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SHARP OBJECTS – HBO TV REVIEW – absorbing self-hating misanthropic, Southern Gothic tale!

SHARP OBJECTS – HBO TV REVIEW

Created by: Marti Noxon

Based on: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée

Writers: Marti Noxon, Gillian Flynn, Alex Metcalf, Vince Calandra etc.

Editors: David Berman, Maxime Lahaie, Émile Vallée, Jai M. Vee

Starring: Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, Matt Craven, Henry Czerny, Taylor John Smith, Sophia Lillis, Elizabeth Perkins

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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As is often the case when a writer has a big hit producers and studios look at their back catalogue to see if there are any apples in the shade ripe for plucking. Thus, following the cinematic success of her book adaptation Gone Girl (2014), Gillian Flynn’s debut novel from 2006 is given a stylish, small-screen HBO treatment. The story concerns crime reporter Camille Preaker – Amy Adams on stunning form – who returns to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to investigate the murders of two girls. There she confronts a personal ordeal from the past, clashes with her mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson) and attempts to bond with her precocious, teenage sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen).

Firstly, I must say Amy Adams is one of my favourite actors. Her performances in films such as: The Fighter (2010), American Hustle (2013), Arrival (2016), Nocturnal Animals (2016) to name but a few, have demonstrated what a striking screen presence she has. Furthermore, she is able to illuminate a character’s emotion through sheer being; it’s almost effortless. But while she excels in serious roles, displaying both inner strength and vulnerability, she also has a sense of mischief and humour. Indeed, who better to evoke the pathos required to portray a character like Camille Preaker? Adams nails the alcoholic, self-harming, ex-psychiatric hospital patient role, refusing to suffer fools and using mordant wit to hide her pain.

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Camille’s assignment takes her back to a place she never wanted to go back to; drinking even more to further block out her inner turmoil. But, she has a vested family interest to find the killer of two missing girls, as her sister, Amma, knows the victims. Her inquisitive nature finds her locking horns with local cop played by Matt Craven; and forming a dysfunctional liaison with out-of-town investigator, Chris Messina. Being a small Southern town everyone has secrets to hide and out-of-towner Camille is not actually welcomed with open arms; not so much the Prodigal’s daughter but the outsider’s insider come to poke her nose where it doesn’t belong. Conflict further derives from external and internal grief that drives a feeling of gothic dread throughout. This is a story about abuse and neglect and the need to dominate through an overpowering sickness and poison. Dysfunctional humans harm others and themselves in order to get through the day.

Having watched a number of films and programmes dealing with the death or taking of children, this harrowing subject is becoming a real go-to for filmmakers and writers. Over eight episodes such crimes are melded with themes relating to: family secrets, mental illness, grooming, mutilation, addiction, suicide and sexual assault. As with Gillian Flynn’s aforementioned Gone Girl, the setting is not a happy place. Human beings do not come off that well either and are presented as very damaged personalities; or controlled and bullied by even more fucked up parents. However, as a brooding psychological thriller Sharp Objects is utterly absorbing and well worth a watch.

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I would argue that it moves too slow for eight episodes and is on occasions slightly repetitive, but Jean-Marc Vallee once again proves he is one of the best directors around gaining brilliant performances from Adams, Patricia Clarkson and Eliza Scanlen especially. The editing also is very poetic, shifting beautifully from past to present and in between, charting a series of chilling, violent events. So, while it does have filler moments in the middle it is worth sticking with. Indeed, the end contains a great twist, which in my opinion, was delivered with way to much subtlety. Ultimately, if you like your dramas dark, elegant AND brutal then stick with it; because Sharp Objects cuts deep, way after the end credits have rolled.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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Charlie Brooker shines darkly again! BLACK MIRROR (Season 4) – Netflix Review

BLACK MIRROR – SEASON 4 – TV / NETFLIX REVIEW

Created by: Charlie Brooker

Producer(s): Barney Reisz, Charlie Brooker, Annabel Jones

Distributors: Endemol UK – Netflix

Season 4: 6 Episodes

Writer(s): Charlie Brooker plus William Bridges (USS Callister)

