Category Archives: 35mm films

Checking In

BornyesterdayJust wanted to write a post and check in because I haven’t written anything for about a month now.  And it’s not that I don’t have anything to write about, I’ve just been busy with a personal project thats taken up much of my time.  But it’s worth it, and I think it’s going to turn into something really special.

In the meantime, I’ve been going to the movies and watching all sorts of films.  And to tell you the truth…I just haven’t been compelled to write about the movies I’ve seen this summer.  Most of them have been pretty disappointing, and I haven’t found that one film this summer to be extraordinary.  There definitely hasn’t been a LOOPER or a DREDD in the bunch, two late summer flicks that were extraordinary.  My last bastion of hope is with THE WORLDS END, which is due in theaters sometime next week.  I’m hoping Edgar Wright and his crew won’t let me down.  Among the films I’ve seen…there was ELYSIUM, which was blah.  It’s overblown message about class warfare and healthcare really just brings the film down.  I’m all for hard core science fiction, but this movie was just too serious for its own good.  And Jodie Foster…God…this is possibly the worst thing she’s ever done.  So bummed out.

On the classic movie front, I think I may have found a couple of films to go on my all time favorite movie list.  BORN YESTERDAY.  If anything, next to CLUELESS and ROMY AND MICHELLE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION, this may be my all time favorite dumb blonde movie.  Judy Holiday is hilarious as “Billie Dawn”, a young woman living with her wealthy and powerful boyfriend Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) who has congressmen in the palm of his hand.  Then there’s William Holden’s Paul Varrel, a reporter hired by Brock to help make Billie appear smarter to people in public.  However, through the course of her”makeover”, Billie start’s to wisen up to her boyfriend, and she learns that Harry is in fact a corrupt crook.  Crawford is also hilarious and the uncouth Harry, who is loud and brash and completely full of himself.  There’s a great scene as well where Billie and Harry are playing Gin Rummy that seems to pretty much define their relationship.  If anything, the game is one thing that Billie is really good at, as she gets into it with intense focused concentration.

There were a few other classics I really fell in love with, such as WESTWORLD and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE.  I wrote about both of these films over at This Is Infamous, the new website I’ve been writing for.  I have a couple of new article’s up, one about Brad Bird, and why did he leave the animation industry.  And What Happened To Classic Cartoon Villains? which was another article I had posted.  This is Infamous has been a great experience and an enjoyable site to write for.  I’ve had to spend time trying to come up with more articles and stories.  It’s been good practice for me as a writer, which I hope to carry with me as part of my creative arsenal.  Writing is not easy, and neither is making good storytelling.  But it’s a major part of my learning curve.

I’ve been thinking about how much has changed for me over the last year.  For those who don’t know, I have been a mental health patient.  One of the struggles I’ve had to deal with was being on some heavy medication, which all but took away my creative drawing ability. The one thing I found I had left that I could still do was write.  Even though I didn’t always know what I would write about, I kept doing it anyway as a way for me to push forward.  Things have changed for me now, and I am on a much better medication that gives me freedom to be open and creative.  My attitude about life has been different over the last few years as well, and this run I’ve been through feels like going through the fire.  And I’ve survived.

There’s going to be a lot of things happening with me in the next year or so, and some of it I can’t wait to share with you when the time is right.  Life changes are always interesting and never easy at the same time.  It’s like being reborn, in a sense, and you begin to enter a new field where your destiny awaits you.  What is that destiny?  It’s the new life you manifest for yourself.  The life that begins in the imagination and lives in your dreams.  What you put out the universe will bring back to you.  That really is the interesting part.  And somehow inside, even if were not always not consciously aware of it, we know inside the things we want most.  Sometimes the universe surprises us with an opportunity that leads us to where we really want to be.  It’s our choices in life and our openness to accepting new things that helps us shape and evolve ourselves.  For awhile I felt my life was on the verge of complete disaster.  But that changed over time.  We are at the beginning of a new age, and things are sure to get better, but only to those willing and ready to accept them.

In a little over a week, I will be attending Cinecon, Hollywood’s largest classic film festival at the Grahman’s Egyptian Theater.  It’s a great event, and I will be seeing some terrific films and writing about them as I did with my article from last year.  I hope you will be able to come, it’s from August 29th to September 2.  There are some great surprises.  I mentioned before that last years biggest surprise was getting to see a lost John Ford film called UPSTREAM, which premiered for the first time in over 80 years at Cinecon.  And it was a fantastic film too.  I highly recommend anyone to come and check it out.

