Mother Peeps Shoe

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Love this photo from my second favorite Laurel and Hardy feature, March of the Wooden Soldiers. The Widow Peep always reminds me of my grandmother in appearance. Here the shoe is under threat of foreclosure. Such a great classic.

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Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) Dir. J.J. Abrams

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I’m not sure how I would categorize myself when it comes to being a Star Trek fan.  I watched all of the Original Series, and admittedly I’m not as huge a fan of it as I am with Next Generation and DS9.  I can’t recite plots for you, I don’t own any of the books with the schematics for how the Enterprise works.  But I know the basic rules of the series.  I know enough of the important things that hold it together.  Simple rules like the Prime Directive.  Or you can’t beam to the surface when shields are up.  When it comes to the Original Series, most of my knowledge about it comes from the first 6 Star Trek features, but I know the characters well enough to understand who they are and what their history is.  When I first saw the Wrath of Khan in 2004, I hadn’t watched all of the original series at that point, but I understood the meaning behind Spock’s death.  I understood that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy had a history that they shared together, over three seasons of televisions and two feature films.  There was also no guarantee at that point that Spock would ever come back.  Even though I knew there was a movie after The Wrath of Khan called The Search For Spock, I was still emotionally caught up in Spock’s death, and the movie was so well written as to make Kirk finally stare death in the face for the first time.  Even if you had no connection to Star Trek at all, you could understand the story well enough to let Spocks death have some sort of impact on you.  It’s that well written.  Everything about that story had built up to that moment, and it was just as beautiful, wonderful and as sad as any other pinnacle moment in motion picture history.

It seems almost idiotic and unbelievably stupid that anyone would try to redo that famous moment in film, but that’s what Star Into Darkness tries to do.  From the moment John Harrison is revealed to be Khan, I had a feeling the movie was getting itself into serious trouble.  This is like retelling the story of the Wrath of Khan from the perspective of Back To The Future 2, seeing the events unfold from another side.  But instead of being worked into the structure of good storytelling, it’s about nothing more than serving the fans of the original movie.  It takes advantage of the audiences naivety when it comes to storytelling by letting their emotions from another film influence them instead of the story we’re watching being able to hold its own.  The film also couldn’t let go of holding hands with the original series and walk on its own once Leonard Nimoy made a useless cameo appearance.  Elder Spock should have been smarter and not told anything about what happened in his timeline, because all he did was allow young Spocks emotions to get caught up about Kirk in a timeline that has nothing to do with him.  Elder Spock should have known this and not said anything.  But the moment has nothing to do with plot.  It’s all about giving fans another reappearance from Spock.  It just goes to show how unwilling J.J. Abrams is willing to detach himself from the Original series, and from that point on the movie falls into disaster.  The moment I saw that Kirk was going in to save the warp drive of the failing ship, I knew what they were doing and what was coming.  I let out an audible “Jesus Christ” starring in disbelief that the film had completely lost its own sense of meaning and purpose to itself.  It couldn’t allow itself to be it’s own thing.  It had to take the easy path, keeping fans of the show unaware that there was no real story here to begin with..  For one thing, the fact that John Harrison is Khan, to Kirk and crew that doesn’t mean squat.  They don’t know who he is.  There is no relationship between them yet.  As of this moment, there even still isn’t enough of a relationship between Kirk and Spock for Spock to shed any tears over Kirk’s “death”.  On an emotional level, the scene makes absolutely no sense.  The people who are getting caught up in the scene emotionally are getting caught up in their emotions from the Original Series.  J.J. Abrams is letting somebody else’s movie drive his film.  In the two Star Trek films Abrams has directed so far, I don’t see how Kirk and Spock could have established any sort of real relationship to make Spock shed tears over his death.  Spocks emotions are based on what Elder Spock told him about the other timeline.  To follow such emotions from somebody elses timeline is…er…illogical.

