When the Train Stops (2019): A Wonderful Film About Empathy and Redemption Found

Michael Forest, John de Lancie, Vic Mignogna, Rekha Sharma, and Darren Jacobs in When the Train Stops (2019)

        First, this is my first short film that I’ve reviewed on the blog. Second, I want to put my biases up front. This was a film I saw through Indiegogo by being a donator as I was interested in a signed poster from the cast as Rekha Sharma, John De Lancie and Vic Mignogna are three of my favorite actors in Sci. Fi. They are also all a part of “Star Trek Continues” which I take as a spiritual successor to “Star Trek: The Original Series” at this point. So, with all that out of the way, I thought this film was solidly good and wished it had been more than a short film as many of my cons related to the film relate to the wider world I wanted to know better. This is still a film I highly recommend. I plan to watch in the future because it was such an enjoyable film.

“When the Train Stops” was directed by James Kerwin written by Bernadette Hale and produced by Lisa Hansell.

The story follows convict Clive (Darren Jacobs) as he runs from the cops, running from a crime he believes he didn’t commit. The story picks up with the latest escape and his time in Police Headquarters before an old Marshall (Michael Forest) shows up to bring him back to prison.

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark and mysterious. It brings a beauty that fits the mystery that police feel when they catch Clive and everything is light in the Police Station and also plays into the story feeling very dreamlike. How much of this in Clive’s head? “The Twilight Zone” inspiration is definitely strong in the opening and closing and the cinematography beautifully captures that.

The Soundtrack – Rekha Sharma was behind the soundtrack and it is haunting. I knew she could act but the music and cinematography add a layer to the film that wouldn’t be there without the music in play behind the scenes. There is tension and mystery and what she does with the music is masterful. For example the music moves between the tension of a forest at night in how we kick off the film to the quiet of the police station waiting for the Marshall to the heart felt revelations on the Train between Clive and the Marshall. The music elevates the dialogue, and as someone who doesn’t seek out short films, this one had me hooked.

The Support Characters – This is a film where I’d say the strongest parts are the supporting cast and I’m saying this in that their performances were so strong I wanted more story. Vic is the Sheriff who captures Clive but he clearly mistrusts the Marshall (I had so many questions from it as his performance sells how uncomfortable he is), Rekha Sharma was the Chief Deputy Karen and she is the first to show Clive mercy and reach out to him as a person. I wanted to know where her empathy came from given the Sheriff’s and rest of the force’s hostility towards Clive. What did she see? The Marshall is great too, but giving his story away would be spoilers. So I’ll just say he was great in his role and it is worth watching partially due to him and partially due to John De Lancie who plays his brother.

Okay:

The Lead – Darren Jacobs does a good job in what he is given and he shares a lot of his backstory, but it is hard for me to rate the performance as good given that beyond survival I didn’t get his motivation for escaping prison all the times prior. He is someone who says he was framed and is innocent and we see his innocence but we needed more reasons to question. His anger is only directed at his father and we needed more there for why it looked like was a lifer. This was where a longer film would have helped the story immensely.

This is film I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan to the actors listed above in my initial reasons for watching, any fan of surrealistic fiction and stories like “The Twilight Zone” and those who want to support a film that I hope might be adapted into a full length film some day. I enjoyed this film a lot. The performances are good and besides needing more reasons to question the motivations of the lead, I wanted this entire world expanded and explored more. This is well worth your time and I’m looking forward to my next rewatch.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10.

Here is a link if you want to watch or donate.:

https://www.whenthetrainstops.com/

 

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Star Trek Continues – A Beautiful Continuation and Honoring of the Best Parts of the Original Series

This is the first fan series or project that I’ve reviewed on the blog, and honestly after this, the standards for what fan films or shows I would watch is pretty high. A friend at work recommended it to me and I’m grateful he did. This is a professionally made production that looks just as good if not a little better than the Star Trek: The Original Series and has writing on par with the good and great episodes from that series.

