Boldly Going Pt 1 (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 1979)

ST_the_Motion_Picture_PosterAfter the third season cancellation of the original Star Trek, Roddenberry tried to get various ideas off the ground, including a new Star Trek series. That idea morphed into the first Star Trek film.

Ten years later (give or take),  the five year mission is over, Kirk was promoted, Spock went off to find himself and Bones walked away from Star Fleet. Uhura, Sulu and Chekov are still serving on the Enterprise.

When a mysterious cloud starts attacking everything that it comes in contact with, Admiral Kirk takes command of the Enterprise once more with his crew and some new faces as they go to try and make contact with the mysterious entity known as V’Ger.

The first outing starts a long running love affair within Trek to explore the future of AI and the ethics that surround it. V’Ger is revealed to be in search of its creator to commune and learn.  The entity’s hostile acts are, in fact its attempts to communicate.

There are pretty much two big negatives for the film.  One?  The costume design is…terrible.  Going from vibrant colored shirts to lifeless white and gray aesthetics, this is not an improvement. The film also tends to move at a glacial pace. When faced with a bigger budget and the competition of Star Wars, the film makers focus on long lingering space exterior shots.

On the other hand, the film is remarkable in its beauty. Those exteriors are a wonder, especially later in the film when they are interacting with V’Ger’s environment. It is nice to see the crew together again, and while I think they have done this story better since, there is still a sense of wonder in the first Star Trek theatrical outing.

Boldly Going: the Introduction

To be honest? I was always a Star Wars kid. At age five, I saw Star Wars and I was hooked.  I also liked Star Trek…but it had ended before I was born. I discovered it through syndicated re-runs, and I thought it was kind of cool.  I was more excited after I saw Wrath of Khan as a kid…that was a cool film.

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I watched the Next Generation randomly, and enough to really like Picard, Data Worf and the other members of the crew. My favorite Star Trek was Deep Space Nine…but even there, I have only seen a random number of episodes.  In fact, there is no Star Trek series I have watched every episode of. I might get through Picard soon.

ST_TNG

But…I have seen every Star Trek film. And I only recently realized that I have only reviewed one Star Trek film.  Star Trek Beyond.  And I need to rectify that.  Beyond was a fun film that I find very re-watchable.

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So, let us fix this glaring gap.  I have recently sat back down and watched every Star Trek movie from the Motion Picture to Beyond.  And for the next three weeks I will give my thoughts on each film. So let us boldly go to where many have gone before…

The Saga’s Endgame (Star Wars: the Rise of Skywalker, 2019)

Star_Wars_Rise_of_Skywalker_PosterAll things must end they say. It seems like May 4th is the appropriate day for me to put out my review of the final film in the “Skywalker Saga”. While I saw the film twice in theaters, December and January passed before I started playing catch up…and then I decided to wait for the 4K release of the film so I could get one more watch. And I finally committed to a third watch.

The film opens with a quick update crawl telling us the Emperor is back. And the story picks up with Supreme Leader Kylo Ren trying to locate the Emperor so he can defeat him.  But quickly, we learn the Emperor has plans and wants Kylo to help, in exchange for an army that the Emperor and his Sith Cultists have been building for thirty years.

We then get reintroduced to Finn, Chewie and Poe, who are gathering data from someone who reveals there is a spy within the First Order.  Rey is busy training to be a Jedi under the watchful eye of General Leia Organa. Once they find out the Emperor is definitely back, they determine they must take the fight to the Emperor, but the problem is that Exogol, the home planet of the Sith, is not on any map.  They need a special Sith device that will lead them to the planet.  So Ray, Finn, Poe and Chewie go off on a series of adventures.

So, the core question, if you are reading this, I suspect is “Did I Like It?”

I…guess? I mean, I did not hate it? But I did not love it?

Some Spoilers ahead…

It was great to see the characters return. It was nice to finally see Lando back.  I like the way they used Hux in this film.  I feel like John Williams did a solid job with the soundtrack.  The action sequences were great.  I was not super bothered by the return of the Emperor, since the old Extended Universe used the idea that the Emperor had been using cloning technology to extend his life.  I also am never bothered by “new” Jedi powers being revealed in the films.  The power to move objects was introduced in Empire, as were actual Force ghosts.  And the powers exhibited in this film really build on stuff we have already seen.

Babu Frick is awesome.

At the same time?

