Spotlight on The Last Great Circus Flyer doc & interview with director Philip Weyland

There’s something so inherently fascinating and magnetic the first time I heard the name The Last Great Circus Flyer. It’s one of the seven documentaries playing at TCFF I look forward to the most. The film focuses on Miguel Vazguez, who performed ‘the greatest feat in all of circus history’ during a Ringling performance in 1982. Vazquez’s “Quad’ was a premiere attraction at Ringling Bros., and the largest circuses in Europe until 1994, when, at the apex of his career, Vazquez unexpectedly quit flying.

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Check out the trailer:


TCFF Screening Time(s): 
10/23/2015  (10:30 AM)  |  10/25/2015  (7:00 PM)


I had the privilege of chatting with director Philip Weyland about the genesis of the project, approaching Miguel about making it, his opinion about circus as a form of entertainment, and more!

THANK YOU Mr. Weyland for taking the time to share these wonderful and fascinating insights about your film.

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Q: What motivated you to film a documentary about trapeze performer Miguel Vazquez?

A: As a kid in the 1950’s and 1960’s, I’d been fascinated by circuses. The circus was the place to go to see people perform all sorts of mesmerizing and “impossible” feats. During that time (and for many previous decades), trapeze was THE most important act in the circus.

The triple somersault was considered to be the most difficult trapeze trick until the early 1980’s. There were very, very few performers who could do the triple somersault. It was said by circus historians that more trapeze artists perished from attempting the triple than any other circus act.

LastGreatCircusFlyer_YoungMiguelI was very aware of the history of trapeze and when I read in 1982 that a 17 year old performer, Miguel Vazquez, had completed a quadruple somersault in performance with Ringling Bros. with his brother Juan as the catcher – it was – well – rather unbelievable! I had never even heard of Miguel Vazquez or his flying troupe, “The Flying Vazquez”. It was all over the news – Tom Brokaw reported this first Quad for NBC, the New York Times covered it extensively, etc.

In the years following, Miguel became the master of this “Quad” trick. There were a few trapeze performers who eventually did a Quad – but they never approached the frequency and consistency with which Vazquez performed it. I remember a quote from a circus historian who described Miguel as “…being alone in his greatness”.

In about 1994, I used one of the early internet search engines to see where the Vazquez act was performing. Someone had incorrectly posted an entry – with Miguel’s photo – reporting that he had died in a trapeze accident. Unknown to me, the poster had confused Miguel with a different performer. I thought he’d died. I stopped going to the circus.For 14 years.

In 2008, on a whim, I searched YouTube to see if there were any old clips of Miguel doing a Quad. Didn’t take long to discover that the 1994 post was wrong. Miguel was alive. I couldn’t believe it. I searched the internet for additional information – and surprisingly, there was very little to be found.

I thought it was bizarre that so little was known about this great athlete, someone who had been a huge draw for Ringling for nearly a decade performing what had been called “The Greatest Feat in all of Circus History”. I thought it would be a great subject for a documentary. It was and is.

Q: How did you approach Miguel about making the film? Was he immediately on board the project?

A: After tracking down Miguel, I wrote him a long letter detailing my interest in doing a documentary. He and his brother Juan agreed to meet with me. I flew to Las Vegas from LA to meet them. There was some reluctance. They had left the world of circus and trapeze behind. My impression was that they couldn’t understand my great interest and passion for the project. I think they were a bit wary… of the project and me. I got the impression that they would just rather let the past stay where it was. They had no great desire to tout their past accomplishments. But I did.

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To help alleviate this “wariness”, I invited Miguel to come to LA for the day and visit the set of “Boston Legal” where I was working at the time. Miguel met Bill Shatner (who was quite interested in Miguel’s career) , spent a few hours on the set meeting my co-workers and watching the filming. My goal was to convince Miguel I wasn’t addled. I guess I was successful because shortly after that, we agreed to go ahead with the documentary. I figured it would take about 5 years to do the documentary. I sure didn’t tell them that. It took six years to complete!

