Saturday, May 18, 2013

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness opened this weekend! Hubby and I saw it last night. We had wildly differing opinions about Star Trek (2009). I loved it; he hated it. I went into this one excited, and he went along, by his own admission, for my sake and because he wanted to point out all the flaws afterwards. Into Darkness does have some flaws, even big ones, but we both agreed that it is overall a good movie. Well, Jason said it was "okay," but he also said it was "way better than the 2009 movie."

I'm going to begin my review with my spoiler-free observations, and then head into a discussion of the plot.

First off, this movie is shot much better than ST09. The lens flare is toned down quite a bit, where it is no longer the main camera effect. The camera shots themselves are also much more stable. It's good to know J.J. Abrams can keep the camera still for longer than half a second. I also like the continuing nods to the original series (though I'll discuss that more in the spoiler section). We got mention of the Gorn, Tribbles, and Harry Mudd, as well as Section 31 from Deep Space 9.

The acting was excellent. Jason pointed out Noel Clarke in an early scene, also known as Mickey Smith from Doctor Who (side note--season 7 finale this weekend!). Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as John Harrison, the main villain. IMDB gives his character's real name, so go there if you want spoilers. Peter Weller as Admiral Marcus has some great scenes too. The main cast is just as good as they were in ST09. I especially enjoyed Chris Pine's performance. It was good to see Kirk get some actual character development. It was nice to see Nyota (Uhura) have some action scenes. Infinitely better than, say, dancing around in a skimpy costume to cause a distraction.

I'm looking at you, Star Trek V.

Oh, and this is a minor spoiler, but I was glad to see that someone at Starfleet finally decided the chairs on the bridge of the Federation flagship should include seat belts. Seriously, I know they have artificial gravity, but with all of the times we see people on the bridge getting knocked around, they needed seat belts badly.

Jason and I agreed that the opening scene was needlessly stupid. If a submarine can't go into space, why should a starship be able to go underwater? My other complaint about the movie was the way they handled things at the end, which will be discussed in the next section.

Overall, I'd give Star Trek Into Darkness 4 out of 5 stars.


You have been warned.

I can understand why they decided to put Khan into the movie. He is the most iconic villain from the original movie continuity and, as Spock Prime points out, he was their biggest foe. They handled his character very well, both in terms of writing and acting. I can even buy that Kirk sacrifices himself to stop Khan and save the ship.

But did they really need to create the exact same circumstances from the end of Wrath of Khan? There were just way too many similarities. It went from feeling like a nod to the original movie to saying, "We couldn't think of anything original. Watch Wrath of Khan with Kirk dying instead."

And then they didn't even follow through with it! I'm still not sure whether I think this is good or bad. On the one hand, it undermines Kirk's sacrifice and shows that Abrams is still playing it safe. Plus, it would be very interesting to see how everyone goes on without Kirk. On the other hand, I didn't actually want to see him dead. Spock's death in Wrath of Khan is ultimately undone as well, so maybe they're combining the endings of II and III? I suppose what I would have wanted was for someone (probably Spock, to tie in with the opening) to save Kirk after he has shown he is willing to sacrifice himself. I would also have created an entirely different circumstance for Kirk to put himself in.

I am very intrigued by the idea of the militarized, possibly evil Starfleet. Admiral Marcus was such an evil slimeball that I almost wasn't sorry when Khan snapped his neck. I felt bad for Carol, though. Good to know she's made of tough stuff. I suppose the next movie will have to feature this "inevitable war" with the Klingons. Maybe they'll bring the Romulans in, too. I would love to see the Federation and the Romulans team up; ever since I read Diane Duane's Rihannsu series I thought it would be great to see some ties established. Maybe they can even bring in Ael. Wishful thinking, I know. I would love to know what Diane Duane thinks of the new movies.

Here is another unlikely prediction: the Borg. They have shown up in every series but TOS; they even appeared in the prequel series, although they were never named as such in order to preserve continuity.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review: Dianne Duvall's Immortal Guardians series

I have been a fan of the vampire genre since I was in high school. It started out with Angel (and, shortly thereafter, reruns of Buffy) and quickly spread to encompass a wide array of books, movies and TV shows featuring the undead. Basically, if it's got fangs, I will read it. Or watch it. I may not like it, but I will give it a shot.

Dianne Duvall's Immortal Guardians series has three books so far, plus a novella included in a collection called Predatory. The fourth book comes out later this year. I picked up the first book on a whim and was immediately struck by the complex world created in this story. There are normal humans, obviously. There are also "gifted ones," or humans with supernatural abilities and "advanced" DNA. But vampirism is completely unrelated to the abilities of the "gifted ones." In fact, it comes from a virus that turns a human into a vampire and turns a "gifted one" into an immortal. The thing about the vampires is that they tend to go crazy after a few years. Crazy as in "homicidal." So the job of the immortals is to hunt down the vampires and stop them from killing people. The immortals, due to their already differing genetics, are protected from the insanity that eventually kills any human-turned-vampire.

Then we have Ami and Zach, who are...none of the above. We don't find out Ami's secret until halfway through book 2, and still don't have an explanation for Zach. Though to be fair, Zach has only shown up in a few scenes, and we don't even learn his name until the third book. Usually a world that starts out with vampires will add other supernatural elements, such as werewolves, demons, and magic. Duvall takes the scientific approach instead, which I find pretty cool. 

So we have complex characters. We also have tons of action. There is no shortage of fighting, death, and bloodshed. We get descriptions of all of the characters' weapons. The male main characters are all Immortal Guardians, so they have centuries of experience with fighting and killing vampires. But the women are no slackers, either. Sarah (from book 1) is a college professor who is thrown into the world of immortals and vampires by accident and is more than capable of holding her own. Ami (from book 2) kicks some serious vampire ass, despite being tiny and seemingly vulnerable. Think River Tam with Merida's red hair. And Dr. Melanie Lipton (from book 3) is smart and fearless. She knows what she wants and isn't afraid to stand up for the vampires she's trying to save. Makes me wonder if Duvall is a fan of Buffy herself.

There is just so much I love about this series. The characters are well-rounded, and Duvall does a great job of dropping subtle world-building hints and raising questions that are left unanswered at the end of each book. At the same time, the main story itself in each book is resolved so that each novel stands on its own. And I'm not gonna lie, the steamy scenes are pretty good.

Oh, did I mention these are paranormal romance novels?

Nine times out of ten, you would not find me defending bodice rippers. Usually the plot is thin, the women need saving, and any "foreshadowing" is just setting up two minor characters for their own love story. If you remove the relationship between Alice and Bob, most romance novels fall apart completely. I've read a few Harlequins in the past, and they were all pretty forgettable. The Immortal Guardians books are the first romance novels I've read (primarily) for the plot, and actually cared about the overall story. 

Make no mistake, the Immortal Guardians books are romance novels, complete with naked torsos on the cover. If you removed all traces of romantic relationships, admittedly, the series would be a lot thinner. Still, that's true of nearly any series. If you have enough characters, eventually some of them are going to get together (in fanfiction if nowhere else). But you could remove all of the sex scenes and still have an exciting, compelling story in a complex world. Which makes me wonder why they were written and marketed as romance novels in the first place.

The one quibble I have with the series is a minor one: all of the immortals are literal vegetarian vampires. They need blood, but they also eat normal food, and they are all health food nuts. We get loving descriptions of vegetarian meals, prepared with organic ingredients. But it never rises to true Author Tract levels and the story is still definitely enjoyable even if you don't happen to share her passion for salads.

Overall, I would give the series 4.5 out of 5 stars. If you like action, supernatural creatures, and a dash of hot romance, definitely check it out.