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Sep. 24th, 2017 04:29 pm
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Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

[Rewatched/Blu-ray] "Assimilate this!" The second film based on the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" television series is the absolute best one, and it also ranks among the very best of the entire Star Trek franchise.

After "Star Trek: Generations" demonstrated in 1994 that a "Next Generation" film could succeed at the box office, a sequel was inevitable. Producer Rick Berman once again worked with veteran "Next Generation" writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore (the latter went on to develop the "Battlestar Galactica" reboot) to conceive the story, leaving them to write the actual screenplay.

The two elements they all agreed on was the inclusion of the Borg and time travel. From there, it could have gone disastrously wrong. Berman's idea was to have the Enterprise crew travel back in time to the Renaissance and have sword fights with the Borg in European castles. Thankfully, Braga and Moore realized that could descend into camp, and conceived a better story set on post-apocalyptic Earth in 2063, where the Enterprise crew would have to defeat the Borg in order to ensure humanity's first contact with an extra-terrestrial species would happen, paving the way for the Federation.

The Borg are tailor-made for a big-screen action film, and make no mistake, of all the pre-reboot Trek films, this is the most action-oriented. However, it's not empty spectacle. What drives the film is Captain Jean-Luc Picard's earlier experience of being assimilated by the Borg, and his obsessive, Ahab-esque (the best Trek films always seem to have literary allusions) behavior when he confronts them again here. The story also expands the portrayal of the Borg Collective to include a Borg Queen (reportedly at the behest of a studio executive), while also filling in more of the history of the fictional Star Trek universe. The humanism and optimism of creator Gene Roddenberry is part of the film's DNA.

A major character in 2063 is Zefram Cochrane, the creator of the first warp drive and instigator of first contact. Far from being the saint remembered in the history the Enterprise crew knows from 300 years in the future, he's an alcoholic who created the warp drive to get rich, but by the end of the film, it's clear he's on his way to becoming more of the man remembered in history. However, his portrayal seemingly contradicts his previous appearance on "Star Trek: The Original Series" in the 1967 episode "Metamorphosis" (played by a different actor), but explanations have been theorized that can square that without much difficulty. What matters is Cochrane is changed by stepping into a larger universe than he can imagine, and his acts usher humanity into a better future. The film concludes with first contact, and it's a magical scene.

With a screenplay calling for an action film approach, Paramount Pictures approached both Ridley Scott and John McTiernan ("Die Hard") to direct, but neither was interested. "Next Generation" cast member Jonathan Frakes had directed multiple episodes of the television series, so he was eventually hired to make his debut as a feature film director. To adjust to the demands of making an action film and shooting in the Panavision format, rather than the old square aspect ratio of television, Frakes studied films by Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and Ridley Scott. It paid off. Frakes delivers a muscular action film without abstaining from character-based drama, and balances the serious elements with sheer entertainment and bits of comic relief. It's for this reason I put Frakes in the same category as Nicholas Meyer ("Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan", "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered County") and Leonard Nimoy ("Star Trek III: The Search for Spock", "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home") as the Holy Trinity of Star Trek directors.

One of the best sequences comes early in the film, as a massive contingent of Starfleet vessels, including the USS Defiant from the "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" television series, takes on a Borg cube attacking Earth, with the Enterprise suddenly joining the fray. The visual effects, largely by Industrial Light & Magic, are superb. ILM had some fun by including the Millennium Falcon in the attack on the Borg cube.

Cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti ("Poltergeist", "Strange Days") provides a lot of dramatic lighting aboard the Enterprise, particularly once the Borg take it over. After the Enterprise-D was destroyed at the end of the previous film, veteran Trek production designer Herman Zimmerman got to design the new Enterprise-E, and it's a beauty, surpassing its immediate predecessor (although the refit Enterprise and later the Enterprise-A in the six original cast films remains the absolute best ship in the franchise).

The film also marks the return of composer Jerry Goldsmith ("Star Trek: The Motion Picture", "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier"), and Goldsmith brings back the main theme first composed for "The Motion Picture" and later reused for the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" television series, easily the best theme ever composed for the franchise. Goldsmith also repurposes his Klingon theme from "The Motion Picture" as Worf's personal theme. With only three weeks to compose the score, Goldsmith enlisted his son Joel (who later did the music for the "Stargate" television franchise) to compose additional music. The fanfare Alexander Courage composed for "Star Trek: The Original Series" in the 1960s also plays a role, and Courage also worked on this film as an orchestrator for the Goldsmiths. Roy Orbison's "Ooby Dooby" and Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" are also put to good use.

One of the big strengths of the film is Patrick Stewart's performance as Picard. Stewart is one of those actors who's always in excellent form, and this film is no exception, but he absolutely takes over the entire film when he briefly goes off the rails in his obsession to fight the Borg. Splendid acting, and had it not been a genre film, he might have received some awards consideration. Brent Spiner also gets some scenes to shine once again as the android Commander Data, still with his emotion chip, and briefly tempted by the Borg Queen. Frakes is his usual dependable self as Commander Riker, but with fewer scenes, perhaps to allow him to focus more on directing.