Q: Congrats on your directorial debut. What are some of the challenges as well as best moments of making this film?

A: Oh – I could speak for hours – days – about the challenges and “best moments” of making this film.

I figured out early on that the fewer number of people involved in the making of the documentary, the better. After the initial stages of the filming, I shot most of the film myself. In an interview situation, I found that the interviewees were far more relaxed when it was just me in the room.

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I felt honored during the interviews and location filming that so many performers openly shared their thoughts about the past and the present.

I quickly figured out that I would have to edit the film myself. I had certain POVs and story points that I wanted to emphasize and only I could really put it all together piece by piece and be happy with the final version. I’d edit and then work with a tech person who’d put my edit together cleanly.

Funding! Always a challenge. About half way through the filming, I was very fortunate. I showed a rough cut of what had been shot to a longtime friend, Mark Charvat. He really liked what he saw and provided the additional funding to complete the film.

While I wanted to document the Quad and the athletic feats Miguel and his family accomplished, I also wanted to show the audience what they were doing now. It’s like when you see someone from college and say “hey…what’s so and so doing now?”. In the beginning, that was one of the things I was most curious about. However, during the initial concept of the film, I did not know how this would be fully accomplished. But – fortuitously, there were several events that took place that solved most of this problem. We also filmed at Ringling Bros., Cirque du Soleil. “Le Reve” at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, Circus Vargas and several other locations to assist in answering the “What are they doing now” question.

One of the best moments was filming Miguel’s youngest son Christian from the ages 4-9 and his “experiences” with trapeze. It’s one of the highlights of the film.

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Q: Would you tell me a bit about your background working in the entertainment industry and whether or not it influences your interest in circus, particularly the trapeze acts?

A: I went to Texas Tech and majored in theatre. After college, I worked as an Equity director and actor for about 10 years before moving to Los Angeles. I occasionally appeared as an actor on TV and movies. I also worked as a dialogue coach on several of the “Star Trek” motion pictures and on the television series “T.J. Hooker”, “Beverly Hills 90210” and with William Shatner on the 2011 comedy series “S#*! My Dad Says”. When not working as a dialogue coach with William Shatner, I’ve worked as his stand-in for over 30 years.

My theatrical background has had no influence on my interest in trapeze. What interests me is people who can do or create things I could not possibly do. We all have our own talents. Trapeze isn’t in my repertoire!

Q: With the exception of shows like Cirque du Soleil, the traditional circus like the Ringling Bros. Seems to be a dying form of entertainment nowadays. What are your thoughts about that.

A: Circus is certainly changing. All forms of entertainment are changing. As an example – many lament the dearth of intelligent, adult movies claiming that superheroes have captured the focus of movie studios and left the intelligent films behind.

The circus too is striving to appeal to an audience that differs greatly from the past. Many now lament that the circus of the past had far more big acts that featured “star” performers. The circus of the past catered far more to adults than the present incarnation. The circus of today is geared more toward a younger crowd – children that would rather view a fire-breathing dragon than a wire walker or trapeze performer.

I myself don’t consider Cirque a circus. It’s a magnificent theatrical display that features gymnastic elegance and ability, choreography and a more “sophisticated” – maybe that’s not the right word – production that may or may not contain some traditional circus acts. For me – it’s really a different form of theatre rather than a different form of circus.

As a result of the change in the artistic direction of traditional circuses comes the meaning of the title – “The Last Great Circus Flyer.” The late 1980’s marked the end of the “star” performers with Ringling. Miguel and “The Flying Vazquez” were featured and billed performers. That era has passed. And with the passing of that era – no matter what a trapeze performer may accomplish – he will never gain the public acclaim that once was achieved beginning with Jules Leotard and continuing with Alfredo Codona, Tito Gaona and ending with Miguel Vazquez. A young trapeze performer once said to me “Someone could do a quintuple somersault – and nowadays – no one would care. And Tom Brokaw would not bother reporting it.”

