Monday, October 24, 2016

Halloween: My Decades Long Friendship With Michael Myers

Halloween is my favorite holiday...This is the time of year where I tune in to see which horror movie is currently playing on TV as part of the annual AMC FearFest at least twice a day. Or I will just pull out a bunch of my favorites from the personal collection and have my own marathon. I own more horror flicks than other genres....The total number is probably in the 100s....I purposely started TLR 11 years ago this week to ensure that the anniversary would be tied to the date--no really...and it all began with John Carpenter's 1978 classic Halloween. Like Richard Donner's Superman--The Movie helped shape my life and who I am--the scare-filled flick film did the same...

I was too young to see it during its initial theatrical run...3 years later I remember watching the premiere of the now famous TV which 12 minutes of footage was added to replace the more violent material of the original cut. These scenes were shot simultaneously with "Halloween II" in 1981...Anyway--I was hooked--Even in its edited form it scared the bejeebus out of me! My Mom was not happy with me after I disobeyed her and watched it anyway. Sorry Mom--So glad I disobeyed you.

What can one say about the performances of Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis and a very young Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode...

One of the strengths of the film is its ability to scare viewers using suspense and shock-without having to depend on gore--to tell its story.

Written by Carpenter and the late Debra Hill--the tale follows masked killer Michael Myers institutionalized since childhood for killing his older sister--he escapes and returns home on October 31st to continue his spree while doctor Loomis tries to stop him.

Halloween was produced on a budget of $300,000 and grossed $47 million at the box office in the United States, and $70 million worldwide, equivalent to roughly $267 million as of 2016, becoming one of the most profitable independent films.

A cluster of sequels and one remake and its sequel later--not to mention countless imitators--and here we are.. For me, the original Halloween is one classic that just can't be topped...even after multiple viewings. In fact if you read my review of Rob Zombie's 2007 remake of the 1978 classic--you know that I loathe nearly everything about the film...Hard to believe then that I think Zombie's Halloween II was even worse!!!

The Halloween film franchise has been stalled for a number of years now while everyone wrestles with where to take the series next...There is reason to be hopeful with the news that Carpenter will executive produce the next movie--we shall see· One thing is certain Zombie's timeline will not be revisited and that is a great thing folks.

Happy Halloween everyone! "Sleep Tight Kids!"

A special thanks to my older sister Karen for watching Halloween on TV with me all those years ago and sharing a very special experience with me...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Remembering The Fallen...

Taking time to honor those who died 15 years ago... September 11, 2001...when America was attacked...

3,000 of our citizens murdered...

Today Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center once stood, now has a fitting National Memorial & Museum in its place after it was nothing more than a gigantic hole for far too long...

The Pentagon has been rebuilt and restored...

A memorial was dedicated in 2011 to the passengers and flight crew of United Flight 93-The jet-liner, hijacked by the terrorists was brought down by those brave folks in Shanksville Pennsylvania--before hitting the intended target....

Yes mastermind Osama Bin Laden, was killed by U.S. Forces in Pakistan during a firefight in 2011 but still WE MUST NEVER FORGET....EVER....

My heart goes out to all of the victims and their families---but especially to the family of Nicholas W. Brandemarti

Nick's Name On The Memorial

For More Be Sure To Visit The September 11 Digital Archive

Terrorists and their sympathizers are still killing our citizens--like James Foley and Steven Sotloff--or those in the San Bernardino attack in California and more recently the Orlando nightclub shooting in Florida--this evil must be confronted...and defeated....

Thursday, September 08, 2016

"American Assassin" Gets Some Girl Power

Variety reports that Sanaa Lathan (The Perfect Guy, Now You See Me 2) and Shiva Negar (Four In The Morning, The Art Of More) have joined the cast of "American Assassin".

Based on author Vince Flynn's eleventh Mitch Rapp novel that charts a Cold War veteran (Michael Keaton), who would be the most feared training officer in the CIA if more than a handful of people at the agency actually knew of his existence. CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Lathan) tasks him with training a black ops recruit (NJ native "The Maze Runner," and "Teen Wolf" star Dylan O'Brien) devastated by the loss of his fiancee to a terrorist attack. The pair is eventually dispatched to go on a joint mission with a lethal Turkish agent (Negar) to stop a mysterious operative (former Friday Night Lights TV fave Taylor Kitsch) from kicking off a global war.

 Should the film spawn a few sequels Lathan's Kennedy could return

"Kill the Messenger" director Michael Cuesta will call action from an adapted screenplay written by Stephen Schiff.

Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Nick Wechsler are producing the film.

Production kicked off this month in London and Budapest.

Star Trek Turns 50: "Crazy To Get To Space"

September 8th 1966 "Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its 5-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

With those words creator Gene Roddenberry's (1920-1991) vision of the future was born..Time now for TLR's 50th anniversary tribute to the space odyssey known as Star Trek...