Directors: Toby Haynes, Jodie Foster, John Hillcoat, Tim Van Patten, David Slade, Colm McCarthy

Cast: Jesse Plemons, Cristin Milioti, Jimmi Simpson, Michaela Coel, Billy Magnussen, Rosemarie DeWitt, Brenna Harding, Andrea Riseborough, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Andrew Gower, Georgina Campbell, Joe Cole, Maxine Peake, Douglas Hodge, Letitia Wright etc.

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Technology: the final frontier; allowing humans to boldly go where no human has gone before.  Indeed, one of the most incredible elements of our world is the technological breakthroughs we have made over the past century or so. We have: electricity, nuclear power, robots, driverless vehicles, television screens, computers, mobile phones, satellites, GPS tracking, drones, 3D printing, smart home air-conditioning, Hadron Colliders, huge space-ships which travel beyond the stars, WI-FI, the world-wide-web connecting everyone with anyone, holograms, the social media phenomenon, virtual reality head-sets, software algorithms, x-rays, gamma knifes, DNA, cloning, MRI scans, Hyperloop tube trains, Sat-Nav, Google, immersive video-games; plus many more medical, military and industrial inventions which make our lives so easy today.

But with such wonderful and fantastic discoveries there is always a dark side. While we may create a medical breakthrough which cures on the one hand we’ll ultimately invent some new weapon or means with which to kill ourselves. So while technology is mainstay of our existence it also can feed our obsessions and thus become an extension of our poor choices, violence and insanity. The scariest thing is we think technology is absolutely necessary and we cannot live without it. I mean, all we really need to survive is water, air, food, shelter and perhaps, as The Beatles sang, love. For all its’ positives, technology is an addiction and can be used to do wrong and cause harm.

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Charlie Brooker’s sublime anthology series Black Mirror is now in its 4th Season (2nd on Netflix). It taps into the fear factor technology brings and presents nightmare scenarios that more often than not possess a prescient twist. Who can forget the very first episode of BM which had Rory Kinnear’s Prime Minister having to fuck a pig as a means to pay a hostage ransom?  The subsequent tabloid news that our then former Prime Minister David Cameron had, allegedly, stuck his member in a pig’s mouth suddenly made BM incredibly prophetic. This season is another televisual triumph with an incredible array of acting, directing and production talent with each episode offering the feel and scope of a cinema release. I’ll be honest being a massive Charlie Brooker fan I would probably enjoy a video of him dancing in a tutu whilst juggling tomatoes; however, I can confirm these six episodes were beyond brilliant too.

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Within the fabric of each episode Brooker holds a mirror up to the future and invariably it will come back black. However, the touching love story of San Junipero (from Season 3) offered some light in the BM universe and similarly Hang the DJ (officially 3rd in the Season 4 list) contained a wonderful love story at its’ heart with Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole giving humorous and touching performances. It also contains a Truman Show (1998) style ending and a twist that I thought was absolutely fantastic. Indeed, what appears to reflect the dystopic controlling techno-world of romance apps becomes something entirely real and beautiful by the end.

While Hang the DJ offers hope, the remainder of the episodes are bittersweet, brutal and unforgiving in their rendering. Actually, I suppose the Star Trek pastiche USS Callister has a kind of optimistic ending and is bloody funny in its affectionate satire of Trek archetypes and monsters. However, Jesse Plemons downtrodden Silicon Valley programmer holds a dark secret during his immersive Virtual Reality gaming experiences. Full of Star Trek references and themes, the clever script merges ideas relating to gaming and DNA technology with fantastic sci-fi meta-textual moments.

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Arkangel also has an element of brain implanted software which enables a neurotic mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) to track and view her daughter’s every move on a computer screen. Despite the revolutionary software used this story is based wholly in familial reality as the relationship between mother and daughter becomes strained as she enters her rebellious teenage years. The danger of “helicopter” or overbearing parenting becomes too apparent in satisfying soap operatic story.