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Q: What do you want people to take away from this film?

“The Last Great Circus Flyer” is about people that have their high moments and low moments – as we all do. It’s a film about people. Good people. Talented people. It’s about a performer who accomplished what was considered “impossible” – and was able to continue doing the “impossible” until 1994. The film is not just a “tribute” film. The film touches upon circus and trapeze subjects that have never been discussed, to my knowledge, in any other circus/trapeze film. When you leave the theatre, it’s my hope that there will be an understanding and an appreciation and most of of all a respect for these trapeze performers that would not otherwise have existed had you not seen the film.


Are you a fan of circus and/or trapeze acts? Let me know your thoughts about this film and the interview

A Day at the Wizard World Minneapolis Comic-Con

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Whew, this past weekend was quite a whirlwind for me. I had to apply for a Schengen VISA in Chicago on Friday that’s why I had to miss the first two days of Comic-con. My friends Ashley and Anne were able to make it to Friday and Saturday though, check out their recap which includes the panels with Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, William Shatner, Sean Astin, Karen Gillian, and more!

So the only day I was able to attend was Sunday. I got there around 11 am and most of the talents like Lou Ferrigno, James Marsters, Adam Baldwin, Manu Bennett (Azog in The Hobbit), Ralph Macchio, Ian Ziering, etc. were still hanging around their booths. We had to pay up to $40 bucks (I think for Fillion it was like $100 buck!) to get a photo and signature with each of them though. Heh, I can’t imagine paying that much just to have my picture taken with a celebrity, but given how I feel for Toby Stephens now, I might just be obsessed enough to do so, ha! Not that he’d ever do this kinds of thing unless he’s promoting a project or something. In any case, so my hubby and I just hung out in the exhibit hall, checking out all the vendors and cosplay-watching of course!

Proof that Toby was never far from my mind that I actually took a picture with two female pirates as I had been wishing someone would’ve put on a Black Sails‘ Captain Flint costume! Yes I know, I am hopeless 😛

Highlights:

matt-smith-the-11th-doctor-mpls-comic-con-Well the best part is definitely the Matt Smith panel, and I haven’t even watched a single Doctor Who episode with him as the Doctor. Yes I’ve actually only watched about 7 episodes total and those are the ones with Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant. Still, it was an enjoyable panel as he’s pretty hilarious. He seems like a good sport too, answering every single question in a jovial way, even after being asked the same questions over and over again, mostly by the younger fans. Seriously, how many times do people have to ask him about his favorite Dr Who companion?! I agree with Anne that I wish Karen Gillan and Matt Smith could have done their session together to eliminate the same boring questions, besides the two seem like they made a fun pair. I might have to start watching their Doctor Who episodes now, ahah.

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It took about a half hour into the Q&A session that someone finally asked Matt about being cast in Terminator Genesis. Unfortunately he couldn’t really say anything as he fears for his life, ahah. Typical I suppose, besides, it hasn’t even been announced who he’ll be playing yet, but for sure NOT John Connor as that role’s been filled by Jason Clarke. In any case, though I haven’t seen Matt in anything else before, I really like the guy. He’s quirky, playful and seems genuinely friendly. I sure hope he has a long career ahead of him post Doctor Who.

Oh, it’s fun to meet up with my friend Conor Holt, the filmmaker of A Better Life which was my favorite short film at TCFF last year and he’s also a contributor to FlixChatter. His short film deservedly won Best Student Short Film at Wizard World Film Fest! Here he is beaming with pride, congrats Conor!! I hope he continues to make movies in the future!


Well I’d have more high points if I had gone the entire weekend. The low point is that I miss all the highlights on Saturday, but hey, there’s always next year! Speaking of which, a Wizard World rep said in the press note that the Minneapolis event was a huge success and the next year’s date has been announced: May 1-3!