That’s it for now.  I have some downtime in the next few weeks, which will mean more writing for me, so hopefully you will see more of what I have in store for you.  Take care.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) Dir. William Shatner

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After the popularity of Star Trek IV, it’s a shame that the most unpopular Trek film had to follow with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.  For all intents and purposes it has to be said that, yes, Star Trek V is a terrible, awful film.  But I like it.  Yes, it’s pretty stupid, with Kirk, Spock and McCoy singing Row Row Row Your Boat.  Yes, the whole idea of the Starship on a journey to find God is pretty silly and redundant.  But for all its dumbness, I feel a certain nostalgic connection with this film.  My parents took me to all the other Star Trek films, but I was too young to remember them.  This is the first Star Trek feature I saw and actually remembered.  I was about 8 years old when this movie came out.  I knew enough to know it wasn’t a great movie.  But for what its worth I liked it.  And to this day, I think it’s a underrated.  I could watch this movie more times than the boring and long winded Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  It’s certainly more tolerable to me than the mediocre Star Trek: Nemesis.  This is definitely a crappy film.  But I did learn something while I was in film school…you are allowed to enjoy shit, as long as you recognize in the back of your mind its shit.  Star Trek V is a shitty film.  But I love it.

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I don’t know exactly on what level this movie appeals to me.  Maybe it’s the search for God aspect that I find intriguing.  I always found it funny that the Great Barrier might have supposedly been this far off place, but with the time they spend traveling it seems like it’s right on their back doorstep.  They’re also just as surprised when they manage to fly a starship through it.  You’d think somebody would have sent a probe in to analyze the interior.  Oh well.  There’s logic gaps galore in its story.  The main threat of the Klingons is some punk kid Klingon who for some reason has enough power to overrule his elder Klingon crew who clearly know he’s an idiot for trying to take on Captain Kirk.  There’s Sybok, whose power to mind control people is never really explained.  There isn’t really much in the way of character work either.  I don’t think anyone really learns anything from this experience, except for Sybok who finds out he was duped this whole time, and whose sacrifice doesn’t really do squat to stop the alien “God”.  I suppose you could say it’s the adventure nobody really asked for and it turned out nobody needed after all.  Nobody’s really on a search to renew their faith.  It’s basically an inconsequential haphazard Star Trek adventure.

But I think there has to be at least one Star Trek film that takes us into the realm of the silly idea.  After all, The Original Series was loaded with silly episodes (Spock’s Brain anyone?), or the one where we discover the Greek Gods are actually aliens that came to Greece long ago.  Tribbles.  Need I say more?  This is the one reason I like this film so much…because it is a silly pointless adventure.  I don’t think it really takes itself that seriously either.  It’s got the best, most silly line in all of Star Trek.  Kirks, “What does God need with a Starship?”  There is the one thing that I think keeps this film together in the spirit of Star Trek, and it’s the bonding between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  For all the people who hate the sing a long campfire scene, it’s a silly scene yes.  But the friendship and bond between these men is true to the series.  Kirk brings up some sentiments that he keeps them around because he feels its his fate to die alone.  It’s why I find some charm in the end, after Spock saves Kirk from the alien presence at the end, Kirk says to Spock, “I thought I was going to die alone.” Spock: “Impossible.  You were never alone.”  These guys are family.

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It’s kind of funny too that the Enterprise falling apart seems like a perfect metaphor for this movie, where everything is broken and nothing really works right.  You almost have to wonder if this might have been a nod to the film itself.  To be just outright bad as a film is a gift that only The Original Series could bring.  You don’t find enough episodes that are bad in TNG, but worse they are just mediocre.  A mediocre film to me is far worse than a film that’s just straight bad.  With a mediocre film, there’s always a promising idea but poor execution and not firing on all thrusters.  A bad film will fire on all thrusters and wind up blowing up the ship.  Some films are just made that way.  But while the thing is going down in flames….it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride.

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This film was also getting near the end of the Original Series films, and you can see the cast was starting to wind down and probably wanted to make a film that didn’t have to be taken too seriously.  I actually think The Undiscovered Country has more of the “We don’t give a shit anymore” feel from the cast than this film does, despite having a better story.  But I always felt that I could take the worst Star Trek film over the worst Star Wars prequels any day.  At least there’s some attempts at acting in this movie.

Overall my consensus is, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is a giant turd.  And what a beautiful, glorious flaming turd it is too.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) Dir. Leonard Nimoy

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Arguably The Voyage Home (next to Wrath of Khan) is probably the most popular Star Trek film.  I know Trekkie purists don’t care for it, mainly because its considered a silly premise to plop the Enterprise crew in modern times to create a fish out of water story.  There’s also the argument that this is the one Star Trek film where the characters don’t actually travel anywhere apart from time travel.  Thankfully however, I don’t consider myself a purist Trekkie.  I enjoy watching reruns of the show all the time, but I can’t remember specific plots to episodes or movies.  As far as just good movies go, Star Trek IV is a good one.  It’s entertaining and it’s fun.  I have few disagreements with it.