The show was created by Vic Mignogna, who also stars as Captain Kirk in the series…and you can tell he’s a fan of the series. So much love and quality was poured into the making of this that I honestly wish CBS would show it. This is more than just a love letter to the series as it takes the lore seriously and expands on it, rather than going through the same beats.

The story picks up where the Original Series left off with the continuation of the 5 year mission of the Enterprise.  As part of that mission they are first to try out the Counselor test program (on whether starships should bring on full time counselors) bringing lieutenant Dr. McKennah to the crew.

The Pros: The Universe – This is “Star Trek.” The characters act how they do in the Original Series, the ships and galactic powers are in action, the Enterprise is exploring strange new worlds. Nothing feels out of place.

The Cinematography – The cinematography in this series is beautiful and it looks like a more polished version of how the Original Series was filmed of old. Whether it is fighting a Romulan Warbird or destroying a tiny object in space, or a fight on the ship or a planet…the sets look raw and real and it gives life to the show.

The Writing – The writing team and directors (who were largely Vic Micnogna working with a few other people but usually always at least directing) did an amazing job. The stories catch the morality of what make “Star Trek” great, whether it is feminism, equality and peace and understanding aliens and other beings. This is the through line through the series and it was one thing the Original Series didn’t always do (seriously, the sexism in some of the early episodes of TOS are horrifyingly bad). I won’t give away any spoilers but these episodes are so amazing I do plan individual reviews of them down the line, as well as a Top 3 post.

Connecting to Past and Future Treks – This is a series that connects the threads between TOS and The Motion Picture really well (and even ties into TNG with the Counselor program). In this you see what happens to the psychics, the Romulan Star Empire after the Klingon Alliance, Apollo, why we never seen any female captains and how things went down in the Mirror Universe. It is all done artfully while keeping the progressive strength of what made Star Trek so great in how it saw humanity’s potential in the future.

The Guest Stars – There are some pretty great guest stars, even though some of them I wish had gotten better writing. Colin Baker shows up as an alien leader, as does John De Lancie, Rekha Sharma shows up a scientist who Kirk had a relationship with, Marina Sirtis voices the Enterprise computer and Michael Dorn voices the Mirror Universe’s Enterprise computer. The guest stars in this are gold and they do a good job with what the writers give them.

Spock and Kirk – Spock and Kirk are the strongest part of this show and that is largely due to the chemistry between Vic Mignogna and Todd Haberkorn. Both have done anime voice work so my guess is that is how they must have met and formed the rapport. These are the two who receive the most exploration as we see both of their regrets as well as their dreams and aspirations. I won’t say anymore than that as the reveals of what those things are handled really well. Even when certain episodes were just good or fun these two kept me coming back as their acting was the strongest even in weak scenes.

Okay: The Rest of the Crew – Chris Doohan (James Doohan’s son) is fine, hell most of the crew outside of Kirk and Spock who aren’t guest stars are fine but none of them really capture the characters the way Kirk and Spock do. Part of the reason is they changed the McCoy actor after two episodes and Chekov, Uhura and Sulu really don’t get any more exploration than what they did in the Original Series, so that was a wasted opportunity and kept them from ever being good.

This is a series I highly recommend to any fan of “Star Trek.” This is a series that develops the characters further, introduces new threats and situations that have to be solved, is full of hope and inspiration for the future and beautifully captures all the good that has come out of “Star Trek.” Here is the website:

http://www.startrekcontinues.com/index.html

I highly recommend you check it out if you are a fan of the series. Seriously, Vic Mignogna created something wonderful that I will be coming back to again and again.

Final Score: 9 / 10 Solidly great fan series that connects TOS to The Motion Picture.

Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void – Gameplay Over Story

 “Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void” is the perfect point of gameplay over story, which is a shame because this is a story that is trying to do a lot. The game it is most similar too is probably “Mass Effect 3” with Moebius Corp as Cerberus and Hybrids and Void entities as Reapers with an ending that isn’t really set up all that well and putting drama and rule of cool over character choices that actually make sense. The gameplay is top notch, like “Mass Effect 3” too. The one thing that puts it above “Mass Effect 3” for me though is that the character choices do make some level of sense in the end (the exception being the Epilogue) and that is where Blizzard showed themselves to be better storytellers than EA/Bioware in this instance. I’ll get into what I mean deeper into the review.

The story picks up where we left off with Amon coming into the Universe. We first follow Zeratul who witnesses his rebirth and escapes to warn Executor Artanis who is about to begin the retaking of Aiur with the Golden Fleet. Things soon go awry when Amon takes control of the Khala forcing Artanis on the run as he must unite different Protoss factions against Amon’s forces and the Golden Fleet, Amon now controls.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – I love the universe of “Starcraft” and the main campaign does such an amazing job exploring it and giving so many more layers to the Protoss as a people. We meet more factions, see just how powerful Amon is and how insidious his influence is as well as see how difficult it is for a people to change as this is the game that at the core is about the Protoss changing as a species as the only way to defeat Amon is to make an Alliance between the remaining protoss factions and defeat Amon’s armies as well as making sure he never enters into the physical realm from void.

The Transformation of the Protoss – The main arc of this game storywise is the Transformation of the Protoss. In this we see how the challenges to the Caste System and the Khala which began in the first game with the Dark Templar rejoining their Aiur breathren against the Zerg, and continues even further with a Preserver who advises Artanis and reacts negativly to all the Alliances he forms with the Nerazim (Protoss Sith Lords basically, Purifiers – AI Protoss and the Dark Templar). He constantly challenges her assumptions and shows it was the old ways that lead to the Overmind defeating them in the first place and that her holding onto the Khala is causing Amon to possess and destroy her. It is a great arc and we see them come together as one in the final fight against Amon before he can gain a body.

The Hero’s Journey of Artanis – The main journey is that of Artanis as he steps up to the mantel of leadership and must face his insecurities and guilt, as when Amon possess him he kills Zeratul before Zeratul can free him, and this is after Zeratul warned him that Aiur had already fallen to Amon and that he was going into a trap. He carries this forward and does everything can can to broker peace among the Protoss factions and within himself and new allies challenge him to become a better leader and introduce him to new perspectives that he integrates through the course of the story.

John De Lancie’s Alarak – Alarak is part of Tal’darim, the enemy Protoss introduced in “Wings of Liberty” who worship Amon and are apocalyptic in their aims. They are essentially Protoss Sith as their philosophy is based on dominance and strength and they care for nothing but the individual. Alarak is a shining example of this as he only joins with Artanis when he realizes that Amon will destroy them when his intentions are revealed so he goes to take control of the Tal’darim and bring the war to Amon. He is a hilarious character who has so much sass. Anyone he talks to, he shuts down and in the end he goes his own way as well, refusing to rebuild on Aiur and rejoin his people. He’s a punk who is powerful and fun and really shows just how diverse the Protoss are in mindset.

The Protoss Factions – There are the Purifiers who are A.I. who gained sentience and rebelled and must trust their organic counterparts again (and one hold Fenix’s memories), the Dark Templar lead by Voruzan (who really should have gotten more development in this game), the Preserver of the Spear of Adun who holds onto the old ways and history, a Phase-Smith who becomes a hero and Templar rising in his caste and Alarak, the sassy Tal’darim who is in an Alliance of convenience with our heroes. I loved clicking them and getting their perspectives in the different scenes. Each showed just how layered and complex the Protoss are a species.

Unit Choices in Battle – As you recruit different factions you can choose what units you can bring into battle. Tal’darim have damage based unit types, Aiur Protoss are about shields, Purifiers are strong units and the Dark Templar are the infiltrators. Depending on the mission different units will serve you better. This was a lot of fun and gave a different dynamic to how to go about completing missions.