Brooker relates many of his scripts in genre territory so the more outlandish or fantastic ideas are grounded with an identifiable cultural identity. The horrific murder plot of Crocodile unfolds in true Hitchockian fashion as an insurance adjuster tracks down the details relating to a vehicle accident but tragically stumbles on something altogether more deadly. The ending of this story is particularly far-fetched, as Andrea Riseborough’s architect gets deeper and deeper in the mire, however, Brooker must be praised for taking risks with his twists.

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Rather simpler is the pursuit thriller Metalhead, presented in crisp black and white, as a woman (the brilliant Maxine Peake) attempts to survive in a dangerous land full of robotic guard-dogs. It’s mainly a tense one-hander and the future never looked so drained of hope and colour. The final episode Black Museum was even more grisly as Douglas Hodge shows Letitia Wright’s tourist around his grim parade of exhibits. Brooker’s writing is as strong as ever and the horrors of the entwining anthology stories are shocking and powerful. It’s a dark, dark episode which contains the fantastic idea of uploading one’s digital soul into a loved one’s to share their consciousness. This plays out with both horror and humour in a compelling end to the season.

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Being a total Charlie Brooker and Black Mirror fan; a big lover anthology stories; plus a fanatic of horror and tales with a twist it’s obvious to say I loved this seasons offerings. They are clever, dark, funny, sickening, silly, romantic, scary, twisted stories full of satire and warnings about the dangers of technological progress. Ultimately, though it is not science or computers or mechanics which are the danger; but rather humans use and abuse of said technology. Because, for all our ingenuity and invention we more often than not use machines negatively and Black Mirror reflects that (im)perfectly.

Mark: 10 out of 11

HEARING STORIES: SOME THOUGHTS AND REVIEWS ON AUDIO-BOOKS

HEARING STORIES: SOME THOUGHTS AND REVIEWS ON AUDIO-BOOKS

Six months ago I was reading a physical book of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and I was just not feeling it. Not the actual book as it is a classic novel of our time but the actual activity of reading itself. I just did not want to read anymore. Of course, I can do it but my mind just didn’t have the desire or energy. What did this mean?

Had I been dumbed down and rendered attention deficient by virtue of the constant viewing of films, TV and the barrage of internet viewing. Perhaps my brain had been become punch-drunk and distorted my mind, like an over-the-hill boxer who’d just had one too many fights. It was confusing. I’ve always loved reading and did not want to stop.

So, I thought why not try out the Audio-book route?  What’s the worst that could happen?  I could LISTEN to someone reading the book to me and experience the literature from an aural perspective. I have to be honest – I’m glad I did! Because I have been listening to a number of audio-book productions and they have been very rewarding from all manner of dramatic, artistic, comical and emotional directions. Moreover, I listen to these books while walking and at the gym so my “reading” has become a very pleasing mobile pursuit.

Anyhow, here are some reviews of the books I have been listening to over the past months. If you also listen to audiobooks please feel free to suggest any good “reads” or narrations.

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BACK STORY – DAVID MITCHELL (narrated by David Mitchell)

Comedian, actor, panel-show humourist and writer David Mitchell takes us on a literal walk of London landmarks and streets, while also wandering down his own personal memory lanes and avenues. Pedantic, neurotic, angry and insightful in equal measures this is an entertaining and intelligent journey full of hilarious rants and stories relating to Mitchell’s life; one which is blighted, not by personal tragedy, but rather a very painful bad back. His narration too is very funny and listening to him speak is like having your very own personal version of the brilliant comedy show Peep Show in your head.  I especially, from a creative point-of-view, enjoyed his analysis of comedy past, present and the actualities of writing sketches, jokes and performing too.

