking to thin air

You really think I would stir up so much trouble and not make sure you knew it was me?” — Joker

Under the Red Hood is a major departure from previous WB Animation Batman films. Where those films (Mystery of the Batwoman, Subzero, and Mask of the Phantasm) felt like longer episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, this film is cinematic, full of action, and also tragic. In short it feels like a film. It’s also very grounded in Batman graphic novels published by DC Comics, especially A Death in the Family and Under the Hood (Also collected as Under the Red Hood). And this film is violent. People die. Granted, most are criminals, but still – not for the under 15 set. This is a film for adults, which, again, is more in the same tone as the more adult Batman graphic novels.

The film opens with a scene from the end of my favorite Batman graphic novel, A Death in the Family, Joker beating Jason Todd/Robin nearly to death with a crowbar and then blowing him sky high. Batman arrives, but too late to save Robin. The shot of Batman, standing in the rain, holding Jason’s dead body is nearly as effective as the still in the novel – where Batman is kneeling clutching Jason, and has his head bowed. Jason’s death would haunt Bruce nearly as much as his parents’ death.

DeathofRobin1

The film then moves forward five years. Batman is out on patrol and ends up fighting Amazo (a killer android), Nightwing arrives and the two work together flawlessly. Nightwing (aka Dick Greyson), voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, I really liked. And I actually thought the re-casting worked. I preferred him to Loren Lester who had voiced Dick/Robin/Nightwing in Batman: The Animated Series. But what Batman discovers is that two new players are at work in Gotham:  Black Mask and the Red Hood. Black Mask is a gangster, similar to what we’ve seen before in Gotham City, but grotesquely disfigured with a skeletal black head. Red Hood is both attacking, and killing, criminals in Gotham, and taking a percentage of their take. Batman, at first with Nightwing’s help, goes after Red Hood. Since Red Hood was once upon a time an alias of the Joker, they pursue a lead to Arkham Asylum, checking in on the straight-jacket restrained Joker. But, Joker has been held tight, and even more convincingly, says he wouldn’t keep it a secret if he was causing chaos in Gotham.

After their first confrontation with Red Hood, Batman and Nightwing, now suffering a broken ankle, are in the Cave with Alfred (who’s bandaging said ankle) going through Batman’s video and audio recordings of the fight. Nightwing notes that Red Hood isn’t just some hood or gangster – he’s trained. Batman points out that even the ability to have knives that can cut his lines is unheard of. However, Batman also sends Nightwing away, asking Alfred to bring Dick home. In part, because Bruce still sees a need to protect Dick.

Once Dick is gone, Bruce reviews the audio, and thinks he hears the Red Hood call him “Bruce”. Only a handful of people know that Batman is Bruce Wayne. After another confrontation with the Red Hood, Bruce is able to get a blood sample for analysis. He’s running the sample through the computers in the cave, running a comparison. The results come back just as Alfred walks in. The result: a match between Red Hood and Jason Todd, startles the normally unflappable butler so much he drops the coffee service he’s carrying. But he also, immediately, tries to console Bruce, while trying to figure out what’s happened. Together, they dig up Jason’s grave. Bruce realizes he’s buried a latex dummy. Alfred tries to comfort Bruce, reminds him how distraught he was, but Bruce is angry with himself and insists he should have realized.

Bruce flies off to the middle of nowhere and confronts Ra’s al Ghul. Ghul explains exactly what happened. During a confrontation between himself and Batman five years before, in desperation, he had hired the Joker to provide a distraction. But, he hadn’t counted on the Joker’s madness or savagery. Ra’s, in short, actually felt bad about Jason’s death.  He arranges the switcharoo with the bodies, and takes Jason’s body to a Lazarus pit. But, the resurrected Jason is quite literally, quite mad.

After he’s discovered the truth, Batman heads back to Gotham in his jet. Alfred talks to him over the video link.

