Tag Archives: Classic Films

The Great Escape (1963) Dir. John Sturges

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Well, now I can check off another great classic on my list of must see films.  The Great Escape is a pretty tremendous film, with three great stars in the lead roles: Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough.  I liked the epic feel of this story.  It’s a true story by the way, where supposedly every detail of the Escape is exactly as it happened.  I have to admit, when watching the film, the escape itself is an incredible undertaking as these POW men band together to dig an escape tunnel under the fence and out of the compound.

In a funny way, I saw the whole thing play out as sort of a game.  It’s the escape game if you will, and sometimes it’s funny to watch as the men have to come up with ways to make noise and distract the Nazi’s from the real noise their making in trying to dig through the tunnels.  There are secret codes and messages, giving the men enough warning when Nazi’s are coming while they’re in the middle of planning and executing their escape.  Then of course there’s Steve McQueen whose character becomes almost a running gag for all the time he has to spend in “The Cooler”, a solitary confinement room where he has nothing to do but chuck a baseball against the wall.

I also really enjoyed watching Richard Attenborough in this film.  Like most people of my generation, I know him best as Hammond from Jurassic Park, but it was great to finally see his earlier work and see what an incredible actor he was.  Already his clock is ticking and this major escape attempt is a risk to his life as the Nazi Commandant tells him if he tries to escape one more time he’ll be executed.  Of course, if he’s going to go out escaping, he’s going out with a bang, as it becomes his mission to get all 204 men out of the prison at the same time.    Attenborough gives a kind of understated performance, and a seriousness that seems to keep him driven to make sure everything goes to plan as leader of the escape.

The film plays out in three acts, each lasting almost an hour, with the first act introducing and setting up the plan for the escape.  The second act focuses on the execution and work the men put through to keep the Nazi’s unaware of their plans, leading up to the actual escape.  The third act focus on the 74 men that do get out as they attempt to flee Germany for Switzerland.  The final hour of the film is certainly engaging, although so many men end up getting caught, I was starting to wonder if anyone was going to actually get away at the end.

The part that confused me the most was the reasoning behind why Steve McQueen’s motorcycle hopping the fence was supposed to be such a famous scene.  When the scene was coming, I expected something far more dramatic and epic than what we got.  It turns out the motorcycle hop is filmed at a long shot, with McQueen hopping a four foot fence.  It’s an impressive trick, I guess, considering that McQueen did the stunt on his own.  But there’s no drama to it, no swelling music…it’s just…a motorcycle hop.  So why are people so blown away as to make this a famous scene in the film?  I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s just that it was more impressive for its time than the kind of stunt work I’m accustomed to seeing in movies today. But this just felt like a letdown because the stunt was fairly understated and didn’t seem like that big a deal.

Some of the other things I liked about the film was that it kept a fairly light sense of humor, although I am not sure how different the POW camps were from the concentration camps, and why the Nazi’s seemed to think the POW’s deserved better treatment (apart from religious persecution/ discrimination).  The prisoners are free to walk around the camp, garden, play sports, and surprisingly McQueen is allowed his baseball and mitt in the Cooler when I think that would defeat the purpose of solitary confinement for the Nazis.   Who knows.  I think some of the freedoms the prisoners had might have been played to give the film a lighter, not too serious tone.  After all, the movie plays itself with a sense of fun, and the excitement of the audience being in on the major escape.  Although, I think the darker third act makes up for the lighter beginning as we see some of the prisoners who aren’t so lucky.

Overall, I really liked The Great Escape.  I don’t think it’s a truly great movie, mainly because it plays up some romanticism/ “escapism” of the audience wanting to be part of the adventure in this prison escape movie.  The lightness the film portrays is obviously opposed to the much more serious things that were happening in Germany at the time.  But hey, it’s a movie.  I can enjoy the film for what it is, and if anything it’s enjoyable, well-acted, and a good time for all.

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: First Contact (1996) Dir. Jonathan Frakes

STFC1At last we come to my favorite of all the Star Trek films, Star Trek: First Contact.  I think this is an extraordinary movie.  It’s got a great story, great character development (every cast member from the series is given their due), a memorable villain, and something I never expected from a Star Trek movie, moments of tension and horror.  I remember my experience seeing this movie in the theater.  The Borg in this film are truly scary…the stuff of nightmares.  The elements are all interwoven and blended together to create a unique and believable storytelling experience.  From comedy, to drama, suspense, action, and adventure, this movie works on all levels.