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CATCH 22 – JOSEPH HELLER (narrated by Trevor White)

The novel which began my whole diversification into the audiobook territories is a startling anti-war character drama full of tragedy and black comedy, highlighting the folly of humanity during conflict. I was both laughing out loud and crying inside as Heller’s seminal work crashes us into the heart of madness during World War II. Featuring any number of crazed pilots either being killed or trying not to be killed while flying over Italy, this novel expertly takes you up and down and up and down. Heller does this with a meticulously acute writing style and via characters such as the wonderfully named: Yossarian, Milo Minderbinder, Doc Daneeka, Snowden, Nately, Nurse Cramer, Captain Aardvark, Colonel Cathcart and many more lunatics. This is a sprawling insane war-set epic which satirizes and laments the folly and destructive behaviour of mankind, and is all the more relevant today because we still can’t fucking learn to stop killing each other over ridiculous things like money, land, God and love.

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DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP – PHILIP K. DICK (narrated by Scott Brick)

Dick’s classic science-fiction novel is better known now as Blade Runner and the film versions are incredibly stylish and powerful genre works. Yet, Scott Brick’s narration of Dick’s source novel is absolutely perfect in its rendition, creating a haunting pathos beyond that featured in the film. The story covers one day in the life of Rick Deckard – an “Andy” or android bounty hunter who must track down a series of superior robots of the Nexus Six variety. The original Blade Runner (1982) film did well to distil and simplify the narrative but it only touched the sides where the complex themes are concerned. The novel is far more involved with subtext relating to: simulations; animal husbandry; Artificial Intelligence; Virtual-reality religious fervour; and the existential pain or humans and robots, being explored within the rotting dystopic, Earth setting.

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GAME OF THRONES – GEORGE R.R. MARTIN (narrated by Roy Dotrice)

George R. R. Martin’s North-versus-South-Westerosian fantasy epic has provided hours of entertainment via HBO’s massive hit TV adaptation. The original source novel is a literary monster of a book with an over 33 hours running time, so kudos to the talented, yet ageing actor, Roy Dotrice for staying alive during the recording and finding the energy to narrate it. If you don’t know the Game of Thrones TV show, it has become an iconic narrative of Starks versus Lannister’s versus Targaryen’s versus zombies versus dragons and all manner of: lords, ladies, monsters, whores, hordes, henchmen, sorcerers, warriors, Kings, Queens and peasant scum; all fighting and spitting hate at each other for a baying public’s bloodthirsty satisfaction.

The book, of which Game of Thrones is based, is an intricately plotted, brilliantly characterised and action-packed joy. Not for the faint-hearted it is explicit from a violence and erotic perspective and Martin’s writing is believable unbelievability of the highest order. While it may be fantastic in regard to many of the concepts it is grounded in a raw and human reality as the flawed characters conflict with each other in all manner of familial jousting, hearty battling and political chicanery. The book has all the greatest qualities of the television show and much more besides and well worth the many hours it took me to “read”.

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HOW NOT TO BE A BOY – ROBERT WEBB (narrated by Robert Webb)

The other half of the Mitchell and Webb double-act, Robert, narrates his own story with an adept sarcasm, intelligence and over-riding sense of grief throughout. As a big fan of Peepshow, his brilliance as an actor is playing unlikeable-selfish-man-boys with devilish charisma. He’s obviously very funny too and his anecdotes and memories of growing up in a Lincolnshire town and overcoming family heartache before joining the so-called Cambridge academic elite are very honest and personable. I would have liked a bit more detail about his creative process but reading between the lines I felt that it all came very naturally and unpretentiously to Webb. Overall, this is a terrific listen, full of funny and tragic moments; plus given I’m the same age as Webb, his references to televisual, pop, film and comedy culture were immediately recognisable to me, only adding to the book’s enjoyment.