In fact, I think the new series has failed to establish the primary relationship that does matter: the trio of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  It’s these three men who are at the heart of Star Trek.  The new films so far have failed to build up their relationship together.  McCoy is rarely there when the three of them are a group.  As far as the two main characters go, Kirk spends more time cutting off Spock any time he has something important to say.  It made more sense from the first film when the two men were at odds with one another.  I still haven’t seen them go through enough for their relationship to mean anything.

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First, the opening sequence makes no logical sense.  It’s pure action drivel with very little development put on the characters.  It’s not just the fact that Kirk revealed the starship to a race of primitive aliens, the entire mission is a violation of the prime directive.  If the volcano is going to wipe out their civilization, then the Federation can’t interfere with the evolution of the planet or the destruction of a species.  Kirk from the series was known for violating the Prime Directive, but at least his reasons made sense, and he wasn’t about to start impacting an entire ecosystem.  Second…why was the ship underwater again?  I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t keep the ship in space, except for the reason to have a “hey wouldn’t it be cool to see the Enterprise burst out of the ocean” moment.  Third…why could they not beam Spock through water?  In The Wrath of Khan, they could beam through the center of planet.  In Star Trek TNG, there were cities on Earth built underwater where people could be beamed in and out.  If they can beam through rock, why should beaming through water be any different?

The next thing that happened bugged me even more.  The story presents a plot issue that Kirk has his command taken away from him, which we think is going to be a driving story point.  After making a big mistake, Kirk has to prove himself to regain command of the Enterprise.  But all it takes is the death of Captain Pike in the next scene before Kirk is given his ship back.  So any sense of drama that might have related to Kirk losing the captains chair and fighting his way back to it are completely extinguished.  I also can’t relate to Kirk feeling emotionally lost about losing the Captains chair because quite frankly he deserves it.  And he just turns into a whimpering baby over it.  Also, as far as Khan killing Captain Pike goes, I just don’t think there’s enough of relationship between Kirk and Pike to justify Kirk’s need for revenge.  We have to be reminded of Pike giving command to Kirk in the first place from the first film, taking him under his wing and acting like a surrogate father to him.  But it’s not enough to drive an entire emotional arc of a film.  I sometimes think Kirk has the emotional stability of a high school kid, and one would think they would put a person with some ounce of maturity in the Captain’s chair.  It made a little more sense in the first film, which established Kirk as being somewhat of a prodigy, even if he was unruly.  But with his maturity level here, he seems undeserving of command, and I wish the film had spent more time forcing him to see this side of himself instead of instantly giving him back the Enterprise.

And then there’s the completely messed up logic in the build up to Kirk’s death, which is the Wrath of Khan moment in the story.  The Enterprise is falling out of orbit and Kirk has to realign the warp core to power the main thrusters.  Umm…I don’t read Enterprise technical manuals, but I know that’s not how the Enterprise works.  The warp core powers the warp drive.  NOT the Thrusters.  That’s why in any Star Trek series, when the warp core gets knocked offline, the ship can still run on impulse (i.e. THRUSTERS).  It’s one of these imbecilic design flaws where all the ships power is connected to one circuit breaker.   It worked in Wrath of Khan because Spock had to fix the Warp Drive and send the ship into warp to get away from the Genesis explosion.  As far as Spock screaming Khan and turning into the Vulcan terminator, they try to turn Spock into a badass, but without any of the buildup to it.  It made me think like they were trying to do an Iron Giant moment, like when the Giant loses himself and turns into a killing machine.  We don’t see Spock struggling to control his emotions except for getting into whiny high school banter with his girlfriend Uhura.  The fight presumably being that Spock showed no feeling towards Uhura about how she would feel if the Enterprise would have left him to die in the volcano.  Umm…Uhura…that’s part of service in a military operation when it comes to giving your life for service.  If she’s that emotionally impaired, what is she doing in a military operation like Starfleet?  It just tells me even more that this crew is not ready to be piloting starships around the galaxy.

STID2And about Carol Marcus, another layover from Wrath of Khan…she serves absolutely no purpose to the film.  She could be taken out of the film and have almost no effect on the outcome of the story.  She’s that forgettable.  Also, why is her father piloting a starship bigger than the Enterprise?  The Enterprise is supposed to be the most advanced ship in Starfleet.  Why is there a ship out there that looks like a Star Destroyer?

