Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Star Trek: Insurrection

With the third of the Next Generation films, Star Trek: Insurrection, we have what may quite possibly be the worst of the Star Trek films. With an illogical and confusing plot, a serious lack of action and a rather bland villain makes this a rather unremarkable entry in the series. 

Lt. Commander Data (played by Brent Spiner) has been temporarily reassigned to a Federation project observing the peaceful Baku people on a planet in a system referred to as the Briar Patch. Data begins to Malfunction and in the process reveals the Federation's presence observing the Baku. Admiral Matthew Dougherty (played by Anthony Zerbe) contacts the Enterprise to get Data's schematics but states the Enterprise does not need to come to the planet. Suspicious, Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) ignores the order and the Enterprise goes anyway. 

After managing to fix Data, Picard becomes even more suspicious at Admiral Dougherty's attempts to get them to leave. They discover that the unique make-up of the planet and it's rings emit a radiation or "metaphasic particles" that continuously rejuvenate all life living on the planet, effectively making it's inhabitants immortal. As they spend more time on the planet, the crew begins to feel the effects of the planet. Geordi (played by LeVar Burton), who had been blind since birth, has his eyes naturally healed and able to see naturally for the first time in his life, Riker (played by Jonathan Frakes) and Troi (played by Marina Sirtis) begin feeling the urge to rekindle their romantic relationship, unfortunately Worf (played by Michael Dorn) begins going through the Klingon version of puberty again, and Picard finds himself falling for a Baku woman, Anij (played by Donna Murphy). As Picard and Data continue to investigate, they discover that Dougherty has been plotting with the leader of the Son'a race, Ahdar Ru'afo (played by F. Murray Abraham) to forcibly remove the 600 strong members of the Baku and take the planet and it's rejuvenating radiation for themselves. Picard is angered by the deception and becomes determined to expose the corruption to Starfleet and rescue the Baku people.

Jonathan Frakes returned to direct this film but unlike First Contact this one was more of a mixed bag. While the film looks great and the performances are generally good, it has some narrative problems that are hard to get past. The script by Michael Piller has some unique ideas and an intriguing setting with this planet that is essentially the Fountain of Youth and setting two different groups against one another over it. The problem is in the execution. We have the quiet and peaceful Baku, a group numbering roughly 600 who have shunned technology and live in a commune setting that looks like Tuscany by way of L.L Bean. Then there are the vain Son'a race, who through decades of cosmetic surgery in an attempt to cheat death have left them decaying and dying, all one billion of them apparently. There are a couple problems with this issue. 

One, the Baku, with such a small population, are supposed to be the good guys in this story. However, them wanting to keep the entire planet all to themselves and deny a literally dying race a place on said planet makes them look like a bunch of galactic assholes. Yes, there is a plot point about the Baku and the Son'a at one point being friends but then there was some sort of ideological falling out and they parted ways. It's all barely mentioned and glossed over pretty quickly. 

The second problem is a far bigger one. These two people are not fighting over a small town or a country or an island, they are fighting over an entire planet that looks like the love child of Earth and Saturn. Surely, there is room for everyone. Of course, there is a plot point about the Son'a wanting to basically vacuum up the radiation from the rings around the planet and take it with them, which seems extremely short sighted on their part. Why not spend some time on the planet instead and let it cure your ills. Stick to one side and the Baku stick to the other in their Hippie Tuscany commune and they never have to speak to one another. Geordi gained eyesight after being on the planet for a day! Whatever is ailing the Baku should clear up over roughly the length of a spa weekend at that rate. And if it begins to reoccur after they leave, just come back for a refresher. Problem solved. But then there would be no movie. 

Overall, Star Trek: Insurrection has it's moments. The romances between Riker and Troi and Picard and Anij were sweet, as were the scenes between Data and a Baku boy (played by Michael Welch), who teaches Data what it's like to be a boy. Those were all sweet and fun moments. I get that they wanted to go for something deeper and with a more moral quandary here but the narrative as a whole has some rather large plot holes that are difficult to overcome and the film falls apart because of them.     

Monday, July 18, 2016

Star Trek: First Contact

"You're all astronauts on some sort of...star trek." 

Star Trek: First Contact is the best of the Next Generation cast films, with two parallel storylines and a genuinely frightening villain. It makes fantastic use of it's characters, especially Picard and his fight against his mortal enemy, The Borg. 