Frakes gets good performances out of his cast, including LeVar Burton as La Forge (who has eye implants instead of his familiar visor), Michael Dorn as Worf (by this time, a regular on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine", but given a logical reason for his appearance here), Marina Sirtis as Counselor Troi, Gates McFadden as Dr. Crusher, James Cromwell as Cochrane (another really good and frequently hilarious performance, but the role was originally offered to Tom Hanks, whose schedule simply wouldn't allow him to take the part), Alfre Woodard as Lily, Alice Krige as the Borg Queen (a delicious, strangely erotic performance), Neal McDonough as Lt. Hawk, Michael Horton as Lt. Daniels, Dwight Schultz as Lt. Barclay, Patti Yasutake as Nurse Ogawa, and Cully Fredricksen as the Vulcan commander, plus cameos from Robert Picardo as the Emergency Medical Hologram (a role he originated on the "Star Trek: Voyager" tv series) and Ethan Phillips (Neelix on "Voyager") as a holodeck maitre d'.

"Star Trek: First Contact" is one of the best films the franchise has to offer, certainly the best "Next Generation" film. A for effort and achievement.

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Sep. 23rd, 2017 05:37 pm
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Star Trek: Generations (1994)

[Rewatched/Blu-ray] "They say time is the fire in which we burn." The first feature film derived from the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" television series is entertaining albeit uneven at times, but overall a satisfying entry in the franchise.

After "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" provided a fitting swan song for the cast of "Star Trek: The Original Series" and with "Star Trek: The Next Generation" coming to an end on television after seven seasons, the logical step was to make a "Next Generation" feature film. Producer Rick Berman conceived the story with two of the show's staff writers, Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, who then wrote the actual screenplay.

The film's largest weakness is that it too often feels like an expanded episode of the television series, only with a larger budget for spectacle, but not necessarily a more ambitious story. It's also never quite clear where its focus is. Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Captain James T. Kirk teaming up? Data and his emotion chip? Picard's emotional journey following the death of his brother and nephew? Who was the focal antagonist, Dr. Soran or the Klingons? At times, it's like ideas for separate episodes of the television series were blended into a single film. There's a lot going on, so many of the Enterprise-D's crew are more background characters here. In some cases, the lines and scenes given to them could have been given to generic characters without really changing the story.

That said, the story itself is largely satisfying, particularly the emotional journeys of Picard and Data. Although I still think "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" is the better conclusion for Kirk, it's undeniable that it's a lot of fun to see Kirk team up with Picard to save the day, but Kirk's death needed to have more impact. As originally written and filmed, Kirk wasn't given a particularly heroic death, and after negative reactions at test screenings, they reshot the ending to improve it, but for such an iconic character, it still seems insufficient.

The opening scenes with Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov aboard the Enterprise-B are fun. After deciding against having the entire original cast in a cameo, Berman and the writers considered just Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, but Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley weren't interested (they even tried to lure Nimoy back by offering him the director's chair, but he felt the script had problems, and so he passed on the offer), so it became Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov instead. Originally, the generations idea was to be more thematic with Whoopi Goldberg's Guinan being the link between the two centuries, but it made so much sense to have Picard and Kirk meet.

After Nimoy turned down the director's chair, Berman turned to veteran television director David Carson (who had worked on "Star Trek: The Next Generation"), making his feature film debut. Carson's direction is solid all around, both in terms of performances and visuals. Carson hired noted cinematographer John A. Alonzo ("Chinatown", "Scarface"), and it's an extremely well lit production, with the ship interiors appearing much more dramatic than in the tv series. Production designer Herman Zimmerman (a veteran of "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier", "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country", and "Star Trek: The Next Generation") returns, making some changes to the Enterprise-D sets that he'd wanted to do but a television budget didn't allow. No radical changes, but the modified bridge set is more detailed and realistic.

Industrial Light & Magic handled the bulk of the visual effects, which are of their usual quality. The most impressive sequence is the crash of the Enterprise-D, which required a 40-foot-by-80-foot set and a 12-foot model of the Enterprise's saucer.

The music is provided by Dennis McCarthy, a veteran of the "Next Generation" tv series. With the exception of brief snippets of Alexander Courage's fanfare from the 1960s tv series, it's almost entirely new music. It's an effective score for sure, but somehow it feels lacking without Jerry Goldsmith's theme leading the way (Goldsmith returned for the subsequent "Next Generation" films).

The stars of the film are Patrick Stewart as Picard, William Shatner as Kirk (although he has limited screen time), and Brent Spiner as Data. Stewart is constitutionally incapable of a bad performance, and he skillfully guides his character through a family trauma that shapes much of his storyline. Shatner's last hurrah as Kirk sees him in good form, and he works well with Stewart. Spiner's Data is a joy to watch as he experiences emotions for the first time, and provides the film's comic relief.

The good cast includes Jonathan Frakes as Riker, LeVar Burton as La Forge, Michael Dorn as Worf, Gates McFadden as Dr. Crusher, Marina Sirtis as Counselor Troi (one of my favorite scenes is when the Enterprise is under attack and Troi takes over the helm, a good reminder that she's more than just a counselor), Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan, James Doohan as Scotty, Walter Koenig as Chekov, Alan Ruck as Captain Harriman (although it still doesn't make sense how such an inexperienced commander was given the Enterprise-B), Jacqueline Kim as Ensign Demora Sulu (daughter of the more-well known Sulu character), Thomas Dekker as one of Picard's children in the Nexus, and Barbara March and Gwynyth Walsh as Klingons Lursa and B'Etor.

