The Blog


  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984, Leonard Nimoy)

    Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984, Leonard Nimoy)

    Layers. Star Trek III has no layers. It’s all id. Star Trek loses its ship, Kirk loses his son, Dr. McCoy loses his mind and none of it means anything. My fiancée pointed out that III is a bridge between II and IV, it brings Spock back to life. It fulfills a need. Forget the need. Forget the bridge–The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly knew what to do with bridges.

    III isn’t bad, though. There are some great sequences (Nimoy is a damn good Panavision director, damn good), but they’re all too short. The film runs 105 minutes and it’s got too much to do for that time to be appropriate. The film deviates from the Enterprise crew to Kirk’s son and spends a bunch of time on the Genesis planet (sorry to go geek), the product of II. Well, that’s fine, but it’s all the McGuffin to bring Spock back. We get a long, tortured explanation that Kirk’s son–a scientist–flubbed his work to guarantee success. There’s an attempt at a rhyme to Star Trek II, but it’s incredibly forced and, even if it wasn’t, I’m not sure rhymes between films in a series should be so evident. The rhymes should be feelings, not plot points. To go geek some more… the planet was supposed to be made out of a moon or some “dead” planet. It was made, by accident, out of a cloud of dust. Maybe that could have been the reason it was unstable, not because the kid was a screw-up. There’s a trivia note on IMDb that the writers killed the kid because of this transgression–he “deserved” it. What a load.

    All of the faults of the film, except the running time since Nimoy probably had the opportunity to insert scenes for the DVD, rest on the writer’s shoulders. Harve Bennett did a bang-up job producing Star Trek II through V, but he’s pood of a writer (oddly, there are some nice producing flourishes around).

    I can think of two particular sequences that Nimoy does some amazing work with–a chase scene and the Enterprise burning up–and I desperately wanted more from these scenes. They really resonated. So did the early scenes on the planet, which lasted about fifteen good seconds before the “story” took over. Events are quality’s enemy… events are excellence’s enemy? I was trying for a rhyme thing, but I guess I’ll just have to be happy that I worked ‘pood’ into a post.


  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, Nicholas Meyer), the director’s edition

    Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, Nicholas Meyer), the director’s edition

    Layers. Star Trek II has a lot of layers. I couldn’t decide if, as a sequel, it had the time to work so many layers in (it runs two hours). It’s the human heart, in conflict with itself, others, and its environment. There’s so much going on and some of it is purely cinematic. The Star Trek films, for a while anyway, were the only “science fiction” films to show space with any sense of wonderment, post-2001. Star Trek II‘s layers are incredibly aided by the audience’s pre-existing knowledge of the situation. But the audience doesn’t need to know too much, only the general specifics one would get if he or she asked another person about the TV show. And the other person wouldn’t have needed to see it, maybe only heard of it. Star Trek II establishes itself very quickly.

    I’ve been seeing a lot of Shatner lately, not just on “Boston Legal,” but in the fan-edit of Star Trek V last week, and it’s incredible how good he is in this film. Not incredible because he’s bad today, but incredible because it’s such a good performance. Star Trek and Shatner have both been devalued in modernity–Shatner because he lets himself be and Star Trek because of the new TV shows. Star Trek II would be best appreciated by someone unconcerned with a grand sense of “continuity,” because watching or reading with such a concern immediately makes the reader totally full of it. The toilet is overflowing in fact. Star Trek II is about what it does to you in two hours and it does a lot. It propels you through a range of emotions–I’ve seen the film six or seven times since I was six and it effected me more this time, when I was watching it most critically, than ever before. Nicholas Meyer directs a tight film. He doesn’t have a lot of sets, but all of them make a lasting impression. Besides the set design and the cinematography–you can watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture to see how else the same sets can be shot–there’s James Horner’s music. It’s as effective as the pieces Kubrick picked for 2001, it really is….

    I read somewhere, a few months ago, that most people identify themselves as–generally–Star Trek fans. I imagine it’s that the geeks have taken over popular culture (Lord of the Rings), leaving intelligent folks almost nothing in the mainstream… since, what, 2000? Being a fan of something in no way means it’s good–quality doesn’t enter into it, since “fans” frequently argue that art is subjective. Well, Star Trek II is sort of an innocent victim in all this hubbub. It is, objectively, excellent (I think 1982 is probably the only year three “sci-fi” movies, Star Trek II, Blade Runner, and The Thing are in the top ten). Unfortunately, its excellence is assumed to be subjective (remember, the even number Star Trek films are the good ones?), doing the film an incredible disservice. It’s an achievement in filmic storytelling, nothing else.