Captain Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) picks up a distress call from a ship under attack from the Borg, a vicious cybernetic collective that mindlessly assimilates other societies into the Borg. Starfleet specifically orders Picard to stand down though, feeling he would be an unpredictable element in the battle. Picard, with the full support of the crew, ignores the order and they respond to the distress call anyway. Picard uses his previous experience having been assimilated into the Borg to Starfleet's advantage and instructs the other ships where to fire to destroy the Borg ship. However, a part of the ship ejects moments below and uses it's advanced technology to travel back in time. Realizing what has happened, the Enterprise follows in hot pursuit. They discover that the Borg has traveled back to April 4th, 2063, the day before Zefram Cochran (played by James Cromwell) makes the first warp speed flight in human history, leading to the Human race's first contact with alien life, specifically the Vulcans. They realize the Borg intend to stop this from happening and proceed to assimilate all of Earth. Picard orders for the Enterprise to fire on and destroy the surviving Borg. Initially they appear to have succeeded, but it starts to become apparent that the Borg managed to beam over to the Enterprise undetected and begin to assimilate the crew. Picard has Commander Riker (played by Jonathan Frakes), Troi (played by Marina Sirtis) and Geordi (played by LeVar Burton) beam down to the surface to ensure Cochran's test flight goes as planned. Picard and the remaining crew remain on the Enterprise to battle the surviving Borg, including their Queen (played by Alice Krige), who kidnaps Data (played by Brent Spiner) in an effort to gain control over the ship's computers.

First Contact, unlike it's predecessor, very much ups that action quotient to the story and the film moves at a brisk pace because of it. Jonathan Frakes stepped into the director role for the film in addition to co-starring as Commander Riker and does a fantastic job of bringing a sense of cinematic grandeur to the film, something the previous film lacked at times. The script by Ronald D Moore and Brannon Braga delves head on into Picard's history with the Borg and how his time as an assimilated member of the collective still haunts him and drives his action throughout the film. Then they pair this with the time travel aspect and the character of Zefram Cochran, whose antics are largely played for comic relief but also have a certain dramatic weight to them as well as a man starting to crack under the pressure of the Enterprise crew's hero worship of him. The two plotlines work with one another nicely and intersect throughout the film, especially when Cochran's original co-pilot, Lily (played by Alfre Woodard) winds up on the Enterprise and finds herself partnered with the increasingly obsessed and irrational Picard, eventually becoming a voice of reason for him.   

The cast of the film is first rate with everyone giving strong performances. Patrick Stewart has the most to work with as Picard and his obsession with defeating the Borg and refusing to surrender to them and he plays it beautifully, portraying the rage that Picard feels. He does well in a more action oriented role as well as Picard goes into full on badass mode as the film goes on. Alfre Woodard does equally well as Lily, a 21st century person who the idea of Starships and the Borg are completely foreign to her, but manages to keep it together and go with the events that are happening nonetheless. James Cromwell is wonderful as Cochran and is clearly having a good time playing the part, and indeed reprised the role on an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise a few years later. Besides I can't help but love a guy who plays "Magic Carpet Ride" during his warp flight test. I also have to give props to Alice Krige as the seductively creepy Borg Queen. Her interactions with both Data and Picard made her a memorable villain for the film. 

There is one other cast member I have to mention here because I actually didn't realize he was in the movie until I watched it again last night, Adam Scott. Okay, so I am a huge fan of the comedy series Parks and Recreation. On that show, Adam Scott played adorkable nerd and love interest to series star Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope. One of Ben's favorite hobbies was writing Star Trek fan fiction, Next Generation no less, which at one point he even reads on the show. And then here he is, much earlier actually in a Star Trek movie and I couldn't help but bust a gut laughing, even though the scene is clearly meant to be quite serious. 

Overall, Star Trek: First Contact is without a doubt the best film of the Next Generation films with plenty of action, a fantastically nasty villain and just enough humor to keep everything from getting too bleak. It also has a great cast and strong direction from Jonathan Frakes, it was a giant leap forward from the previous film.  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Star Trek: Generations

When Star Trek VI was in early pre-production, one of the ideas bandied about was a meeting between Captains Kirk and Picard. Since Star Trek: The Next Generation was still doing well on TV, they did not at that point want to make the leap to the big screen. Once that series wrapped at the end of season seven, the plot line was resurrected as a sort of passing of the torch. While not the best film in the series, I do still have a lot of affection for Star Trek: Generations

While overseeing the launch and test run of the new Enterprise starship, the newly retired Kirk (played by William Shatner), along with Scotty (played by James Doohan) and Chekov (played by Walter Koenig) is finding himself missing the good old days of his time in the Captain's chair of the Enterprise. He finds an opportunity when the Enterprise B has to respond to a distress signal. A couple of ships are caught in a strange energy ribbon. In attempting to rig up a solution, something goes wrong and there is a hull breach of the Enterprise B and Kirk is sucked out into space and into the ribbon, but the Enterprise is able to break free and was able to rescue several members from one of the ships via the transporters, including a strange man named Soran (played by Malcolm McDowell) and future Enterprise-D bartender Guinan (played by Whoopi Goldberg).