The first time I saw the crew of the starship U.S.S Enterprise in action was, appropriately enough, in a darkened movie theater--watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture in the winter of 1980.

In retrospect, the film is not the best cinematic effort in the franchise, but as a young boy, there was just enough to get me hooked...From the great opening battle sequence between the Klingons and the "destructive force" known as "V'Ger" to seeing the ship warp through space for the first time, and composer Jerry Goldsmith's (1929-2004) best film score--I was loving it...Ironically the film franchise might not have ever left space dock were it not for the blockbuster release of Star Wars in 1977.

From that point on, I watched every episode of the original series in syndication, taking it all in--the characters, the (cheesy) special effects and the underlying message of a hopeful future.

By the time Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came around 2 and a half years later, I had seen every episode dozens of times and was ready for a new adventure. What can I say? The film is hands down my favorite of the film series 

Khan Noonien Singh is the genetically enhanced human--An American Sikh of the 1967 episode  called Space Seed played both times by the great Ricardo Montalban...We met Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch 1942–1996) and the protegee' Saavik () both of whom left a lasting impression. The film also finally gives Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Scotty ( (1920- 2005) a chance to show some range...Director and producer Harve Bennett (1930–2015) whipped up a tale that saved the film series.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) resolved key plot points from the second film and gave us a few more in the process--A very well done middle chapter of a three part story. Spock (Leonard Nimoy who also directed) is resurrected of course, but at a high price--the death of Kirk's (William Shatner) son David (Merritt Butrick 1959-1989), the destruction of the Enterprise, and the crew's Starfleet careers in doubt.. Be sure to read my recent chat with "Search" co-star actor Stephen Manley
. I am so very lucky to be able to call Stephen a friend...

Two years later came Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home-One of the most financially successful and critically acclaimed Trek films so far...Lightened the mood of three's more somber tone as the crew travels back to the late 20th century to save mankind, our future and the Humpback Whale... The humor is situational rather than campy...

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier from 1989--Shatner directs as the crew (now on board the Enterprise A) finds Spock's half brother Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) who's on his own quest to find "God". Yikes! Uhura (Nichelle Nichols)  dances almost naked.. Still better than 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis (despite bad guy Shinzon being played by then up and comer Tom Hardy) with the The Next Generation crew which helped put the entire franchise on hiatus. Thanks a lot...

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)--As Dr. McCoy. my favorite original series character (DeForest Kelley 1920-1999) says in the film "What A Way To Finish" Meyer (Star Trek II, and IV) returns to co-write and direct the last film to feature the entire original series cast...As the Klingons start talking peace with Starfleet. Sulu (George Takei) is promoted to Captain his own ship and the crew goes out on top. One nit-pick: the film's "mystery" and big United Federation of Planets conspiracy is not that hard to figure out.

There were of course 4 other films with the TNG cast.... Star Trek: Generations allowed for Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) to meet James T Kirk via the time pocket called the Nexus with mixed results.

TNG's Jonathan Frakes, best known to Trekkers as Commander Riker helmed 1996's Star Trek: First Contact  that took in $150 million worldwide, on a budget of $46 million. The rollicking time travel story sees the crew confronting the most lethal Borg and their hive queen (Alice Krige)

Frakes also called action on 1998's Star Trek: Insurrection which had a budget of $70 million and only returned $118 million worldwide. Bad guy Ru'afo (F. Murray Abraham) was stuck with the plan of trying to take over a Fountain of Youth planet--Ho Hum....

4 additional TV series spin offs: TNG, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (the most under appreciated member of the "family"), Voyager, and Enterprise were produced. Voyager had its merits while the prequel Enterprise made this Trekker want to watch reruns of TOS, TNG, or DS9 instead.

A few years later Enterprise ended its run--putting the whole franchise in Spacedock... Then a few years later director J.J. Abrams, along with writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman created an alternate history--dubbed The Kelvin Timeline--that debuted in 2009. The team cast Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin (1989-2016) and John Cho as Kirk Spock Uhura Dr. McCoy Scotty Chekov and Sulu. Nimoy's (1931–2015) return helped sell the reboot Shatner's Kirk was originally in the script for a cameo in the '09 film but the notion was nixed.

After that successfully concocted recipe shot the stagnant franchise in the arm--the team was off and running. Despite making $467 million worldwide, "Star Trek Into Darkness" still divides the core fanbase...Thanks to the fact that Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch's baddie "John Harrison" in the sequel is really Khan in the rebooted timeline....Before STID opened I was totally against the notion of reimaging Kahn and stated my position loudly...Once I saw the film I was won over in large measure because of Cumby's magnetic portrayal ...All of that said though it's widely regarded that Montalban's version is the best Trek villain in its 50 year history. The STID debate will continue...