Mission Variety – This game has the best mission variety out of all the different Starcraft IIs. Whether it was defending resources and moving to different gather points on a moving metal disk, stopping a base from crashing into the Dominion homeworld and having to repair and defend it, a countdown to prevent Amon from getting his body and countless others. All of them were a lot of fun and felt epic in scale.

Co-op Missions – Co-op campaigns are what kept me coming back after finishing the main campaign. In Co-op games you choose a hero and level them up as you face off against Amon’s forces. Kerrigan was the first I leveled up fully as you use her abilities that strengthen her and the unit composition of her army. Since release there have been many more released with my favorite new character being Dehaka who leads a pack of Primal Zerg. The fact that each commander is different keeps the game interesting since I haven’t really done multiplayer. I seriously recommend Co-op. It is the best example of how great the gameplay got in “Legacy of the Void.”

The Cons: Rule of Cool – One of the annoying things about this game was how often it went to “Rule of Cool,” like “Mass Effect 3” did on countless occasions when ever Cerberus was involved. The best example of this are the times that Artanis goes in alone. He is leading his entire species and he refuses to let anyone come with him. I get the Protoss are honor bound but the entire Universe is at stake. This is how the Rule of Cool can become the Rule of Stupid. To create a cool looking fight characters will do stupid things to bring about impossible battles and due to plot armor will win. I hate that type of garbage storytelling and a few of the cutscenes were just that.

The Epilogue – The epilogue is a lot of fun to play, you get to play with the Protoss, Terran and Zerg armies. First with the Protoss as you fight Narud in the Void, second the Terran as you defend Kerrigan turning into a Xel’Naga and finally as the the Zerg and Kerrigan where you break down Amon’s defenses so that Kerrigan can kill him. It is gameplay over story as there is one missing Xel’Naga who was trapped for some reason and turns Kerrigan into a Xel’Naga / God. It is so silly. The only things I liked about it was the combat and the fact that Kerrigan saw it as a way to atone for her sins as the Queen of Blades. This is the only way it worked, and I did like the afterword that Zagara as the Overqueen leading the new Swarm. Still was mostly stupid, the fight against Amon should have been the main mission given how dangerous he is. Making it an epilogue made the story that they set up in Wings of Liberty feel rushed and poorly thought out.

“Legacy of the Void,” for all of the flaws it has is well worth your time. Gameplaywise it is the best of the Trilogy and storywise has the main flaws that littered the entire Trilogy with rushed setups and failure to have payoffs. They did kill off Zeratul which for me puts it above “Wings of Liberty” in story though. This story did take risks, and the overall theme of uniting the Protoss in the main campaign was fantastic. In the end I’d rate it slightly below “Heart of the Swarm” but above “Wings of Liberty.” The Epilogue hurts the final score the most as does Rule of Cool but it is still a game that I can’t help but recommend. I haven’t played the Nova DLC but if I do that will be a future review. For now, Blizzard had a good end to their series, even if it failed to reach greatness in the final chapter/Epilogue.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10

“The Librarians” Season 2 – Characters Grow and the Art of Ego and Story

the-librarians-season-2

    “The Librarians” Season 2 works in so many ways, especially as it relates to the main overarching narrative as the face off against Propsero. Where it falls apart sometimes, is when we get our single character driven episodes, but even with that there are exceptions as it is within those episodes that there was one of my favorite guest stars and one of my favorite episodes on this entire show, so there are exceptions of which I’ll get into deeper in the review.

  This is the only show I’ll watch on TNT and John Rodgers really did a fantastic job creating a show that takes the best of “Doctor Who” and “Indiana Jones” and does something completely new, this season continues that.