We then move 78 years into the future with the Next Generation crew celebrating the promotion of Lt. Worf (played by Michael Dorn) on a 18th century sailing ship version of the Enterprise via the Holodeck when Picard receives some tragic news that his brother and nephew were killed in a fire and leaves the festivities. Picard later explains to the ship's counselor Troi (played Marina Sirtis), that his brother having a family meant he felt free to focus on his Starfleet career and that the Picard name would still live on but not anymore. Meanwhile, the Enterprise receives a distress call from an observatory overlooking the Amargosa star. Arriving there, they rescue the people from the observatory, including Soran. After talking with Soran, Picard gets a bad feeling about the man and his suspicions are raised. Engineer Geordi LaForge (played by LeVar Burton) and the android Data (played by Brent Spiner) check out the observatory and find evidence of the radioactive Trilithium crystals. Before they can investigate further, Soran arrives and kidnaps Geordi, beaming them both aboard a renegade Klingon ship commanded by the treacherous Duras sisters, who eventually beam Geordi back with a spy chip installed on his visor so the Duras sisters can find a way to defeat the Enterprise. 

Discussing his concerns about Soran with Guinan, Picard learns that both Guinan and Soran were in the energy ribbon, which is a gateway to a place called the Nexus which creates a fantasy filled with pure joy for anyone who is in it. Neither Guinan nor Soran wanted to leave the Nexus, but were forced to during the collision between the starships and the energy ribbon all those years ago. While Guinan came to terms with the fact she couldn't go back, Soran has been obsessed with getting back and is prepared to do anything he can to get back. Picard departs the Enterprise, leaving the command of the ship to his second in command Will Riker (played by Jonathan Frakes). With his initial attempt to stop Soran thwarted, Picard finds himself in the Nexus and after rejecting his own fantasy, comes to find James Kirk at a Mountain cabin, chopping wood. He is able to convince Kirk to join him in defeating Soran. The two then leave the Nexus, and because they leave it willingly they can apparently go anywhere they want, they team up to stop Soran from achieving his plan, which would not only destroy a star, but also a planet populated with nearly 300 million lives.

While it is a far from perfect film, there is still a lot to like about Star Trek: Generations. The first part was the thrill of seeing Captain Kirk and Captain Picard working side by side. I had always really liked both Captains, so seeing them brought together was something special and the film came up with a unique way to do it with the creation of the Nexus. There is just something about the Nexus that captured my imagination. I can't help but wonder what it would be like to go into the Nexus. What fantasy would it conjure up for me? The cinematography of the film is at times breathtakingly beautiful, especially in the scenes set at Kirk's mountain cabin (I know I'm not the only Star Trek fan who wanted that place!). Likewise, the special effects are rather strong, including a new room in the Enterprise-D where Picard and Data figure out Soran's plan (and the room rather reminded me of Cerebro from the X-Men movies which also star Patrick Stewart!) There is also the impressive crash of the Enterprise into a nearby planet following an attack from the Duras sisters. And maybe it's because I've been watching on the Star Trek films on such a compacted timeframe, but I also, to my surprise, found myself becoming rather emotional at Kirk's final scene in the film. While I've always really liked Picard and even Sisko and Janeway from the series Deep Space Nine and Voyager, Kirk was always my favorite. So, naturally his final scene had some added poignancy to it, even if how it went about was never a hundred percent satisfactory to me.

But there are also some problems with the film as well. The film was directed by David Carson, who had previously directed several episodes of both The Nex Generation and Deep Space Nine, which probably explains why the film tends to feel like an expanded episode of the series, rather than a true feature film. There are grand moments in the film, like the ones I previously mentioned, but the overall feel of the film ties much more to the series. Part of it may be that this film literally came out the fall after the series ended in 1994. There are also some nagging plot holes that the writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore don't quite manage to explain, such as how the Guinan that exists in the Nexus can know who Picard is as well as explain to him where to find Kirk and how the Nexus works. And I won't even try to figure out how Worf can fall overboard the sailing ship Enterprise and land in the water and actually get wet on the Holodeck.        

Despite my quibbles, I've always enjoyed Star Trek: Generations. For an odd numbered Star Trek movie, it's not bad. It has some unique and imaginative plot lines to it along with some added humor from Data getting his emotions chip put back in. It's not a perfect movie by any stretch, but it is one I have enjoyed nonetheless.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country has a special place in my heart. It was the first Star Trek movie I saw in the theatre with my Dad and I can still remember certain scenes from the film vividly from that first time seeing it. This would become a tradition for us for the next two Star Trek films that were released after this one. That's right folks, it's all my Dad's fault that I'm such a gigantic nerd. Not that it's a bad thing...