Malcolm McDowell is the villainous Soran, but there really isn't much for him to work with and he seems largely wasted in the role, although he does have some good scenes with fellow Brit Stewart. One senses that McDowell took the role for money more than anything else, and years later, he rubbished the franchise and his co-stars Stewart and Shatner. He compared watching Stewart's acting to watching paint dry. One wonders if McDowell was so brilliant as Alex in "A Clockwork Orange" because playing an unpleasant person isn't a stretch for him.

"Star Trek: Generations" sets the "Next Generation" films off on a positive course.

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Sep. 23rd, 2017 04:23 pm
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My paternal great-grandaunt Margaret Mary Catherine McNally (née Dee) was born 23 Sep 1879 in Ferguson's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada to Irish Canadian fisherman/stonecutter/dockworker Michael Dee III and Swiss/Irish Canadian Ann Dee (née Hilchey), baptized Nov 1879 at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Herring Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada, moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada with her family circa 1883, married Irish Canadian machinist Joseph Patrick McNally 7 Jun 1905 at St. Mary's Cathedral in Halifax, had 5 children with him, moved to Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada with her family circa 1907, widowed in 1939, died of a heart attack 26 Nov 1947 in Truro at the age of 68, and buried at Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Truro. Religion: Catholic.

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Sep. 20th, 2017 04:34 pm
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My paternal grandaunt Frances A. "Fran" Libardi (née Gruber) was born 20 Sep 1924 in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York to cook Isidor Gruber and ex-dressmaker Dora Gruber (née Schreiber) who were Jewish immigrants from what are now Ukraine and Poland respectively, married US Navy veteran of World War II Joseph Albert Libardi 24 May 1947 in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, had 2 sons with him, widowed in 1994, and died 24 Feb 2017 in Oak Park, Ventura County, California at the age of 92. Religion: raised Jewish, but converted to Catholic upon marriage.

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Sep. 20th, 2017 04:19 pm
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Wonder Woman (2017)

[Blu-ray] "I fight and I give for the world I know can be." It took 76 years for Wonder Woman to make her feature film debut, and it was well worth the wait, as the film is pretty much perfect and has raised the bar for what a superhero film can and should be.

It's an origin film that begins with Wonder Woman's youth on Themyscira as Princess Diana, then takes us though her first meeting with Steve Trevor and her going out into Man's World during World War One to confront Ares, the God of War. Created by psychologist William Moulton Marston for DC Comics in 1941 as a character who could triumph over evil through love, Wonder Woman quickly became an iconic comic book character. With the exception of 1970s television, the character has been absent from live action productions. There have been previous attempts to bring her to the big screen, but none of them went anywhere.

This film's story was conceived by producer Zack Snyder (director of "Man of Steel" and "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice") along with Jason Fuchs ("Ice Age: Continental Drift", "Pan") and comic book writer/tv writer Allan Heinberg (who previously wrote a pilot script for a proposed Wonder Woman tv series that didn't go anywhere), with a screenplay by Heinberg, director Patty Jenkins ("Monster"), and comic book writer/DC Comics president Geoff Johns. The writers understand the character and what makes her who she is, and their work here gives her a powerful introduction on the big screen. It's a smart, thoroughly engaging, at times moving, story, that captures the spirit of the character, well, wondrously.

In her first feature film since 2003's "Monster" (which won the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature), Jenkins delivers a superhero masterpiece and demonstrates that a woman-directed film about a superheroic woman can succeed. As a director, she delivers exciting, well-staged action scenes without overwhelming the characters or the story's emotional core, while she guides her cast through exploring that core. So many films these days pummel the audience with empty spectacle, but "Wonder Woman" serves up a meaningful story to surround the action. As the third film in the DC Extended Universe, it moves away from the grim and gritty to provide an inspirational hero, and its success will hopefully lead to more films like it. If there's any justice, Jenkins needs to be under heavy consideration at Oscars time. The sequence recounting the history of the Amazons is breathtaking and a literal work of art come to life.

One quibble: I'd question having a Native American character referred to as "Chief", although after actor Eugene Brave Rock brought his concerns to Jenkins, she allowed him to have input into his character's development.

On its technical merits, the film is absolutely top shelf. Cinematographer Matthew Jensen ("Game of Thrones", "Fantastic Four") uses a painter's palette to light everything from Themyscira to 1918 London to the battlefields of Europe. Production designer Aline Bonetto ("Amélie", "Pan") and costume designer Lindy Hemmings ("Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets", Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy) magnificently conjure up the world of Wonder Woman and make it believable. Rupert Gregson-Williams' ("Hotel Rwanda", "Hacksaw Ridge") score brings an added emotional dimension to the story. The visual effects are superb. The film was shot in Italy, France, and England. The Italian filming locations used for Themyscira are stunningly beautiful, fitting for a place also known as Paradise Island.

