Star Trek, Z and a lot of TV
Owls Head — Star Trek Into Darkness (Paramount, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 131 min.). Director J.J. Abrams and the whole “Star Trek” acting crew just get better and better. This is the second film in the relaunched franchise, starring Chris Pine as James T. Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock. It also features an early meeting with one of the classic “Star Trek” villains -- Khan, played here by Benedict Cumber batch (of the BBC’s “Sherlock”) -- and fills in much of Khan’s back story. The film, of course, takes place in the alternate timeline established in Abrams’ first “Star Trek” film (2009), where Vulcan was blown up and only Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) carried over from the original series.
There are several exciting set pieces in the film, including the opening on the Red Planet, with Kirk and Bones (Karl Urban) being chased by the native Nibirans, while Spock tries to stop a volcano from erupting and destroying the young civilization. When things go awry, Kirk ignores the Prime Directive of non-interference in a not-yet-technological society to save his science officer. After a deadly attack on Starfleet Headquarters, Khan is tracked to the Klingon Home World, where Uhura (Zoe Zaldana) gets to shine. Once Khan surrenders, it is suggested the he is not the only bad guy of the tale, that some inside of Starfleet is trying to start a war with the Klingons, as it being the inevitable outcome. For the conclusion, Abrams brings the deadly action to Earth, where Starfleet Academy in San Francisco is almost wiped out, and Spock chases Khan from vehicle to vehicle in a dizzying sequence.
The extras are not plentiful, but they are very good and left me wanting for more. Primarily, they are the seven parts that cover the making of the film’s most exciting sequences, including creating the Red Planet and Spock’s work inside the volcano, the attack on the Starfleet command, the Klingon Home World set, a look at Khan, the ship-to-ship space sequence (with Kirk and Khan basically acting as projectiles; we see a lot of pre-viz animation) and the crash and chase on Earth. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
Michael Giacchino: Star Trek Into Darkness original motion picture soundtrack (Varese Sarabande CD, 42:52). In a related CD release, the soundtrack for the film is also highly satisfying. Giacchino, who won an Oscar for his score for Disney’s “Up,” also wrote the music for J.J. Abrams’ first “Star Trek” film. Bits of Alexander Courage’s original “Star Trek” them crop up, as in “Sub Prime Directive” and the closing “Star Trek Main Theme.” However, “Sub Prime Directive” then turns very big and sweeping. Giacchino uses chanting on the slyly named “The Kronos Wartet.” This is a score that both builds on the past and moves into new sounds. Grade: score 3.5 stars
World War Z (Paramount, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR or PG-13, 123 or 116 min.). You have to go with Blu-ray to get the seven-minute longer unrated version, which adds more violence for more visceral impact. “World War Z,” only loosely adapted from Max Brooks’ novel, merges a zombie film like “28 Days Later” with the medical investigation film “Outbreak.” It was a much more effective film than I was expecting, much of that is due to the opening sequence.
In the opening, we see Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt, who also served as a producer), his wife Karin (Mireille Enos of TV’s “The Killing,” here given hardly anything to do after the opening) and two young, school-aged daughters driving off to their typical day of school and work, but stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic near the heart of Philadelphia (actually filmed in Glasgow, Scotland, which allowed them to shut down the whole town center for nearly three weeks). Suddenly, a motorcycle policeman drives by, knocking off the Lanes’ side mirror. Lane gets out to see what is going on, and there is an explosion not to far ahead and people starting to run in panic. When, an out-of-control garbage truck barrels through the traffic, Lane follows it, hoping to get out of the mess. When their vehicle is smashed into, they see people attacking other people by biting them. While the radio talks about the spread of rabies from Hong Kong and now affecting people in 12 countries, their immediate environment turns to pure chaos.
However, Lane used to be a United Nations investigator and, when he contacts Deputy Secretary Thiery Umutoni (Fana Mokoena) of the UN, he is told he is needed and that his family will be protected. Lane reluctantly joins a search for the origin of the zombie plague and any clues as to how to defeat it. That journey takes him first to South Korea, where possibly the first case was observed, and then to Jerusalem, which walled itself up prior to the general outbreak. (That tip comes from a deranged CIA agent, a small part wonderfully played by David Morse.). The rules seem to be that it takes 12 seconds for a bitten person to turn and noise attracts the zombies.
There are several terrific action set pieces in the film in addition to the opening, my favorite being the fall of Jerusalem, where you can see the zombies swarming as if they were ants. They also often hurl themselves like projectiles at prey, leading to some striking visuals involving helicopters. We also learn how to combat a zombie outbreak on a plane, although it is most extreme. Extras figure director Marc Forster prominently. The main extra, and best one, is a four-part look at the production (36:18), including the filing in Glasgow and Malta, which stood in for Jerusalem. The other two extras -- 8:21 on the origins of the film and 7:28 on the science behind the zombies and how they act -- contain extensive spoilers and only a little information. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.75 stars
Sinbad: The Complete First Season (BBC, 2 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, NR, 54o min.). While Brad Pitt was in the animated feature “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas” (2003), the “World War Z” link to this series is that it too was filmed in Malta, filling in for both the city of Basra in 8th century Arabia and several island locations. At the heart of the very likeable series, which alas will not return for a second season, is the ebullient performance of newcomer Elliot Knight as the title character. Sinbad is an impetuous young man, taken to stealing from tourists and fist fighting for cash. Unfortunately, his latest opponent is the son of Lord Akbari (Naveen Andrews of TV’s “Lost”) and he dies after the bout. (I must say I never blamed Sinbad for the young man’s death. The defeated lad was approached by the sorceress Taryn, played by Orla Bailey, and I am convinced she did something to kill him to further her own ambition.)