When a Klingon Moon, Praxis, explodes without warning and severely damages their planet's ozone layer, the Klingon Empire reaches out to the Federation for help, which the Federation accepts. The Federation decides to spend Kirk (played by William Shatner) to meet the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (played by David Warner) and escort him to the peace talks. Kirk resents the assignment as the Klingons have brought him nothing but pain and misery, namely killing his son, David. Spock is able to convince him to go through with it with the old Vulcan proverb, "Only Nixon could go to China" (Old VULCAN proverb?!). Kirk meets Gorkon's ship and the he holds a dinner with Gorkon and some other assorted Klingons, such as Commander Chang (played by Christopher Plummer). Gorkon speak eloquently about wanting peace between the Klingons and the Federation. Later that night, after the Klingons have returned to their ship, it appears that two torpedoes are fired at the ship from the Enterprise causing damage and for the ship to lose it's artificial gravity. In the ensuing confusion, two individuals in Starfleet spacesuits and helmets board the ship in magnetic boots and attempt to assassinate Gorkon. They manage to severely wound him, as well as kill several others before fleeing. Kirk and McCoy beam over to the ship and McCoy attempts to save Gorkon, but the wounds are too severe and Gorkon passes away. Kirk and McCoy are taken into custody to be put on trial for the Chancellor's assassination. The trial goes badly and Kirk and McCoy are sentenced to life imprisonment on the frozen asteroid Rena Penthe. Meanwhile, Spock has taken command of the Enterprise and figured out that not only did the torpedoes not originate from the Enterprise, but that the two assassins are still on board. He teams up with Vulcan helmsman Valeris (played by Kim Cattrall) to find out the identity of the assassins and who is trying to set up Kirk and McCoy.

There is a lot to like about Star Trek VI as it delves into the issues of prejudice and the fact that despite all the advancements the human race has made at that point, that is one they have not yet conquered. Kirk in particular has an important arc in the film as he is faced with his own prejudice against the Klingons, even suggesting the Federation should "Let them die" when initially told if they don't conduct the peace talks that is what will happen to them. Over the course of the film, his attitude slowly changes starting with the words of Chancellor Gorkon as he converses with Kirk on the Enterprise as well as the unfolding events of the film as he sees the lengths the conspirators will go to sabotage any chance for peace. Likewise, as a mystery fan, I really enjoyed the scenes on the Enterprise with Spock playing detective trying to sort out what happened and catch the conspirators, which plays out like a sort of intergalactic Agatha Christie.  

The film was directed by Nicholas Meyer, who previously made Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and like that film, this one was a welcome breath of fresh air from the disappointing previous film.  Meyer also wrote the script with Danny Martin Flinn from a story he developed with Leonard Nimoy. The fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War was the main inspiration for the story and it's easy to see the parallels. The assassination plotline was added by Meyer for additional dramatic thrust to the story and works well. I also appreciated how the film faced it's themes of overcoming prejudice head on and is something that would remain relevant today. The film also has some nifty effects, especially the Klingon blood floating in zero gravity being one of those images that has stayed with me for the past 25 years (colored purple no less because red would have warranted an R-rating. Go figure).  

Star Trek VI has the added poignancy as being the last film with the original cast all together and the final scene makes a nice capping off to the series as a whole. It's a fitting final chapter as it gives its characters one last great adventure, whether it's Spock trying to hunt down the conspirators or Kirk and McCoy trying to escape their frozen rock of a prison to get back to the Enterprise. In the overall ranking of the series, this one would probably be close to the top. I appreciated the political intrigue and mystery elements as well as the deeper thematic message of the film. This was the perfect Star Trek film for the original cast to go out on.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Before recently re-watching Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, I only had the vaguest recollections of it. I remembered watching it with my father when it was first released on video and I think I saw it one more time after that. I remember not liking it very much which is probably why I haven't re-watched it since. So, I was curious to revisit it now and see if it indeed was as bad as I remembered it being. 

James Kirk (played by William Shatner) is on shore leave in Yosemite National Park (which the film feels the need to inform us is on Planet Earth) with Dr. McCoy (played by DeForest Kelley) and Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy). Kirk is using the time to do some mountain climbing while McCoy anxiously watches from the ground below and Spock uses some fancy rocket boots to catch up with Kirk and inquire why he feels the need to embark on such a dangerous activity. Later that night, their vacation is ruined when they learn their shore leave has been cancelled due to a hostage crisis on planet Nimbus III. They want Kirk and his crew to go in with the newly commissioned (but not yet fully functional) Enterprise to rescue the hostages. Upon their arrival though, they find out it was all a ruse led by the Vulcan Sybok (played by Laurence Luckinbill), who used the hostage situation to lure in a starship. He proceeds to take Kirk and the rest of the crew hostage and use the Enterprise to fly into the center of the Galaxy to the planet of Sha Ka Ree, which is said to be the source of all of creation, and perhaps find God himself.

Star Trek V was directed by William Shatner, who also contributed to the story of the film. I have the distinct feeling that Shatner had watched Nimoy direct the previous two films and thought to himself, "By golly, I can do that too!" While Shatner has a nice eye for cinematography, especially in the opening and closing scenes at Yosemite, storytelling may not be his strongest suit. In the right hands, the crew of the Enterprise going on a spiritual journey could be an intriguing and interesting entry into the series. However, the film is a bit muddled narratively. The opening scenes try to recapture the charm and silliness of The Voyage Home as Kirk, Spock and McCoy sit around the campfire and Kirk and McCoy attempt to teach Spock the song "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to Spock's befuddlement. It's an awkward scene that almost sinks the entire movie right there. There is also a cutaway to Sulu (played by George Takei) and Chekov (played by Walter Koenig) lost in the woods trying to get assistance from Uhura as to where they are without actually admitting they are lost. Are they camping with Kirk, Spock and McCoy in Yosemite? The movie never makes this clear and neither Kirk, Spock or McCoy wonders where they are. 