Fast and the Furious film franchise director Justin Lin took over directing duties for this year's Star Trek Beyond after Abrams went off to steer Star Wars: Episode VII. Pegg co-wrote  the script with Doug Jung, creator of TNT's short-lived "Dark Blue" series and writer of the upcoming Bad Robot film "Diamond".  For the most part the story works very well. My biggest gripe with "Beyond" is the big bad Krall (Idris Elba) and the handling of his muddled motive and backstory. Nimoy's passing in the real world is handled nicely in the film.

Next year sees the debut of the sixth series of the franchise called  Star Trek: Discovery with former Trek writer Bryan Fuller running the show--literally--with an assist from Meyer and other Trek vets. The show is another prequel--sitting 10 years before TOS. We were also told that the CBS All Access program will feature a female lead and a gay character. I really don't like that CBS is putting this on their pay streaming service--and do we really need another prequel? Just sayin'!!

Some personal Trek reflections....

Throughout the 90's I attended more than my fair share of conventions. At one such event in Valley Forge PA. I was in the "Golden Circle" VIP line right at the front--with my friends Joe and Elyse. The next thing I know a member of the security staff walks over to me and asks: "Do you wanna meet Mr. Shatner a little early before we let everybody else in?"

I looked at my pals and then said to him "All of us...?"

He said, "Sorry no just you".

Turning to my two cohorts I had no intention of going in without them...The good friends that they are coaxed me saying "You gotta do it!!!" No regrets. I was going to have some alone time with the Shat!!! The extra slotted time amounted to maybe a minute or so...

My mind was racing! What would I say? I had to make it count!! I didn't want to blow my once in a lifetime opportunity....This was it! I go into the room as Mr. Shatner is taking his seat--preparing to meet his fans from behind a long table. In that moment I found myself becoming extremely fidgety. I remember muttering my name and he said  "Nice to meet you Tom!" He could tell that I was nervous and tried to put me at ease by extending his arm out for a handshake. At this point I am probably perspiring like a groom on his wedding day....We shook hands and exchanged smiles as everyone else began filing in....As awkward as the encounter was for me it was a moment I will always treasure...My brush with Trek's biggest star....

Another convention highlight came when I got to see De Kelly on stage at one of his final appearances. Pure joy. I am getting goosebumps even now as I type this...The hall was electric and you could feel the floor vibrate as the audience got on its feet to greet him. I could have listened to his stories forever. What a warm and funny rascal he was. 

To me McCoy is original Trek's most human character and thus someone I could really relate to. I loved them all to be sure--but Kelly's portrayal stood out...The way Urban plays the character in the reboot films is spot on and thus the latest incarnation of Bones is my favorite in the new films as well.

Trek has given me the opportunity to meet some great people. Among them writer William Stape. We met in college over 20 years ago and remain friends to this day. I interviewed him for a paper that I was writing for a Journalism class--after finding out through a mutual friend that he had written and sold a script to the producers of TNG.

After graduation I came home to the news that my mom had Cancer and the prognosis was not good...My entire world was upside down. At the time a DS9 episode called Life Support hit the air. The story saw one of the show's most popular recurring characters sustain a serious injury--slowly but surely as hard as he fought he was dying a little at a time...All that those around him could do was watch--helpless. I was living that "no win scenario" aka The Kobayashi Maru. As strange as it may sound and as difficult as it was for me to watch--The episode helped me to put that devastating time in perspective--getting me through--comforting me to know that, it's gonna take awhile, but it was going to be OK. I told all of this to Will. Soon after he reached out to producer/writer Ronald D. Moore who penned "Life" and he in turn sent me a very nice handwritten letter of thanks and sympathy as well as some DS9 memorabilia following mom's passing that Summer. 

I will always be grateful to Moore and Will for those gestures of support and kindness--that's the power of Star Trek folks.

Longtime readers may recall that Will was my one time Blog Talk Radio cohort and is an occasional guest contributor for the blog. He wrote the original script for the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that became Homeward--as well as the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine segment Prophet Motive. Will's latest book--Star Trek Sex: Analyzing the Most Sexually Charged Episodes of the Original Series is available now...He also writes great stuff for OMNI.

Star Trek also helped to cultivate my keen interest in NASA and it's now defunct Space Shuttle Program.

Star Trek has been with me for a long time. And I imagine it will continue to be until I take my last breath. It, like Richard Donner's Superman--The Movie, helped shape my life and who I am. Both entities have given me so much. As Kirk says in "Wrath" "We've been through death and life together".

To the ever-growing cast and crew of Star Trek, both past and present, a heartfelt thank you....for allowing me to share in all of those voyages you brought to the screen big and small.

And for those yet to come....

Here's to you at 50!