In her second appearance as the title character, Gal Gadot delivers a strong, humane portrayal of her character, as she develops from a princess whose mother wants to keep her sheltered to someone discovering Man's World to a hero who can save it from itself. It's an Oscar-worthy performance. Had it been a lesser film, Gadot's charismatic turn would still have carried it, but it's not lesser and neither is her genuinely delightful performance. She demonstrates that producer Snyder made the right choice when he cast her in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice", even if there were doubters at the time. I'm not ashamed to admit that I had some doubts. She seemed a solid enough actress, but I wondered if she could pull off the charisma needed for this character. "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" proved she could. An actor's director like Jenkins takes her from good to great, and gets real magic out of her. Lynda Carter is still beloved for her iconic performance as Wonder Woman in the 1970s, but Gadot is now the definitive Wonder Woman.

Chris Pine is also quite good as Steve Trevor. It's easily the most charming performance I've seen from him to date. His chemistry with Gadot makes their developing relationship believable. The rest of the cast is good across the board, and again, Jenkins knows how to get the best out of them. It includes the aforementioned Brave Rock as Chief Napi, Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta, Robin Wright (and her incredible physique) as General Antiope, Danny Huston as General Ludendorff (based on an actual historical figure), David Thewlis as Sir Patrick, Saïd Taghmaoui as Sameer, Ewen Bremner as Charlie, Lucy Davis as Etta Candy (woo woo!), Elena Anaya as Doctor Poison, Lilly Aspell as an eight-year-old Diana, and Ann Wolfe as Artemis.

It's not hyperbole to place this film on a pedestal reserved for only the absolute best. It's up there with "The Dark Knight" as a film that significantly raised the bar in the genre. I hope to see multiple Oscar nominations and some wins (Jenkins and Gadot are both highly deserving). "Wonder Woman" is a wonder indeed.

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Sep. 18th, 2017 05:02 pm
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My maternal 5th-great-grandmother Helenah Snider (née Daugherty) was born 18 Sep 1778 in Chesterfield, Burlington County, New Jersey to Irish immigrant William Daugherty Sr. and Mary Daugherty (née Wright), married farmer Jacob Snider Sr. 9 Apr 1797 in Freehold, Monmouth County, New Jersey, had 12 children with him, moved with her family to Sempronius, Cayuga County, New York by 1799 and to Jackson Township, Hardin County, Ohio in 1832 (Jackson Township became part of Wyandot County in 1845), widowed in 1858, died 13 Dec 1866 in Jackson Township, Wyandot County, Ohio at the age of 88, and buried at York Street Cemetery in Marseilles Township, Wyandot County, Ohio. Religion: Protestant.

My maternal 3rd-great-grandfather James Payne Woodruff was born 18 Sep 1800 in Bridgehampton, Suffolk County, New York to sailor James Woodruff and Jerusha Woodruff (née Payne), orphaned in 1804, apprenticed to a hatter, married my 3rd-great-grandmother Mary Crawford circa 1832, had 3 children with her, moved to Peno Township, Pike County, Missouri with his family circa 1835, widowered in 1843, married Martha Ann Little circa 1844, had 6 children with her, moved with his family to Monroe County, Iowa circa 1847 and to Buchanan Township, Sullivan County, Missouri in the 1860s, died in 1877 in Buchanan Township at the age of 77, and buried at Hawkeye Cemetery in Penn Township, Sullivan County, Missouri. He was a hatter, merchant, and farmer. Religion: Protestant.

My maternal great-granduncle William Sanders was born 18 Sep 1860 in Mono, Simcoe County (now Dufferin County), Canada West (now Ontario), British North America (now Canada) to English-born carpenter/farmer Thomas Sanders Jr. and Canadian-born Ann Sanders (née Patterson), emigrated to the US (Huntsville Township, Polk County, Minnesota) with his family in 1875, moved to Augusta, Lewis and Clark County, Montana with his family circa 1896, never married or had children, died of long-term alcoholism and opiate abuse 30 Mar 1926 in Yakima, Yakima County, Washington at the age of 65, and buried at Tahoma Cemetery in Yakima. He was a rancher. Religion: Presbyterian.

My maternal great-granduncle English Guy Crawford was born 18 Sep 1871 in Cunningham Township, Chariton County, Missouri to physician Elihu Millikan Crawford and Adalade Crawford (née Woodruff), moved to Jackson Township, Sullivan County, Missouri with his family between 1874-77, married Winifred Linn Yardley 15 Apr 1896 in Milan, Sullivan County, Missouri, had 13 children with her, died of stomach cancer 8 Mar 1946 in Pollock, Sullivan County, Missouri at the age of 74, and buried at Mt. Zion Baptist Cemetery in Jackson Township, Sullivan County, Missouri. He was a farmer. Religion: Baptist.

My maternal granduncle Phillip Herbert "Herb" Sanders was born 18 Sep 1911 in North Yakima, Yakima County, Washington to Canadian-born police officer Robert Neil Sanders and US-born Gladys Annette "Nette" Sanders (née Gatchell), was a private first class in the US Army during World War II, married Juanita Laura Palmer 12 Dec 1944 in South Carolina before shipping off to Europe, had no children with her, after the war he worked at Washington State's Hanford Nuclear Reservation, retired to Sanford, Lee County, North Carolina (where his wife was from) in the early 1970s, widowered in 1985, died 7 Feb 2002 in Sanford at the age of 90, and buried at Carbonton United Methodist Church Cemetery in Carbonton, Chatham County, North Carolina. Religion: Methodist.