Then there are the three hostages, including one played by David Warner, that are introduced at the beginning of the movie and then left adrift with little to no further development. The movie is slow and boring for long stretches of it's run time, futilely trying to punch things up with such bits of "humor" as Scotty (played by James Doohan) hitting his head on a girder and knocking himself unconscious. As the film finally reaches it's climax, it teases us that there might actually be something awe inspiring or incredible to be discovered by the crew, but alas the ending is an anti-climactic cop out. The film had the potential to go for something deep and potently spiritual but just falls apart instead.  

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier isn't the worst in the series, there's a couple I would rank lower, but it's also far from the best. It has a muddled narrative with dropped or unresolved plotlines, thematically it's all over the place and the ending is a complete cop out when it could have gone for something much more meaningful instead. There was potential in the storyline, but the execution was all wrong.

Friday, July 15, 2016


When it was first announced that they were rebooting Ghostbusters with an all new cast, I was worried. Not because the Ghostbusters were going to be all female or that it was somehow going to rape my childhood or something stupid like that. I was worried that they were going to just remake the first movie basically beat for beat but with a new cast. To my pleasant surprise, they for the most part didn't. Crafting a fresh story with a cast of new and interesting characters, as well as some loving winks to the original films, the new Ghostbusters is actually pretty damn good. 

When a spectral apparition appears in the historical Aldridge Mansion in New York City, the head of the historical society seeks out the assistance of Columbia University physicist Erin Gilbert (played by Kristen Wiig), due to having read a book she wrote years ago with her research partner Abby Yates (played by Melissa McCarthy). Horrified to find out the book is back in print and worried it will destroy her chances of getting tenure, Erin seeks out Abby and finds her working at a third rate university with a new research partner, Jillian Holtzman (played by Kate McKinnon). She tries to talk some sense into Abby, but Abby and Jillian are distracted by the news of a verified haunting and before Erin knows it all three are on their way to Aldridge Mansion to investigate the ghost. Of course, they find one and manage to document the sighting on video which is then uploaded to YouTube. Erin's department head soon catches wind of it and lets Erin go for her persistence in the belief of the supernatural. She then proceeds to come together with Abby and Holtzman to set up their own lab and continue their research. After witnessing the very creepy spectre of an executed prisoner in the New York subway, Transit employee Patty Tolan (played by Leslie Jones) seeks out Erin, Abby and Holtzman. Intrigued by what they are doing and seeing herself as an asset, Patty joins the group as well as lunkhead aspiring actor Kevin (played by Chris Hemsworth) as their receptionist. As they continue their research, they discover someone is intentionally amping up the supernatural energy in New York City for their own nefarious purposes and set out to stop it.

Paul Feig is a comedy director that I have been increasingly become a fan of, starting with Bridesmaids and the continuing with The Heat and Spy, I've really dug his films. He has assembled a wonderful cast of comedic actors for the film, with Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy turning in solid performances as two long time friends who bonded over their mutual interest and belief in the paranormal. Kate McKinnon is this movie's secret weapon though, giving a consistently hilarious performance as the brilliant Holtzman, who develops much of the equipment our new Ghostbusters use, but is also dangerously weird and a bit of a loose cannon. Much of Leslie Jones' character has been groused about online as being a caricature, but I have to respectively disagree. Yes, her character can be a bit loud mouthed and freak out at times, but she is also shown to be just as strong, capable and valuable asset to the team as well. It's a far more balanced performance than the trailers let on. 

I was relieved watching the movie and found that aside from some of the broader strokes, the overall storyline of this reboot was brand spanking new. I was really worried that they were going to tell the same old story but was pleasantly surprised to find the script by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig had more originality to it than I anticipated. Yeah, some of the plot points, such as the forming of the Ghostbuster team and whatnot are repeated and we once again have a giant monster rampaging through the streets (the other two films had it too, so I suppose it's tradition at this point). But the villain and his scheme are completely new. I also appreciated that the characters were completely new and weren't trying to just create female facsimiles of the original Ghostbusters. The film also does a good job of melding the funny with the creepy, just as the original films did. 