This post is for my sister  Karen who first introduced me to Star Trek via TMP all of those years ago. I love you very much...And always remember to "Beware Romulans bearing gifts"--Unless of course it's a case of Romulan ale--Which can be purchased on the black market here.

As for you my loyal readers may you all "live long and prosper" and thanks again for your support.

"The Human Adventure Is Just Beginning..."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Baywatch Movie: Art Imitates Life

The Wrap reports that Zac Efron’s character Matt Brody in next summer's Baywatch movie--which wrapped production long before the Rio Summer Games began, is essentially multi-medal winner Ryan Lochte.

The film puts a comedic spin on the worldwide success of the TV show that ran from 1989–2001 charting the exploits and rescues of a team of lifeguards--ala 21 Jump Street.

The story paints Brody as a U.S. Olympic swimmer, two-time gold medalist and world record holder who becomes embroiled in controversy after committing a crime. To rehab his public image and satisfy the community service portion of his sentence, he must head to the beach from where he seems to annoy chief lifeguard Mitch (Dwayne Johnson).

Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Priyanka Chopra, Hannibal Buress, Izabel Goulart, Charlotte McKinney and  also star in the film.

 Original series stars David Hassehoff and Pamela Anderson are both set to appear.

In late 2011 "Rescue Me" co-creator Peter Tolan and Jeremy Garelick had reportedly finished their script then--Reno 911 creators and stars Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant were attached to work on the pic at one point as well In June 2012, Justin Timberlake was linked to play a disgraced former Olympic swimmer trying out for the Baywatch crew. But that version fell apart

Justin Malen did a rewrite of the script that Seth Gordon directed from.

Ivan Reitman, Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson produced the pic.

The Paramount release opens May 19th next year.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Taylor Kitsch Goes Bad For "American Assassin"

Heat Vision reports that former Friday Night Lights TV fave Taylor Kitsch will play the bad guy in "American Assassin".

Based on author Vince Flynn's eleventh Mitch Rapp novel that charts a Cold War veteran (Michael Keaton), who would be the most feared training officer in the CIA if more than a handful of people at the agency actually knew of his existence. His deputy director tasks him with training a black ops recruit (NJ native "The Maze Runner," and "Teen Wolf" star Dylan O'Brien) devastated by the loss of his fiancee to a terrorist attack. The pair is eventually dispatched on a joint mission with a lethal Turkish agent to stop a mysterious operative (Kitsch) from kicking off a global war.

"Kill the Messenger" director Michael Cuesta will call action from an adapted screenplay written by Stephen Schiff.

Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Nick Wechsler are producing the film.

Wow! Kitsch, like O'Brien, is an acting favorite---I am excited to see the two of them go head to head here.

Production is due to kick off next month in London and Budapest.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Poster: “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

An Instagram post gave us the first look at the poster for the upcoming “Spider-Man: Homecoming” starring Tom Holland--and then we got a better quality version.

The film also stars Robert Downey Jr., , Marisa Tomei, Logan Marshall-Green, Donald Glover, Kenneth Choi, Hannibal Buress, Michael Mando, Bokeem Woodbine, Abraham Attah, Angourie Rice, Martin Starr, Michael Barbieri, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori, Zendaya, and many others.

The story takes Peter back to High School and follows events chronicled in Captain America: Civil War where Holland made his debut as Spidey.

The Sony Pictures and Marvel reboot is being directed by Jon Watts from a screenplay he co-wrote with Jonathan GoldsteinJohn Francis DaleyChristopher FordChris McKenna and Erik Sommers.

The movie is currently set to be released on July 7th, next year.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Star Trek Beyond Review: "Let's Make Some Noise!"

Star Trek Beyond commemorates Star Trek's 50th anniversary with lots to love. Still unlike the previous two reboot entries--it's hard not to notice that the film takes one major miss step.

Note: Beyond has been out for a few weeks now. There are SOME SPOILERS AHEAD.

Three years into its five-year mission, the USS Enterprise arrives at Starbase Yorktown for resupply and shore leave for her tired crew. Struggling to find continued meaning in their mission of exploration given the endless nature of that objective, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine)  has applied for a promotion to Vice Admiral and commanding officer of Yorktown. He recommends Spock (Zachary Quinto) as the new captain of the Enterprise.

Meanwhile, Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) reunites with his family, Spock and Nyota Uhura  (Zoe Saldana) amicably end their relationship--shortly after he also gets word from New Vulcan that Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) has passed away, Montgomery Scott () works to keep the ship operational and Chekov () tries to up his social game.