If anything, for the sake of the franchise, it seems like a bit of an easy tactical move to place the characters in modern times.  The reason being that Star Trek III is not a terribly great film, and it’s easy to see how the series could start faltering.  The goal here is to mainly please a wider audience, attracting people who may not be religious fans of the series, but regular people who might like the idea of seeing well known characters in a much more identifiable setting.  It makes sense.  And it’s easy to see why the film is so popular.  It’s rife with gags showing just how out of place Kirk’s crew is.  But it’s done with good writing and a lot of cleverness.  It’s even full of great one liners:

“Double Dumbass on you!”  “Tell me, Admiral, what does it mean ‘exact change’?” “I suppose you’re going to tell me you’re from Outer Space.” “No, I’m from Iowa.  I only work in space.”  My personal favorite scene in the movie is when McCoy treats the old woman patient in the hospital:  McCoy: “What’s the matter with you?” Patient: “Kidney Dialysis.” McCoy: “Dialysis?  What is this, the dark ages? Here, you swallow that, and anymore problems just call me!”

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This film also has some good character work in it as well, giving some of the other supporting players, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov more to do than normal.  I also like that Spock isn’t quite all there in his head after the experience of coming back from the dead.  He’s a little off, doing a few crazy things, such as diving into the tank to mind meld with the whales.  He has a bit of trouble adjusting to his surroundings, making him all the more fun to watch.  As for the newcomer, Gillian (Cathrine Hicks), she’s fine in the movie, although it seems too easy that she just up and leaves her life, simply claiming she has no one who would miss her.  I seriously doubt that.  It’s too easy an excuse for her to just drop everything and leave.  We know she loves the whales, but if she loves them THAT much it’s no wonder she doesn’t have any friends, only her career.  I also think it’s weird that she would just decide to give a lift to two strangers after one of them just jumped into a whale tank without a believable reason.  The other thing about this movie I also never understood was the forced conflict by having Gillian arrive the next morning to discover the whales have been transported without her knowledge.  If she’s that much of a weirdo and a loner, no wonder they would want to trick her about the time the whales were leaving.  Considering she’s in charge of their care, it doesn’t really add up.  I have never liked it when conflict is forced instead of coming up for a good explanation as to why it exists.  It’s just not terribly good storytelling, and the filmmakers are hoping the audience will be caught up in the movie enough not to really notice.  It’s meant just to find an excuse to keep the story going.  Also, when she gets to the future, she’s assigned to a science vessel.  Why?  I thought she came so she could watch over the whales.  Whose else is going to have the expertise to study them?

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Overall, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is an enjoyable outing.  There isn’t that much here in the way of great science fiction, and the film seems to hit us with a hammer a little bit about the extermination of Humpback whales.  This film also completes the Khan trilogy, as Kirk and crew are united with a new Enterprise, and Kirk himself is demoted to Captain.  But really it doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the other films to appreciate this movie.  Apart from the beginning and the Klingon ship, it can be pretty much watched as a stand alone feature.  The story is not as engaging as Khan, but it’s a well though out story.  We can also thank Nicholas Meyer for returning to co-write the film, who has some experience with time-travel fish out of water stories (see Time After Time, starring Malcolm McDowell).  It’s nice to have a Star Trek film that everyone can enjoy.

Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984) Dir. Leonard Nimoy

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My countdown to the release of Star Trek Into Darkness continues with a look at Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. I don’t know how much hope or potential Star Trek III may have had when it was first released in 1984. It certainly has a lot to live up to compared to its predecessor, The Wrath of Khan.  This movie is not a bad film, but it’s not terribly great either.  The difference here seems to be that Star Trek III is driven more by plot than character.  It tries to be as big and epic as the first two films, even going so far as to kill Kirk’s son and blowing up the Enterprise.  It tries really hard to be just as captivating and memorable as number 2, and in some ways tries to duplicate its success by creating another bigger than life villain with Christopher Lloyd’s Klingon Kruge.  But the energy of this film never really builds or goes anywhere that interesting.  This ship is running on impulse folks.

I guess I’ll start with Kruge as a comparison to Khan.  It’s sort of funny, because Kruge comes up with the perfect way to destroy Kirk that Khan would have done if he’d known:  killing his son.  If Khan knew Kirk’s son was there and killed him, it would have completed his revenge.  But in Star Trek III the death of his son doesn’t really mean anything.  For one, Kirk has no relationship with Kruge as a villain.  He doesn’t even meet him until the very end when everyone shows up at the Genesis planet.  Kruge’s mere presence as villain doesn’t serve much of a purpose in the film except to make Kirk sacrifice something for bringing back Spock.  Kruge’s motivation to get the information on the Genesis device seem pretty futile.  How exactly would he use it as a weapon?  And who can he really ask for information on how it works or how to build one?  He kills David, the only person around who actually knows anything about the Genesis device.