  • It Came from Outer Space (1953, Jack Arnold)

    It Came from Outer Space (1953, Jack Arnold)

    I used to love this movie… I guess I should have checked movielens because it’s right on the nose for it.

    It has Richard Carlson, who I like, and Barbara Rush, who I remember liking from The Young Philadelphians and Hombre, and it’s directed by Jack Arnold, who I like. Or do I remember liking them and am I misremembering? No, Creature from the Black Lagoon is good and Carlson is in it and Arnold directed it. It Came from Outer Space is not terrible (though I’m seemingly in a one and a half star rut the last couple weeks, starting with Azumi 2). It’s just not good. It’s too short (at eighty minutes) and it has problems with how time passes….

    I think I’m upset. I’ve gotten used to watching films I used to like–used to love in some cases–and being underwhelmed or enraged at my former appraisal. It goes with watching something again and being more intelligent. Nostalgia only earns only so much credit. Nothing, for example, feels quite as good as something remembered as great turns out to be great again. People have actually frowned upon my whole “watching again” practice, from both ends–some people only watch something once and that evaluation stands and other people don’t change their initial evaluation. At six, you love Dracula so at twenty-six it’s got to be good. When I was six, I liked “Voltron” a lot. I’m not sure “Voltron” is good.

    It Came from Outer Space isn’t dated, its relevance has not passed. It’s just not good. Arnold doesn’t use his sets right and he doesn’t take any time with the scenes. He rushes and it feels rushed. There’s a difference, of course, between short scenes and rushed scenes.

    I rented this film and I can’t imagine if I bought it. That’s the great drawback of the evolving opinion. You buy something and it sits and you watch it and you think, “what the hell?” So I suppose there’s a benefit to not having disposable income. Still, I’m so glad it was only eighty minutes.


  • 36 Quai des Orfèvres (2004, Olivier Marchal)

    36 Quai des Orfèvres (2004, Olivier Marchal)

    Quick rule of thumb: do not set the present action of your movie over seven years and then skip six and three-quarters of those years. And I’m being generous with that three months. 36 Quai des Orfèvres is one of two films–it’s either a damn good cop movie (with some bad dialogue) or a piss-poor revenge drama. The director, with a ludicrous dedication at the end–almost as ludicrous as The Towering Inferno‘s dedication to firefighters, goes with the latter and it’s too bad, because there’s a lot of good stuff in here.

    First, it’s got Daniel Auteuil, who seems to be in a lot of good films. It’s also got Gerard Depardieu, who’s astoundingly good as the conflicted–yet essentially “good”–cop. Until he becomes the bad guy. Once Depardieu becomes the bad guy, 36 is set down the road to its inevitable mediocrity. Even without the six year break from the story, I don’t think there’s anything they could have done to turn it around.

    It’s also different to watch a French cop movie. Watching American movies and TV, you quickly become an authority on the American variation–for a while, in fact, 36 appeared to be a modern (and good) version of L.A. Confidential–so watching a French cop movie is different. The prisons are nicer and the cops tend not to shoot the criminals as often as they do in America. They also don’t beat them and French people make smoking look cool. Auteuil makes smoking look so cool, if I were single, I’d probably start smoking.

    Of course, even though the film didn’t get US distribution or even a DVD release, Robert DeNiro is remaking it, directed by Marc Forster (who’s a native of Germany, incidentally) and written by Dean Georgaris (who “wrote” Tomb Raider). I suppose if DeNiro gets a reasonable co-star… No, scratch that. Remakes of foreign films do not fix the problems (Vanilla Sky). All they do is invite disrespect for the original piece. And there’s a lot to respect about 36 Quai des Orfèvres, just not enough to make it good. This film has four screenwriters. Very few films–modern films–are good with four screenwriters. (Very few modern films are good with any screenwriters, I suppose. Bring on the chimps!)

    (Another thing about long present action–don’t cast too old: Auteuil’s French. When I see him with the grown-up daughter, who’s aged too much for seven years, I’m thinking it’s his girlfriend, not his kid).


  • L.A. Confidential (1997, Curtis Hanson)

    L.A. Confidential (1997, Curtis Hanson)

    I haven’t seen L.A. Confidential since 1998 or so, whenever the laserdisc came out. Before the film came out–I saw it in the theaters of course, being a big Russell Crowe fan back then–I read James Ellroy’s book. So, obviously, the film cuts a lot and I don’t remember the book very well, except that it took place over a long period of time. I don’t think it was that good, but you did get to know the characters… You don’t in L.A. Confidential: The Movie. Instead, you get to know and care when the filmmakers tell you to care. It’s Oscar-bait. As I started watching it, I thought it would be okay Oscar-bait, but it really isn’t. For a few reasons.