Now, Ghostbusters has been a big part of my life for pretty much since the beginning. The first film is probably the first movie I had completely memorized as a kid. It has been a favorite ever since (and rewatching the film as an adult was an eye opening experience. I can't believe how much went over my head as a kid). I also enjoyed Ghostbusters II but I have to admit that one does have some problems. I also was a big fan of the animated series, The Real Ghostbusters, which this new film seems to have taken some influence from as well. I own a replica PKE meter, Ray's goggles and Proton Pack wand. So, having established myself as a bonafide Ghostbusters fan, I have to say I am shocked and appalled at the virulent hatred this movie has received even before it was released. I'll admit the advertising wasn't great, especially the first trailer. But I had faith in the talent behind the film and they delivered wonderfully. I just don't understand why so many people are hating it and hating it so much right out of the gate, likely without even having seen the film. This is a film that was made with loving care that pays reverence to what came before while also creating a whole new story and universe. Much of the cast of the original movie have cameos in the film, each one equally amusing. They even worked in a bust of Harold Ramis outside Erin's Columbia office as tribute. I'm psyched that young girls out there have their own set of Ghostbusters to look up to and be a fan of. The Ghostbusters films have been a series of films that have given me a lot of joy in my life and this new one sits comfortably alongside the first two films. I just don't understand the hatred. 

I did get a few laughs at the film characters getting in some jabs to the haters online within the movie though as the characters view the comments on their videos. That was great.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

A couple reviews back, I stated that Star Trek II was the best of the Star Trek films, and I still believe that's true, I must say my absolute favorite of the series is actually Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. With a unique storyline and humor to spare, it is easily the most thoroughly entertaining entry in the series, at least for me.  

With the crew of now destroyed Enterprise unanimously deciding to return to Earth to face the consequences of their actions, they return, in the Klingon warship they stole from Kruge, to find Earth under attack from an alien probe of unknown origin. The probe appears to be searching for something, sending out a signal no one recognizes. Since the probe appears to be searching for something in the Earth's oceans, Uhura filters the message to account for water density and discover the message sounds like that of the now extinct humpback whale. With no other option and it being clear the probe won't leave until it communicates with the Humpback whales, the crew decides to attempt to travel back in time to retrieve a couple from the past. Naturally, they are successful but in for a culture shock when they come face to face with the comparatively primitive 1986 San Francisco. The crew is divided up with Kirk (played by William Shatner) and Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy) tasked with locating two humpback whales, Scotty (played by James Doohan), McCoy (played by Deforest Kelley) and Sulu (played by George Takei) tasked with retrofitting the large cargo bay for the whales, and Chekov and Uhura finding a nuclear reactor to claim some radiation to use to recharge the ship's power source, as it was drained during the time travel process. 

Kirk and Spock locate two potential whales at the local Cetacean Institute and find a potential ally in a Marine Biologist that looks over the two whales, Gillian Taylor (played by Catherine Hicks), who initially thinks Kirk and Spock are crazy, but comes to believe them and sees them as an alternative to the two whales existing in the 20th century oceans where they are in danger of being killed by whalers. The problem is that the whales are due to be released back into the wild within the next day, causing a bit of a time crunch for the crew, who need to get the ship retrofitted and refueled before they can retrieve the whales and return to the future. 

Leonard Nimoy returned to direct the fourth film and it certainly is the stronger of the two films he directed. After the rather emotionally heavy second and third films, it was a conscious decision to make the fourth film a lighter one. Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer collaborated on the script for the film, crafting an interesting tale with a less clear cut villain (it's inferred that the probe is unaware of the damage it's doing on Earth and is just there because to find out why their people lost contact with the whales they had communicated with previously). It made for a refreshing change of pace for the series after two nasty villians from the previous films. Meyer also manages to mine plenty of humor of the Enterprise Crew in 20th Century America, whether it's Spock trying to grasp the "colorful metaphors" people seem to like to use (profanity, basically) and failing miserably, McCoy expressing his disgust at 20th century medical practices, Scotty having to use an early Mac computer ("A keyboard? How quaint."), or Chekov, a Russian, walking around Cold War America with Uhura asking where he can find a "Nuclear Wessel." The film also makes great use of it's Save the Whales message without being too overbearing or obnoxious, and the humor and action of the story keep things from being too preachy. I also have to give props to composer Leonard Rosenman, who composed a unconventional but delightful score to the film.  

The cast does well in the film, with each cast member getting their own wonderful moments to shine in the film and is a bit more balanced between all the cast members for once (they actually gave Chekov something to do for once!). The film feels more like an ensemble piece, rather than the focus being solely on Kirk and Spock for once, which is a nice change. Catherine Hicks makes a nice addition to the cast as Gillian and has some decent chemistry with William Shatner and plays off nicely with both him and Leonard Nimoy. Likewise, Deforest Kelley is great as McCoy finds himself dealing with 20th Century Medicine when they have to rescue an injured Chekov from the local hospital, and may be my favorite scene of the movie.          

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is probably my favorite of the series. It's just plain fun from beginning to end and is a more unique entry in the Star Trek film series. It's one I've always enjoyed since I saw it as a kid shortly after it came out on video. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

As I mentioned in my review of the first film that there is a rule with Star Trek films that the even numbered ones are good and the odd numbered ones are bad? I've always felt that Star Trek III: The Search for Spock was the exception. While it's not as great as the movie that preceded it or the one that would come after, it's still a decently entertaining film in it's own right. 