“Sir, please take this to heart. Who Jason was before, how we lost him, and this dark miracle or curse that has brought about his return, it is not your fault.” — Alfred

“Then I got him killed. My partner. My soldier. My fault. I own that. I’ll carry that like everything else.” —Batman

The conversation is filled with everything I love about Bruce and Alfred’s relationship, and nearly brought me to tears. Alfred cares so much for Bruce, the man he sees as a son. Bruce, however, can’t really accept that caring in any way. (He has the same problem accepting how Dick feels about him). And Bruce is, oh, so ready to take the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Brilliant writing.

The conversation is cut short, however, by Alfred’s discovery on the news that Joker is causing trouble. Batman needs to rush to the scene. Red Hood shows up where Joker is (who’s taken all of Gotham’s criminals who work for Red Hood hostage) and reveals everything was a plan to get an audience between himself and Joker. Joker scoffs, but is then impressed. Then he’s on the run for his life. (Imagine — someone scarier than Joker chasing the Joker. And in this film, it works.) Red Hood catches the Joker, takes him to a room, and starts to beat the crap out of him with a crowbar — using the exact same taunting words Joker had used five years ago. Formerly confused as who Red Hood was, now Joker gets it, and still manages to insult Jason.

Batman does arrive and tries to stop Jason. In the fight, Jason tears off the cowl, then removes his own red helmet. (He does return the cowl to Bruce) He leads Batman to Joker. Their conversation, again, is heartbreaking. Bruce tries to apologize and tries to make things right, but it doesn’t work. Finally, Jason tells a startled Bruce that he forgave him for dying (that is for Jason’s death). But he doesn’t forgive him for not killing the Joker. Batman tries to explain that he has thought about it, but that’s a dark pit he’d never crawl out of. Jason continues with — “I’m not talking about Penguin, or Scarecrow, or Dent — just him!” But Batman is adamant – he will not kill. So, Jason gives him a choice — kill the Joker or kill Jason (as he puts a gun to Joker’s head). Batman turns, slowly walks away, then after Jason’s fired at him, he ducks the bullet as he turns back and throws a batarang into Jason’s gun, which explodes and so does the room, with charges that Jason has set. Batman isn’t able to get everyone out safely.

This is a dark, violent story. But vintage Batman. Well, new Batman, to be precise. It’s an excellent, excellent movie, dealing with dark themes. The voice actors are good, especially Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing and Jensen Ackles as Jason Todd/Red Hood. I was very disappointed that Kevin Conroy, who was so excellent as Batman, and in many ways is my favorite Batman actor, (Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and old Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond, plus various DCAU movies) is re-cast with Bruce Greenwood. However, Greenwood does do a good job. And oddly enough, Batman, Alfred, and Joker, all sound very much like their counterparts in the Warner Brothers live action movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

But, I also cannot stress enough just how good this film was. It’s cinematic, it’s shot or filmed like a film — with some really great shots (the close-up of Robin’s eye as he realises the Joker’s rigged the place in Sarejevo to explode; Batman holding Jason’s broken body, etc). I also loved how flashbacks were introduced with ghost images that then became solid. The storyline is great, and based in the books (always a plus for any filmed version of Batman). And, Warner’s has gotten away from the “no one can really die” code that makes it’s animated television shows occasionally resemble The A-Team (the original TV series, not the movie).

Recommendation: See it! Buy it! Appropriate for children over 15 and adults.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

  • Title:  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Director:  Mike Newell
  • Date:  2005
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Fantasy
  • Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Robert Hardy, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Tennant
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Dark and difficult times lay ahead, soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.  But remember this – you have friends here, you’re not alone.”  — Professor Dumbledore

With Goblet of Fire, the Harry Potter series take a turn for the darker, and the new director, Mike Newell, doesn’t shoot the film and its environment the way his predecessors did.  Rather than giving us lovely, beautiful shots and placing the characters in them perfectly – Newell concentrates on showing us close-ups of the characters’ faces.  Not as interesting an approach to watch, but, on the other hand, it does add to the emotional feel of the film.