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I think my biggest disappointment with the film was that by the end of it didn’t feel like a whole lot actually happened.  Compared to the previous film, there really isn’t a lot of action in part 3.  Everyone sets about doing their task.  By the end of the film, I’m not sure what the adventure really means to anybody.  I felt there could have been a lot more exploration into McCoy having to share his mind with Spock, and the maddness that could have ensued within him.  It doesn’t really seem to affect him that much at all.  He has no life affirming moment because of any of this.  And after a few crazed out moments in the beginning, he’s acting normally for the rest of the film.  As for Kirk, he’s driven to go back when he finds out that Spock’s body is regenerating from the Genesis planet.  But problems arise when we see he has no relationship with the villain or his son, which doesn’t really give us a reason to care.  Somehow I keep thinking this would have been better if they could have gotten Carol Marcus to be in this film and have her killed instead. We at least know that Kirk has a history with her, unlike his son which in the time span of the two films he’s probably known him for about two weeks, and he hasn’t done much in the way of bonding in either films.  I’m not saying Kirk wouldn’t care if his son was killed, but the relationship isn’t given enough screen time to make us, the audience, care what happens to him.

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The film has its share of cleverness to it, but there just isn’t anything that memorable about the movie.  The characters are just basically going through the motions.  No one particular character is driving the story.  There was some missing potential here with Bones going mad with Spock’s essence trapped in his mind.  Kirk could suddenly be faced with losing another close friend, this time to maddness, and his drive to go back to the Genesis planet was the need not to just save Spock but Bones as well.  It would have been more interesting throughout the film to see Bones jumping back and forth between the Spock personality, and getting the crew into more problems.  This is a film that probably should have been much darker, but we’re never given the chance to explore this side of the characters. As I was watching the film, I just felt pretty much indifferent to everything that was happening.  The consequences seem more arbitrary to the plot than driven by the characters.  It’s not enough however because there isn’t any motivation behind the consequences.  In the long run, non of it will really mean anything to the characters.

Star Trek III is a pretty weak entry in the Trek series.  I think it ranks slightly better than the first film, which is horribly slow at times and way too serious for its own good.  This film has a few enjoyable moments to it.  Sulu beating up that huge guy.  Uhura putting that obnoxious cadet in the closet.  The scene with Bones in the Alien Bar.  Also, it’s always fun to watch Christopher Lloyd play a Klingon.  Although I felt Kruge could have been so much more outrageous and over the top.  My other complaint I want to mention with this film is the effects work which, so far, is the weakest in the series.  However, the one effects shot I like is the space station orbiting Earth, a really impressive and detailed miniature.  For the rest of the movie, there isn’t a whole lot else that seems worth mentioning.  Again, it’s not a bad film, but it’s a disappointment that could have lived up to a higher potential.     Trek3.4

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) Dir. Robert Wise

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On the heels of a new J.J. Abrams Star Trek film, I’ve decided that I’m going to watch and review all the Star Trek films in order, leading up to the release of the new film.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t have terribly high hopes for the new Star Trek just based on the advertising campaign, and I’m not really thrilled of the notion of showing a post apocalyptic version of Star Trek.  But it is Star Trek, and I am a fan, so will be seeing it.  Somehow watching all of the other films beforehand might help me build my immunity in case the new film is a travesty.  At any rate, I hope you enjoy this series leading up to the new films release!

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a film I haven’t seen in a while and probably for good reason.  It’s easily the slowest and most difficult Star Trek film to sit through.  That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film though.  It’s got some interesting elements of science fiction, particularly the return of the Voyager spacecraft as an emerged consciousness.  This Trek film also sports the best model work out of all the Trek films (yes, even the new ones).  But the visual effects are part of the films difficulty as for many sequences we have to sit through what feels like several minutes just showing off the Enterprise, or even longer scenes of of the Enterprise moving through the alien spacecraft.  It’s all pretty to watch, but it feels like it drags the story to a snails pace, when our biggest concerns should be with the characters and their personal issues.

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Thankfully the film picks up after the arrival of Dr. McCoy, and Deforrest Kelly adds a lot of much needed lightness and humor.  This Star Trek film I found to be the most difficult to connect with the characters, in that so much time is spent in between the spectacle and trying to move the story forward that I felt it difficult to engage with any one characters issue.  It feels like we’re scattered equally among separate character motivations, and there isn’t anyone in particular that’s a driving force for the film.  Kirk is rusty behind the wheel of his ship, having not served as Captain for over two years.  His problems “competing” with Commander Dekker seem somewhat petty.  It’s not like Star Trek 2, where more attention is focused on Kirk’s aging and dealing with his mortality, as well as his usefulness to Starfleet.  This film taps into that a little bit, but I never get enough of the sense of Kirk leading the way here.