This film picks up almost right where the previous film left off, with the surviving crew of the Enterprise arriving home after their costly battle with Khan. Soon after, Kirk is visited by Spock's father Sarek (played by Mark Lenard), wanting to know what became of Spock's remains and stated they should have been brought back to Vulcan rather than jettisoned onto the newly formed Genesis planet. Sarek also mentions that prior to his self-sacrificial actions on the Enterprise, would have transferred his Katra to someone else. He assumed it would have been Kirk, but after reviewing the security footage from the Engineering room on the Enterprise (which was conveniently shot from all the same angles as the scenes in the previous film!), they discover it was actually McCoy (played by Deforest Kelley) that he transferred it too. Naturally, McCoy is less than thrilled with having Spock's memories and personality rattling around in his head. The main crew, consisting of Scotty (played by James Doohan), Chekov (played by Walter Koenig), Sulu (played by George Takei) as well as Kirk and McCoy borrow the battle damaged Enterprise and head back out to the Genesis planet to retrieve Spock's body to return to Vulcan. 

Meanwhile, Saavik (played by Robin Curtis) and David (played by Merritt Butrick) are researching the new Genesis planet when they pick up a lifeform reading on their scanners. When they locate it, they are shocked to find it is a newly regenerated and rapidly aging Spock. To make matters worse, they are intercepted by a Klingon warship commanded by a vicious character named Kruge (played by Christopher Lloyd). Kruge and his cronies take out the ship that Saavik and David were on and take them and the young Spock hostage, intending to draw out the secrets of Genesis from David and Saavik. It's only a matter of time before Kirk and the rest arrive on the scene, leading to a battle between the Klingons and Kirk for Saavik, his son David and the newly regenerated Spock. 

When the filmmakers approached making a third Star Trek movie, the original intention was to go forward without Spock but then someone clearly got nervous and determined that the third film had to involve resurrecting Spock. How determined were they to bring back Spock? Well, when they offered the role to Leonard Nimoy, he responded back that he wanted to direct the film...and the producers were totally fine with this. It probably helps that the adult Spock is off screen for the bulk of the film so Leonard Nimoy could focus on his behind the camera duties and to be fair, for his cinematic directorial debut, he does a good job with the film. The film looks good, the action is reasonably well staged and the film moves at a brisk pace. Harve Bennett wrote the script this time around, crafting a fairly straightforward story for the film. James Horner returns to craft a new score for the film, which is a bit more understated this time around, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

The cast does well in this film, especially with DeForest Kelley in a couple scenes wonderfully capturing Leonard Nimoy in the few moments that Spock's personality and memories seem to take over a bit. They're such wonderful, funny little moments that Kelley played wonderfully. Shatner likewise gets a few good moments in the film as he once again finds himself faced with tragedy, as well as the inevitable final showdown between him and Kruge. Christopher Lloyd makes a decent villain in the Klingon Kruge. He's a vicious, imposing and threatening character who is determined to get what he wants doesn't care who gets hurt in the process. It's a very different type of character from the types of roles I'm used to seeing him play and he makes for an effective villain (even if he pales in comparison to Khan). 

Overall, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is not a perfect film, but it in an entertaining one, maybe a bit underrated and probably the best of the odd numbered Star Trek films, or at least the best of the odd numbered Star Trek films with the original cast. Although that particular bar isn't exactly high, is it?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Every so often, there comes a sequel that is significantly better than the film that came before it. It's a rare occurrence in the annals of cinema. Sometimes it's just really hard to come up with a follow-up film that equals what came before it. Not only did Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan manage to do the impossible, it may just be the best Star Trek film ever made. 

While overseeing the newly refurbished Enterprise out on a three week test run, Admiral James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner) receives a distress call from an old flame, Carol Marcus (played by Bibi Mesch), on Regula 1 where she is testing a revolutionary device called Genesis that can create new life on a dead and lifeless planet in a matter of minutes. Of course, such a device could also be used as a devastatingly lethal weapon in the wrong hands. Along with the fellow scientists is her son, David (played by Merritt Butrick). Kirk resumes command of the Enterprise at the instance of her current Captain, Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy). Among the crew are the usual mainstays, including Sulu (played by George Takei), Scotty (played by James Doohan), McCoy (played by DeForest Kelley), and Uhura (played by Nichelle Nichols), as well as a new addition in the Vulcan Saavik (played by Kirstie Alley). Upon their arrival, they discover that another Starfleet ship, the Reliant has been hijacked by an old enemy, Khan Noonien Singh (played by Ricardo Montalban), who was left on a desolate planet by Kirk and his crew fifteen years prior. He left the crew of the Reliant on that same planet save for two, Captain Terrell (played by Paul Winfield) and Chekov (played by Walter Koenig), whom Khan has taken prisoner and implanted little alien slugs that allow Khan to control them to help set a trap for Kirk. For you see Khan has only one objective on his mind, Revenge served ice cold. With Khan as a cunning and worthy adversary, Kirk is going to have to use every trick he can think of to defeat him and save himself and his crew. 