Once again we have another summer film that builds on everything that was familiar and had come before.  This film gives more power to The Wrath of Khan than it does to itself.  I think this is by far the worst Star Trek film ever made, because it never allows itself to be it’s own thing.  It goes against the promise of the first Star Trek that we would see the crew go on new adventures, and I thought the very idea of separating itself by having the characters in a separate timeline was done so it would NOT INSULT the fans of the original series or Star Trek in general.  For people who say they still prefer this film over Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, I say this…as bad as that film was, at least it was an original story and at least it had the guts to be its own thing.  This film never follows through on any of it’s consequences.  Unlike Wrath of Khan, we know Kirk isn’t going to die, and that by the end of the film he’ll be back.  And also, what the hell was that moment where we hear Khan crushing Scotty’s head…and then a few minutes later when they transport back Scotty is fine?  I thought they were implying Khan had killed Scotty.  The rest of the crew as well just doesn’t have any solid, memorable moments like they did in the first film.  There are absolutely no serious stakes or consequences that are followed through.  Khan is nowhere near the murderer he was in Wrath of Khan.  In that film, he killed and slaughtered everyone in the orbiting science station.  Also, the fact that Kirk has a brief alliance with Khan doesn’t do anything to build up the hero/villain relationship.  They are not mortal enemies yet.  They don’t know what either person is capable of.  Everything about this film gives more power to The Wrath of Khan than it does to itself, and it denies us any chance of getting invested in this new crew and their mission.  I don’t think I have any reason to continue watching the next Star Trek.  J.J. Abrams and his team of writers have no understanding or willingness to make their own mark on the Star Trek universe, or allow themselves to take chances and mark their own course in the series.  If he can’t let himself go there with Star Trek, what makes anyone think he’s going to make a difference with Star Wars?

Scores of Star Trek

goldsmithconductingI’m seeing Star Trek Into Darkness tonight and should have a review up for it by tomorrow.  In the meantime, since this has been Star Trek week (or I should say 2 weeks) on Moviecappa, I thought I’d do a post with samplings from my favorite Star Trek film composer, Jerry Goldsmith, who established the now famous theme we know from The Next Generation, as well the recurring themes including the March of the Klingons.  But for me his three most beautiful scores in the Star Trek Canon are Star Trek:The Motion Picture, First Contact, and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.  Yes, say what you will about Star Trek V.  But the score is undeniably beautiful, and the possibly the best thing about the movie.  So for your listening pleasure, here’s a few great scores from those films:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Klingon Battle Theme!)

Star Trek: First Contact:


Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Star Trek (2009) Dir. J.J. Abrams

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Before we reach the main event, Star Trek Into Darkness, we have J.J. Abrams first foray into Star Trek and his reimagining of the Original Series.  I have mixed feelings about this film.  First of all, I do like it.  It’s a fun ride.  It speaks with its own voice and style.  The actors portraying the parts of the younger crew members do an excellent job capturing the spirit of the Original cast members, while doing their best to make those characters into their own.  Obviously the hardest ones to do are Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, since those three have had the most established development.  Oh, and Scotty.  The four of them are icons in their own right.  In this new Trek,  Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu are given a lot more room to develop as characters.  The Original Series rarely ever had episodes devoted to those characters, and even in the feature films, they always served as basic support in the background.  We never really find out much about them.  Here each of the supporting characters is given their due and a moment to shine.  Leonard Nimoy shows up here as Elder Spock to give the new crew their send off.  Star Trek is full of action, and for the most part delivers the goods in its efforts to reinvigorate the franchise.