A large chunk of the film feels like course correction. It feels like J.J. Abrams and writer Chris Terrio are trying to respect that Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi Happened, but also trying too soft reboot. When Kylo Ren told Rey her parents were nobodies, he was not lying…he did not know the dark truth that her father was the clone son of Emperor Palpatine. And they were really good people trying to protect her from the Emperor. It is weird to think that Rey has had almost no interaction with Poe, but somehow they are besties in this film.

We have heard about the Knights of Ren for several years now and we meet them in this film.  Kind of.  I have no idea if they have names, but the movie shows them walking around.  We have a Storm Trooper say they are scary.  That is pretty much it. There is one fight with them towards the end and they are quickly dispatched. Otherwise we just see them walk around.

The way they tried to retro fit previously unused Carrie Fisher footage in the film never feels organic.  At no point does it feel like anyone is interacting with her. Which leads me to this frustration… Abrams and Terrio sidelined Rose Tico in the saddest way possible.  They make her a sidekick to a digital restoration of Carrie Fisher.  Why was she not part of the action on the Millenium Falcon in the early part of the film? Why was THIS guy there instead???

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The film has multiple points where it raises the stakes dramatically, only to reveal that there was nothing to worry about.  Major story impacting incidents are reversed so that we lose nothing as fans. There is not anything that engages our emotions for the story. And that is where I lean towards feeling disappointed with how the Skywalker Saga comes to a close.  It is fun, but not as satisfying as I had hoped it might be. It has some good ideas, such as Storm Troopers who rebelled against the First Order. But then instead of the obvious plot point of Finn having inspired Storm Troopers to refuse their orders, it is just never something that is connected.

So… I did not hate the film. There is stuff I really enjoy and stuff that annoys me.  It kind of evens itself out.

Poisoned Earth pt 4 (The Color Out of Space, 2020)

Color_Out_0f_Space_2020_PosterRichard Stanley has returned after nearly a 20 year absence from theatrical filmmaking. And I must say, it is a welcome return.

Using a modern setting, Stanley and writer Scarlett Amaris stick closely to the source material.  The meteorite falls near their home and starts to infect the land around them.  The trees seem to have an unearthly sway and there is beautiful unearthly lights.

The family’s youngest son starts to hear a voice from the family well.  There are weird noises and the animals start to behave in an odd fashion.

I like that the family in the film is in less conflict with each other.  It really sells the terror that they seem to really love and care for each other. Cage gives a really good performance here, not as bombastic as Mandy, but very much a man trying to protect his family in the face of a pending implosion.

The effects are quite good, and Stanley shows a real understanding of how to use digital to enhance his practical effects.

The Color Out of Space is a strong return for Stanley and easily one of the best Lovecraft adaptions committed to film.

Poisoned Earth pt 1 (Die, Monster, Die!, 1965)

Die_Monster_Die_PosterLovecraft is a writer that, in spite of his personal failings (you know…racism), inspires creative people. His stories are creepy cosmic and occult based horror. Die, Monster, Die! adapts the memorable the Color Out of Space.

Stephen Reinhart has been requested by his girlfriend Susan to come to her parent’s remote home.  When he tries to find transportation from the nearby town, nobody will take him out there, refusing to explain why they seem so fearful of the Whitley Estate.

On his way he finds a decaying forest and when he arrives at the Whitley home, he finds that Susan’s mother has taken ill and her father is behaving very mysteriously.

What he discovers could doom the world and Susan’s mother begs Stephen to take Susan far from their estate before what has befallen her starts to consume Susan as well.

Die, Monster, Die follows the core idea of a meteorite that mutates the world around it…giant plants, mutant farm animals, people deteriorating monstrously. But it abandons the setting of a farm house for more of a gothic stately mansion.  The film is colorful, especially the greens.  The visuals still hold up and Karloff gives a nice menacing performance throughout the film, without being so far that he cannot also be sympathetic.

This is an entertaining adaption that is definitely a product of it’s time without not being to corny. Instead, it has a nice Hammer film feel to it.

 

Quick Dive (Underwater, 2020)

Underwater_PosterSo, this was a film that seemed to get a lot of doubt cast its way before it opened.  It had a lot going against it. There is a group of people out there dedicated to just hating on Kristen Stewart due to her role in Twilight.  The film sat on the shelf for nearly three years.

But I was still curious from that first trailer…I love a good creature feature. Especially undersea monster films. And so I refused to let the naysayers get me down. And you know what?

This is a good deep sea creature feature.  It kicks in with the action right away, and keeps things moving quickly.  The characters are not all that complex, and if the film slowed down much, that could be a problem. But it really only pauses to set you up for what is about to take place or clarify what has happened. I really had fun watching the film and it is effective in all the ways I wanted, with enough of mystery surrounding the monsters that I was curious to learn more.