There is so much to love about Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This is where the film series really and truly kicks off. The film is wonderfully directed by Nicholas Meyer with a pitch perfect screenplay by Jack B Sowards, with contributions from Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer. They weave a fantastic tale with the battle of wits between Khan and Kirk, as well as mixing in some deeper themes about aging, life and death that make for a thoroughly fulfilling film. The film has a rousing score by James Horner that keeps the film thrilling and moving at a brisk pace. 

The cast is great this time out and really given great moments of drama to play. The two that dominate the film of course are William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban, playing each of their parts with fire as each character makes their next move against the other. It's all the more impressive as neither character shares a single scene together in the same room. This was due to logistics of course due to Montalban's shooting schedule on the T.V show, Fantasy Island. But yet, you don't realize this until the film is over. Likewise, DeForest Kelly and James Doohan get a couple great scenes as well, whether it's sharing a drink with Kirk ruminating on growing older or dealing with the aftermath of one of Khan's attacks. There is also a great scene between Shatner and Nimoy where Spock gives command to the Enterprise, telling him he should never accepted the promotion to Admiral, that Captaining the Enterprise is where he belongs. The film builds on it's characters and it only adds to the richness of the film. 

There are two different cuts of the film that are out and of the two I have always preferred the Director's Cut of the film. The changes to the film are subtle but it makes for a better and more fully realized film. One of the additions is a small expansion on young cadet Peter Preston (played by Ike Eisenmann), who briefly converses with Kirk during inspections before Scotty interjects and reveals the cadet is actually his nephew. It may not seem like much but it pays off better later in another scene I won't spoil. The other big addition is a short argument between McCoy, Spock and Kirk over the ethics of the Genesis project which I felt was another great thing to include in the film. These additions only strengthen an already great film and I can't help but wonder why they were ever cut in the first place.

Overall, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a benchmark in the series and stands as a fantastic film in it's own right. There is plenty to love for fans of the series but even if you've never seen a Star Trek episode or the previous film, it stands on it's own as a film that could be enjoyed by anyone. If that's not a ringing endorsement of the film, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

With this year marking the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and with the upcoming release of Star Trek Beyond, I decided I'd take a look back at the theatrical Star Trek films, starting with the very first one. There's a rule with the Star Trek films that the even numbered ones are always better than the odd numbered ones and boy did that start right out of the gate with easily the most sluggish of the Star Trek films.

When a strange, glowing cloud of energy is found in space and proceeds to obliterate two Klingon ships and it is determined this strange anomaly is headed for Earth, the crew of the Enterprise is sent to investigate. Captain James Kirk (played by William Shatner) once again takes command of his ship from it's current Captain, Decker (played by Stephen Collins). He reunites his previous crew, including McCoy (played by DeForest Kelley), Scotty (played by James Doohan), Uhura (played by Nichelle Nichols), Chekov (played by Walter Koenig) and Sulu (played by George Takei). Joining them is a new crew member, Ilia (played by Persis Khambatta) and they pick up Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy) from Vulcan on the way towards the mysterious glow cloud. Their mission is to determine what it is and if there is any intelligent life within it as well as if it poses a threat to Earth. 

The film was directed by Robert Wise from a script by Harold Livingston, with the story by Alan Dean Foster. The film has a reputation for being slow and boring and I would say that to a certain degree that is quite true. The film is filled with long tracking shots that take forever, from the scene where Kirk and Scotty survey the outside of the Enterprise before they begin their mission to the same super long shots as the crew explores the mysterious glow cloud. The film takes the upwards of an hour to really get going with some absolute glacial pacing. I'm not saying the movie needs to be action packed the whole way through like some later entries have. I liked that they were going for a more philosophical approach with this, trying to go for something deep and perhaps emulate Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. But at the same time, there needs to be more mystery and more wonder propelling the film forward and there just isn't any of that on screen. This is matched by a frankly dull and unappealing production design with a very muted color palette throughout makes it for a very bland film to watch. That said, the second half of the movie is the stronger half as the crew begins to discover just what this mighty glow cloud is and it's origins are pretty cool. But, you still have to get through the first half to get there. 

The cast does well in their roles, which is to be expected since they had been playing them for so long. They do the best they can with the material to make it work. Things pick up as the film goes on and they have more to play with. The main trio of Deforest Kelley, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy stand out and have the most screen time, with Kelley having really honed McCoy's wonderful sourpuss nature and adding what little humor there is to the film. I also have to give props to composer Jerry Goldsmith for creating a standout score that including a main theme that has more or less become the definitive theme for Star Trek going forward, including becoming the theme of the Star Trek: The Next Generation tv show. 

Overall, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a bit of a mixed bag. It has a compelling story at it's core but with some serious pacing issues on the first half of the film and a surprisingly muted production design hurt the film in my opinion. This has been a more divisive film in the Star Trek series and really it comes down to how you take your sci-fi. If you prefer a more thoughtful and philosophical approach, then you might enjoy this one. If you prefer a more action driven story, then I would say skip directly to Wrath of Khan, you're not missing much here.