As for Spock, he’s got problems of his own, being turned down in a ritual to purge himself of all emotion.  Spock joins the mission to seek out this alien threat, which is based in logic, for his own search for meaning.  There is even some wonder among the crew if Spock’s personal ulterior motives might end up sabotaging the mission.    But again, there is a lack of drive in the story to give us more investment in the kind of mythological heroes journey he undergoes here.  It’s that lack of who and what to focus on that doesn’t do much to bring everything together by the end of the film.  There was something about Spock’s story that didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  Why is this journey to find himself happening for him at practically middle age (ignoring for a moment the Vulcan’s prolonged lifespan)?  If this ritual of his to find his life purpose were happening at a younger age, maybe it would be understandable about what he’s going through to want to have all emotion purged.  But for a character like Spock to be struggling and moping that he doesn’t know who he is seems out of touch for the character we know who is wise beyond his years.  The message seems almost too obvious by the end of the film, about logic embracing with emotion and humanity.  This seems like something he would already know about himself, and if anything, he would have been put to more use serving as a guide for the Voyager entity to understand its purpose than trying to figure out his personal problems.

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One of the more interesting characters for me was Captain Decker (Stephen Collins), who holds his own as a commander, and thankfully the writers never stoop to giving him a cocky attitude by comparison to Kirk.  Decker actually makes all the right decisions when he knows more about the ships newer operations than Kirk.  However, we aren’t given enough time in the film to really feel much for his relationship with Ilia, especially to make their sacrifices at the end more powerful.  We get the two have a relationship and a history, but the film doesn’t do enough to explore it as there’s just too much else going on.  There just doesn’t feel like much behind the sacrifice to mean more than just the message of technology and humanity embracing.

I find it interesting that during this period with the rise of computer technology, there were many films that talked about the debate of whether technology would overrun us or if humanity would prevail.  We saw this previously with Star Wars with Luke having to shut off the machine and trust his instincts.  I’m also reminded of Tron and the image of Flynn at the end diving into the MCP, and the two merging to become one.  Although I think Tron makes a bigger connection thematically than Star Trek: The Motion Picture does.  This film also seems more bogged down in seriousness than other Star Trek films, which is why Bones is so desperately needed by the time he shows up.  The aging Trek crew doesn’t hit their stride until the next film came along, which makes this film, for me, the most difficult to sit through.  I know for most people they say Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is the worst Trek, but I actually love that film.  I admit it’s a terrible film, but I actually love it for its stupidity and outrageousness, and most of all, to me, it’s still more fun than this film.  There’s plenty of dazzling visuals in this movie, and it achieves some of the greatest model work in motion picture history.  But the plodding, serious story, and too much time spent glamoring on visual effects shots over moving things forward gets in the way of what could have been a more fun and engaging science fiction story.

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#StarTrekTheMotionPicture #StarTrekReviews #FilmCriticism #FilmReviews #moviecappastartrek

Quigley Down Under (1990) Dir. Simon Wincer

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Here’s a film I had long forgotten, Quigley Down Under.  This is another film I remember seeing in the theater when I was 8 years old.  I really liked it at the time because it was a Western set in the Australian Outback,  but it was also an adventure story.  I wasn’t sure if I would have the same feeling revisiting the film after over 23 years.  The film started out a bit of a rocky for me, once Alan Rickman’s villain Elliot Marsten showed up, the film took off for me, and I was thrilled to go along with the ride once more.

I don’t know if this film is still remembered by a lot of people, but if you haven’t seen it in a while, it’s really worth a revisit.  It’s got a great story, and the experience I had re-watching the movie was an interesting one.  At first I wasn’t sure if this was going to be the movie I remembered.  Once Quigley arrives on the shores of Australia, he meets Crazy Cora, a woman he saves from Marsten’s men, and she keeps calling Quigley, “Roy”.  At first, I was just as annoyed as Quigley because for a woman who was supposedly crazy, I didn’t know if they were going to go anywhere with the character apart from trying to make her a goofy sidekick/potential love interest.  Thankfully, the storytellers actually did a great thing with the character, as we find out later on she’s the victim of a trauma.  During an Apache attack on her home in America, Cora accidentally smothered her baby to keep it quiet during the attack.  Her husband, Roy, was so outraged, blaming her for sacrificing their baby to save herself, that he had her exiled on a boat to Australia.  What’s great is through the course of the film, she is able to work through her trauma and in the end finds her way to Quigley to start her life over.  I found Cora to be a step up on characters that are portrayed with mental illness because as a heroic character, she manages to save herself and survive.  She is able to move on with her life.  Cora wound up being the most engaging and sympathetic characters in the film.