This is the first Harry Potter film to have a very episodic feel to it.  We see a brief, almost prologue, at the Quiddich World Cup, which is broken up by a show of force by the Death Eaters, the first and second Tri-Wizarding Tournament tasks, the Yule Ball, and the final task and Harry’s confrontation with Voldemort. Each episode is well realized and told, but of course details from the book are lost, as they have been for all of the Harry Potter films.

Still, it is a very good movie, and a good adaptation of the novel.  The Wizarding World is again expanded and Harry goes with Ron and his family to the Quiddich World Cup; then at Hogwarts, exchange students from Drumstrang and Madam Beaux Batons Academy come to Hogwarts for the Tri-Wizarding Tournament.  It’s interesting to note that apparently Drumstrang is a boys school and Beaux Batons a girls school.  Only Hogwarts, of the three Wizarding Schools, appears to be co-ed.  A champion is to be chosen from each school, but he or she must be seventeen or older. Yet, not only is Hogwarts represented by Cedric Diggory, but also by Harry.  This causes Harry some problems, as even Ron is jealous and angry.  However, Ron and Harry work out their differences after Ron sees the danger Harry is in during the first task of challenging a dragon.  During the second task, Harry comes in last as he’s determined to rescue all the kidnapped people (Ron, Hermione, Cho, and Fleur’s younger sister).  Cedric and Krum save their “treasures” and Harry rescues Ron and Fleur’s sister.  His bravery and determination, however, earn him extra points for moral fibre, and he ends up in second place behind Cedric.

The third task is a maze, with the Tri-Wizarding Cup hidden somewhere inside.  After spooky challenges, Harry and Cedric take the Cup at the same time.  But it’s a portkey, transporting them to the graveyard where Tom Riddle’s parents are buried.  Cedric is killed.  Wormtail performs an incantation which brings back Voldemort.  Harry and Voldemort duel, but their wands become locked.  Harry escapes, bringing Cedric back and sobbing.

In a sober end-of-year lecture, Dumbledore informs all the Hogwarts students that Cedric was killed by Voldemort, who’s back.

Recommendation:  See It
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Henry V

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

  • Title:  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Director:  Chris Columbus
  • Date:  2002
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children
  • Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Harris, Robert Hardy, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I fashioned a new name, a name I knew wizards everywhere would fear to speak when I became the greatest sorcerer in the world.”  — Tom Riddle
“Albus Dumbledore is the greatest sorcerer in the world.”  — Harry Potter
“Albus Dumbledore’s been driven out of this castle by the mere memory of me.”  — Tom Riddle
“He’ll never be gone, not so long as those that remain are loyal to him.”  — Harry Potter

“It is not our abilities that show us what we truly are – it is our choices.”  — Professor Dumbledore

Chamber of Secrets” previously was my least favorite of the first four Harry Potter films, but upon re-watching it today, I actually enjoyed it very much.  Like, “Sorcerer’s Stone”, also directed by Chris Columbus, this film has a sense of whimsy, and is beautifully shot.  The film begins with Harry looking at the photo album containing pictures of his parents, given to him at the end of the previous film.  However, it also opens up the world that Harry is learning about, the “Wizarding World”, by bringing us to Ron’s home and to the frightening Knockturn Alley  (I love the wordplay in that almost as much as “Diagon Alley”).  However, besides a good mystery (e.g. What is the Chamber of Secrets?  Where is it?  What’s hiddened there and who opened it?) that is better than the one in the first film – there’s more of a sense of danger.  Students are being attacked, including Hermione.  Ron’s own sister is kidnapped – though the book goes into greater detail of how Riddle uses his diary to en-trance Ginny into doing his bidding.

Still, another successful, enjoyable, and fun movie appropriate for all ages.  The young actors playing the students are all quite brilliant; and the established British actors playing the teachers bring gravitas to the film.  Kenneth Branagh appears in this one as Gildroy (as in gilded) Lockheart, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher — and a man who’s all talk and bluster with no skill at all.  I highly recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating:  5
Next Film:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban