The Strain Rushes To Its Conclusion

The Strain, the FX TV show based on the books by Guillermo Del Torro and Chuck Hogan, concluded its run. On the whole, the series was often enjoyable and creepy while its fourth and final season was a satisfying conclusion to the vampire/apocalyptic saga of Dr. Eph Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and his ragtag band of vampire fighters. That doesn’t mean that the final season was perfect, but at least the show got to finish telling its story.

The fourth season takes place months after Goodweather’s young son Zack (Max Charles) detonated a nuke near Manhattan. The brat had fallen in with the vampires or strigoi trying to take over the world and he was enraged at Eph for killing his strigoi mother. This stupid, impulsive act caused an off-screen nuclear war and the nuclear winter that followed allowed the vampires to live in a world of constant twilight. From there, it was easy for the vampires to openly rule the world by entering into a false “Partnership” with the surviving humans where human collaborators supply fresh blood in exchange for security. Yes, this does not make much sense, a nuclear exchange severe enough to cause nuclear winter would leave very few people alive and survivors would have some form of radiation poisoning. Not exactly a viable food source for the strigoi. Also the depiction of life after a nuclear war with largely intact cities and environments and where no one seems to be suffering from fallout stretches credibility. But it’s one of those plot devices that viewers have to accept and move on.

As the final episodes of The Strain aired, many dangling plot lines and character threads were wrapped up, sometimes a bit too quickly. This was another problem for the fourth season of The Strain, though the people BTS did the best they could with the short ten-episode season. For the previous seasons, The Strain smoothly flowed in its narrative as people struggled to maintain civilization by confronting the growing vampire threat that spread through worm-like creatures secreted by the vampires into their victims. When the fourth season began there was a large time jump that showed the aftermath of the strigoi takeover as they began implementing their version of the perfect solution; meaning turning humanity into cattle. The fourth season’s premise was mesmerizing, but sadly felt rushed and did not flow organically. Previous seasons allowed themes to play out, but in the final episodes, many promising storylines were glossed over as new characters came and went and plots were concluded quickly.

setrakian kills eichorst

However, the fourth season had its fair share of awesome and disturbing moments. Probably the best one was the inevitable final confrontation between the vampire Eichorst (Richard Sammel), a former Nazi, and the aged vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley). Their conflict took place a couple of episodes before the finale and it was short, brutal and epic. Due to his advanced years and hardship in the season, Setrakian was wasting away, on his last legs. Meanwhile the near-immortal Eichorst was as supernaturally spry as ever. It seemed hopeless for Setrakian after he was infected by Eichorst, who started drinking his blood. But the stubborn vampire hunter was not a quitter; he had overdosed previously on pills that acted as poison for Eichorst. This gave Setrakian the chance to deliver the killing blow, and his cathartic rant as he beheaded Eichorst was truly epic. While those final moments were great, the loss of these two characters before the show concluded was noticeable. The strigoi by now were faceless grunts to be mowed down by Eph, and his partners Fet the exterminator (Kevin Durand) and the half-vampire Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones), Fet’s love interest Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas), and former gang leader Gus (Miguel Gomez). What kept the show watchable was the solid acting by the remaining cast and the fact that the storyline was ramping up to its conclusion. The show’s heroes had smuggled a nuke into New York City, the headquarters of the vampires’ leader, the Master (Jonathan Hyde), in an attempt to cut off the head of the snake. Without the slimy and well-spoken Eichorst, it was up to the Master and Zack to carry on the villainy and the results were mixed.

Given the rushed nature of the fourth season of The Strain, it was a small miracle that the final episode was largely satisfying as some characters were unexpectedly killed. It perfectly played up the theme of sacrifice for the greater good and sold the point that victory does come at a cost. Still, it is rankling that the BTS people were not given an extra episode or two to properly tell their story. OTOH, at least the cable network gave them the opportunity to conclude the story, which is something that many series do not have.

The Strain was never as popular as The Walking Dead or hip as American Horror Story, but unlike The Walking Dead we got to see how the apocalypse came about. It was disturbing to see humanity and civilization falling bit by bit throughout the seasons with the macabre fate being that humans wind up as a food source. Also, The Strain had a linear story to tell with a beginning, middle and conclusion, which is something that The Walking Dead lacks. It is too early to tell how The Strain will resonate in the future, but hopefully those that haven’t had the chance to see it duirng its first run will get another one later on.

 

Waldermann Rivera 

 

 

Advertisements

Star Trek: The Next Generation Showed It Was Possible To Catch Lightning In A Bottle Twice

As we’re getting ready for the return of Star Trek to TV (or rather Trek’s first foray into original streaming service) with Star Trek: Discovery, it’s a prime time to look back at Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was Star Trek’s first foray in a then-unique syndication format. Devoted fans already know that it’s the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The series is almost as beloved as the original Star Trek, but many overlook the fact that when it debuted thirty years ago in syndicated televisionit was dismissed automatically. Fans of the original show were understandably skeptical about Star Trek: The Next Generation ever since it was announced. After all, it did not feature Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the other beloved characters and the first promo images looked strange. A bald captain? Klingons are no longer the enemies of the Federation? Why did the new Enterprise look ungainly? What was the deal with those weird one-piece uniforms and lounge chairs on the Enterprise bridge? People wondered what the creator Gene Roddenberry must have been thinking when he developed the new Trek incarnation. Even Leonard Nimoy wondered if the show would succeed. Citing that it was impossible to catch lightning twice in a bottle, Nimoy turned down the offer to develop the show before Roddenberry was approached.

When it finally premiered in September 1987, let’s say that many fans were underwhelmed by what they saw. The first episode “Encounter at Farpoint” was interesting and gave the main characters good introductions. Plus, it introduced the omni-powerful entity Q into Star Trek lore and thanks to John DeLancie’s sardonic line delivery, the character stood out. But more importantly, the main star of the show Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard, made a powerful impression. Sure, he was not the swashbuckling Captain Kirk, but Stewart made his character uniquely different from Kirk while exuding a commanding and thoughtful presence in the show.

Still, Star Trek: The Next Generation was nearly derailed in its wobbly first season. What handicapped the first Star Trek spinoff were poorly written scripts and characters. One of them was especially hated by fans, young Wesley Crusher played by Wil Wheaton. In many episodes he came off as petulant, self-important Gary Sue who was a critical key in many plot lines. Some episodes were incredibly dull and did not go anywhere. The early episodes aped the worst qualities of the original show where the Enterprise crew would visit a planet of the week and solve that planet’s problems. The made-up societies they encountered were just unbelievable and its people reeked of caricatures. The show also had a problem with coming up with interesting villains, aside from Q.

Yet, the show showed promise. As the first season drew to a close, Star Trek: The Next Generation seemed to find its bearings. The characters were better developed with the breakout being Data (Brent Spiner), who emulated the Spock position of being the outsider who questioned humanity. The stories also became more interesting as Star Trek first toyed with the idea of episodes-spanning sub-plots. In this case, a nefarious conspiracy at the heart of Starfleet and the first hints of the Borg, a cybernetic race that would not appear until the second season. It took some risks such as the above-mentioned conspiracy storyline that upset some parents for its violent content. There was also the killing off of a major character in the show (Tasha Yar, played by Denise Crosby), which was a first for Star Trek.

Fans began to come around and eventually embraced the Star Trek spinoff. Although the original show continues to be regarded as the best Star Trek show, it cannot be denied that Star Trek: The Next Generation has achieved its share of greatness through the season. It stood apart from its predecessor for being more thoughtful, for better exploring themes and characters and for its updated special effects.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation was being developed it was supposed to have featured descendants of the original Enterprise crew. Thankfully, the show evolved away from that and went with all-new characters. References to the original show were extremely rare, which allowed the show to develop its own identity. It would have been all too easy to just continue the same formula, but Roddenberry knew that for the new show to succeed it had to follow a different path. That is why we’re celebrating the show thirty years later.

Enterprise D

Now as if to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a new Star Trek TV show will debut this month to pick up the baton. However, many fans are highly skeptical and dismissive of the new Star Trek: Discovery. The list of complaints continues growing as more details come to light, and many of them are valid. The core complaint is that the new show does not feel like Star Trek. But think about that, it’s the same gripe leveled at Star Trek: The Next Generation when it first aired. The new show seems like it will take Star Trek in a new direction, just like the first Trek spinoff did. Star Trek: Discovery may not hit a homerun at first, but fans should keep an open mind and show some patience when it premieres. It may find its legs and be as memorable and great as Star Trek: The Next Generation, the first Star Trek spinoff that proved it was possible to catch lightning in a bottle twice.

Lewis T. Grove

 

A Bizarre Return To Twin Peaks

twin peaks return poster

Twin Peaks: The Return brought audiences back to the surreal world created by David Lynch and Mark Frost that featured FBI special agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) seemingly trapped in an alternate dimension known as the Black Lodge while his evil counterpart was let loose in the world. This is how the second season of the Twin Peaks show ended in 1991. Ever since then, fans have been wondering what happened to Cooper, as well as the other characters on the show. Twin Peaks: The Return answers these questions, at least somewhat in this 3rd season. How these questions are answered can be seen as controversial since Lynch takes his time with the story and tells it in a roundabout way, with many episodes not even taking place in the town of Twin Peaks (the original show’s setting) at all. Much of the action, especially in the early episodes center most of the action in faraway places like Las Vegas and New York City as Cooper’s return to our world is in the form of a low functioning alter ego known as Dougie Jones, who is barely able to speak. Meanwhile, his evil doppelgänger rampages across the country in search of mysterious coordinates. This along with the ambiguous ending make the legacy of this return something that is already controversial among fans and will generate conversation or years to come. I have not even gotten to the truly mystifying eighth episode that doesn’t even have much dialogue at all and instead shows a collage of bizarre images of an atomic explosion in the desert and scary looking woodsmen, all of which seem to show how the denizens of the Black Kodge came to our world.

One aspect of this season that harkens back to the original is the combination of genres that Twin Peaks is famous for. Scenes with campy humor followed by something that is truly menacing or sinister, along with seeing iconic locations like the double RR diner and the Twin Peaks sheriff station all take us back to the first time we encountered these memorable places and people. Most of the original cast returns and are as wacky as ever along with new and funny characters like the Mitchum brothers (Robert Knepper and James Belushi) and Janey-E (Naomi Watts) and Sonny Jim Jones (Pierce Gagnon). These moments will definitely leave those wanting a nostalgic feeling satisfied.

Answering the question of how much you will like the rest of Twin Peaks: The Return depends on certain things. For me, I really enjoyed the whole experience because I found the whole story and characters to be very interesting and thought provoking. I will admit that the seemingly open-ended nature of the final episode was unexpected and I’m not sure what to make of it. Having said that, I still like the idea of the continuing debate that will make you remember the show and think about it long after it’s over. However, if you are not really a fan of David Lynch’s movies, this might not appeal to you since Twin Peaks: The Return is much more in line with his feature films like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me instead of the first two seasons of the show. Those original episodes were almost like a parody of soap operas that centered on a quirky town and its characters that audiences came to love. While we do revisit these characters in the new season and it’s great to see them again, the whole tone of the 3rd season is much more in line with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and other Lynch films like Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and even Eraserhead. If you are looking for a show with a strict beginning middle and end, I’m not sure how much you will get out of Twin Peaks: The Return. It was filmed and shown as basically an 18-

hour movie, that has scenes and characters that seem to come out of nowhere and don’t seem to have anything to do with the main story. Eventually, most of what we see comes to make sense in the second half of the season as various characters and storylines do come together in the town of Twin Peaks during a final confrontation with evil Cooper. Getting there, however, does require some patience on the part of the viewer. Even then, there are some situations that seem to go unresolved at the show’s end. The basic story of Agent Cooper and his struggle with his doppelgänger does get resolved, but his ultimate fate, along with that of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), are not clear.

This does seem to hint that Lynch and Frost would like to continue the story in a fourth season. But as of now, it’s not known if this will happen. There is a book written by Frost called Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier coming out in October, that might give some hints to the mysteries still not solved, but we’ll have to wait and see. If this is the end for Twin Peaks, I can say that while I would have like a little bit more of a resolution, i am happy that we got to go back to this world and further explore its mysteries. I’m also eager to rewatch the whole thing again, hopefully in a blu-ray release, maybe with some more answers in a missing pieces like segment that accompanied the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me blu ray. Here’s to hoping of more cherry pie and coffee in our (and Agent Cooper’s) future.

C.S. Link

Unleashed Star Wars Toys

star wars unleashed

While we Star Wars fans salivate over the Star Wars Force Friday II release of new toys, let’s take a quick look back to one of the most popular and colorful Star Wars figures line. This one was called Star Wars Unleashed, which debuted in 2002 and ran until 2007, ten years ago. The line mostly concentrated on the characters from the then-current films Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

As with recent Star Wars toys, the Star Wars Unleashed line was manufactured by Hasbro and the figures cost more than the standard six-inch figures. Usually they retailed for about $15-$20 and the cost was due to their size, plus the bases of the figures. Those who managed to buy them at the initial price back then are extremely lucky because they now cost quite a lot in the secondary markets. Some fetching prices well into the hundreds of dollars.