     The main arc of this season is the Librarians taking on the threat of Prospero who reintroduces magic into the world and wants to bring the world back to a time before humans. It is up the Librarians to discover how to stop him and his agents he brings from other stories, such as Professor Moriarty.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of “The Librarians” has always been a lot of fun and in this season we get more mythic beasts, more with magic and also science and tech. mixed together like what we got in one of the alternate without Flynn futures. Suffice to say I can’t wait to return to this world in Season 3.

The Premise – The idea of a fantasy character coming to life because of belief in it is super neat and this show takes that premise and runs with it as we meet other characters like Prospero and he summons other people to help him bring about a world where magic reigns supreme.

The Characters – The characters have always been the strongest part of the show and this season is no exception as each of our heroes are given the chance to get explored and we get some pretty fantastic minor characters too.

Mephistopheles – John De Lancie guest stars as “The Devil” Mephistopheles and he is amazing! It is very much a Q type role, which a role De Lancie excels in and it is fun to see him win for most of the episode until his entire premise of granting wishes is turned on him.

Prospero – Prospero is a good baddie. We learn that he arose from Shakespeare afraid of having nothing to live for anymore and he is Shakespeare embracing ego and fear to become Prospero. In this way it is fun to see him come back as they use to words and symbols of Shakespeare in order to defeat him and turn him back into a man.

Moriarty – Moriarty is wonderful and complex. He is the betrayer and clever, but at the end of the day stands with the Librarians. He also has a crush on Eve which is all kinds of adorable as he cares about our heroes even though he cares more about himself and fears Prospero more for most of the show. David S. Lee does a fantastic job and I enjoy how Flynn became his Sherlock. He’s the most sympathetic Moriarty outside of “Elementary.”

Jenkins – Jenkins is in a much smaller role this season when he isn’t figuring out how to stop Prospero. He’s still great and important but the part that stood out the most to me was his conflict with Cassandra when the Ladies of the Lake come to her. He rightfully has a lot of fear wrapped up in anything involving magic.

Stone – Stone has to deal with his father who is an Oil Baron and come to terms with the fact that he won’t ever really have peace with him. It is cool when he admits all the great things he’s done though and at least come to neutral with his Dad. His Dad’s ire is part of what inspires him to be great as he is a reaction to him, which feeds to “Monster of the Week.”

Ezekiel – Ezekiel’s good comes out this season as we see him risk his life countless times in the videogame episode and show that he does care even though he pretends not too. This season he really comes through and shows just why he is a “Librarian.”

Cassandra – Cassandra is tied to the magic and risks everything to stop Hell on Earth at one point. For this she meets the Ladies of the Lake and we see that she tied to magic and can join them if she so wishes. This leads to her clashing with Jenkins and I suspect conflict down the line as magic is shown to be corruption or at least disconnecting from humanity.

Flynn – Flynn like Jenkins is more on the side this season when he isn’t dealing with Prospero and the main plot. We see how clever he is though and how fun he is as well as tricks Prospero, making Prospero believe he destroyed the Tree of Knowledge and his conflict with Moriarty is great too as they both care about Eve.

Eve – Eve has some good stuff this season, when she is leading she is at her strongest and she does get an episode where she has to save a friend who made a deal with the devil. In that she shows how clever she is as she wishes for the devil to be mortal. She really is an amazing character and is the heart of the show as she is always helping those around her grow and growing herself.

 “And the Point of Salvation” – This was the best episode this season as it involves the team being trapped in a Quantam Computer that is a videogame and it is only though Ezekiel’s sacrifice and actions that they are freed from the game. Has the most heart felt moment in the show when he tells them about how often he has watched them die.

The Power of Story – The power of story is a theme of the season as the Librarians fight fictional characters and said characters try to create their own stories and narrative. Within the bounds of their characters and story so much is done and the power that comes with that comes full circle when Shakespeare is saved.

Letting Go – Stone has to let go of his dad’s thoughts about him, Shakespeare has to let go of fame, Cassandra and Ezekiel make the ultimate sacrifice and all of them have to let go of their dreams to come back to reality and escape Prospero’s trap. This is the overall theme of this season and it is done beautifully.