It is a strong film that accomplishes what it needs to in a way that should appeal to any creature feature fan.

Live Your Fantasy (Fantasy Island, 2020)

Fantasy_Island_PosterFantasy Island is a show mainly remembered for Ricardo Montalban as Mr. Rourke and his assistant Tattoo played by Hervé Villechaize. The show was an anthology series where every week, guests would arrive to fulfill a fantasy. Usually it was for an adventure to address a regret. The show was remade for television in 1998 with Malcolm McDowell stepping in as a more sinister Mr. Roarke.

Twenty Years later Blumhouse has given us an updated version that may or may not be meant to begin a franchise. And…

Well, I did not hate it.

But to be clear, it is not really that good either.  Now, the big deal made was that this was a horror re-imagining of the series.  Except, not really.  It follows the formula pretty closely. People arrive to live out fantasies that seem impossible. There is a sentimental story, a live the big life dream, an adventure and petty revenge. The petty revenge ends up being the horror plot (as was common on the series, Fantasy Island often had at least a few scary episodes each season). And the fantasies turning on themselves is totally part of the franchise.

The movie brings everyone together at some point, all their fantasies coalescing into a fight for survival. Most of the cast is okay, though I really was bummed that Michael Peña is so…well, not invested.  He constantly feels like he has a better role lined up so he is just delivering his lines as fast as possible so as to be done with the film.

The twists are somewhat predictable, but fine…save one.  The film’s biggest twist requires a scene that has to happen to keep the audience in the dark…but the minute you discover the twist, that scene makes absolutely no sense.

The film is pretty much TV movie level, and hey, maybe rent it when it hits streaming or Red Box?

My Favorite Films of 2019 (Favorites, 2019)

So, I decided to go with a list of fifteen films on my list of favorite films for the year. I missed Parasite in theaters and so have not yet gotten to see it and I have not seen 1917 since it does not go into wide release until Friday.

  1. Knives Out
    Rian Johnson’s Knives Out was the most fun I had in the theater this year. I loved this movie. Original characters in a story that pays homage to classic whodunnits, it is filled with nothing but terrific performances with some fun twists. Johnson has announced a new Benoit Blanc mystery and I am excited.
  2. Jojo Rabbit
    You could never make Blazing Saddles today.  Comedy is too hard in today’s woke environment said Joker director Todd Phillips. Boo hoo, folks. Taika Waititi tells the tale of a young boy so dedicated to the Nazi cause, his imaginary best friend is Hitler.  A surprisingly funny and touching film, Jojo Rabbit is a gem.
  3. Little Women
    I have never read the book, nor seen any of the prior adaptions. But this movie worked so well. Gerwig and her cast weave together a beautifully engaging film.
  4. Uncut Gems
    Adam Sandler’s best performance since Punch Drunk Love, the Safdie Brothers give an intense story of human greed and misery.
  5. Midsommar
    Ari Aster does it again. Where Hereditary was full of darkness, Midsommar attempts the rare choice of a well lit horror. Tense, unnerving and a tad goofy, this film is terrific.
  6. A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood
    While not flawless, this film is a beautiful exploration of love and forgiveness through the eyes of a heartbroken cynic who meets the beloved Mr. Rogers. Marielle Heller makes some beautiful choices (such as imitating the television show’s models for transitions).
  7. Dolemite Is My Name
    Eddie Murphy gives a great performance here.  The movie itself manages to be a crass love letter to Rudy Ray Moore, a man determined to make it against a world that seems to not be interested in his success.
  8. Ford vs Ferrari
    Really enjoyed this supposed “Dad Movie”.  Genius in the face of corporate roadblocks push the drama here.  The racing scenes are exciting and the film is inspirational.
  9. The Lighthouse
    I still do not know what to make of the film, but it is so visually beautiful, I still think about it.
  10. Us
    Some people got really hung up on the “how does it work” aspect. But honestly, Jordan Peele’s followup to Get Out had my attention from the beginning and just never lost me.
  11. Avengers Endgame
    Technically, I think Infinity War was the better movie…but this one was so much more satisfying.
  12. the Irishman
    While I think this has some great performances, I was not nearly as pulled into this one as I hoped. It was good, but was not my favorite Scorsese film. I know a lot of people praised this as a great triumph, but honestly, part of me feels like those folks felt obligated to really hype the film over the silly Scorsese/Marvel brouhaha.
  13. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    Fun film from Tarantino, not his greatest film, but entertaining and great performances.
  14. John Wick 3: Parabellum
    The weakest of the three films, but still an amazing feat of action choreography and enjoyable performances.
  15. Ad Astra
    A thoughtful Sci-Fi film with Brad Pitt as a detached astronaut on a mission to discover if his presumed dead father may still be alive. Beautiful visuals and a quiet pace make this a solid sci-fi film.