As for Tom Selleck as Quigley, well…he plays Tom Selleck, but that’s just fine.  I liked Tom Selleck as a kid, and he’s still just as entertaining as a kick ass/nice guy western hero.  He is pretty much a nice guy, saying no to anyone showing harsh intolerance and violence against anybody.  Quigley is hired by Marsten as a long range rifle shooter.  But when he finds out that Marsten wants him to use his gifts as a sharpshooter to kill Aborigines, Quigley quickly has Marsten thrown through a window, and it doesn’t take very long before the two wind up becoming enemies.  Marsten has Quigley and Cora sent to die out in the middle of the Australian Outback, and it’s up to the two of them to survive and make it back and stop Marsten from wiping out more Aborigine tribesmen.  When Marsten finds out they’re still alive, he keeps sending men after them only to have them continually wiped out.

Another one of the great things about this film is that Marsten’s henchmen are actually unique and fun characters on their own.  My favorite of them was a young red head kid who, while remaining with the bad guys all the way through, he doesn’t come off as cocky or obnoxious, but as somebody trying to fit in with the other guys.  There’s a funny scene where he practices shooting, and he asks Marsten, “Do you think someday I’ll be able to shoot as well as you, sir?”  Marsten: “You mean if you keep practicing hard every day?  No.”   Alan Rickman is gleefully evil in this, and is just a dick. He steals his scenes pretty effectively as the villain, It’s like taking Hans Gruber and making him the bad rancher of the west.  This is definitely one of the more fun villains Alan Rickman has portrayed.  He channels Gruber quite a bit in this movie, and like I said, once Rickman arrives on the scene, the movie shifts gears and just becomes a really good time.

If you haven’t seen Quigley Down Under, it’s available on Netflix Instant, so by all means check it out.  It’s just a really good time, and somewhat of a forgotten classic.  It’s got a great cast, a great story, and plenty of action.  Don’t miss it.

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#Quigleydownunder #AlanRickman #TomSelleck #Westerns #forgottenclassics

 

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Dir. Roman Polanski

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I recall seeing Rosemary’s Baby awhile ago on TV, but not knowing what it was.  It all came back to me as I remembered seeing this film before, but thankfully this time I got to see it from the beginning.  And it is a truly great horror film, one that could have ended up being far sillier than it turned out to be.  I mean the premise is pretty silly when you think about it, especially since this was made in 1968.  It was pretty natural at that time for a younger generation to believe anyone over 60 worshiped Satan.  But what makes it work so well is that the older people in the film are intentionally made funny, especially the diabolical, and not to mention incredibly nosy, Minnie Castevet (hilariously portrayed by Ruth Gordon).  Their ability to manipulate young Rosemary (Mia Farrow), is pretty unprecedented, as anytime Rosemary wants to get away or find her own way, the scheming old timers simply compromise and bargain with her, playing to her wishes when they know in time they will definitely get what they want.  They have pretty much all the patience in the world.  They’ve probably done this so many times manipulating young girls that Rosemary is probably just too easy for them (well, okay, she’s a bit of a challenge, but by the end we see nothing they can’t handle).

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The only other Polanski film I’ve seen is Chinatown, but that is also an incredible film, and the director has a unique style and vision, and dare I say is a game changer in cinema.  The film is grounded firmly in the reality it portrays, and what’s great are the incredibly natural performances that come from the cast, making it all the more real and frightening for us as the film goes on.  The young couple, Rosemary and Guy (John Cassavetes) start out as a free spirited, only to be seduced and taken over by the older generation, eventually crippling what’s left of their youthful vigor.  Guy especially, who seems manipulated into joining them right off the bat when he’s promised a great career at the expense of having somebody else suddenly and inexplicably becoming blind. Dark stuff indeed.  I especially loved the character Dr. Saperstien (Ralph Bellamy), who is just as conniving as they come, but always the patient and meticulous doctor, doing everything to please Rosemary, while covering up his sinister intentions.

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As far as the ending goes, it’s a bit uncertain what’s happening in Rosemary’s mind as we fade out from the final shot, having realized she’s just delivered the anti-Christ.  What’s scary about that final look is seeing her as she gives in to the darkness.  Her previous identity gone.  Rosemary’s Baby shows what happens when we lose that free spiritedness in ourselves, and how older values corrupt the spirit when we are trying to find ourselves and figure out what we want most in our lives.  The older medicine winds up causing Rosemary more pain than anything, and even her younger friends try to warn her to seek help from a younger professional.