    First, since I’ll be on and on about it if I don’t get it out of the way: Kim Basinger. 1) She does not look like Veronica Lake, she does not resemble Veronica Lake, never in a million years would I think she does. According to IMDb, Izabella Scorupco turned down the role and she owes me dinner for the thirty minutes or so of Basinger “acting” I just had to endure. 2) Kim Basinger is awful. The number of films, probably starting with Batman, that she has hurt or ruined with her aforementioned “acting” probably equals the number of films she has “acted” in. I sort of remember once saying Nine 1/2 Weeks was her only reasonable acting job. Since I haven’t seen it in a long time, I won’t make such a claim. However, after seeing her “talents” on display in L.A. Confidential, I doubt I’d be able to reinforce said claim.

    There: a paragraph for Basinger’s bad acting. Does Guy Pearce get a whole paragraph? Maybe. He is not good. His character needs to be good. The audience needs to identify with him, not against him. We aren’t suppose to think cops beating the shit out of and murdering innocent (or misdemeanor-committing) people is okay. Does that mean Pearce is actually so good that I’m just upset because he was so good–he was supposed to appear unlikable, correct? No, he was terrible. The scenes between him and Basinger at the end were awful. Not to mention how terrible their actual sex scene was. That was a special kind of awful. Made me want to stick pencils in my ears to break the drums.

    However–and I’m breaking up the crap with some pearls–Russell Crowe is good. He has very little do. Most of his scenes are with Basinger and so he had no one to work with, but he still shines through. His character is decent and deserving of a better film. However, L.A. Confidential has got to be one of Kevin Spacey’s best performances. Since Spacey has turned into such an embarrassing Oscar-whore (sort of like Crowe), I’d forgotten how good he could be. If L.A. Confidential had been about Spacey’s redemption… Oh, one can only dream. The film also has David Straithairn and underuses him, which is an incredible affront to the species.

    No, the problem with the film, why it doesn’t achieve or overcome the awful acting, is the writing. Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson kept a couple parts of the book (I think, the Nite Owl murders seem to be how I remember), tossed the rest, but kept scenes from the book and lines of dialogue. Scenes and lines that mean nothing without the rest of the book. Or they didn’t keep the rhyming parts. So, the film deceives. In the middle, until about the 90 minute mark, it still seems like something good could come of all this stuff. A period cop movie called The Nite Owl Murders could have been amazing, but this film isn’t a cop movie. It’s not noir or neo-noir or anything like that. It’s Oscar-bait and, as Oscar-bait goes, I suppose it’s on par for 1997. If I remember correctly, 1997 was actually a good year, it was just that a bunch of shit was popular… as it goes. Gattaca, for instance, was from 1997. Comparing the two films is an incredible insult to Gattaca and possibly the whole idea of art in general.

    I watched the DVD (my laserdisc is probably long gone–I rented the DVD for a buck and quarter and the laser cost $32 from Ken Crane’s). There are some audio looping problems, but I don’t think it’s the disc, because I noticed the mouths didn’t match the dialogue. Maybe there’s a good version of it out there somewhere, in the Warner vaults or something, but I really doubt it….

    One last thing about 1997. I just saw that it’s the year Air Force One came out. I’ve never pinpointed, specifically, the downfall of American popular cinema. I can tell you when it was good, when it was better than it is now, and when everything was shit. But is there a turning point? I think it might be Air Force One–you had the previously reliable Harrison Ford in a complete piece of garbage. Petersen was already done, so I’m not putting anything on him, so I think I’ll hang it all on Ford whoring himself for money–in Air Force One. With a few blips–and pretty insignificant ones–his career has been downhill from that specific film. So it’s all his fault. I guess. None of this rant had anything to do with L.A. Confidential….

    Okay, I’m done. (Damn Izabella Scorupco. Somebody ought to make her sit down and watch Basinger epic The Real McCoy over and over again. Except cut out all the Val Kilmer parts, because he was funny).


  • Azumi 2: Death or Love (2005, Kaneko Shusuke)

    Azumi 2: Death or Love (2005, Kaneko Shusuke)

    So, why when making a sequel to a successful film, do film companies do it on the cheap? This practice is getting uncommon in the US (except direct-to-video sequels), but was prevalent in the 1970s–each Planet of the Apes film made more money and had a drastically lower budget. It’s like the company is assuming they’ll make some money no matter what, so why bother? Azumi 2 does the double injustice of having incredibly shitty villains too. It’s not just the “comic book,” ninja super-villains, the special effects of their powers are awful….