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I’m sure glad Minneapolis’ got our own Comic-con now! It’s next to impossible to score tickets to San Diego Comic-con any more, so I’m glad I was able to go a few years ago. Glad that now I don’t have to travel far to geek out 😀


So that’s my recap folks. Have you been to a Comic-con before? If so, what’s your favorite moment?

May Movie Watching Recap & Movie of the Month

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Can’t believe it’s June already! Summer is finally here, yay! Well, the temp isn’t exactly Summer-y yet here, but I have to think positive that Summer weather IS indeed on its way [sigh] Well, it’s been kind of an uneventful month for movie watching, but I think y’all know June is a BIG month for me 😉

Now, here are some of the posts you might’ve missed from this past month:

New-to-me Films Watched:

The Great Gatsby

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Jack Reacher

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Bernie

Bernie

Muriel’s Wedding

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The Cabin in the Woods

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Star Trek Into Darkness

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William Shatner’s The Captains

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Epic

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Fast & Furious 6

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Now You See Me

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The Kid with a Bike

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It’s been a slow month for Blu-ray/Netflix watching. I actually didn’t have even a single movie rewatch all month, and also didn’t get around to watching any classic movie 😦 It’s slow on TV watching too, though I did watch some Frasier episodes (LOVE that show) but that’s about it! I wish the old NBC series Wings were on Netflix, that was one of my favorite shows in the 90s. Stay tuned for mini reviews of some of the movies I saw this past month, and of course, more Man of Steel countdown posts 😀


Movie of the Month:

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Now, I’m not saying this is THE best film I saw in May, but in terms of re-watchability, this one would probably take the cake. It’s also the only movie I’d likely get on Blu-ray.


Well, that’s my monthly recap folks. What’s YOUR favorite film you saw in May?

Weekend Roundup: William Shatner’s The Captains

StarTrekTheMotionPictureLogoThe Star Trek fever is full on this weekend. At least it seems like it is, though only a blockbuster THIS magnitude that an $84 mil four-day total is still considered a box office disappointment. Apparently Star Trek Into Darkness did not quite hit the warp-speed at the box ffice, well-short of the studios’ – Paramount, Skydance Pictures and Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions – $100 mil expectation. I have a feeling they won’t have trouble making up the $190 budget (+ marketing) when it’s all said and done though.

So did you all see it? Well, if you read my review of sort on Friday, you’ll know that Abrams’ have now piqued my interest about the whole Star Trek universe. So this weekend my hubby and I were planning on seeing the first feature film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but it’s not available on Netflix Streaming. I didn’t want to see the follow-up The Wrath of Khan as people have been saying I should watch them in order. I’m even more curious to see the first movie as apparently Robert Wise directed it, known for classics like West Side Story, The Sound of Music and also his Oscar-winning film editing for Citizen Kane. In any case, we ended up watching Shatner’s documentary titled appropriately…

The Captains (2011)

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The Captains is a feature length documentary film written and directed by William Shatner. The film follows Shatner as he interviews the other actors whom have portrayed Starship captains within the illustrious science-fiction franchise.

I was already curious about this documentary for some time but I think after seeing the latest Star Trek film, and before I embark into watching more from this franchise, it definitely is the right timing to watch this. This is a must for any Trekkie, but I’d think that casual Star Trek watchers would appreciate this documentary as this is such an iconic franchise and most likely you’d know the people playing the Captains even if you haven’t seen the shows/films.

ShatnerInaBoxI’m glad Shatner decided to do this film, and I found him to be a good interviewer, even if it’s challenging to get into much depth when you’ve got half a dozen people to interview in just 1.5 hour. He first traveled to England to meet up with Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart, who portrayed the second most famous after Shatner’s Captain Kirk, and that is Jean-Luc Picard. I really enjoyed the interview in his beautiful home with magnificent English garden, and I feel that this is one of the most enlightening interview in regards to the two of them. It’s perhaps because Shatner was a huge admirer of Stewart’s talents and stage performances, but they’re also closest in age compared to other actors. I didn’t know that Shatner was also a classical Shakespearean actor, and was an understudy of Christopher Plummer. He also interviewed Plummer briefly as he later on played a one-eyed Klingon. This is all very amusing!

