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.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Jack B. Sowards, based on a story by Harve Bennett and Sowards and the television show created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Gayne Rescher; edited by William P. Dornisch; music by James Horner; production designer, Joseph R. Jennings; produced by Robert Sallin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Admiral James T. Kirk), Ricardo Montalban (Khan Noonien Singh), Leonard Nimoy (Captain Spock), DeForest Kelley (Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy), James Doohan (Cmdr. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov), George Takei (Hikaru Sulu), Nichelle Nichols (Cmdr. Uhura), Bibi Besch (Dr. Carol Marcus), Merritt Butrick (Dr. David Marcus), Judson Earney Scott (Joachim Weiss), Paul Winfield (Capt. Clark Terrell), Kirstie Alley (Lt. Saavik), Ike Eisenmann (Midshipman Peter Preston), John Vargas (Jedda) and John Winston (Cmdr. Kyle).


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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, it’s 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.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Harry Essex, based on a story by Ray Bradbury; director of photography, Clifford Stine; edited by Paul Weatherwax; music by Irving Gertz and Henry Mancini; produced by William Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Richard Carlson (John Putnam), Barbara Rush (Ellen Fields), Charles Drake (Sheriff Matt Warren), Joe Sawyer (Frank Daylon), Russell Johnson (George) and Kathleen Hughes (Jane).


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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).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Olivier Marchal; screenplay by Marchal and Dominique Loiseau, from a story by Marchal, Franck Mancuso and Julien Rappeneau; director of photography, Denis Rouden; edited by Hugues Darmois; music by Erwann Kermorvant and Axelle Renoir; production designer, Ambre Fernandez; produced by Franck Chorot, Cyril Colbeau-Justin and Jean-Baptiste Dupont; released by Gaumont.

Starring Daniel Auteuil (Léo Vrinks), Gérard Depardieu (Denis Klein), André Dussollier (Robert Mancini), Roschdy Zem (Hugo Silien), Valeria Golino (Camille Vrinks), Daniel Duval (Eddy Valence) and Francis Renaud (Titi Brasseur).


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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 he 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 The Real McCoy over and over again. Except cut out all the Val Kilmer parts, because he was funny).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Curtis Hanson; written by Brian Helgeland and Hanson, based on the novel by James Ellroy; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Peter Honess; music by Jerry Goldsmith; produced by Arnon Milchan, Hanson and Michael Nathanson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Spacey (Jack Vincennes), Russell Crowe (Bud White), Guy Pearce (Ed Exley), James Cromwell (Capt. Dudley Smith), Kim Basinger (Lynn Bracken), David Strathairn (Pierce Morehouse Patchett), Danny DeVito (Sid Hudgens), Graham Beckel (Dick Stensland), Paul Guilfoyle (Mickey Cohen), Ron Rifkin (Dist. Atty. Ellis Loew), Matt McCoy (Brett Chase) and Paolo Seganti (Johnny Stompanato).


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