Okay: Tone – The tone facing the “Doctor Who” problem where sometimes it is a bit cartoony and slap stick and this is happening at the same time as serious events of mortality and morality. I didn’t mind it but I did notice it this season.

The Cons: “And the Image of Image” – This was a bad episode, I enjoy the book, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” but here Gray is forgettable and his relationship with Jenkins never felt real. This episode also had our characters getting drunk which usually always involves hack writing in any show.

    This was a great season, how it compares to last season, I’m not quite sure…but I enjoyed it all the way through and it made me look forward to how relationships will further develop in Season 3. I loved the theme of letting go and story this season as they are themes I enjoy in my own writing and the Ezekiel episode is one of my favorite television episodes of any show at this point. If you got past Season 1 and loved it, chances are you will love Season 2.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Chaos on the Bridge (2014): A Documentary Exploring the Conflict Behind Starting “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

Chaos on the Bridge poster

    I’m not the biggest fan of William Shatner. The stories of how he treated the cast, and his pet project film of “The Final Frontier” was just awful as it was all about Kirk and he even had the crew of the “Enterprise” turn against him just so he could be the center of attention…so yeah, I’m not the biggest fan. This is a decent documentary though and I really liked seeing him explore other egos and the mess that was the first 2 season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

      Shatner directed the film and it aired on HBO.

      The story involves the drama behind the creation of and initial failure of “Star Trek: The Next Generations” through interviews to give the different sides of the story in the conflicts that took place on getting the new “Star Trek” off the ground.

The Pros: Roddenberry’s Story – Roddenberry’s story is sad as you have a man who lost his art since it was owned by Paramount and the studio didn’t give him anything until the films. This lead to him being very selfish both during “The Original Series” and his attempt to micromanage “The Next Generation,” which made the early stories suck as he could change his mind at any point and had surrounded himself with “yes” men. It wasn’t until he left that the show was really able to find it’s footing, though he gave us some great ideas like the Holodeck and of course “Star Trek” which made “The Next Generation” and my favorite of the Treks, “Deep Space Nine” possible.

Interviews with the Actors – The interviews with the actors and team are a lot of fun as you get an idea of how the personalities clashed and it gives a taste of how close so many of them were. Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) and Jonathan Frakes (Will Riker) were great examples of this, as was Denise Crosby who sadly got shafted (like McFadden did by Hurley).

Patrick Stewart – Patrick Stewart being cast as the Captain is a really cool story as he was wearing a wig at first but was accepted by Rodenberry after he took it off and he convinced everyone that in the future hair doesn’t matter. It was a cool moment! Later Stewart got in a fight when he thought what he was doing was being mocked but was able to resolve it with one of the Producers.

The Turn Around – After Maurice Hurley leaves and Roddenberry leaves the show gets back on task. Hurley gave us the Borg, which was a great idea but he held to closely to Roddenberry’s vision of human perfection so there was no character conflict….this was a big reason the first 2 season sucked. Our characters were just bland and didn’t have characterization.

William Shatner – Shatner showed class in this. He was sad at not being asked to be involved with starting “The Next Generation” but he moved on and he clearly had a lot of respect for the people he was interviewing. It truly felt that he did this project out of a genuine care for Trek and curiosity of what came after him.

The Cons: The Animation – The animation looks like a comic book and clashes with drama that unfolded. Which is a shame since the animation isn’t bad, it just tonally felt very jarring.

The Soundtrack – It is very jokey and clashed with the Rodenberry story and a new creation finding it’s footing.

This was a good short documentary that I’d recommend. Shatner’s ego doesn’t really come out and he comes off as genuine and sincere throughout the entire project, so he’s clearly grown at least somewhat from the past. The animation and soundtrack detract from it but learning about the drama and the interviews really carry it and made it an enjoyable watch.

Final Score: 7 / 10