Shatner showed genuine interest in every single one of the subjects he interviewed, and he seemed intrigued about how playing The Captain has changed each of their lives, the good and the bad aspects of it. Shatner commiserated with all of them on how the crazy hours and laborious filming schedule took a toll on their families, especially on a single mother like Kate Mulgrew. At times, the conversation got really personal with Kate as she lamented on her struggle being the sole female captain ([protagonist) in a man’s world like Hollywood whilst raising two young kids by herself.

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Shatner seems at ease with each of the actors, I guess his personality is such that people are naturally drawn — and perhaps amused — by him. The highlights for me was the Patrick Stewart interview and Shatner arm-wrestling with Chris Pine, 50 year his junior, ahah. I learned a bit more about each of the actors, and discovered Scott Bakula and Avery Brooks’ musical roots. I had known Brooks from his days playing Hawk in one of my favorite 80s show Spenser For Hire. I love the duet of them at the piano. The bits of Shatner at the Star Trek convention delighting unsuspecting Trekkies are a hoot, and it really keeps things in perspective. Some people might consider him pompous for being embarrassed for being known as a Star Trek captain, but I kind of understand where he’s coming from given his classical training.

I really enjoyed this documentary, and the fact that I found Shatner amusing helps make it so. Yes he’s got an ego the size of Texas and he’s at times ridiculous, but the 82-year-old sci-fi icon is well aware of that and that makes him so darn entertaining. Definitely give this one a shot if you’re looking for a fun and enlightening documentary!


4 out of 5 reels

EPICanimationlogoOh, I also went to a press screening for 20th Century Fox’ latest animated feature EPIC. I quite enjoyed it, visually dazzling and surprisingly moving. I can’t review it yet due to embargo, but I’d recommend it for kids and adults. It’s not nearly as goofy as FOX’s more slapstick features like Ice Age and Rio btw, which is a welcome change actually. Not sure why they’re calling it EPIC, I mean it’s not quite as epic as say The Lion King, but still a pretty darn good one.


So that’s my weekend roundup folks. How about you, seen anything good?

Somehow JJ Abrams & co. made me interested in the Star Trek universe

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Well, one of my most anticipated movies of the first half of the year has come and gone. I finally saw Star Trek Into Darkness Wednesday night and you know what, despite the huge hype machine working overtime for this film, this film somehow lives up to it. So yeah, I really enjoyed it.  Instead of doing a straight review, I feel like jotting down my change of heart of sort, in regards to this franchise.

Now, Star Trek fever has been high the past few weeks not only because of the studio’s marketing machine, but also sparked by various bloggers and sites posting all kinds of Star Trek-related stuff in anticipation for the new movie. Strangely enough, instead of being blasé or even rolling my eyes about the whole thing, for once I was actually intrigued. I guess it was started back in 2009 when I saw JJ Abrams’ Star Trek for the first time. For some reason, the whole franchise sort of eluded me when I was growing up, as I had never followed any of the TV series nor seen any of the previous films. Ok I did see clips of the 1986 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, this Spock swimming with the Whale scene is such a hoot! It’s one of the best ‘fish out of water’ comedic scenes ever, pardon the pun 😀

Oh and I did see the comedy satire Galaxy Quest which is not only hilarious but spot on – one doesn’t have to be a Trekkie to recognize the obvious subject of its parody. Nonetheless, I was practically Star Trek virgin four years ago. The only ‘knowledge’ I knew of Star Trek is from pop culture, the iconic phrase Live long and prosper, the Vulcan salute that I have to admit I have trouble doing, that Spock & Kirk are cross-species BFF and that Klingons are their longtime nemesis. But other than that, I’ve no clue about their universe, so I’ve got to admit that whole Spock + Spock scene in the first movie was quite discombobulating for me. My hubby had to explain a lot of the basic Star Trek 101 and all the jargon, ahah. I guess perhaps his enthusiasm might’ve rubbed off on me a bit, but I think it’s more than that.

