18 January 2017

2016: The Year of the Burger

I realise it's been a while since I last wrote up a blog of any kind here. I'm not even sure what a valid reason is for the tardiness but here we are - reviewing the year that was 2016 - aptly and perhaps obviously (if you follow my social networks) named, The Year of the Burger.

What started out as a curious visit to one of Sydney's popular gourmet burger pop-ups turned into a regular pilgrimage to new places to try new variations of a burger. Some of these were towering goliaths of multiple patties and fillings that had people scratching their heads on how to actually handle and eat such a construction. Others were the perfect combination of size and flavour and of course, some of them were just not worth mentioning. My Instagram feed ended up filled with every second picture being a burger of the day but it was fun - for most involved. Mainly me- perhaps not so much for my stomach, or for Eleonor who accompanied me to most of these places.

In my other hobbies I continued to expand and build some of my Lego kits which was an interest reignited the previous year. I still have a few to build and have tried some different ways of showcasing the kits and their construction - inspired by many YouTube videos I've been watching.

Sadly, I still haven't got into the plastic model kits and might actually look at reducing my collection that are awaiting construction, just to save space, get some money back and go from there.With my diecast planes it feels like I didn't even buy any this recent year - although I'm sure I did. A sign that my collecting days have died down, and also that companies aren't releasing anything I want to purchase - which is a good thing of course! Most of this is outweighed by my new interest in Lego kits, and my continuously expanding collection of Star Trek Starships by Eaglemoss.

I destroyed a camera during a large rain storm (and over-estimating it's wet weather capabilities) during the year (and while plane spotting) so I had to purchase another, which saw me also invest in a couple of new lenses to try to enhance my photo taking abilities. I also managed to win a 360Fly camera in a competition which has been interesting to have, and find uses for. I did bring it on our recent trip and will look to upload that footage (if it's any good) soon...

Plane spotting remained the number one hobby for the year, as it always does nowadays and the AbraxasVideo channel has continued to grow with over 1900 videos online and more than 1200 subscribers. A slow increase on the latter statistic there, I'm trying to increase my reach but it's slow going. Based on last year's review I have added more than 600 videos to the channel in 2016. I'm getting closer and closer to the present day, which is an important milestone for me... only approximately 18 months behind now!

I was also fortunate enough to be invited to a couple of special events including the filming of the last arrival of a retiring Qantas Captain after 50 years of service and spectating airside for the inaugural arrival of Qatar Airways' A380 services to Sydney.

There were many challenges presented throughout the year and we (Eleonor and I) did our best to face and overcome them together. Many things didn't go quite to plan but we are still here to talk, blog and vlog about it. As with previous yearly reviews, here's the 'awards' section...

Favourite Live Concert - The Pink Floyd Experience, Pulse 
Runner up - Disturbed, Immortalized

It was another light year for visiting concerts. Aside from the two mentioned above, we also saw a live orchestra play the music to the movie 'Back to the Future' at the Sydney Opera House. While the Disturbed concert was packed full of the usual energy and great head banging songs we've come to expect from them, there was a slight regularity to their set list which wasn't too different from their previous outings. Meanwhile, the New Zealand Pink Floyd cover band came through Sydney in June, and quite conveniently for my Dad's birthday we went to see them recreate the famous 1994 Pulse concert immortalised on CD and DVD. With seats featuring plenty of leg room (for our row at least) and churning out songs that both Dad and I know and love, as well as getting to meet some of the band at the end of the show, there's no doubt that this was the performance of the year.

Favourite Movie of 2016 - Star Trek Beyond 4/5
Runners up - Sully, The Jungle Book (both also 4/5)

Judging by the scores given, there were no real stand out movies for 2016. I can't claim to have seen more popular movies like Deadpool or Doctor Strange, but out of those that are left, and those that I 'really' care about, it's about time that a Star Trek movie took top spot. The previous two failing to hit the mark in their respective years, Star Trek Beyond was the reboot/reimagined film that fans had been waiting a long time for. It hit all the right notes for a Star Trek movie without any of the problems the previous two faced - especially Into Darkness. The only shame being that Beyond didn't perform 'beyond' expectations in the box office, so who knows if there will be another?