There is something to be said about this era of cinema, especially with horror, which served as a great medium for expressing the anger and rebellion happening among a younger generation during those times.  Rosemary’s Baby is no exception and delivers it in a scary and fun way.  There’s a great balance with the humor and the more insidious threat being played out.  This is definitely a great horror film.

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Jurassic Park (1993) Dir. Steven Spielberg

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This weekend I got the chance to once again see Jurassic Park on the big screen with it’s new 3D conversion.  First, to be perfectly honest, I don’t care to talk about the 3D because 3D itself doesn’t have much of an effect on me, apart from noticing it for maybe the first 10 minutes of the film and then completely forgetting about it for the rest of the film.  So if 3D’s your thing, from what I saw it looks pretty good.  Other than that, I want to delve right into the film.

I saw Jurassic Park like many people when it first came out in 1993.  I remember the experience like it was yesterday.  We went to the just opened AMC Town 6 theater in Burbank.  What I remember most was that this film was the first time I sat in a theater with stadium seating.  The theater was brand new, the sound was exquisite…it was really the ultimate movie going experience.  I loved the move when I was 11 years old and there were those moments of sheer terror that blew me out of the water.  Over the years and subsequent viewings I’ve had more time to process the story and the film itself.  It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen the film all the way through as I look at it now through adult eyes.  To be honest, this isn’t one of my favorite Spielberg movies, but I enjoy it for what it is, even if there are parts of the story that don’t quite mesh (which I’ll get into).  This movie was made at the same time as Schindler’s List, and is in my opinion the pinnacle of Spielberg’s career.  Everything after Schindler, for me has been a slow decline, where his movies still had moments of greatness, like Private Ryan for example where the main plot is nowhere near as exceptional as the incredible D-Day attack in the first 20 minutes.

Now we’re in the age of Kingdom of The Crystal Skull, Warhorse, and Lincoln, where Spielberg has now lost the one thing that kept even his weakest stories afloat:  Character.  Character if anything is the one thing that has epitomized the success of the best of Spielberg’s career.  Without great characters to empathize with, we would never have the sense of wonder and joy of the fantastic in his films.  We would never feel any of this had we not seen it through the eyes of these wonderful actors who portray these characters.  It’s the reason a film like Jurassic Park works so well on audiences.  We can’t help but love the characters in this movie even if the story might begin to loose its focus from the first half in favor of the popcorn adventure of the second half.  We love Alan Grant, the kids, the funny, womanizing Ian Malcom, Ellie, Hammond, and even great supporting characters such as Nedry, Mr. Arnold, etc.  There was even a funny bit I had never noticed before that made me laugh.  When Dodgson is meeting Nedry to deliver the embryo canister, he gets out of his cab and leaves the door open.  We see in the background the cabbie get out of the car, shut the backseat door and throw Dodgson an angry gesture.  For a character that just has one scene, it’s great that Spielberg still showed in that little moment just to show what a son-of-a-bitch Dodgson is, and that he has no respect for anyone subservient.  Touches like these are great because Dodgson represents Hammond’s competitors trying to get their hands on the valuable dinosaur embryos, and because he only has one scene, a lot is done in that moment to make this one shot character memorable.  Spielberg does this with all the characters in the film, giving them each a little trait the audience can latch on and identify with, such as Hammond’s Walt Disney like enthusiasm, Ian’s womanizing, the fact that Grant doesn’t like kids, Lex who thrives on being a computer nerd and vegetarian despite being chased by carnivores for most of the film.  Gennero’s sudden turn to greed once he sees what a gold mine the park really is.

As for the story, the problem the film has is that it sets up a lot of interesting ideas about DNA, genetics, Chaos Theory, the fact that the dinosaurs are all female to keep them from breeding, but there’s no payoff to any of these story points except to set up the set piece of the characters being chased by dinos in the second half of the film.  There’s nothing wrong with the way the second half of the film plays out because obviously that’s the most fun part of the movie, and it’s the most engaging in that we care so much about the characters that we don’t want to see anything terrible happen to them.  But there are things, for example, like the idea of the dinosaurs being female, but the frog DNA chosen causes the dinosaurs to inexplicibly change sex and breed anyway.  What’s funny to me about this is it almost seems smarter if the bred them all as males at least to deny to dinosaurs a physiology system that would allow them to lay eggs.  When Grant later finds the eggs, we see that the dinosaurs are in fact breeding on their own, but there’s no real payoff except to say that “Life found a way”.  Which is interesting commentary but doesn’t really say anything regarding the rest of the film.  What goes on like in the dinner scene where Malcolm is complaining to Hammond about playing God and never earning the responsibility of the knowledge for himself, these are all fascinating ideas and debates that are discussed, but then abandoned when it comes time for the dinosaur chase.  This doesn’t change my enjoyment of Jurassic Park knowing any of this about the story, it’s just that as enjoyable as the film is, it isn’t as tightly structured with its ideas as, say, Spielberg’s earlier films like Jaws, Raiders, or E.T.