My problem is I’m not sure if in the back of my mind I accept these reimagined characters as Star Trek.  The idea is to create a younger hipper version of the original series, and the film does that well.  But it’s a different kind of energy than I’m accustomed to.  The Star Trek franchise has always had plenty of action, but it’s pacing is also a signature of every series.  I’m not saying it’s supposed to be slow, but I’m not sure if this new Trek holds true to the vision of Roddenberry.  A lot of Star Trek is about diplomatic relations with other alien civilizations.  This crews mission is a bit of a by the numbers “save the world” scenario.  The aliens we meet are all familiar, with the villains being the Romulans.  From what I see in this film and the next one, Star Trek Into Darkness is keeping things in the familiar zone, with familiar villains, aliens and situations.  Where is the quest to seek out NEW life and NEW civilizations?  This is one of the reasons I have difficulty accepting this new franchise.  The new Trek offers the opportunity for new adventures by having the characters embark on an alternate timeline, which means the opportunity for new stories, not reexamining old ones from a different perspective.

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The other major problem I have with this movie is a lack of a relationship between the hero (Kirk) and the villain (Nero).  This is a problem I have with a lot of movies, where the villains are developed behinds the scenes where only the audience can see them.  But having the hero and villain meet at the climax of the movie gives us no emotional connection between them.  How are we supposed to invest in the battle of two titan characters don’t really know one another.  From Kirk’s perspective, the Romulan ship wiping out planets is a faceless enemy, except with the occasional video message from the villain.  Nero only has a relationship with Spock, who in this case is a secondary player.  If anything, more effort should have probably been put into telling the story from Spock’s perspective.

See, here’s the problem.  This movie doesn’t do enough to show it’s commitment to reinvigorating the franchise.  By that I mean, because of the change in the timeline, they have opened the series up to develop in its own way.  But it doesn’t want to commit to allowing Kirk to grow more as a character (and in his own way).  We see Kirk as the wild stallion he is, refusing to take orders on occasion, being brash and antagonistic towards authority.  At the same time he is restrained from being allowed to grow on his own as a character.  They don’t want to make too much of a departure from the Captain Kirk we all know, which aligns with the series goal (and problem) of always sticking with the familiar.  Kirk doesn’t get to change into a new type of Kirk.  It’s an alternate universe.  It doesn’t make sense to hinder his development and tell a story where life shapes him in a new way.  Being the brash individual that he is, it doesn’t seem like he changes much or learns anything by the end of the film.  He doesn’t have a problem that really haunts him.  Maybe that’s the point, but his overconfidence also never gives us any doubt he will have a problem becoming Captain of the Enterprise.  The only one in his way is Spock, who he makes it a point of not listening to anyway.    If anything he basically learns to be more accepting of Spock.  But the Kobiyashi Maru test never gives him anything to think about accept to focus more of his antagonism on Spock. It is really Spock who is the one going through major development as he begins his quest to understand his human side.  Which is why I felt the film should have made more of an effort to make Spock the hero since this seems more like it’s his story, and he’s the one fighting to come to terms with himself.  He is also the only one who has a relationship to the villain.

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This is also one of the reasons i preferred the supporting characters, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, as they were all allowed to develop as characters in their own way.  I like that this film seems to show unique interpretations of these characters and each of them never tries to be like their older counterparts.   Uhura especially is unique because she is not like the more seasoned Uhura we know from the Original Series.  We see her struggles as a young communications officer trying to find her place.  Zoe Saldana really owns the character.  The only thing I didn’t care for was her relationship with Spock, which seemed tacked on and underdeveloped.  Their relationship never seems to play any part in the story.  Their relationship seems more like it ties down Uhura, where I would have really liked to see her develop more as a character.  Unfortunately, she sort of fades into the background after having some great development in the beginning. As for Scotty, I wasn’t as impressed with him.  Simon Pegg nails his interpretation of Scotty, but the character is so iconic that it seems like he’s forced to do more of an impression than the new Scotty having a chance to grow in his own way.

The new Star Trek isn’t great, but it’s a fun ride through the galaxy.  One of the other things I like about this new version is the fact that there’s more in the way of traveling (even if it’s to places we already know).  I’m siting this as a comparison to the other feature films, where the action usually centers around one planet or location.  I am looking forward to seeing Star Trek Into Darkness when it hits theaters.  Will it do a better job at allowing the characters to grow on their own?  We shall see.  In the meantime this version of Star Trek is acceptable, and enjoyable.