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):

Doctor Sleep- I am almost tempted to switch out John Wick 3 for this one.  Doctor Sleep was a real surprise.

Ready or Not- This was just a fun and ridiculous horror film.

Spider-Man: Far From Home- I enjoyed this one a lot. Mysterio was a cool villain and it was nice to see a villain we had not seen before. Plus, the mid credit scene.

Klaus- A beautiful little animated film.

Godzilla: King of Monsters- I had a blast with this one.

Shazam!- This is a fun movie. I had a great time.

Whatever Time’s the Charm?? (Terminator Dark Fate, 2019)

Terminator_Dark_Fate_PosterTerminator Genisys was intended to kick off an all new trilogy following the exploits of Sarah Conner, Kyle Reese and Pops trying to stop the new version of Skynet. Of course, Terminator Salvation was supposed to kick off a new trilogy following the war against the machines leading to Kyle Reese going back to save Sarah Conner.  Which was a sort of continuation of Rise of the Machines.

Sort of.  Each sequel starting with T2 tried a twist, though the twist became the trope.  Arnold was moved from the “bad Terminator” to the “friendly Terminator”. This has never bothered my all that much, the way it was handled in each film usually worked okay.

And honestly, Pops was the thing I enjoyed most about Genisys. The failure of Genisys to revitalize the franchise left the series kind of lost. People got excited when there was talk of Cameron returning. And then they took the now popular strategy of making a sequel that ignores all but one or two of the earliest films. This time, they are picking up after T2: Judgement Day.

Sarah Conner tells us how she saved the world from Skynet, then the film reveals a shocking twist. We then are introduced to Grace who appears in Mexico, followed by the new Terminator, a Rev-9. He is in pursuit of Dani and Grace is there to protect her. They meet up with Sarah Conner and try to escape, ultimately reaching out to Carl, a Terminator who is displaced after the erasure of Skynet.

Carl is kind of an interesting character and honestly have no problem with it, as the second film established them capable of learning and adapting. I also, for the most part, like tough and bitter Sarah Conner, much like Jamie Lee Curtis’ updated Laurie Strode in 2018’s Halloween.  I also liked McKenzie Davis as Grace and Natalia Reyes as Dani.

The Rev-9 feels a lot like a slightly advanced T-X from Rise of the Machines.  A liquid metal coating over an exo-skeleton, except the two can work independently of each other.

The visual effects are solid and the action scenes are great. And yet, this is a Terminator film that kind of fundamentally betrays itself in a way the franchise really has not before. The big twist at the beginning has a major impact on the power of T2’s narrative. In a not good way.  It undermines this film and raises some big questions that the film never clearly establishes.  As an action film, this is a fun watch. As a Terminator film? It is not the fix that people were hoping for.

Two For the Price of One (Gemini Man, 2019)

Gemini_Man_PosterHenry Brogan is the best sniper there is. He has spent his life  shooting terrorists and those who help them.  But when he retires, he discovers that his most recent target may have been an innocent man, and retiring from the top secret government agency is permanent.

He ends up on the run with help from an old friend and a young agent as they try and piece together the facts.  But the biggest issue is the incredibly skilled young men sent after Henry. As the trailers revealed, Henry has been cloned and it was sent off to kill him. Younger and all his skills give Junior the advantage over Henry.

But Ang Lee is not interested in simply pitting two forces against each other. Instead, Henry is more interested in altering Junior’s path from that of a brutal killer. It helps keep things from getting two formulaic in the action genre. The action scenes are really well choreographed and well edited.  I like the characters, but the story kind of falls apart towards the end.

The big talk around the film is the use of High Frame Rate.  I saw this film in the standard frame rate, and I must confess, I am not sure the film would benefit.  There were outdoor scenes that looked like characters were just in front of green screens, HFR seems like it would make that stand out more.

The film uses cutting edge digital technology to create a digital Will Smith that is imposed over another actor. And it never quite looks natural.  While the digital de-aging Marvel did with Nick Fury in Captain Marvel looked like a younger Samuel Jackson, the digital puppet for Gemini Man looks like an artificial creation.

Gemini Man is an okay film with some good performances and great action, but it is not destined to be a sci-fi classic.

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