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Sep. 17th, 2017 04:08 pm
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My maternal 4th-great-grandfather Isaac Newton Grindstaff was born 17 Sep 1796 in Burke County, North Carolina to US Revolutionary War veteran Jacob Grindstaff and Susannah Grindstaff (née Newton), was a private in the US Army during the War of 1812, married my 4th-great-grandmother Jane Baker 3 Feb 1818 in Garrard County, Kentucky, had 5 children with her, widowered in 1826, moved to Boone County, Missouri with his family by 1832, married Eleanor "Nellie" Creason 25 Mar 1832 in Boone County, had 1 son with her, moved with his family to Linn County, Missouri by 1840 and Sullivan County, Missouri by 1850, died 7 Jul 1871 in Penn Township, Sullivan County, Missouri at the age of 74, and buried at Hamilton Cemetery in Jackson Township, Sullivan County, Missouri. He was a farmer.

His paternal grandfather Johann Michael Crantzdorf (my 6th-great-grandfather) was born in the village of Rimschweiler in the Duchy of Pfalz-Zweibrucken (now part of the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz) in 1728, and emigrated to the Pennsylvania Colony with his family in 1738, where their surname was anglicized as Grindstaff.

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Sep. 17th, 2017 03:54 pm
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Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

[Rewatched/Blu-ray] "In space, all warriors are cold warriors." The final Star Trek film to feature the entire original cast sends them out in fitting fashion, with a moving, entertaining, and intelligent production.

After the critical failure of "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" and the success of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" on television, the future of the film franchise was in doubt, at least as far as the original cast. The idea of a prequel set at Starfleet Academy was put forward again, and went as far as having a script written, but was ultimately rejected. Actor Walter Koenig suggested a story where the Klingons and Romulans unite to make war on the Federation, but it too was rejected (truthfully, Koenig's idea would have been a far too dark way to send the original cast off, with most of the crew dying by the end). Paramount Pictures put Leonard Nimoy in charge as executive producer, and he and Nicholas Meyer (co-writer/director of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and co-writer of "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home") conceived a new story, in the vein of classic episodes of the 1960s television series where contemporary issues were explored through futuristic metaphors.

Meyer and co-writer Denny Martin Flinn (a dancer and choreographer before becoming a writer and stage director) turned the idea into a screenplay, collaborating by email, which in 1990 must have seemed quite futuristic. In the 1960s tv series, the Klingons were used as stand-ins for the USSR, and this film returned to that premise with a Chernobyl-like disaster propelling a proposed peace treaty to end the Cold War between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. It explores some serious themes like deep-seated prejudice among Starfleet personnel against Klingons, which angered creator Gene Roddenberry, who felt it went against his utopian concept. I can see his point, but I think Meyer and Flinn made the right call, and sent the original cast out with a story with substance. Certainly the idea of people learning to set aside their prejudices in an attempt to usher in a better future is compatible with the spirit of Roddenberry's vision.

As with the previous film, budgetary concerns caused some story elements to be dropped. Meyer planned to open the film showing each crew member and what they were doing in retirement, but that was deemed too expensive, and the idea was dropped. A non-budget related change was with the character Lt. Valeris. Meyer intended the character to be Lt. Saavik, who hadn't been seen on screen since "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home", but enough objections were raised (over Saavik becoming a villain and potentially being played by three different actresses in four appearances) that Meyer and Flinn created Valeris instead. As Meyer had intended as far back as "Star Trek II", Sulu was promoted to captain of the USS Excelsior (my third favorite ship after the refit Enterprise and the television Enterprise).

For the first time since "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan", Meyer returned to the director's chair. If there's a Holy Trinity of Star Trek feature film directors, Meyer is in it along with Leonard Nimoy and Jonathan Frakes. Meyer balances humor, drama, and action to provide an emotional last hurrah for the crew. Like his earlier film, it's frequently an edge of the seat thriller, and the performances he gets from the cast are quite good and integral to the film's success. Meyer again demonstrates a knack for keeping William Shatner's flamboyance in check as Captain Kirk.

Mayer's crew includes cinematographer Hiro Narita (who'd worked on "Return of the Jedi" as an additional cinematographer) and production designer Herman Zimmerman (who'd worked on the previous film and "Star Trek: The Next Generation"), whose quality work maintains the best standards of the franchise. Zimmerman contributes updated bridge designs for the Enterprise, the Excelsior, and the Klingon Bird of Prey, and moves the Starfleet bridges closer to that of the Enterprise D of "The Next Generation". Cliff Eidelman provides a solid and appropriate score, albeit the least memorable of the original cast films. Industrial Light & Magic returned to provide the visual effects after not being involved with the previous entry, and their quality work shows.

The original cast--Shatner as Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock (the film provides rare examples of Spock acting out of the emotion of anger, which Nimoy plays well), DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy, George Takei as now Captain Sulu, James Doohan as Scotty, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, and Walter Koenig as Checkov--are all in good form here, sensing that it would be their final turn to boldly go as a group. Christopher Plummer has a very memorable turn as General Chang, a Shakespeare-quoting Klingon who opposes peace and will stop at nothing to prevent it.