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A Good Story Well Told

0HollywoodI thought I’d take some time to talk about what I look for when writing about movies, and where my thinking goes as a result.  I have always been a fan of great movies, but more importantly I am more attracted to good storytelling in cinema.  Looking back on the films I liked and disliked as a kid, I’ve found it rare that I would revisit a film I liked growing up only to find that the movie wasn’t in fact good at all.  A lot of times there are movies that do end up being absolute crap, but our nostalgic love for the film is what allows us to enjoy it even as adults.  To be honest, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying crap.  The movie may be terrible, but there are elements to the main characters journey, or sometimes there are particular elements to the film that draw us in, even if it was a terribly executed idea.

As a kid I was pretty lucky when it came to seeing movies.  I saw everything, and my parents were pretty liberal about the movies they took me to see.  I saw everything from G to R rated features.  The only movies my parents didn’t take me to were hard R rated films that featured an over abundance of language or we’re overly violent and scary.  I was never really big into slasher horror flicks or anything like that.  But other than that, I was exposed to a wide variety of storytelling.  This is where my own emotional intuition would kick in about whether I thought a movie was good or not.  It depended on how much a movie would captivate me and I would be along for the adventure.  Even if I didn’t fully understand the story, there would be some part of the film that would captivate me, like a problem the main character was having that I could identify with and the problem leads them on a personal quest.  I remember seeing a movie like Field of Dreams for instance and being drawn in by the haunting voice coming from the cornfields.  At the same time that child-like wonder and curiosity the main character would feel took hold of me.  I wanted to see where building this baseball field would take him and discover along the way the problems that would get in the way (for instance, the danger of losing all his money and his farm to find out where the voice was leading him).

My point being that great storytelling can captivate us on all levels.  You don’t need to be an adult to understand all aspects of a story.  But as a kid, even if I didn’t understand all the stuff that was over my head, I could tell whether a story was working or not simply by how much I engaged with the main character.  For all of us who knew movies that were great when we were young, such as the films of Steven Spielberg, these were films that never catered to children.  But as kids we were drawn in by the powerful, emotional journey of its main characters.  The kids that were in these movies acted like real kids and were believable.  A story in my opinion doesn’t have to be perfect plot wise.  I don’t always pay attention to the structure of the film.  But my main concern is if the main character has a problem I can identify with, and if the film challenges the character enough so they can find balance again by the end of the story.  Often times, I will watch a movie and see a character presented with a problem, but then the problem gets put on hold several times during the film while the action takes over.  In essence, if the conflict is not in support of the main characters problem, my feeling is that the story gets put on hold while the main character fights a bunch of bad guys.  Sometimes the story doesn’t take itself seriously enough for us to believe in what the characters are trying to accomplish.  I was terribly annoyed after seeing Iron Man 3, because the story kept reducing Tony’s problems into a joke, never giving us a chance to take seriously his panic attacks and PTSD.  None of these crippling problems ever plays a part when Tony is off fighting bad guys.  It never seems to stop him from getting the job done.  If we’re not going to see his personal problems affecting him on the job, how are we expected to care about what he’s going through?  Even the main villain that was advertised for the film as a serious threat is reduced to a comic buffoon.  It’s not the movie it was promised to be.

GQ When a film sets itself up for one thing and then takes us off course in a completely different direction, it looses me.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate spoilers or surprises that take the story in a new direction, but the surprise should be in support of the arc of the main character.  I find that spoiler “surprise” moments in big summer movies now are actually red herrings just to make the story appear more compelling than it actually is.  It has nothing to do with what the audience is going through, it’s a formulaic throwing a wrench in the machine, giving the film a bunch of twists and turns that just distract us from the fact that the story has nothing to say to begin with.  I can tell on an instinctive level whether or not a story is drawing me in, or if the main character has a compelling problem that I will want to see resolved (or even fails) in achieving their internal goals.