The respite is short lived though when the Enterprise is dispatched on a rescue mission after an escape pod drifts out of a nearby uncharted nebula. The survivor, Kalara (), claims her ship is stranded on Altamid, a planet within the nebula. The rescue turns into an ambush when the Enterprise is overwhelmed by a massive swarm of small ships and is quickly torn apart. The swarm's alien commander, Krall (Idris Elba), and his crew board the ship, and unsuccessfully search for a relic called an Abronath that Kirk had obtained for a failed diplomatic mission. Krall has taken many of the crew from the ship. As the dying Enterprise continues to break apart the saucer section hurtles towards the planet; the survivors abandon ship in escape pods...

Pegg co-wrote  the script with Doug Jung, creator of TNT's short-lived "Dark Blue" series and writer of the upcoming Bad Robot film "Diamond".  For the most part the story works very well.

I loved the new alien character of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) She aides our heroes once they land planet-side. She is a great addition to the pantheon of strong female characters that populate the franchise. Boutella is given a wide range of things to do here and is up to the task. I hope that this isn't last we see of her in Trek.

The story separates the crew for most of the action allowing for some great character interactions. I was especially thrilled that the famous Spock/McCoy dynamic was finally given its due. Something that the two previous films sorely lacked--save for a few moments.  There are so many nice Trek nods and touches throughout that I can overlook that I had to watch the Enterprise get destroyed for the umpteen time. Enough guys.....Each one of the main cast members is given a few moments to shine beyond Kirk and Spock. The film boasts a nice nod to Star Trek-TOS that put a lump in my throat--given that we lost Nimoy in the real world.

Fast and the Furious film franchise director Justin Lin took over directing duties after "Star Trek" '09 and "Star Trek Into Darkness helmer J.J. Abrams went off to steer Star Wars: Episode VII. Lin has a deft hand with both the action set pieces and quieter character stuff--proving that he was a great choice to take over the center seat. My issues with it as a plot device aside--the destruction of the beloved starship was exciting to watch....Lin's fondness for Trek is clear and he knows how to work its strengths.

My biggest gripe with "Beyond" is the big bad Krall. You manage to grab one of today's best actors for the antagonist and like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and  Captain America: Civil War before it he is poorly realized. Through no fault of Elba Krall has such muddled back story and unclear motive at times that whatever it truly is ends up a big disappointment. The film's big twist as it was in "Darkness" ruined  thanks to an ill-advised promo push prior to the film's bow. Krall is a lot like fellow Trek baddie Ru'afo (F. Murray Abraham) in  Star Trek: Insurrection if I were into ranking the lower end of the franchise villains.  Given the other recent examples I cited Hollywood has a villain problem for sure bringing "Beyond" down a bit over the other reboot entries.

In the end "Beyond" and it's many Trek-isms make it a must see....

Monday, August 01, 2016

TLR Chats With Author Will Stape About Star Trek Sex

It's hard to believe that Star Trek officially reaches the half century mark in September.

Creator launched a TV show in 1966, which, despite being compellingly unique, lasted only three seasons. it became the television series which not only wouldn't die - it spawned copious novels, an Animated Series, comic books, video games, feature films and countless other collectibles.

I rarely discuss non movie related stuff on TLR--but thought you guys might want to know about this. Author William Stape's new book is available just in time for Trek's 50th Anniversary bash, a new movie Star Trek Beyond, and a new TV show coming in 2017--called Star Trek: Discovery.

I caught up with him recently for a reunion.  We met in college, just as the first trek episode he wrote was being broadcast on prime time TV.  These days, Will's on a promotional tour for his book, Star Trek Sex: Analyzing the Most Sexually Charged Episodes of the Original Series, published by BearManor Media.

OK.  First things first.  Let's get this out of the way.  Why are you so sex crazed about Star Trek?

(laughs) Maybe I am.  I'd really like to ask that question of Gene Roddenberry, if I could.  In fact, after some accused Star Trek of treating women as sex objects, Gene said this during a lecture in the 1970's, " be fair, we will continue to use men as sex objects as well. I’ve played one myself. It’s great fun.”

I think it really sums up Trek's playful and fun treatment of sex and sexuality, something I tried my best to put into my book.  Over the years, much has been made of Captain Kirk's roving romantic eye and his galactic love conquests.  The real truth is ST allowed much of its crew and alien guests to get randy and romantic in all manner of ways -  and even with all manner of species.  

What was the biggest surprise, if any, you got while writing the book?

More of a satisfaction and confirmation than surprise - just how well and mature and even relevant Trek's love stories still are.  These are tales where men and women (and others) are searching for and longing for the same kinds of romantic relationships you'd see in any time or era.  Like much of Star Trek, the romance is breathtakingly timeless.

Pick your favorite episode or moments, for sheer sexiness or plain, old fashioned romance.

For mind bending sci-fi sexiness, The Man Trap has to be my #1.  The episode is creepy and it utterly fascinates.  It encapsulates what great Trek can offer - mystery, adventure and a sense of the truly otherworldly.  