As I mentioned in my review of the 2009 version, I think the casting and the chemistry of the cast is what I really enjoyed about the film. But what I didn’t mention then is how timeless the story of Star Trek stories, depicting the adventures of this group of humans and aliens on board the Enterprise spaceship. The underlying themes war and peace, loyalty, personal courage, the role of technology, etc. are human motifs that still relevant to this day, but of course it’s now enveloped in a shiny and cool wrapping with the latest special effects and gadgetry… oh and of course, sprinkled with lots and lots of lens flares! 😉

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Thankfully Abrams’ obsession with the lens flare didn’t bother me as it did in the first movie (maybe I just chose to ignore ’em), but what we still get in this sequel is the zippy and fun tone, boosted by the chemistry of its cast and spectacular special effects. Despite the title, the movie is really not as dark as we’re led to believe. Yes it’s slightly darker than the first, but by no means grim. Everything I like about the first movie is present, the bromance between Spock and Kirk are funnier and snarkier – Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine are one of those perfect casting choice that gets even better the more I watch them together. More screen time for Karl Urban‘s McCoy (yay) and also Simon Pegg‘s Scotty relishing in his Scottish brogue whilst being in a hysterical state of panic for most of the movie.

Cumberbatch_StarTrekIntoDarknessBut really, the REAL star of Star Trek Into Darkness is the villain. Much like The Dark Knight‘s The Joker, Benedict Cumberbatch villainous turn as the intergalactic terrorist John Harrison stole all kinds of scenes every time he’s on screen! As the superior being – in every way, as the character pompously claim – Cumberbatch is such a perfect choice for the role and he brings that same cocksure swagger from his role as Sherlock Holmes. Yes his delivery is a bit too theatrical, perhaps intentionally so, but there’s no denying his screen charisma. Cumberbatch is unconventionally good looking, but he made those who are classically handsome oh so boring! Oh, and I think there should be law that require him to wear long, cape-like coat in every movie, yes?

I think in terms of the characterization of the villain, it’s definitely an improvement over the first (no offense Eric Bana!). Somehow Cumberbatch’s role isn’t the typical two dimensional bad guy hellbent on destruction, though certainly it’s not an excuse on his means he chose for his mission. What really works is how the series of destructive events truly test those in leadership roles of the Starfleet, particularly Kirk as he often has to make split-second decisions with the crew’s life hanging in the balance. Despite the eye-popping action in 3D (those warm-speed scenes are pure geek-gasm stuff), sleek set pieces and futuristic fashion, it’s not really style-over-substance (thank goodness!). I’d readily give the movie a 4.5/5 rating!

Thanks to the trio of writers Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci in creating a reboot that still pays homage to the original, but yet feels fresh and cool. In a way, it’s kind of like the motto that Gene Roddenberry created back in 1966.

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the star ship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Well, one thing for sure, the journey of the Enterprise crew seems endless. With a projected box office take of $100 mil in four days, even without Abrams at the helm (as he’d be too preoccupied with yet another behemoth franchise Star Wars), we’re likely to see more sequels in the works. Hey I’m fine with that, fingers crossed that somehow Cumberbatch would return as well?

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In the meantime, I’m inclined to check out previous Star Trek films, starting with the original William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (particularly The Wrath of Khan) . Then later on I might move on with The Next Generation with Patrick Stewart as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, especially since Keith highly recommended Star Trek: First Contact.

So I guess thanks to Mr. Abrams bold and exciting voyage, I just might jump into the Star Trek bandwagon after all. No, I don’t think I’ll be a Trekkie nor would I start be buying a Captain Kirk action figure any time soon, but somehow now I see this 47 year-old franchise in a whole new light 😀


So tell me where do you stand in regard to this sci-fi franchise? Let me know your thoughts on Star Trek Into Darkness, too!

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