The good cast includes Kim Cattrall as Valeris (Cattrall reportedly did an unauthorized photo shoot on the bridge after hours where she wore nothing except her prosthetic Vulcan ears, perhaps the most colorful anecdote from the production of a Star Trek film; the negatives were destroyed on Nimoy's orders), David Warner as Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (essentially Gorbachev in the Klingons as Soviets metaphor), Rosanna DeSoto as Gorkon's daughter and successor, Brock Peters returns as Admiral Cartwright (Peters found his anti-Klingon racist dialog to be so distasteful that he couldn't say it in a single take), model Iman as the striking shapeshifter Martia, John Schuck reprises his "Star Trek IV" role as the Klingon ambassador, Kurtwood Smith as the Federation president, Grace Lee Whitney as Commander Janice Rand (Kirk's yeoman during the first season of the tv series, now Sulu's communications officer aboard the Excelsior), Christian Slater as an Excelsior crewman, Michael Dorn as Colonel Worf (ancestor of his character on "Star Trek: The Next Generation"), and future "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" star René Auberjonois as Colonel West (though all of his dialog was cut in the theatrical release).

The final scene is an emotional one, as the Enterprise flies toward a bright sun, and Kirk records his final log entry: "This is the final cruise of the starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man - where no one - has gone before." Cue Alexander Courage's fanfare, and the original cast's signatures animated over a star field. A simple but greatly effective way to close the book on the original cast. Very moving, too.

"Star Trek: The Original Series" is an iconic part of American pop culture, and as the final film to feature the entire original cast, "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" lives up to that legacy.

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Sep. 17th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

[Rewatched/Blu-ray] "What does God need with a starship?" The weakest of the original cast Star Trek films has its flaws, but by no means is it a waste of time, and in fact it's entertaining and has some interesting ideas to work with. A failure in some respects, yes, but not an empty one.

In order to lure William Shatner back to the iconic role of Captain James T. Kirk for the previous film, Paramount Pictures agreed to let him direct this film. While it's popular to blame Shatner for its flaws, I've always felt that the studio itself bears a great deal of responsibility, and any director would have faced challenges because of certain studio decisions. Shatner actually makes a lot out of what he was given to work with.

Shatner conceived the story as a commentary on televangelism, harkening back to how the 1960s television series often tackled topical issues in a science fiction guise. As silly as the film can sometimes be, it's undeniable that there are actual ideas in it. Shatner wanted to hire novelist Eric Van Lustbader to write the screenplay, but the studio reused to meet Von Lustbader's fee of $1 million, which even in the late 1980s wasn't an outrageous sum for a screenwriter, but the studio clearly saw the film as something to make cheaply to maximize profits. Shatner's second choice was Nicholas Meyer, co-writer of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home", but he was busy with another project. Finally, a writer was found in David Loughery, who had one credit to his name (the B-movie "Dreamscape") and was very affordable.

"Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" was popular with audiences in large part because of its humor, so of course the studio thought even more humor in this film would lead to the same result (and reportedly wanted even more comedy than Shatner was comfortable with). While the earlier film found a way to balance the humor with the other elements, in this film the comedic elements tend toward over the top and pushing into camp territory (examples: Uhura's fan dance, and Scotty knocking himself out in a bit of risible slapstick). It's the cinematic equivalent of the weakest episodes of the television series, such as "Spock's Brain". Also, there are some head scratchers like how the Enterprise gets to the center of the galaxy so quickly, and the revelation that Spock has a half-brother who's both fully Vulcan and greatly emotional. Creator Gene Roddenberry considered elements of the film to be apocryphal, and it's easy to understand why.

With that said, the positives of the screenplay are a return to exploring the humanistic concerns so prevalent in the television series, some good character moments for the trio of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, and an understanding of what makes the franchise tick at its core. It might not be a great example of the franchise, but it is definitely Star Trek.

As a first-time film director, Shatner is competent, albeit not on the same level as Leonard Nimoy. It's a well-visualized film, scenes are well-staged, and the cast seems to respond to his direction. Cast members later praised the atmosphere Shatner maintained on set. Despite the notable flaws of the script, Shatner made some excellent decisions in realizing it on screen by hiring cinematographer Andrew Laszlo and composer Jerry Goldsmith, the latter returning to the franchise for the first time since 1979's "Star Trek: The Motion Picture". Goldsmith's theme for that film, re-used here and for "Star Trek: The Next Generation", is easily the best piece of music ever composed for the franchise, on a par with the iconic genre themes of John Williams, and it improves things just by being heard.

Unlike the previous three films, Industrial Light & Magic was unavailable to provide the visual effects, so Paramount awarded the contract to the less experienced Associates and Ferren instead. The studio also slashed the effects budget below what was necessary to realize Shatner's vision and also expected them to be completed in half the normal time. Some of the scenes with effects were disappointing enough for Shatner to want to reshoot them, but the studio refused to pay for reshoots. The effects overall are competent but generally underwhelming even by 1989 standards. The effects scenes toward the end, the ones Shatner wanted to reshoot, are indeed weak.