    I guess I saw the first film in January, long ago enough that I started remembering it during Azumi 2 and some comparisons were inevitable. Like how much better a director the first film had… Azumi 2 is rather confused. It’s got some action, but not a lot. Too much of the silly super-ninjas, not enough regular ninjas. There’s no budget, so the characters spent all their time walking around the forest. I’m not sure if Japan has forest preserves, they must, but I mean like in the US. Azumi 2 could have been shot in Central Park or something, there’s so little variety. It’s a small movie, filled with small shots–Kaneko can’t get the camera off the ground and so the audience isn’t feeling anything grandiose. It’s not all Kaneko’s fault (I’ll get to what he does right in a minute). It’s the script. There’s a big warning sign for sequels–if the sequel is produced by the producer of the first film and said producer is writing the sequel, that’s a problem. It’s a big neon problem. It doesn’t help that Azumi 2‘s other screenwriter appears to write anime. Anime is… cartoons. Super-villains are okay in cartoons. Super-villains aren’t okay messing up Azumi 2.

    With these moronic super-villains, one of these twits is dressed up like a raccoon or something (really), and they all have rubber chest-plates, you’d think that I wouldn’t have anything nice to say. Oh, these super-twits. Can’t act. All the good acting is from people from the first film (more in a second). First, a compliment for Kaneko, and probably the only friggin’ reason I’m giving this film a “1.” I haven’t yet. I hate kind of liking sequels to films I recommend. It’s a personal insult or something. All right, here it is… Azumi 2 does not mess around with dying people. People don’t just go quiet into that good night. They don’t want to die and we don’t want them to die. And Kaneko shows it to us–three or four times–and it hurts. There’s some real human conflict in these scenes, a real sensitivity, that’s totally foreign to the rest of the film. These scenes aren’t short either. I think one of them goes on for a couple minutes. A couple minutes of someone dying… alone, but not exactly, it’s a beautiful scene and it tears.

    The acting, from a handful of people, is good. Ueto Aya, as Azumi, is good, though Kaneko doesn’t know how to shoot a bad-ass. In the scenes where people are saying she’s “just a pretty girl” or something, it’s shot from those characters’ perspectives, not from either hers or the third. The first film’s director knew how to shoot bad-ass. Kaneko just doesn’t and it hurts the stand-off scenes. Only a couple actors from the first film return, one’s good, one isn’t. The villains, super or not, are all pretty terrible. Some of the new good guys are okay, certainly okay enough to keep the film going–though the super-villains bring about some jaw-dropping. Who thought raccoon-boy was a good villain?

    Azumi is based on a manga series that runs twenty-five volumes, but I doubt there’s an Azumi 3 on the horizon. Oddly, I just found that Azumi is going to be back next year… but on stage. Love that Google. I don’t know if I can recommend Azumi 2 to anyone, even folks who liked Azumi, though if you didn’t like Azumi, I don’t know if you could sit through the super-ninjas in Azumi 2, desperately waiting for a good moment. It’s not a terrible film (got the “1”), but it’s such a disappointment… what can you say? Don’t make cheap sequels or, if you do, hire someone who knows how to direct them.


  • Hail the Conquering Hero (1944, Preston Sturges)

    Hail the Conquering Hero (1944, Preston Sturges)

    Well.

    I’m trying to think about how to talk about Hail the Conquering Hero. It shouldn’t so difficult. The film is great, better than I remembered it, but it’s never easy to talk about great films. I mean, how many words can you pull out of your ass for something you love? You want to share things you love and defecate on the things that deserve it. Hail the Conquering Hero deserves reverence.

    Still, there are a few specifics I can comment on. And not Sturges so much. Yes, he constructed an almost perfect film in 96 or so minutes. The structure of a film’s interesting and helps you talk about it if you have to think about how the film succeeds or fails. I’m not doing that here. Yes, there are the great moments of comedy, the wonderful small character relationships between supporting characters that’s seemingly a lost art, there’s lots of stuff….