Sully, the movie-documentary of the US Airways A320 that water-landed in the Hudson River, New York was a great piece of work for any avgeek while Disney's live-action/CGI rendition of the classic, The Jungle Book was good fun.

Some other movies were funny, or just good fun without scoring high including Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Kung Fu Panda 3, Central Intelligence and Rogue One (A Star Wars Story) while some movies just flat out disappointed like Alice Through the Looking Glass and Independence Day: Resurgence.

Best Trip - Tahiti/New Zealand
Runner up - One day at Kuala Lumpur International Airport

2016 started with a lot of promise and then quickly turned in to a year that wouldn't have any major travel plans at all. The year prior we were talking about visiting Europe and London for a big trip. By early 2016 we had scaled it back to a domestic three city trip around Australia and by mid year, with challenges rising we very nearly gave up to look forward to 2017 instead.

I did manage another solo trip to Kuala Lumpur which was quickly put together and just as quickly executed as I visited their airport for all of 24 hours to do some plane spotting - catching some exotic aircraft before they would be seen no more. I also had the pleasure of meeting some local plane spotters and making some good friends in the process (shout out to Jacky and Alice!).

Realising that 2016 would be our fifth wedding anniversary, I decided we should celebrate and put a trip together that would see us spend some time in Tahiti (one of the original honeymoon destinations we discussed) and then New Zealand to finally visit our neighbouring island nation and catch up with an old friend. To surprise Eleonor I kept the Tahiti part of the trip a complete secret until our anniversary - our Tahitian experience was perfect with overwater bungalows, postcard views everywhere and some exciting activities to fill our time, while NZ was a friendly place with a much cooler climate but still offering so much. I'm still going through our photos and footage from the trip and while it seems like a long time ago now (we travelled in December), I'm glad we went.

With another new year ahead, there's all the usual resolutions and hopes. I'm hoping the year improves on the previous, particularly with fewer challenges to overcome. There are already a few things including a big trip we have to look forward to, so we're off to a good start perhaps... Time will tell!

17 August 2016

Crusade Review: The Rules of the Game & Series Wrap-up

Crusade comes to an end (in its chronological viewing) with the crew arriving at Babylon 5 to negotiate with an alien race for access to their world - of course, things don't go to plan...

The Rules of the Game
Gideon is attempting to gain access to Lorka VII to investigate what happened to the original inhabitants of that planet. Negotiating with Lochley and a Brakiri ambassador at Babylon 5 appears to be a futile attempt - but it does allow the two Earthforce officers to further their relationship.

Meanwhile, Max meets his ex-wife who has run in to a bit of trouble, and with the help of Dr Chambers, Max is able to get her out of the mess.

Just for the familiar setting of the space station this episode just feels right, and while the self righteous Lorkan's are a race we have never seen before, we still get to see Brakiri and Drazi and just feel like we've come back home again.

The relationship between Gideon and Lochley was obviously heading to this point and it would have been interesting to see where it would have gone with a longer series run. It was also good to see more about Max and his past - along with Sarah who can clearly take care of herself just fine.

Rating: 7/10

It's just a shame that this is the last episode for the series and it feels even worse if you read about the potential storylines that would have rounded out the season - let alone some of the story arcs that would have been explored once the show really got going.

Crusade was by no means a bad series - I feel it just didn't have time to fully develop in to what JMS wanted it to be - and there's plenty of literature out there to suggest that there was a lot going on behind the scenes that pretty much sabotaged the show before it was given a chance anyway.

My own ratings average for the series puts Crusade between B5's first and second seasons for overall satisfaction, this with only 13 episodes compared to their 22.

There were some continuity glitches depending on which order you watched the episodes in (unavoidable in the broadcast or the chronological version!) but the quality of the stories definitely wasn't lacking. The cast all worked well together and it would have been good to see their threads develop over time, just like the B5 series did with all of its regulars.

As stated above, the biggest shame is the unrealised potential - all the unanswered questions without a Well of Forever for us to go to for that divine wisdom. I have read that stories would have looked more at the Apocalypse Box, the mysterious ship that destroyed the Cerberus and so on... the Drakh plague would have been cured and made way for something 'more' story wise - in typical JMS fashion no doubt. But we can only imagine now...