Joan Collins in City On The Edge Of Forever dazzles.  It's the most romantic Trek romp of all time.  Collins, in her lovely prime, weaves a physical chemistry with William Shatner's Kirk that's simply unforgettable.  Once again, by using a plot device like The Guardian of Forever and layering a temporal/time twist to the narrative, Trek infuses a cerebral sci-fi concept with the very human need for love and romance.

Is there room for more Sex in Star Trek in your future? In OUR future?  Another book?

I'd love to work on another volume!  Next Generation and Deep Space Nine aren't as purely sexual as the Austin Powers like vibe of the real 1960's with the original series, but there's definitely good stuff in all the incarnations of Roddenberry's cosmic vision.  As my favorite Ferengi Quark might say, "For every kind of flavor, there is a market!'

Longtime readers may recall that Will was my one time Blog Talk Radio cohort and is an occasional guest contributor for the blog. He wrote the original script for the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that became Homeward--as well as the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine segment Prophet Motive. I hope he'll return to help commemorate Trek @50 before the year ends. You can follow him on Twitter @WillStape for updates including fun polls 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

TLR Chats With Actor Stephen Manley

Actor Stephen Manley is a showbiz veteran whose career in both film and television spans over 40 years.

He may be best known as one of several Young Spock's in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock but as you will soon discover his work crosses many genres.

As a child and teen Manley appeared on classic shows such as All in the Family Emergency! The Love Boat Little House on the Prairie and The Streets of San Francisco.

As an adult he stayed quite busy over the years--but 2016/17 may his most productive period yet. The interview touches upon a lot of it.  When the chat began I promised him that I would try not to geek out with too many questions about Star Trek. I will let you guys judge whether I succeeded in doing that or not....but we started where all good stories begin...

You've been acting since you were very young. How did you get started?

My grandfather Stephen E. Soldi, had started in the silent era. His first job was as a Roman Soldier in D.W. Griffith”s film “ Intolerance:”. He worked as a character actor and stunt double for decades until his retirement in 1966. He worked on everything from “ Frankenstein” to “Singin' in the Rain”. After his wife passed he lived with my parents and he was my biggest role model, He taught me to read by giving me film scripts. when i was 5, I obtained a SAG\ Card thru him and eventually began to audition thru a wonderful agent named Dorothy Day Otis who represented young people.

You have appeared on number of TV shows from the 70's  Can you talk about that period?

The 1970’s was a wonderful period of time to be working in film and television. All of those fantastic shows which are now pop culture classic’s. I primarily worked at Universal Studios, which was an institution: Emergency, Rockford Files, Six Million Dollar Man, Earthquake, I myself worked on The Hindenburg. A great place to be. Warners had Kung Fu, which I also did some episodes, and 20th Century Fox where The Love Boat set sail from. I Cherish the period.

How were you treated by the adults you worked with?

When I was very small, many “old-timers” who knew my grandfather kept a good eye on me and helped keep my standards professional. It could be magical, creative and fun, but it was work, the jobs in every aspect of production are highly sought after , and I learned to respect that very early. I was treated on a level playing field among the adult actors and learned much from many of them which i still carry to this day.

You were on "Little House" which already had a few established young folks on set what was that like?

The Labyorteaux Brothers, Matt and Patrick, whom are still are friends to this day, were a part of that show for years. However it was not until the final season that I was fortunate enough to land a good guest star role as Italian acrobat Marco Gambini. Michael Landon was a very kind and sincere man and i enjoyed the work there very much..even the circus leotard was not too bad. I also got to work with veteran character actor Jack Krutchen who had been in so many wonderful films and shows.

How did you land the role as young Spock (age 17) on Star Trek III: The Search for Spock?

Mr. Nimoy had seen my work in an episode of “ The Secrets of Midland Heights”, a series created by my dear friend David Jacobs. In one episode my character was dealing with the death of his mother by going to a empathetic and warm gypsy fortune teller who was played by the legendary and passionate Zohra Lampert. Ms. Lampert and I played some beautiful scenes and Mr. Nimoy wanted me to bring some of that feeling to what would be “ Pon Farr Spock” with Lt. Saavik.

We lost Leonard Nimoy last year--What was he like to work with?

A wonderful and giving man. A fantastic and gifted actor himself, with that incredible voice. He never lost his temper or patience, treated everyone kindly and as a director ran a very smooth and stress free set. He wanted everyone to have a great creative environment.

Talk about filming the pivotal Pon farr scene?