Because of the death, Sinbad and his brother Jamil (Devon Anderson) are taken prisoner by Akbari, who casually has Jamil killed so Sinbad can live with the guilt of what his actions caused all his life. When his grandmother (Janet Suzman), whom we soon learn is a powerful sorceress, learns of Jamil’s death, she curses Sinbad and places an amulet around his neck that will choke him if he spends more than a day and a night on land at a time. Sinbad escapes the city by stowing away of the boat Providence, which is hijacked by water thieves in the second episode. Further adventures include being held against his will by the co-owners (both played by Iain McKee) of an invisible gambling den; encountering the personification of death (played by Timothy Spall); Taryn, who is now working with Akbari to track down Sinbad, conjures a “familiar” that can locate Sinbad by his emotions (neat special effects on this creature); Sinbad is rescued by a woman who starts stealing his memories; after Akbari kills his brother to gain control of Basra, Sinbad tries to rescue his grandmother; a female deity is found in a box; and a closing arc brings Sinbad and friends to the Land of the Dead.
Those companions are Junix Inocian as Cook, now the owner of the Providence; Marama Corlett as street thief Rena; Elliot Cowan as Gunnar, a Nordic looking fellow who turns out to have a violent past; and Dimitri Leonidas as Anwar, the ship’s doctor. For about half the season, they also are accompanied by wealthy Nala (Estelle Daniels), the woman Sinbad steals from in the opening episode. The show mixes periods, as the dress is more modern. The cast is likable and there is quite a bit of magic via special effects. I wish it had been renewed, but it was not. The series actually could have ended after the seventh episode, which resolves the Akbari vendetta, but we get five more. Blu-ray extras include a very nice look at Malta as a location for many films and shows, including two outdoor water tanks. The piece (13:26) is hosted by actress Corlett, a native of Malta, which was built by the Knights of St. John and is one of the first cities built on a grid system. There also is a look at the costumes with designer Phoebe de Gaye (8:36) and a making-of feature (26:49). Grade: series 3.25 stars; extras 2.75 stars
The Walking Dead: The Complete Third Season (Anchor Bay, 5 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, NR, 688 min.). Of course if you want more zombies, you cannot do better than this terrific series, which recovered from an at-times slow second season to present this action-packed one. It begins with Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and crew taking refuge in a portion of the Prison -- not all the undead have been cleared out and, it seems, Rick is unaware there is a big hole on the other side of the building. His pregnant wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son Carl (Chandler Riggs) are with him, as are Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), Carol Pelletier (Melissa McBride), Glenn Rhee (Steven Yuen), and veterinarian Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson) and his daughter Maggie (Lauren Cohan). In one of the key moments of the season, Lori has to give birth by Caesarean section and Carl must shoot her in the head to stop her from becoming a walker, as there are no medical facilities to save Lori. Carl, of course, now has the burden of killing both his mother and Shane, Rick’s partner and Lori’s ex-lover, the previous season, and thus is forced to grow up even faster -- and with a hard edge. Rick kind of goes crazy and starts hearing Lori on the telephone and seeing her around the prison.
Meanwhile, Andrea (Lorie Holden) has been rescued by Michonne (Danai Gurira), who wields a mean sword and initially travels with two armless walkers on leashes. They are captured by a scouting party from Woodbury, a walled town that The Governor (David Morrissey) has fortified. Everything may look rosy on the surface and Andrea buys that and even sleeps with The Governor, but Michonne knows otherwise and wants to leave. She eventually makes her way to the prison. Also in Woodbury is Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker), Daryl’s older brother, who apparently cut or chewed his hand off, after he was left handcuffed on a rooftop in season one. There are two key deaths late in the season: one seems about redemption; and the other is simply nasty the way The Governor brings it about.