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I, PARTRIDGE: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT ALAN – ALAN PARTRIDGE (read by Alan Partridge)

Steve Coogan’s genius comedy creation Alan Partridge has been part of my life since the 1990s when I first saw him on the brilliant satire show The Day Today. There he presented the sports and would subsequently go on to a kind of greatness as a chat show host on Knowing Me, Knowing You and starring in one of the best sitcoms of all time, I’m Alan Partridge. It is a testament to the acting ability, quality of writing and sheer stamina of Coogan that he continues to mine comedy gold from the hills of Partridge, as it were. Coogan narrates (in the glorious character of Partridge) a fictional autobiography from actual cradle to career grave. It also hilariously covers how he bounced back from the precipice of a chocolate-driven-frenzied-nervous-breakdown-suicide-attempt in Dundee. I have never laughed so much as six hours of comedic gold entered my brain and left me in stitches throughout. This is one of the funniest things I have had the pleasure to listen too; full of bitter rants, vengeful asides, over-elaborate similes and a litany of what I can only call Partridgeisms! Is that a word: well it is now!

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TO BOLDLY BLOG WHERE NO BLOG HAS GONE BEFORE: A CULTURAL REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

TO BOLDLY BLOG WHERE NO BLOG HAS GONE BEFORE:  A CULTURAL REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

Culturally speaking the title is a lie; I haven’t actually been that bold with my choices this month.  I’ve re-seen a comedy favourite; ventured to a well-known London market; re-watched episodes of a classic TV show and read about a comedic hero from the past. However, sometimes it’s good to review things both nostalgically and with a more mature set of eyes as it often gives a fresh perspective.   In any case the prime directive of this blog is to mainly seek out new stuff and I have done that as well with the playing of a new Zombie videogame and experiencing music I hadn’t heard before. Read on and prosper!

BILL HICKS:  LOVE ALL THE PEOPLE (BOOK)

Bill Hicks is a genuine comedy legend.  I grew up watching his growling, sarcastic, intelligent and damned hilarious comedy routines on Channel Four and subsequently VHS/DVD.  His comedy had this rare ability to take serious subjects and gain great laughs from both ridicule and merely stating honest common-sense truths. Moreover, he delivered his world-view like a raging preacher who, in despair at the world, is willing and begging us to see humanity as he does.  People may say its edgy but it’s done out of a desire for peace and love and Hicks is just incredulous at the insanity of what the more negative aspects of the human race have done to the world and each other.

The book essentially covers his routines, poems, lyrics and interviews in chronological order. Reading his words in print still carries much of the power and many of the ideas as hearing Hicks spit them out live.  In fact, reading in between and outside of the lines I sensed a real pain in a man who was tired of preaching to the morons who just dismissed his grander concepts of peace and equality in the hope of hearing dick jokes.  Hicks did great dick jokes too though as well as the biting political and sociological satire. A black-belt comedian who was not afraid to hit his targets head-on he would cause much controversy when alive and of course it is one of the great cultural tragedies he died so young. This book is NO substitute yet it is far better to have an echo of Bill Hicks’ reverbing in the world than nothing at all.

CAMDEN MARKET, LONDON

I like Camden Market. For me it’s as London as red buses, pie-and-mash and Buckingham Palace. While it’s very much a tourist trap with overpriced grub and general tat it’s a fun trap which has many varied colours, pubs, scents, music, tattoos, clothes, hair-dos, people, weirdos, food and cultures on show that lure you in and distract you before hitting you hard in the wallet. Of course, one can eschew the spending and just take in the sights and that’s pretty much what I achieved when I re-visited the place with my son and had a good look about.  Because as another archetypal Londoner Micky Flanagan says:  “I like a look about!”  And if you like a look about then why not try Camden Market one weekend.

DYING LIGHT – VIDEOGAME – XBOX ONE

First person World War Z type actioner set in a fictional Middle-Eastern city is absolutely brilliant fun. Bit of a slow-burner this game but I have become utterly immersed in the story and missions of this kill-crazy-parkouring-bombing-booby-trapping-zombie-slice-and-dice-fest!   What impressed me most is the expansive nature of the storylines and the intricate tasks at hand plus imaginative ways with which to wipe out the constant stream of zombies. While the human villains are a bit cartoony the actual plot is better than most Hollywood movies and I would recommend this game for anyone who loves fighting monsters and mercenaries equally.