Mr. Nimoy explained to Robin Curtis and myself that the Pon Farr ritual had only been hinted at in the Star Trek Universe and that now was the time to at least show the lead in to it. Robin, like Ms. Lampert, is a very warm and compassionate woman and worked hard to keep her emotions’ Vulcan-like”. The three of us created the scene under Leonards’ guidance, Robin and I reacting off each others touch, which is very strong way to work. There were more elements that we did that were not shown, for instance there is a pic of Robin touching my face as Leonard observes us. I humor my fans and tell them that it was from the Italian Bertolucci version..! However, I will always be eternally grateful to Mr Nimoy as he insisted the Pon Farr scene be kept in the film when some executives not familiar with the worlds of Star Trek wanted it cut out.

Reflect on Star Trek at 50

What can I say, Star Trek will forever be with us. It stands the test of time and perseveres. Many of the fans I meet are in their teens or early 20’s now, and have become avid fans in their youth. That says to me how strong Star Trek will always be.

Talk about your interaction with the Trek fans

Mr. Nimoy had strongly advised me about the responsibilities of Star Trek actors. He told me that Star Trek would be with me the rest of my life and how he himself took that responsibility very seriously. I assured him I would do the same as I was representing his character at a different stage of life. As a result, I always give to the fans as much as I possibly can, answering their questions and even Pon Farr-ing in pictures with my wonderful fan ladies who have shown such wonderful support. They are all great people and I am always taken with the fact that they remember me.

What is Star Trek: Progeny?

Star Trek Progeny was a high end fan based web series that was slated to begin production, however production is postponed until further notice. I have however taken part in a Star Trek Excelsior Internet Radio Program which features the voices of many Star Trek actors and actresses, Ms. Curtis and Ms. Nichols included. Enthusiasm and followings for these projects is always high and the people wonderful.

What's your take on the reboot of Trek and the latest movies?

The movies were great. A throwback to the original series which I always encourage. And now, Star Trek Discovery. Very pleased to see another series to continue the universe.

You have been really busy this year with no less than 6 projects--all at various stages in the pipeline. Of course some will bow in 2017. Can you talk about them for me? I am particularly jazzed by Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter and  Curse of the Phantom Shadow.

Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter is a Sci Fi / Action film by Director Neil Johnson and starring actress Tracey Birdsall. Also appearing are Daz Crawford from “Agents of Shield” and William Kirtcher from “The Hobbit”. Cannot give away the plot or story, but action fans and Sci Fi fans should be pleased. Neil creates incredible worlds and this is his biggest film yet, as Tracey says: “ This one is EPIC.” Curse of the Phantom Shadow is a stylised 1940’s era serial type project by filmmaker Mark Ross. In place of spaceships and robots, we have B-25 Bombers, Burma, Whiskey, Secret Agents and Varga Girls. How’s that one..!!

Sounds pretty cool. I like horror flicks Ghosthunters was released recently--talk about filming that movie and The challenges of playing Henry.

All of the characters in Ghosthunters had very high emotional stakes. I d prepared my auditions for Pearry by rehearsing with my grandpa who is now in a mausoleum…! I often visit him, but now we had a great role to prepare for, so I brought my fold up chair, a large coffee, and worked the scenes in his presence for hours. Hows that for method,,! The film was written and directed by Pearry Teo whose goal was to craft a serious gothic horror film for The Asylum which is known mostly for it’s tongue in cheek “mockbusters”. What resulted from everyone's hard work was a highly dramatic film with elements of the older Hammer films of the 1960’s but shot with Pearry’s unique style that included some SteamPunk flourishes. Francesca Santoro, David O’Donnell, Liz Fenning, Web Crystal, Phyllis Spielman and myself found ourselves in this fantastic historic home rehearsing and acting out what was really a Gothic horror play. It was an incredible experience for all of us and a wonderful opportunity to help Pearry deliver something new for this company, who were shocked at the dailies they were seeing. I was so wrought after playing Henry that it took a couple of weeks to heal. So proud of everyone I worked with. There were no best or worst days. The whole production was first class.

 What do you like to do when you are not working?

I cannot remember, thank goodness I have been blessed with quite a lot of work recently so am focused on that. I have cherished playing in the pool lately with my little girl who is now 9. After some fear of the water, she is now swimming “ like Pac-Man” under and above the water. I am so proud of her.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be an actor?

As with any Art, find the best instructors that you can and be willing to work very hard on both yourself and the work. Being an actor, one is exposed, there is no canvas to protect you. You have to be willing and ready to open yourself up for your art. Not always easy to do for any actor or actress including the ones you admire. You will be training for the rest of your life.

Your chance to say anything else...

Thank you so much Tom. I can talk forever on these things so I better let you rest..!

I am so very grateful to Stephen. He is one of the nicest industry folk that I have met in my travels. He was so understanding about my hand injury--the interview was a bit unorthodox to say the least. He also gave me as much time as I needed so that I could do this interview for you guys. I hope at some point down the road that we will be able to chat again. In the meantime be sure to "Like" his  Facebook Page and follow him on  Twitter. Thanks again Stephen! And to you guys my loyal readers--as Spock might say: "Peace And Long Life"...