Production designer Herman Zimmerman came over from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" to design the sets, some of which were redresses of "Next Generation" sets (like ship corridors). Despite taking place very soon after the events of the previous film, the Enterprise bridge has been completely redesigned (some sources indicate the previous set had been damaged in storage). The design seen at the end of "Star Trek IV" was more elegant, but the new bridge is a technological leap forward, complete with touch screen interfaces, providing a link to "Next Generation" aesthetics.

Shatner as Kirk, Nimoy as Spock, and DeForest Kelley as McCoy knew their characters like the back of their hands, and it shows. The chemistry between them also shows, to the benefit of the film. George Takei as Sulu, Walter Koenig as Chekov, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, and James Doohan as Scotty also inhabit their characters well, if sometimes played too broadly and despite given some occasionally ridiculous scenes. Laurence Luckinbill plays Spock's half-brother Sybok, a role originally intended for Sean Connery, and actually brings a lot to the role.

The cast also includes David Warner as the Federation ambassador, Charles Cooper as the Klingon ambassador, George Murdock as the entity claiming to be God, Todd Bryant as Klingon Captain Klaa, Spice Williams-Crosby as Klingon Lieuteniant Vixis, and producer Harve Bennett as the Starfleet admiral who gives Kirk his orders. For the most part, the performances are adequate for the material. The glaring exception is Cynthia Gouw as the Romulan ambassador, whose performance can be described as amateur at best.

"Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" isn't as bad as its reputation, and is a serviceably entertaining entry in the franchise. For all of its flaws, it feels like Star Trek to me in ways that the 2009 and on rebooted franchise simply never does. One wonders what it would have been with a better writer and a larger budget.

(no subject)

Sep. 16th, 2017 05:13 pm
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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

[Rewatched/Blu-ray] "Admiral, there be whales here!" It remains one of the best Star Trek films, and it's certainly the most purely entertaining as it resurrects the social messages of the 1960s television series to provide a save the whales theme.

William Shatner initially balked at returning to his iconic role of James T. Kirk, so director Leonard Nimoy and producer Harve Bennett toyed with the idea of a prequel set at Starfleet Academy. After Paramount Pictures met Shatner's demands for a pay raise and the opportunity to direct a future film, Nimoy and Bennett came up with a new story based around time travel. Initially, the story was to involve a 20th century scientist to be played by Eddie Murphy, but after Murphy decided to do a different film instead, the character was changed to a woman.

Four different screenwriters worked on the project, but what made it to the screen is the work of Bennett and Nicholas Meyer (previously the co-writer and director of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"). Bennett and Meyer capture the best elements of the franchise, such as humanism and optimism, and puts them forward with a more comedic tone that recalls the classic 1967 episode "The Trouble with Tribbles", while each character gets at least one moment to shine.

It also marks the end of an informal trilogy that began with "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and continued in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock", a trilogy that saw the death of Spock and the destruction of the Enterprise, so a lighter touch helps end the trio of films on a happy note. Spock was resurrected in the previous film, but it's here where, by the end of the film, he's fully restored to his old self and we get a brand new Enterprise, too (and no fan can say their heart doesn't soar at the end of this film when that new Enterprise comes into view for the first time--I remember leaping out of my seat the first time I saw the film).

In his second effort as a director, Nimoy shows more confidence and more visual flair, even while having major screen time as an actor. He juggles his dual roles quite well. The most striking part of the film is his surreal visualization of time travel, quite unlike anything seen before. It's also one of the best looking Trek films in general, and cinematographer Don Peterman was nominated for an Oscar for his work. Another Oscar nomination went to veteran composer Leonard Rosenman (whose Hollywood career began with films like "East of Eden" and "Rebel Without a Cause" in the 1950s) for his rousing, nautical-themed score. The main title theme, which incorporates Alexander Courage's fanfare, is one of the best in the entire Trek franchise. The production uses mostly contemporary shooting locations, but production designer Jack T. Collis creates a wonderful bridge for the new Enterprise (sadly not kept for the next film, despite being set only a few months later in the fictional timeline).

While the acting is more broadly played, the off-screen friendship of Shatner and Nimoy shines through in their scenes together as Kirk and Spock. They also generate a lot of laughs. It's not Shatner's best performance in terms of dramatic impact (like "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"), but he has the right touch for the lighter material here, while Nimoy brings deadpan humor to his performance as Spock, and DeForest Kelley gets some hilarious moments as Dr. McCoy as well (he's especially funny during the hospital sequence).

Kelley has fewer scenes with Shatner and Nimoy than usual, but he gets to share some wonderful scenes with James Doohan's Scotty. The rest of the regular cast--George Takei's Sulu, Walter Koenig's Chekov, and Nichelle Nichols' Uhura--all have their moments, and it's easily the most involved Chekov was in any of the films. The newcomer here is the charming Catherine Hicks as Dr. Gillian Taylor, who's not only believable, she has good chemistry with Shatner, and they work well together throughout the film.