When the line was first launched, each figure had a theme reflected in their dynamic poses. Each pose represented a key moment for the character in the movie. This was probably to make up for the fact that they’re not as articulate as regular figures though they’re much more detailed. A good example of such vivid posing and sculpture is the Anakin Skywalker figure is known as “Rage” since that the sculpture illustrated his violent mood after his mother was killed in Episode II. We all know after her death Anakin went on a killing spree, which made him reckless, even into his fateful confrontation with Count Dooku. It was one of the most dramatic poses in the series with Anakin in full attack mode wielding two lightsabres and a look of pure hatred. It’s amazing that the manufacturers were so capable of capturing his inner turmoil since one wouldn’t expect that from a toy. The other most dramatic figure that was part of the initial release was the Darth Maul figure that is called “Fury” and he is placed standing on one leg as if ready to pounce on a hapless Jedi as a swirl of red dark force energy swirls around that leg. For some reason, the other figures released in the following years didn’t have any subtitles, which took away from the idea that the sculpture were supposed to represent the characters at certain, pivotal moments.

Luckily for the collectors, the later figures in the Star Wars Unleashed line were just as impressive and in fact more so. Take the Boba Fett figure that was sold exclusively at Target. The detailing is simply beautiful and the pose was so dramatic. You almost expect the bounty hunter to come to life. In the actual display, Boba Fett is battling the hungry sarlacc creature while trying to escape. This was inspired by the scene in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi when he is eaten by the creature. In this pose it looks as if he’s ready to blast off, implying that he survives the encounter. It was a beautiful and dynamic sculpture as Fett’s posture with one arm raised high and one leg tangled in the sarlacc’s tentacle was reminiscent of a cover from an old science fiction pulp magazine.

On a side note, additional figures were repackaged and sold exclusively in Wal-Mart, KB Toys, Best Buy and Target. They included two versions of Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and General Grievous. The figures were slightly larger than the original figures.

The best figures from that line included the just-mentioned Darth Maul and Boba Fett, as well as the Yoda (2003), Obi-Wan Kenobi and General Grievous (2005). One nifty aspect of the Obi-Wan figure is that he can be easily connected at the base with the Anakin Skywalker figure also released in 2005. Based on the final moments of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, when they confront each other on the volcanic planet Mustafar, they are both shown in battle poses as swirls of lava surround them. Only their mastery of the Force keep the lava at bay. Even though these two figures were sold separately, they could be connected.

This idea was carried one step further the same year with the Yoda vs. Palpatine figures that come together in one package. It can be said that Hasbro took this to the next level with the release of the Epic Battles packs collection. These sets sold for less and included at least four figures though they are much smaller, roughly three inches tall. The collection includes groups of Jedi, Wookies, Droids, Imperial Troops and so forth. They were also well detailed with dramatic poses but were not as enticing as the regular Star Wars Unleashed figures, which were more geared for older children and adult collectors. However, they’re perfect for the younger fans who want to recreate exciting scenes from this film series that just seems to spawn more and more creative toys and figures.

On the other hand, the popularity of the Epic Battle packs spelled the end of Star Wars Unleashed. There was only one Star Wars Unleashed released in 2007, Count Dooku, which was just as masterfully sculpted and detailed as the other figures. It’s a shame that the line ended because there are so many characters that would be perfect.  Imagine one being sold for Ahsoka Tano, Rey, Lando Calrissian, Qui-Gon Jinn, or Luke Skywalker from the first Star Wars film. We do have the Titanium and Black Series figures which are just as impressive, but Star Wars Unleashed does hold a special place in my collector’s heart. It’s probably because of the dramatic forces that captured the essence of the characters. Perhaps one day they can come back in some form or another.

José Soto

Robocop: Celebrating The Cyber Masterpiece

Robocop poster

On August 1987, genre film fans received a bonafide treat when the film Robocop made its debut. To say that the film was a thrilling surprise would be an understatement on the league of the title character’s stoic line delivery. Part of the reason for the enthusiastic reaction to Robocop is that August is usually a dumping ground for non-starter films that no one remembers weeks after they debut. Robocop bucked that trend with its no-holds-barred action, over-the-top violence and wry social commentary.