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Review of Batman: The Killing Joke -- Two Masked Men At Their Darkest

I should preface this review by first saying that while I have a deep affection for Batman, I am by no means a Dark Knight connoisseur.

I probably know more about Batman than the average person, but I hesitate to call myself a "fan" because that title is, at least in my mind, reserved for people who really know the comics inside out (and it is fair to say that this movie is in many ways aimed at such hardcore fans.)

I don't read a lot of comics, and I've only read a handful of Batman ones. Rather, my relationship to the Caped Crusader stems mainly from the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy, as well as perhaps the pinnacle of superhero-comics-as-games, Rocksteady's Arkham Trilogy.

Most importantly, however, it is my childhood fondness for Paul Dini's Batman: The Animated Series that shapes who Batman is to me (and a whole generation of millennials, for that matter.)

As such, the voices of Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy are the Joker and Batman, respectively. Any time a producer is able to wrangle these two voice actors back together for any Batman project, it lends a heavy weight of credibility for me and many like me.

(As a side note, Kevin Conroy as cranky old Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond is probably the best I've ever heard him in his decades-spanning role.)

The Killing Joke film being an adaptation of an era-defining classic comic, it hardly needed any more "credibility" to be taken seriously, but the fact that these two actors were onboard was probably the biggest reason I went to see it.

(I should point out that, lest anyone be misled, this movie is rated-R for a reason. We have long left the innocent territory of the Animated Series. This movie is violent, gory, and in some places quite disturbing. No explicit sexual content is shown, but heavily implied, including a sexual assault.)

As prefaced earlier, I am not deep into Batman comic lore, and had not actually read The Killing Joke prior to seeing the film. I caught wind of a few details beforehand, but by and large the story was new to me. So while I have been told that the majority of the film follows the comic almost shot-for-shot, I cannot speak to this personally.

What I can say is overall the relationship between Batman and the Joker is explored more deeply in this film than any I've seen. In TKJ, Joker is at his darkest and most sadistic, and Batman is forced to confront the fact that the only real way their dysfunctional dance will end is if one of them is killed.

Whether Batman is capable of doing it, and whether or not he can avoid tumbling into an abyss after breaking his character-defining rule of not killing, is the ultimate question posed (but maybe not answered?) by the film.

[Warning: Spoilers Ahead]

The flashbacks to Joker's past are beautifully done and do very well to humanize an otherwise utterly inhuman character. We even see a brief moment of this humanity peek through when Batman offers to help the Joker return to sanity, and Joker pauses to reflect, only to make it clear he has given up hope on himself.

While I certainly appreciated this extra dimension to Joker, I was not entirely convinced by his backstory of a relatively normal person who, after a series of terrible events, is pushed straight into pure insanity. Joker's level of depravity makes such a leap too difficult to buy, and even though I like seeing into his past, made me almost wish they had left it unknown.

One of the most controversial bits of this film is the added content in the first 20 or so minutes detailing the relationship between Barbara Gordon AKA Batgirl (voiced by Tara Strong) and Batman.

Romantic undertones have always been implied between these two, but in this film, that relationship is-- shall we say-- fully "fleshed out".

One one hand, this is a very odd story choice. Batman has always traditionally fulfilled a mentor or fatherly role for Barbara, whose romantic affections towards him are little more than a juvenile crush, and eventually redirected to the more appropriately-aged Robin.

Their love scene in particular was very poorly done and rather sinister in nature, which only brought the feeling of creepiness to the forefront.

Naturally, a lot of people are very upset about this rather abrupt change in the relationship. The romantic interlude tailed by an immediate falling out, tailed by her being brutally attacked by Joker and then ending with her working with Batman once more as Oracle with no apparent emotional reservation is... tough to swallow.

At the same time I do understand it-- her near-death at the hands of Joker is suddenly given much more emotional impact and heightens Batman's sense of revenge. Unfortunately, I don't feel that at-the-edge-of-madness rage that Batman feels after the incident are very well communicated in the dialogue, and the entire point of adding that relationship feels wasted.

But what about everything else?

This movie is beautifully animated, written, and executed. It has some very memorable shots. Joker's eyes twinkling in the lights of his new abandoned theme-park-turned-hellscape is flawless. The pacing is great. 

I particularly appreciated the level of attention given to the sound design. If you were to close your eyes in the theater, you could easily forget it was animated-- no low-budget SFX or music score taint this film. Explosions feel huge, the Batmobile sounds as souped-up as ever and the dialogue is nice and crisp.

If you like Batman at all, and can appreciate good animation, you would be well-served to experience this piece of classic Dark Knight storytelling.

The film is available on Digital HD this week and comes out on Blu-ray and for rental in early August.