FELIX FOX: A MODERN FOP (ONLINE SCRIBE)

A quick shout out for mate of mine’s blog  http://modernfop.com/   It’s a fine and dandy online novel set on the mean, boozy, cocaine-fuelled, contemporary streets of London and features the anti-heroic antics of fashion assassin and retail worker Felix Fox. Posts go up on a regular basis and they are extremely funny with some dark sarcasm thrown in for good measure. Our pretentious “hero” attempts to further his career and escape the hoi-polloi-working-class roots he was born into while damning the variety of fashion victims he encounters.  If you like the writings of JG Ballard, Chuck Palahniuk and Irvine Welsh then there will be something here for you. Do check him out before he’s gets that book deal he surely deserves and you have to pay for the reading pleasure.

NICK MULVEY, SOMERSET HOUSE, LONDON

I was thinking the other day that what my life lacked was access to more young, multi-talented-middle-class-solo-male-singer-songwriters-pouring-out-their souls-on-stage-to-a-mediocrity-seeking public-who-desire-to-be-anaesthetised-and-have-their-thoughts-numbed-by-banality-and-unthreatening-wonder.  And then, just then, my lovely girlfriend said she had tickets to the very fine musician Nick Mulvey.  It was a soppy gig at Somerset House with Mulvey’s twee tones drifting out over the London skyline putting me in a trance like musical methadone.  He has a mercurial voice and is a brilliant guitarist and while I prefer my musical tea a lot stronger it was a blissful night set in architecturally gorgeous surroundings.

PAUL FOOT, SECRET COMEDY SHOW, LONDON

Thought I’d give the wonderfully silly Paul Foot another mention as he is consistently funny in every show I see him in. So do check him out if you like your comedy unpredictable yet structured; silly yet intelligent and seemingly off-the-cuff yet imaginatively written. The latest little secret show I saw him at was a kind of run through some older and newer material and on a scorching hot evening Mr Foot once again delivered a delightfully absurd cacophony of comedy musings, epithets and physical skips down laughter lane.

STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES (BLU-RAY)

Having rewatched the whole of the new Doctor Who and delved into the Time Lord’s back catalogue of great episodes via the Horror Channel I gained a thirst for classic televisual Sci-Fi, thus, decided to boldly go back to the original series of Star Trek!  Aah, watching the space adventures of Kirk, Spock, Uhuru, Bones, Chekhov, Sulu, Scotty etc. brought back interstellar memories from my youth and as entertainment now the show definitely stands the test of time (and space!)

It is a terrific show. This, in no small part, is down to a solid premise and rules of the world, wonderful writing and committed performances by an awesome cast notably the Enterprise’s yin and yang: James Tiberius Kirk and Mister Spock played perfectly by Shatner and Nimoy. The storylines and characterisation are always intriguing and on reflection the show was pioneering in regard representations of gender, race and sexuality.

Episodes are deftly written with high concept sci-fi ideas, imaginative alien races and a zeitgeisty approach to the themes of the day which still maintain their power now. I’m halfway through the first season (of three) which has too many fine episodes to mention, including: The Enemy Within (Kirk splits into two different personalities); Mudd’s Women (a critique of quick fix drug therapy and plastic surgery); Miri (a strange world which holds host to children who never grow old); The Menagerie (thrilling episode which foreshadows ideas featured later in The Matrix) and The Conscience of the King (a Shakespearean influenced drama dealing with the pursuit of an intergalactic war criminal.)

Given the show has given birth to all manner of prequels and sequels, and continues to be a multi-billion dollar franchise today, demonstrates the genius and long-standing quality of Gene Roddenberry’s Wagon Train To The Stars or as it came to be known: Star Trek.