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I have three favorite sequences in this film.  The first is the sick triceratops scene.  I think it’s a beautiful moment for Grant, and it’s a terrific setup as we’re introduced to the triceratops from Tim’s perspective, walking through the tall grass and then seeing the dinosaur revealed.  Grant goes on about how beautiful she is, even feeling every breath, and it gives us some backstory that the triceratops was Grant’s favorite dinosaur as a kid, tapping into that childlike wonder in him that seemed forgotten when we first meet him.

My second favorite scene is where Hammond talks about his first attraction, a motorized flea circus.  Again, this is a scene that gives us a lot of wonderful history on Hammond, a dreamer and a creator who wished for the day that his creations weren’t an illusion, but something real that people could see and touch.  It even touches a little into Hammonds dark side and his compulsion to play God with his line “Creation is an act of will.”  Ellie has to shake him back into reality when he becomes more concerned with the outlook of the park than the lives of people they love who are in danger.  Hammond struggles through this with the rest of the film as his dream begins to crumble.  The back and forth debate in his head with the park vs. the well being of the people he loves is one of the stronger moments of the film.

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The third sequence, and possibly my favorite in the film is the raptors stalking the children in the kitchen.  For those who know me well, I’m a sucker for child endangerment in films, and this is most definitely one of the scariest sequences put on film.  We learn just how smart raptors are quite simply because they figured out how to open doors.  They’re strategic and incredibly vicious.  The only thing I’m curious about is that in the earlier scene when Muldoon is talking about the raptors, and one of them being particularly vicious, taking over the pack, I kind of wonder which raptor he was referring to.  It doesn’t take away the scariness in anyway, but the whole setup and the way the sequence plays out is just brilliant.

I had an interesting discussion once about this film with my life drawing teacher regarding the effects work and animation done on the dinosaurs in this film.  One of the things we all agreed on is that the dinosaurs in this film are the most convincing out of all the Jurassic Park films.  One of the reasons for that was the stop motion animation work done by Phil Tippitt and his team.  Originally, the computer technology used for the full motion dinosaurs was so new that nobody was sure it was going to work.  As a back up, Phil Tippit did stop motion animation of all the dinosaur sequences, including the T-Rex attacks, the brachiasaurs, the Gallymimus sequence, and the raptors in the kitchen sequence.  These stop motion films served as reference for the CG animators, giving the dinos a sense of weight and timing.  More attention to weight especially makes the dinosaurs more convincing because Tippitt was relying on real life puppets to animate.  The other Jurassic Park films skip this process entirely which is a shame as much as it is frustrating, because the animation in those films isn’t nearly as convincing or interesting.  In breaking new ground with the first film, the creators were forced through circumstances and a lack of technology to find ways to make the dinosaurs not so much realistic, but instead BELIEVABLE, which is the one thing we strive for more than realism when making films. I discuss this in another post called Realism and Believability in the Movies.

But quite frankly that’s what also amounts to the success of Jurassic Park as a film as well.  While we strive for a story that is tight where all the pieces are in place, it’s the believability of the characters that makes the film real for us.  Spielberg gives us character moments spread throughout the film.  One of my favorite acting moments in the film is where Malcolm is explaining chaos theory to Ellie while at the same time hitting on her.  In a subtle way we can see she’s a little creeped out by his overbearing advances.  It’s a good moment of interaction among the characters.  Grant likes to scare children, such as the obnoxious kid in the beginning of the film to get him to show “more respect” for velociraptors, or faking Lex and Tim out getting electrocuted by the fence.  Or even Hammond sitting by himself eating ice cream and his moment with Ellie when he talks about the flea circus.  These little moments add up to our empathy with the characters.

Jurassic Park is by no means a perfect film.  But for a Spielberg movie, it’s still makes for a great, engaging ride, with terrific visuals and giving us a reason to care about these characters, something that is sorely missed now from his more recent efforts.

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Cinecon 49!

49film_couldhappenHey everyone!  Cinecon 49 is coming up soon!  For those who don’t know, Cinecon is a terrific classic film festival held every year at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, and features fantastic prints of some rare Hollywood treasures, some of which are so good and yet currently unavailable on DVD.  This is your one place to see them!  The festival this year is held Labor Day weekend, from August 29th to September 2nd.  Already the site has updated with some of the films they will be showing this year. Check it out here!