The other thing that is really important to me is that I like to see stories that end.  I’m not a fan of franchises because they are not written with the goal in mind to resolve the characters issues, but to keep the story going and going like a soap opera, where one aspect of the adventure might get resolved, and suddenly a new problem takes its place.  In this manner, the character loses his or her ability to find balance when their lives are written to always be out of balance.  I’m not speaking of the format of a TV series, where we are accustomed to this sort of writing, but even in a series, by the end of the show we hope the characters will find some sort of peace within themselves.  The same goes for movies.  A characters life can fall even more out of balance by the end of the story, or reach a dead end, but if we are not compelled by the journey they are taking, then we are simply watching characters go through the motions without an engaging driving force that makes us want to see them succeed.

When I am riding this emotional wave, it lets me know when a movie is going strong.  There is an honest sincerity to the character’s journey that enables me to connect with them.  In other words, it’s just good storytelling.  It’s also what keeps us coming back for more when we feel we can learn new things from re-experiencing the characters journey.  As a storyteller, these are not just the things I look for when watching a movie, it’s what I strive to accomplish in my own work.  A good story is one that’s well told.  Not one that is hampered by distractions.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) Dir. Stuart Baird

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I know they can’t all be winners, but it’s too bad Star Trek: Nemesis wound up being my least favorite of all the Star Trek films.  It might be a stretch to say its the worst Star Trek film, but for me it’s the most dark and depressing out of all them.  Patrick Stewart really shows his age here, as does the rest of the TNG crew.  The thing that disappointed me most out of this film was that Worf (my favorite TNG character) was completely useless.  Most of the cast members in fact blend into the background and aren’t terribly noticeable.  The big trio, Picard, Riker, and Data get all the best action scenes and story material, but everyone just seems old and tired.  I almost wish they had just left the series with Insurrection and let that be the end of it.  It wasn’t a great film, but it was far more enjoyable and lighthearted than this.

I’m going to keep this review short because there’s not a whole lot I want to discuss about this movie.  But it’s just a disappointment from the get go.  Even when we’re introduced to the crew at Riker and Troi’s wedding, the humor is off and a little hard to sit through.  Sadly, it’s the only light moment in the film.  The thing with Patrick Stewart showing his age also has an effect on his character.  He just seems out of touch with Picard in this film.  It’s supposed to be a jarring moment that he faces the cloned younger version of himself.  But he doesn’t seem to care that much, and his younger self from his perspective could probably use a good whipping to straighten him out.  Stewart as Picard just doesn’t seem like he’s all there, which is surprising because I’ve seen him put far more energy into performances after this film was released.  Michael Dorn as Worf has also noticeably slowed down and just doesn’t have his aggressive fighting energy that we’re so accustomed to.  I wish the script could have done more to play up their age a bit.

Data’s story is also a disappointment.  I know he’s a popular character, but I never really liked that all the attention was put on him, and that the feature films catered to him for bigger story lines.  This is where I wish these films had allowed themselves to focus on other characters.  If any character deserved a terrific death scene, it’s Worf, who has lived his whole life for battle.  To give him a powerful death scene and have him go down fighting would have been much more impactful (at least for me it would!)  I’m amazed that when Data is seeing Geordi for the last time, the two of them don’t speak.  I think Geordi knows Data is on a suicide mission.  To have him not react to his friend leaving or fighting to understand what he’s doing seems out of place.  I never cared for it.

The rest of the crew just sort of fades into the background.  Troi is given some extra stuff, such as a sexual “mind rape” scene.  But not enough is done to show this having a bigger impact on her.  None of the other characters are really given anything interesting to do.  It’s just a weak film.

Blah.  I don’t like this film.  It depresses me that TNG had to end on such a sour note.  I don’t even care for the visual effects.  I mentioned that I also found Star Trek: The Motion Picture to also be a disappointment, but the model work in that film is pure eye candy.  They did an incredible job.  Here with the advent of digital effects, everything being CG just takes away the craftsmanship and beauty of those models.

Okay, I’m done talking about this movie.  It’s bad.  If you’ve seen it once, I don’t think you need a reason to revisit it again.  What a waste.