STFC3The best element of any movie is when the protagonist has an issue he/she is dealing with and the rest of the movie is there to help support it.  In this case, it’s Jean Luc Picard having to fight with his trauma of being assimilated to the Borg six years prior to the events in the film.  Here, Picard’s trauma reflects the majority of his decisions, including telling his crew men to wipe out any other crew members that have been assimilated by the Borg, saying they will be doing them a favor.  Of course this reflects his true desire, which is to see all of the Borg wiped out, erasing them from his existence like the terminator.  Picard has often been in denial over many things based on his code of Starfleet ethics.  He believes that his sense of humanity has grown past the desire for revenge, but he’s very wrong as pointed out by Lily (Alfre Woodard).  In comparison to Ahab and Moby Dick, his fighting desire to stay and fight off the Borg leads to one of my favorite scenes in the movie, where Picard has the brass to call Worf a coward, and Worf’s retaliation, “If you were any other man I would kill you where you stand!”  You know something is wrong when even Worf knows a mission is suicide, and the Klingon whose blood lives for battle understands when it’s time to walk away.  It’s a great scene.  I even love Picard’s apology scene later.  Picard: “Mr. Worf, I regret some of the things I said to you earlier.”  Worf: (annoyed) SOME.

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Picard’s story about getting through and surviving his trauma is successful for the same reasons that Kirk’s story about his fear of death in Wrath of Khan resonate with us to the day.  We are able to witness in First Contact how the adventure brings out the best (and worst) in Picard and helps him find balance again in his life.  The story never forgets that, and all the other plots of the film come together to support the main arc of Picard’s journey.  This is the first Next Generation film where the cast is finally allowed to come into their own.  Each of them has a memorable moment.  Crusher calling the EMH Doctor to block the door from the Borg.  Troi doing Tequila shots.  Riker and LaForge helping Zephram Cochrine carry out his warp flight.  And my personal favorite is Worf who just kicks ass in this movie.  Data is also much more tolerable in this film, as is his story regarding his emotion chip.  I suppose the only thing I was left wondering by the end is whether or not Data really learned anything about the worthiness of his quest to be more human.  The Borg Queen (while using a manipulation tactic) tries to get him to embrace his machine side by doing the exact opposite…giving him what he wants and making him more human, grafting skin on his body.  While it’s tolorable, it’s still probably the only aspect of the movie I don’t care for because I don’t find anything really interesting about Data’s desire to be human.  I have several problems in this which I talked about in my Star Trek: Generations Review.  The Borg Queen’s tactic is clever, but we know in the end Data isn’t going to force himself to really think about what happened to him, and as a result, nothing really changes about his character by the end of the film.  The android is just too stubborn to really think about what he could be capable of in his machine side.

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One of the lighter comical highlights of the film is James Cromwell’s portrayal of Zephrem Cochrine, the man who invents warp drive.  He’s given a wonderful arc in the story, as a man who doesn’t care about the future or making history, and just wants to find a peaceful place where he can be left alone.  That all changes when the Enterprise crew comes in to convince him to carry out his mission so they can go back to their own future.  One of the sequences that makes me laugh is when Lt. Barclay (Dwight Schultz) can’t contain his fandom at getting to work with their history’s greatest legend.  It’s funny because it makes Cochrine even more resistant to his destiny, when he just wants everyone to leave him alone.

Also shining in this film is Alfre Woodard’s Lilly, who develops a great relationship with Picard.  She is not just the lone outsider, but the one keeping both her men (Picard and Cochrine) grounded.  I have two favorite scenes with her.  The first is when Picard opens the bay door with the view of Earth, showing her that she’s “not in Kansas anymore”.  The second is when she fights with Picard to blow up the ship, telling him he’s become Captain Ahab on a quest to destroy the whale.  The most endearing part of the scene is near the end when Picard quotes Moby Dick.  “Actually”, she says, “I never read it.”

I do have to say that out of all the Star Trek films, Wrath of Khan is the best story.  But this film will always be my personal favorite.  It’s just a wonderful, exciting, and action packed adventure.  I’ve always been more partial to TNG because it’s what I grew up with.  But this is the only feature they made where everyone really gets to shine.  It’s a good, well told story, and it’s too bad that we never got another film like it after this.  STFC4

Moviecappa One Year Anniversary!!

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Hot damn!  Moviecappa is One year old!  I missed it by two days, it was actually on May 10th, 2012 that I first started this site.  I for one am very grateful that I have kept this site going for that long.  I started this site because I have always had running commentary in my head when I go to the movies as well as when I see what goes on in the industry.  It’s a place for me to talk about why I think the movies are important, and what we can do to see them get better.  It’s also been my vision that this could be a place for filmmakers to come and talk about movies, and discuss the thing we want most out of them:  good storytelling.  This site was created out of passion, and I hope to see more discussion and bigger things to come for this site in the future.  If you have been an ongoing reader of the site, thank you so much for coming back and for your support!  Greater things are yet to come!  So stay tuned!

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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 II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) Dir. Nicholas Meyer

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The Wrath of Khan is considered by many to be the best film out of all of Star Trek. My personal favorite is actually Star Trek: First Contact, and I know that might seem like heresy to Star Trek, but hey, I grew up on TNG. I actually had the experience of seeing that film in a theater, and I was absolutely thrilled by the end of it. I was only an infant when Star Trek 2 first came out, but I imagine I would have gotten the same thrill out of it had I been able to see it then. I never really got around to seeing Star Trek 2 until I was in college. But it surprised me greatly, and I firmly believe it’s the best of the TOS Trek series. It doesn’t have quite the effects budget of the first film, but the even better alternative is that it has a strong, tight and compelling story. It also has a tremendous bigger than life villain, as well as being the most fun of all the Star Trek films.