Serving The Public Trust

Robocop starred Peter Weller as Murphy a beat cop in a futuristic and crumbling Detroit who is viciously gunned down. Left for dead, and with a ruined body, Murphy is resurrected into the mechanical body of Robocop, a prototype robotic constable. The cyborg police officer is touted as the crown jewel of Omni Consumer Product’s (OCP) media blitz to promote a revamped Detroit to be renamed Delta City. Robocop makes an immediate impact in the public consciousness as he patrolled the dangerous streets in his sleek chrome body that was designed by Rob Bottin. Buttressed by Basil Poledouris’ pounding and bombastic score, Robocop efficiently curbs crime thanks to advanced cybernetic skills.

morton and robocop

However, beneath the chrome armor Murphy’s mind and humanity, which was supposedly wiped clean during his transformation, starts to re-emerge. At the same time, the film follows the ruthless corporate antics of Robocop’s overlords who care little for their community. Eventually, Murphy’s emerging morality clashes with his handlers, who are in league with the local crime lords. In this case, Robocop’s arch rival Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith), who looks like a typical suburban father but has a severe aptitude for violence that rivals a favela gang leader. Even though these villains did not have any superpowers, their cunning and willingness to go the extra mile were quite a match for Robocop.

Robocop and Boddicker

The film made quite a splash that late summer and for good reason. Thanks to Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, Robocop excelled in macabre humor and biting action scenes. Verhoeven and the other filmmakers including producer Jon Davision, and screenwriters Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner, were clever enough to inject a balance of pathos for Murphy’s plight and inspired social observations.

Dystopian Corporate Culture

Robocop’s futuristic America is one where the country is slowly decaying as common decency gives way to empty consumerism. An insensitive corporate culture has taken hold on society as the top business leaders claw each other to get to the top while the rest of community suffers from their decisions. The main corporate scumbags in the film were Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) and his boss Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), and both men exemplified the callous, slimy and two-faced negative image of corporate leaders. Seeing Morton’s conniving machinations and Jones’ ruthless actions were fascinating to watch and reflected the narcissistic business-oriented culture of the ‘80s.

Jones and ed209

Sadly, the film’s commentary echoes the fraying moral fabric of today’s society and illustrates how prophetic Robocop was in predicting our future. Of course, violent crime is not as prevalent as in that film, but many of the other dystopian aspects presented in that film seem just around the corner for us, if not here already.

The level of violence shown in the film is still quite shocking today given the way Verhoeven seems to revel in showing us how vicious humanity can be. What helped make the level of violence so intense and shocking was the superb makeup work by Bottin.

First Modern Superhero

In many ways, Robocop can be considered a prototype for modern superhero films. The film was inspired by The Six Million Dollar Man and the more adult-oriented comic books that appeared in the 1980s. Groundbreaking comic book writers like Alan Moore and Frank Miller were making a splash with their graphic comic book stories where the heroes were more than willing to use extreme violence to fight crime. Robocop employs similar means, using all of his weapons and high-tech tools at his disposal. A good example of this in the film is where a thug took a woman and used her as a shield against Robocop. The cyber cop then used his advanced marksman skills to castrate the bad guy through the woman’s dress with a perfect shot that left her unharmed.

But Robocop didn’t just have street punks to fight against. His greatest enemies were his corporate handlers who stripped Murphy of his humanity and did not have the public’s best interest at heart. OCP only saw Murphy not just as an asset but as a quick fix. The company wanted to replace Detroit’s human police force with a robotic one they could control. Their first attempt, the lumbering ED-209, proved to be a failure and so the Robocop program was quickly brought online as a stopgap measure. Even though Robocop was a public success, he was distrusted by many human police officers who correctly saw him as a threat to their livelihood. The one exception was his partner Lewis (Nancy Allen), who eventually deduces Robocop’s original identity and helped him recover his humanity. Although ED-209 was considered a failure, due to software issues, the robotic sentinel was still a credible threat to Robocop. ED-209 was quite popular with fans and the stop-motion effects by Phil Tippet used to bring him to life was one of the last times the effect was used in a major film.

Violent Laughs

ED-209’s failed debut when he mistakenly kills a hapless OCP executive was one of the film’s funniest and macabre moments and illustrated how Verhoeven reveled in directing over-the-top violent scenes that brought out guilty laughs. Keep in mind, that the executive’s death scene was actually edited from a more violent version where the robot repeatedly fired on the corpse, which sprayed blood all over the boardroom. Then there were the clever commercials that were inserted in between scenes, which were bursting with satire. Fans of the film still love the line from some ads “I’d buy that for a dollar!” which was shouted from a john buying the services of prostitutes.

 

Given all the film’s merits, what made Robocop a masterpiece that still resonates thirty years later was its core conflict of individuality versus an overbearing corporate culture. We empathized with Murphy’s dilemma as his humanity shone through all the hardware covering up what remained of his physical body. It was also a metaphor for the capacity of our human spirit to rise above encroaching technology.

José Soto