Extras include eight featurettes that look at Carl’s forced growing up (6:47), The Governor and Woodbury (7:54), Lori (8:14), Michonne (8:25), Michonne and The Governor’s fight (5:13), the prison (9:44; the back of the film studio was turned into the prison); the zombies (8:06), which are a combination of computer animation, practical effects and robotics, and four key deaths (7:42). Grade: season 3.75; extras 3.25
Bates Motel: Season One (Universal, 2 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, NR, 7 hours 14 min.). One of two great new TV series last season (the other was “The Americans”), this tells the story of Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) as a high schooler, having just moved to White Pine Bay with his mother Norma (the brilliant Vera Farmiga, who earned an Emmy nomination for her work), after the death of Norman’s father. The core of the show is the relationship, “slightly dodgy or not” as Highmore puts in the panel discussion extra, between the two. Norma can go from loving to dismissive in almost one breath (see her work with Max Thieriot, who shows up as Norman’s half-brother, Dylan), and she is always coming out with the strangest stuff at usually the wrong time. Highmore nails Norman’s insecurities. The setting is very reminiscent of Twin Peaks; this seaside town holds its own secrets, among them the large marijuana crops that fund many residents and which the police do not bother. Dylan goes to work for one grower.
Norman discovers that a slave ring may have been using their motel, and the guy who ran it threatens Norma unless she pays up. Norma kills the motel’s former owner when he tries to rape her (Norman snuck out of the house that night to go to a party), and when Deputy Zack Shelby (Mike Vogel, who went on to star in TV‘s “Under the Dome”) finds out, he basically blackmails her into a relationship -- until he gets killed too. Olivia Cooke plays Emma Decody, the classmate with cystic fibrosis who kind of has a crush of Norman, but he is crushing on the most popular girl in town (Nicola Peltz as Bradley Martin). Keegan Connor Tracy plays Miss Watson, the teacher who encourages Norman’s writing; and in a part that keeps expanding, Nestor Carbonell plays Sheriff Alex Romero. While the show is a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, “Psycho,” it is re-imagined, as the time is contemporary.
Extras include four deleted scenes (9:22) that are not much and a very good Paley Center panel discussion with the cast and crew (45:39) that digs into the psychology of the characters. The nods to “Twin Peaks” are acknowledged and Norma and Norman are described as like a 1940’s couple. Grade: season 4 stars; extras 3.25 stars
Midsomer Murders: Set 22 (2011, Acorn, 4 DVDs, NR, 406 min.). These are the fifth through eighth episodes after Neil Dudgeon’s character of Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby took over from John Nettles’ long-running Tom Barnaby. Thus, we still see Detective Sgt. Ben Jones (Jason Hughes) adjusting to the new relationship, and not always successfully. And while in the 34-minute Conversations extra Hughes says it is a “joy” to work with Dudgeon, he leaves the series after only six more episodes.
The series is inspired by the novels of Caroline Graham, a master of the English village mystery. In “The Sleeper Under the Hill,” a body, with crows feasting on it, is found on the center stone of the Crowcall Circle in Gorse Meadow. The body is that of the landowner, who, against the wishes of the New Dawn Druids, was going to till the land in the meadow, thus denying cult access to the stones. The widow has been having an affair with her fencing instructor (who fences with Barnaby at one point). I must admit I guessed the first murdered, but the explanation of what happened, and the underlying secret, are pretty neat.
The other episodes are “The Night of the Stag,” with local bootleggers coming under suspicion in the disappearance of a government inspector; “A Sacred Trust,” with vandalism and violence rocking Midsomer’s cloistered nunnery; and “A Rare Bird,” involving murder and competition between ornithology enthusiasts. The guest stars include Warren Clarke, Joanna David, Genevieve O’Reilly and James Dreyfus. The series continues to delight with some witty writing and its beautiful locales. The bonus Conversations include Dudgeon’s acting background (going all the way back to school, when it initially was a punishment), a look at composer Jim Parker (and a view of the woman who plays the Theramin for the main theme), and very brief introductions of crew members. Grade: set 3.25 stars; extras 2 stars
Midsomer Murders: Barnaby’s Top 10 (Acorn, 10 DVDs, NR, 16.5 hours). Those who still hanker to see John Nettles as Tom Barnaby should pick up this collection, as he presents his 10 favorite episodes from the show‘s first six years, with introductions by Nettles that include anecdotes about each show’s production and special meaning for him. The episodes include the series’ very first, “The Killings at Badger’s Drift” from March 1997. “Blue Herrings” was the 11th episode, with Barnaby’s favorite aunt (Phyllis Calvert) moves temporarily into the Lawnside Nursing Home and one of the residents dies mysteriously in the night. “A Worm in the Bud” (favorite leading lady in Clarista Hoult as young Julie Fielding) was the 23rd episode and “Dark Autumn” (best location) was the 18th. Nettles calls episode 10, “Dead Man’s Eleven,” the funniest, while “Death of a Hollow Man,” episode four, was the most intriguing crime. Nettles says the most difficult to film was “The Electric Vendetta,” episode 16 that involved UFO mania and a crop circle. For Nettles, the most dramatic episode was “Murder on St. Malley’s Day,” episode 21, with the secret Pudding Club. He feels “A Talent for Life,” episode 24, was the most bizarre. It features Honor Blackman of James Bond fame as a victim. Finally, there is episode six, “Strangler’s Wood,” that he considers his favorite. All feature Daniel Casey as Sgt. Gavin Troy. Note that with the restriction of only covering the first six years, there were only 28 total episodes to chose from. Grade: collection 3.75 stars