The cast also includes Mark Lenard as Spock's father Ambassador Sarek, Jane Wyatt in her second appearance as Spock's mother Amanda, Robin Curtis in the final appearance of Saavik (who was supposed to be pregnant with Spock's child, but that idea didn't survive into the final version), Robert Ellenstein as the Federation president, John Schuck as the Klingon ambassador, Brock Peters as Admiral Cartwright, Majel Barrett as Commander Christine Chapel (whose role was reportedly much larger, but mostly ended up on the cutting room floor), Grace Lee Whitney as Commander Janice Rand, Madge Sinclair as the captain of the USS Saratoga, Vijay Amritraj as the captain of another Starfleet vessel, musician Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go's as a Starfleet communications officer, and associate producer Kirk Thatcher as the punk on the bus.

"Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" is the best example of Star Trek as mass-audience crowd pleaser without losing its way and forgetting who it is as its creative warp core.

(no subject)

Sep. 15th, 2017 07:25 pm
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My maternal 7th-great-granduncle Laurence Holstein Sr. was born 15 Sep 1677 in Passyunk, Upland County, New York Colony (Upland County became Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Colony in 1681) to my 8th-great-grandfather Matthias Claesson (born in the Duchy of Holstein--now the German state of Schleswig-Holstein--and Holstein became the surname of his descendants) and his 1st wife Helena (née Cock) [I descend from Matthias and his 2nd wife, a Finn named Catharina Mansdotter], married Gertrude Mattson circa 1702 in Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Colony, had 9 children with her, moved to Pilesgrove, Salem County, New Jersey Colony circa 1711, widowered in 1728, and died in Jan 1750 in Pilesgrove at the age of 72. Religion: Moravian Church (Protestant).

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Sep. 13th, 2017 04:21 pm
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My maternal 6th-great-grandaunt Susanna Brown (née Churchman) was born 13 Sep 1701 in Chester Township, Chester County (now in Delaware County), Pennsylvania Colony to English immigrants John Churchman Sr. (a farmer) and Hannah Churchman (née Seary) from Saffron Walden and Oxford respectively, married Quaker minister William Brown Jr. (my 2nd cousin 8 times removed on another line) 11 Apr 1728 in East Nottingham Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania Colony, had 3 daughters with him, moved to Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania Colony with her family circa 1735, widowed in 1786, died 25 Aug 1790 in Bel Air, Harford County, Maryland at the age of 88, and buried at Little Falls Friends Meeting Cemetery in Fallston, Harford County, Maryland. She was a Quaker minister.

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Sep. 11th, 2017 05:11 pm
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My maternal 4th-great-grandmother Jane Vaughn (née McMillen) was born 11 Sep 1788 in Turkeyfoot Township, Bedford County (now Somerset County), Pennsylvania to farmer William Green McMillen and Sidney McMillen (née McKnight), married farmer Alexander Vaughn Sr. 5 Aug 1806 in Washington County, Ohio, had 3 children with him, moved with her family to Montrose Township, Lee County, Iowa in the mid 1840s and to Penn Township, Sullivan County, Missouri circa 1853, widowed in 1858, died 30 Aug 1879 in Polk Township, Sullivan County, Missouri at the age of 90, and buried at Hawkeye Cemetery in Penn Township, Sullivan County, Missouri. Her paternal grandfather James McMillen (my 6th-great-grandfather) was from County Tyrone, Ireland. Religion: Protestant.

My maternal 2nd-great-grandaunt Georgiana Butts (née Sanders) was born 11 Sep 1827 in England to carpenter Thomas Sanders Sr. and Georgiana Sanders (née Croft), emigrated to Artemesia (now Grey Highlands), Home District (now Grey County), Upper Canada (now Ontario), British North America (now Canada) with her family circa 1839, married Cornish-born farmer James Percy Butts 7 Apr 1844 in Montreal, Canada East (now Quebec), British North America (now Canada), had 9 children with him, widowed in 1882, emigrated to the US (Aitkin, Aitkin County, Minnesota) circa 1890, died of bronchitis 28 Apr 1915 in Gateway, Lincoln County, Montana at the age of 87, and buried at Tobacco Valley Cemetery in Eureka, Lincoln County, Montana. Religion: Anglican.

My maternal 2nd-great-grandfather Phillip Moore Gatchell was born 11 Sep 1853 in Mifflin Township, Wyandot County, Ohio to farmer Hiram Haines Gatchell and Sarah Gatchell (née Moore), married teacher (and future socialist activist) Florence Ada Kelley 15 Oct 1878 in Wyandot County, Ohio, had 9 children with her, moved with his family to Center Township, Smith County, Kansas circa 1884--to White Salmon, Klickitat County, Washington circa 1891--and to Fruitvale, Yakima County, Washington in 1899, died of tuberculosis 20 Nov 1913 in North Yakima, Yakima County, Washington at the age of 60, and buried at Tahoma Cemetery in North Yakima (now Yakima). He was a laborer, sheep shearer, and grocer, and a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

My maternal great-grandaunt Mary Susan Hull (née Hayes) was born 11 Sep 1870 in Jackson Township, Sullivan County, Missouri to farmer James Hamilton Hayes and Rachel Jane Hayes (née Vaughn), married laborer William Riley Hull 7 Apr 1888 in Sullivan County, Missouri, had 14 children with him, moved to Hannibal, Marion County, Missouri with her family between 1900-10, died of cancer 17 Jul 1946 in Hannibal at the age of 75, and buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal. Religion: Baptist.

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