With the TV shows out of the way, there's only a few more Babylon related reviews left... and then I can restart the whole series and start again! haha :)

12 August 2016

Crusade Review: Patterns of the Soul & The Well of Forever

The search for a cure to the Drakh plague continues with the Excalibur crew find colonists have transferred it to another planet. Galen also presents the crew with a quest to a mysterious location that could hold all the answers they are looking for...

Patterns of the Soul
Gideon is ordered to head to a planet where a group of humans have landed and it's feared they are carrying the Drakh plague off-world.

What Gideon uncovers is a plot by an Earthforce General to have his dirty work covered up - but there is also a threat to a group of aliens living on the planet - the last remnants of Dureena's people.

There's more of Sarah Chambers' character development in this episode, and that's welcomed. The performances of the enhanced humans could have maybe been improved a bit and the twist for Gideon's solution was an interesting one. While we do get yet another reason to find a cure to the plague, and we see Dr Chambers' earlier developed antigen used in the field, the episode still feels a little slow.

Rating: 6/10.

The Well of Forever
With 'nothing on', Galen suggests the crew go on an adventure to find a mythical place in the depths of hyperspace.

Merging the navigational sensors of his ship with the Excalibur, Galen allows the crew to go on the quest - but it becomes apparent that Galen is up to something when he doesn't relinquish control after Gideon calls for the search to end.

When they do find the Well of Forever, Galen is able to fulfil a promise, and vows never to betray Gideon's trust again.

Meanwhile, Matheson is under scrutiny from 'Mr Jones', a telepath representative that conducts regular checks on other telepaths now that they are integrating with society.

This is an episode I've seen many times but it does have some good moment. Particularly when the crew come across the hyperspace aliens, the 'Fen'. The real shame comes at the end when all records of the location disappear and hardly any of our crew get the answers they may have been looking for - typical JMS writing!

Rating: 6.5/10.

The next review will finish up the series with the final of the 13 episodes that were produced and a summary of the series...

11 June 2016

Crusade Review: Each Night I Dream of Home & The Path of Sorrows

Gideon and crew continue their mission to find a cure to the Drakh plague on Earth, which brings them back home and facing their pasts in these two episodes...

Each Night I Dream of Home
After a secret rendezvous and pickup, the Excalibur returns to Earth on a priority mission.

With a Senator and civilian in tow, Gideon and crew pick up a stranded and damaged Starfury carrying Captain Lochley. The Excalibur then arrives at Earth to pick up a life pod and place the occupant in a quarantined area of Medlab. The pod contains Dr Stephen Franklin, who's there to conduct an experiment on the civilian, David Williams who wishes to be infected with the Drakh plague so he can marry his fiancé on Earth.

Lochley recovers from her injuries aboard the Excalibur while Dr's Chambers and Franklin work with David and analysing the plague as he's infected. A surprise attack by the Drakh turns things dangerous as David's life is put in greater danger when a system malfunctions in Medlab.

With Lochley's help taking command of the Starfury squadrons, Gideon is able to eliminate the Drakh threat. Following which, Lochley is returned to Babylon 5, unaware that Dr Franklin was ever on board.

I always liked this episode, mainly for the opening scene which involved a closer, but extremely brief look at an Earthforce Warlock destroyer. It was also the series finale when watching the series in the broadcast order. It's a good chance to see some crossover between Crusade and the Babylon 5 series with two main characters from B5 appearing here, though never crossing paths due to their circumstances.

It would seem this episode was written and produced with 'Racing the Night' as the intended series pilot as Gideon mentions, following the Drakh battle that Sarah missed out on all the fun in their first firefight with the Drakh - however, we know the Excalibur and crew engaged Drakh ships in 'War Zone', and Sarah was definitely aware of that!

We also find out a bit more about the plague and that it is in fact intelligent in some manner - in that it specifies which organs it attacks, unlike a normal virus. No doubt this would add to the information collected about it as the search for a cure continues.

Rating: 7/10

The Path of Sorrows
At a planet known as a place of healing, the crew discover a giant orb with a mysterious alien inside. Gideon orders it brought aboard for more study.