    But, I noticed two things in particular, watching Hail the Conquering Hero today. First, William Demarest is amazing in this film. I know the name and the face, but he’s never stuck out before. For the first hour or so of the film, you can just watch Demarest. Sturges also does a great job directing group scenes. Anyway, the other big particular is Ella Raines. She’s great in this film. I’m a fan of hers anyway, but I don’t remember any of her other performances being quite this good. Maybe they are, maybe I’m just forgetting… Eddie Bracken, as the lead, is good too, but he’s ideal for the role. He doesn’t do any work. There are some good supporting performances that I’m not going to look up on IMDb too. Raines just has a few really good scenes in this one and it pissed me off that I was so surprised.


  • The Killers (1946, Robert Siodmak)

    The Killers (1946, Robert Siodmak)

    When it comes to film noir, more than any other genre, I always wonder how some of these films got their sterling reputations….

    The Killers isn’t too bad. It never gets as good as the opening, the adaptation of Hemingway’s actual story (it was a Nick Adams story in fact). The rest, with insurance investigator Edmond O’Brien explaining the killing, well… O’Brien is really good and so’s Sam Levene. It’s nice to see Levene in a full role, even if it is a sidekick role, it’s a central sidekick role. There’s a nice relationship between O’Brien and Levene and it makes the film seem a lot more innovative than it really is. Well, maybe innovative isn’t the right word. Special might be. Their relationship makes the film seem special. And the film isn’t special.

    The failing is the concentration on one deception that has nothing to do with why Burt Lancaster accepts death in the beginning of the film. Oh, did I spoil it? I shouldn’t have, it’s kind of famous. There’s no pay-off with Lancaster. He’s around, but his character doesn’t do much. It’s impossible to feel anything for him, because we don’t get to see this man’s real struggle. The real struggle isn’t in the film, it’s in a five-year stretch the film ignores.

    To some extent, I’m being harder on The Killers than it deserves. If I’d paid any attention to Movielens, I would have seen it didn’t predict a super-rating for the film, but The Killers is one of those films from my period of blind film snobbery. When it aired on TV, I knew someone recording it for three or four people. It was a big deal. Incidentally, Criterion’s release isn’t very good. I know it’s an older release, but film restoration–just the garden variety digital kinds–really makes it look terrible in comparison to current releases. I wanted The Killers to be good. Instead, it was a really, really long a hundred minutes. Really long. LONG.

    But the Hemingway stuff… Great stuff.


  • Foreign Correspondent (1940, Alfred Hitchcock)

    Foreign Correspondent (1940, Alfred Hitchcock)

    Well shit, I was wrong. I thought Foreign Correspondent was pre-Rebecca and I am incorrect.

    I suppose the confusion has to do with the way Hitchcock made Correspondent. It’s very much in the style of his 1930s British films (I’m thinking primarily of The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes), while Rebecca was not. Rebecca was about people, Correspondent is about events. Not that I have a problem with Hitchcock making movies about events (though Saboteur is something awful, as is The Birds). Correspondent is a damn good film. I’ve only seen it once before and the same thing happened today that happened six or seven years ago. I looked at the clock about forty minutes in and wondered how it could have gotten there. The first forty minutes of this film moves faster than any other I’ve seen. The rest moves too, but those first forty feel like eleven.

    This film is a propaganda piece. But only sort of. It’s got some incredibly beautiful moments in it, moments I’m not used to in film, particularly not thrillers. In the midst of a plane crash, two characters are none-the-less affected by a death. It’s thirty seconds, probably less, but it really sets Correspondent apart. There’s also some wonderful character relationships in the film that the last hour takes the time to explore. Even the amusing scenes of a man and his assassin-to-be. The romance is exceptionally hurried, but there’s this scene on a boat that makes it all worth it. This film comes together in beautiful ways, works in beautiful ways.

    It’s not a well-known Hitchcock. A quick Google search just revealed it to be “little known.” One of the reasons for the lack of notoriety is probably that Warner Bros. didn’t whore it on VHS like Universal did their Hitchcock titles. Another reason is probably Joel McCrea. Even though I saw The Most Dangerous Game at some point growing up, I had no idea who McCrea was until I started looking into film myself. This inquiry happened to coincide with AMC being great–long time ago–so I got a lot of McCrea in there. Foreign Correspondent popped up at some point during that period….

    It’s not as deep as Hitchcock could get. Hitchcock did have some deeper films–Rebecca for example–but Foreign Correspondent is probably the best example of Hitchcock’s filmmaking skills. He uses methods and devices in this film that appear in everything. Whether or not these subsequent filmmakers picked it up from Correspondent, I doubt, given the quality of some of them. Watching early, raw Hitchcock is an exciting experience and Correspondent is one of the two best of these raw films (the other is The Lady Vanishes).