Is it a perfect film? Almost. There are a few small things that don’t quite gel with me in this movie. One of them is the Kirk, Spock, McCoy dynamic. It is good here, but some of the things I never understood…Why does McCoy go into a rant on Spock debating the Genesis device when it’s pretty clear Spock was speaking in scientific terms as opposed to morality issues regarding the device. It’s true that McCoy likes to read into things, but there’s a lack of motivation behind his words, and the scene falls flat for me. Some of which might be due to editing. The second thing that’s a bit of a let down for me is some of the production design and effects work. Again, it’s good, but you can see more of the budget constraints on this film compared to the first Star Trek, and I find some of the sets in this film to be a little hokey and not terribly well lit. I think mainly of the space station science lab when Kirk’s away team arrives, and we see Khan has killed most of the staff. The lighting of that sequence just doesn’t seem that atmospheric and eerie enough. But those are minor complaints.

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Quite frankly I would watch Wrath of Khan 100x over than the first Star Trek film. The thing that was missing most from the first film was a driving force, which in this film is Kirk who leads the story. This is Kirk’s film, and everyone around him plays their parts as support for his personal journey. There is more emphasis on Character in Star Trek 2, as well as better editing of sequences, which keep the pacing focused, driving the story forward. When I rewatched the film today, there was one aspect I found still got to me, and that was the death of Spock. Originally when The Wrath of Khan originally came out in 1982, pretty much everybody had heard Spock was going to die. So what Nicholas Meyer did in the film was kill everyone off in a fake out death scene in the beginning. This was done not simply to throw people off, but to get the build up out of the way so people would forget about Spock and focus on the story. Admittedly the same thing happened to me rewatching the film, as I forgot that Spock was supposed to die until it actually happened. It just goes to show how incredibly smart and well thought out the story was. For much of the film, Spock is simply there as support for Kirk, so there isn’t too much focus on what happens to him. To this day, it’s still a terrific death scene, and Leonard Nimoy’s performance is one of the best he’s ever done in all of Star Trek. I’ve always liked that while Kirk and Spock are the best of friends, when Spock is near death, he still stands and adjusts his shirt to present himself to his captain…a great touch. Everything comes home for Kirk in that moment, where this time he can’t beat the no-win scenario without someone else taking the sacrifice.

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The adventure is most compelling here, as the emotional center of the film is Kirk facing his aging body and feels something deeper is missing from his life. The challenge here is that Kirk has spent most of his life cheating death, but it’s also the one thing he’s most afraid of, trying to deny it within himself. He struggles with feeling that he now has to accept old age almost considers his life as captain to be over. It’s this human journey that makes this one of the most emotionally engaging Trek adventures. Kirk has that admission once he realizes he can’t beat the no-win scenario, he finally admits that he knows nothing. What I like even more is that the story keeps it simple here by focusing on Kirk, and of the subplots, such as the Reliant finding Khan all tie into Kirk’s journey. Humorously, as well as being true to the story, Kirk keeps managing to get the best of Khan throughout the film. But Kirk always managing to beat him relates to his problem in that it was only easy for him because he knows things about starships that Khan doesn’t. Still that doesn’t stop Khan from being a greater threat, having killed Federation civilians mercilessly, and doing some crippling damage to the Enterprise. Khan also seems to fall in the vein of literary villains, who have memorized books like Moby Dick word for word, but never actually learned anything from the story! To be honest, he’s not my favorite of all the Trek villains, but he is a lot of fun, and Ricardo Montalban does a great job hamming it up. Khan himself is a rich character, and a joy to watch at times. It’s interesting too that Khan and Kirk have a relationship in the film, but never actually meet in person accept when talking to each other through the Enterprise viewscreen.

I also don’t want to go on without mentioning Kristie Alley as Savvik in this film, and she’s just terrific. I really miss that she didn’t come back (for whatever reason) to do Star Trek 3 and 4. Her replacement, Robin Curtis, does a decent job, but Kristie Alley really owned Savvik as a character, who while being a Vulcan, we still sense a slight bit of pride to her actions. She is not completely emotionless. I also can’t think of his name, but I really like Khan’s right hand man, his most trusted comrade who also begs Khan to let go of his need for vengeance and take the Reliant wherever they want to go. Khan fights him at times, but he keeps vigilant admiration and respect for his leader. Khan is even saddened and angry about his death near the end of the film. We sympathize with several other minor characters in this film, including Scotty’s brash young nephew in the engine room. It’s a minor role, but his death garners plenty of sympathy from us.

The Wrath of Khan is a great enjoyable film, and one of the finest in all of Star Trek. While I have some quibbles about the movie, they are seriously minor to how great this movie really is. It’s an engaging, moving, well told story, and one of the best adventure films of all time.

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#StartrekTheWrathOfKhan #Startrek

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