Gideon comes to see the alien in Medlab and is shown flashbacks from when Matthew served as a Lieutenant on an Earthforce destroyer, the Cerberus. While he is examining damage to the outer hull, the ship powers up to jump in retreat of a strange alien ship attacking it. Gideon can only watch as the Cerberus is destroyed, and he is left helpless floating in space. Just before he runs out of oxygen, Galen and the Technomages pass his position, Galen rescuing him.

The debrief from Earthforce and how Matthew comes in to possession of the Apocalypse Box are also shown, with the alien offering forgiveness.

Matheson also comes to visit the alien and is shown his own flashbacks during the last days of the Psi-Corps. We learn of Matheson's role after he meets with a Resistance leader they have captured, we also see that he has always wanted to be in Earthforce, but regulations don't allow for it. His vision ends when the Resistance make their move on the Psi-Corps facility and it explodes, Matheson and a few other members fleeing in a shuttle.

Galen confronts the alien with contempt, and in his own flashback we see him and his lover, Isabelle just as she passes away. We don't know enough about how or why she dies, only that Galen mentions they were betrayed by other technomages. Following Isabelle's death, Galen found it very hard to let go and to believe in a higher purpose as it would imply that someone decided her death was deserved. The alien suggests that Galen needs to forgive.

This is a great episode purely for all the back story and apparently there was more to be shown but the episode would have run over time. In typical JMS style, there are more questions raised than answered, but we do know why Gideon never leaves anyone behind, we learn of Matheson's past during the Psi-Corps days and just a little bit more about Galen. What was that ship that attacked Gideon's ship 10 years ago? What's an Apocalypse Box (we've already seen Gideon consult it in the chronological episode order) and who betrayed Galen and Isabelle on that planet?

I just wish the series could have gone a little longer to answer or begin answering a few of these.

Rating: 7.5/10.

16 May 2016

Crusade Review: Racing the Night & Visitors from Down the Street

The Excalibur continues its search for a cure to the Drakh plague on Earth, coming across a promising find and some interesting aliens...

Racing the Night
Gideon and crew have come across a planet of interest where the inhabitants have disappeared but the cities remain intact.

After a crew member is killed, Galen uses a probe to locate the source and alarmingly discovers that the inhabitants of the planet have been vivisecting visitors for centuries.

Indeed, this world was hit with a similar plague to the one on Earth and the inhabitants failed to find a cure. Instead deciding to lure and capture alien visitors to their world in the hopes they can help, or have an immunity.

This is a great episode from a visual effects standpoint alone. It was meant to be the original pilot for the series which shows with the action sequences and some of the dialogue used to introduce characters that wouldn't be needed for any other episode. This dialogue, and some of the other scenes conflict with what we were shown in the new pilot, War Zone - how Gideon got the Excalibur, how Max came to be part of the crew are two examples.

I prefer that this episode wasn't the pilot as the crew finding another planet hit by the Drakh plague so soon would seem a little too easy/convenient. 

Seeing the flashback to the Shadows from a thousand years ago was interesting and cool, and Gideon taking action against the aliens shows what kind of person he is - for the moment.

I like this episode, despite the flaws that come up by the existence of War Zone and the reordered episodes. My rating, 7/10.

Visitors from Down the Street
The Excalibur picks up two unknown and frightened aliens who believe that humans have been interfering with their people and their planet for centuries.

This episode has a bit of fun and a definite nod to another popular sci-fi series, 'The X-Files'. There's a role reversal here though with the aliens uncovering a conspiracy on their own world that involves humans and Earth visiting and creating UFO sightings on their world.

Gideon and crew are thrown into this when they pick up the two Mulder and Scully aliens and find out the whole story when Durkani arrives to take them back home. 

We get to see some new ships, aliens and more effects in this video, including a showdown in the 'tube' aboard the Excalibur. We learn a bit about plumbing on starships and once again witness Gideon's unusual approach to things at the end.

A bit of fun for sci-fi buffs. My rating, 6.5/10.

10 May 2016

Crusade Review: The Memory of War & The Needs of Earth

The Excalibur and her crew continue to search for a cure to the Drakh plague back on Earth...

