Tag Archives: critiques

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.

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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

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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A Monster In Paris clip

I may have to check this movie out and see if it’s worth recommending. I watched this clip below, and the animation on the angel singer is just extraordinary. Just incredible, beautifully subtle movements. Whoever animated this section is just a master. Now I’m very interested!

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!

Toy Story (1995) Dir. John Lasseter

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I took a great class yesterday from Marshall Vandruff, a terrific artist and teacher. The class was a Visual Storytelling Analysis of the film Toy Story, where we went through the entire film, stopping after each sequence and discussing the story structure and emotional line of the film. It was an absolutely terrific seminar. I wanted to talk a little bit about Toy Story as a film in general, because it really is such a great, well told story.  This is a film where the story was allowed to be what it should have been.  There was a tremendous amount of searching to find the film this would eventually become, but this movie turned out to be the ultimate game changer for animation.  What’s even more astounding is that this film does not feel dated in the slightest.  While the animation and visuals would technically be considered “primitive” to what CG films can do know, Toy Story was still approached with a wonderful artistic eye, and the visuals are still just as wonderful and aesthetically pleasing to the eye as it was when it first premiered.

I was 14 when Toy Story first came out.  From what I do remember about seeing the film, I remember how much I liked it although I didn’t know the impact it would have that one day CG would completely take over the animation field.  I never saw myself wanting to go into a career in CG after this, but I saw it as the use of a different medium.  The story was great, and the film itself was a lot of fun.  There was one particular scene that hit me pretty hard when I first saw it, and still today it’s my favorite scene in the whole film.  It’s basically the fall of Buzz Lightyear when he discovers that he’s not a space ranger, just “an insignificant stupid little toy”.  It’s his fall from grace and his discovery that the world was never what he imagined it would be.  The scene I refer to in this is where Buzz and Woody are talking in the middle of the night at Sid’s house and Woody is trying to get Buzz to help him escape.  Buzz just sits their alone with his sad line, “I can’t help.  I can’t help anybody.”  It’s been a few years since I’ve watched this film, but yesterday as I watched the film I couldn’t help but be moved to tears by this sequence.  Not in a heavy depressed way, but as the scene plays out, the two of them have reached a penultimate moment where they couldn’t get any lower and two guys that were once enemies finally reach common ground.  It’s a beautiful scene.  And when Buzz finally sees the words “Andy” on his shoe and gets the message that there is a new, better life for him out there, you see a character that finds bliss in that moment.

There’s a lot of great visual storytelling devices in this movie.  I’ve always liked the opening sequence with Andy playing with his toys.  The camera is always kept at the Toy’s point of view, even though they are in “play mode”, meaning they don’t move.  When we’re introduced to Woody, who appears to us as just an ordinary toy, the camera keeps everything so that we see what he sees in his head, from going down the stair railing to spinning in the chair with Andy.  One of the interesting things that was pointed out when I was in the class was an idea that started out as a cliche joke and goes on to become an important part of the story.  The scene starts with the army men going to investigate the new birthday presents Andy is getting.  After one of them gets crushed, the wounded soldier shouts out “Go on without me!” to which the Army captain returns and says, “A good soldier never leaves a man behind!”  This theme is echoed through to the final sequence in the film, where twice Woody and Buzz make self sacrifices for each other.  For instance, the first time Buzz is caught in a fence as the moving van is leaving, and he shouts to Woody, “Go on, I’ll catch up”, to which Woody who is right at his moment of victory, decides to jump down and help Buzz.  Then the second time it happens, Woody’s leg is caught in the dogs mouth and he cries out to Buzz, “Take care of Andy for me!”, to which Buzz shouts No! and jumps on the dog, pulling up and snapping its eyelids.

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From a structural standpoint it was interesting to see how so many different elements are set up and paid off later in the movie.  The story structure of this film is a solid as they come.  The sequels were never quite the same when it came to this film, and one of the things I enjoyed about this film was Mr. Potato Head, who is much more of a smart ass, and while he’s not a villain, he is a bit more of an antagonist figure here.  A part of it is that he’s somewhat jealous of Woody’s position as Andy’s favorite toy, and manages to convince the other toys not to let Woody come back to them after what he did to Buzz.  While Potato Head makes some good points, at the same time, you can’t help but feel his motives are a little ulterior even if he’s not conscieous about what he’s doing.  There’s a part of him that already wants Woody to go away anyway, just because Woody decided to be self-proclaimed leader of the toys.  Potato head even gets a bit of comeuppance at the end of the film when the race car flies into him and his body parts scatter all over the place.  And then of course, he gets a happy ending when he finally gets Ms. Potato Head!

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I’ve always had problems with the sequels for this film, because to me the idea of the toys getting replaced because their masters grew up or moved on…for some reason that story was never important to me.  It’s almost like it comes to a shock to all the toys that their master is going to grow up, when I think if every toy before hand had to deal with this, you’d think toys would have some plan or initiative on what to do when they had to move on to another master.  You’d think instead of “holding on” to each other, that one day they would split up and move on to other people, and one day eventually end up in the trash pile.  But that’s just what their existence is.  It seems like they’re not okay with the idea of dying or moving on.  I was more interested in the first Toy Story because it dealt with the toys dealing with ordinary problems that we can relate to as people.  The jealousy of a new toy coming into the picture when Buzz arrives, which angers Woody, is very human and a story we can all relate to when somebody comes into our lives we didn’t ask for and we don’t know how to deal when that person comes in with newer or more impressive ideas than the old toy.  Some of the aspects we talked about in this film were the metaphors about how the space race came in during the 60’s and took over when before every kid was interested in cowboys and Indians and then suddenly everyone was into space and astronauts.  All of this helps to build on a great rivalry with the characters.

Toy Story will always be one of Pixar’s greatest triumphs.  The story is so solid as well because the filmmakers had no choice but to go in that direction.  They had to accept and allow the story to unfold and be what it wanted to be.  It’s disappointing to me that the rest of the Pixar films (at least everything after The Incredibles) couldn’t be as on par and allow their films to bloom in the way that Toy Story does.  It’s just a great solid film, and one of my favorite animated films ever made.

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