The Memory of War
Gideon and crew are investigating a planet, much against Galen's warnings, whose inhabitants perished due to some sort of plague. However, when crew members begin dying on the planet, something appears to be a miss.

Galen of course is right, and it is discovered that an artificially created virus wiped out the planet's inhabitants. What is unexpected, is what, or who created the virus.

This episode makes good use of special effects for the time. Something Babylon 5 was already well known for, but Dureena's exploration up high in the city, and that bridge she crosses, were certainly impressive (for the time).

We also continue to learn more about our characters; Gideon has a strange, talking box which he listens to - coming to this planet was one of its suggestions. Due to watching these episodes in a different order than broadcast, I'm not sure when the box is formally introduced. It's not exactly a continuity glitch, but the audience will be wondering what exactly is this box he's talking to, why does he have it, how does it know things?

Galen's encounter with the 'rogue' technomage links us back to the main Babylon 5 series of course, but we have to wonder what are those things on Galen's body, and how is his staff so important to him? It's also clearly very powerful.

The main takeaway from this episode is the viral shield that Dr Chambers develops from their stop here.

I thought this episode has a good balance of exploration, suspense and character, my rating is 6.5/10.

The Needs of Earth 
The Excalibur is tasked with retrieving information deemed important from an alien who is willing to sell to the highest bidder.

Gideon and crew head to Praxis 9, outside of Alliance jurisdiction to meet the seller who is wanted by his own people for his actions. What he holds has no medical information of help, but a message of hope and not losing ones own identity - as his people have done.

This episode takes a slight step away from the search for a cure to remind us to remember who we are while all of this doom and gloom unfolds - particularly around Earth. We also get to see some new aliens, new worlds and ships as the Excalibur heads into new parts of the B5 universe. Action and suspense mixed in with humour surrounding Max's viewing habits make this episode enjoyable.

My rating: 7/10.

08 May 2016

BSG Review: The Original Battlestar Galactica

Having finished a recent run through of the original Battlestar Galactica series, I thought it might be a good idea to summarise the journey in the series' first and only season.

The difficulty I face is drawing too many comparisons with its modern day counterpart, the reimagined series that aired in 2004.

Overall, Battlestar Galactica is quite enjoyable as it focusses on the last remnants of a civilisation who are looking for a new home after a terrible attack by the Cylons, a robotic/cybernetic race who want the human race destroyed. The Cylons pursue the fleet through much of the first half of the series. What at least gives us a sense that the characters are travelling is that the Cylon attacks eventually become less frequent, to the point we don't hear from them until the final episode.

Using the effects of the time, the show holds up reasonably well, though the many dogfights and battle sequences do get quite repetitive after a few episodes. The reuse of shots is not limited to the special effects either and budget cuts later in the series mean for less dynamic set design or stories told in less extravagant locations.

Drama, politics, action and disaster all come in to the different stories. While most of it centres on the key characters; Adama, Apollo and Starbuck, there are many others we are introduced to as well - and some we are forced to say goodbye to.

Of the villains, Baltar is there from the beginning and to the end. No doubt he would have continued in some form if the series had gone into another season. Then there were the Cylons and later threats from a mysteriously powerful being known as Count Ibli and the fleet came up against the Eastern Alliance as they approached a new star system.

There were also allies in the ship of lights, another lost Battlestar and some of the people on planets the crew passed.

The series had plenty of stand alone stories which were easy to jump in to, which were interspersed with two-parters for longer adventures which usually held more importance to the storyline. 

Most episodes ended on a lighter note and I have to say that even though Baltar would threaten the fleet and plot and scheme, I never truly believed he could ever overwhelm our heroes as his character became more like Wile E. Coyote vs the Roadrunner than anything that seriously had teeth and could actually do harm to the main characters. Which is a shame - but maybe for the time it played out better for weekly viewers. Perhaps this is a drawn comparison with the new BSG where almost every episode ended with some peril, danger or threat that was actually felt.

In any case, my ratings for each episode give the series a score of 6.21/10, which isn't too bad.

I'll soon have a look through the follow-up series 'Galactica 1980' to see what that was like. I'm not too confident from articles and reviews I've read but it's still part of the BSG universe.