I Am Legend (2007, Francis Lawrence)

There should be laws against remaking terrible Charlton Heston movies worse than the source movie. Though, given I Am Legend plays a little like Christian Scientist propaganda… I doubt Republicans would do it… even if it did give Heston a legacy besides being a heartless liar (Bowling for Columbine). It’s also interesting how the material appeals so much to Republican leading men. First Heston, then Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to get it made, and now Will Smith. It’s odd….

The movie is one of the stupider films–just in terms of suspension of disbelief… it constantly contradicts itself. Obviously, screenwriters Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman are terrible (Goldsman wrote, for example, Batman and Robin among other attacks on filmic decency). But it’s really, really dumb. Almost impossible to describe how stupid. These jokers don’t, apparently, even know what the word ‘legend’ means and misuse it horribly.

Francis Lawrence is an okay director, though. He switches poorly between handheld and not, but he can compose a sequence with a good shock. Bad director of actors, but Will Smith playing a “smart” scientist (who does the stupidest things a protagonist has done in any film I can remember) is kind of hilarious. Like if Rob Schneider played FDR.

Also interesting is how most of the film’s sequences and ideas are lifted from better and much smaller-budgeted films. Warner took Resident Evil, 28 Days Later and the Omega Man screenplay they still owned and rolled it up in to a Will Smith Christmas movie. I can’t say holiday, because I Am Legend is a Christian movie. I’m shocked they didn’t play it up some more, trying to get church groups to go.

But the opening special effects, which every review has commented on, of the abandoned New York City, are excellent. Not as effective or good as Twelve Monkeys or Vanilla Sky, but good. The monsters are terrible CG… there’s a scene in the movie centered around Shrek and the CG in it looked more realistic than the monsters. It’s like they ran out of time, because at a very clear point, the CG effects team also stopped working so hard on the Manhattan backdrop.

But… yeah… if you’ve seen Omega Man and know how atrocious it is… it’s genius compared to this one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Francis Lawrence; screenplay by Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman, based on a screenplay by John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington and on a novel by Richard Matheson; director of photography, Andrew Lesnie; edited by Wayne Wahrman; music by James Newton Howard; production designers, David Lazan and Naomi Shohan; produced by Goldsman, David Heyman, James Lassiter, Neal H. Moritz and Erwin Stoff; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Will Smith (Robert Neville), Alice Braga (Anna), Charlie Tahan (Ethan), Salli Richardson (Zoe) and Willow Smith (Marley).


Young Dr. Kildare (1938, Harold S. Bucquet)

Young Dr. Kildare is very hard to watch. Not because it’s bad or because it’s insanely rare, but because Elmo Veron is one of the worst editors I’ve ever seen on a Hollywood film. Some of the fault–for shooting too many medium-long shots–belongs to director Bucquet, Veron’s incompetent eyes and ears for film cutting makes Kildare a constant intrusion. It’s like someone clanks a hammer repeatedly against a pan whenever the film cuts to a one-shot. It’s like Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music.” It’s unacceptable. There’s no reason a film should have such bad editing.

Otherwise, Kildare’s a not quite genial (the case gets solved because hospital intern Lew Ayres lets paramedic Nat Pendleton convince him they need to beat men with a wrench) medical drama. Well, not exactly… there’s a case, a few of them even, but it’s mostly a setup for the subsequent series. MGM must have had some idea there’d be more, since the movie stops instead of concludes. But back to the lack of geniality… Ayres goes so far as to cover for Pendleton’s incompetence, an incompetence directly responsible for a patient’s death. And then they’re friends. So, while Ayres is defending patient confidentiality, he’s also just covered up a case of manslaughter. The movie never discusses it in those terms and wipes the whole thing under the carpet, but it does have a particular subversive air about it… the big secret can’t be spoken because of the Code and such.

Ayres is okay as Kildare… his performance is, not joking, severely hampered by lots of his lines coming in those terrible one-shots. Lionel Barrymore is awesome (playing a wheelchair bound “House M.D.”) and Pendleton is good. Jo Ann Sayers is pretty good as the case, but Ayres’s romantic interest, Lynne Carver, has no chemistry with him. Their scenes together come off so bland–partially the script’s fault, but still–it’s like he’d just gotten done cutting the underwear off her doll collection.

The movie works pretty well, utilizing Pendleton perfectly for the needed humor (as it becomes clear, both to Ayres and the audience, Barrymore isn’t being funny when he’s being funny).

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Harold S. Bucquet; screenplay by Harry Ruskin and Willis Goldbeck, based on a story by Max Brand; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Elmo Veron; music by David Snell; produced by Lou L. Ostrow; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Lionel Barrymore (Dr. Gillespie), Lew Ayres (Dr. James Kildare), Lynne Carver (Alice Raymond), Nat Pendleton (Joe Wayman), Jo Ann Sayers (Barbara Chanler), Samuel S. Hinds (Dr. Stephen Kildare), Emma Dunn (Mrs. Martha Kildare), Walter Kingsford (Dr. P. Walter Carew), Truman Bradley (Jack Hamilton), Monty Woolley (Dr. Lane-Porteus), Pierre Watkin (Mr. Robert Chanler) and Nella Walker (Mrs. Chanler).


Death Wish (1974, Michael Winner)

I’m having a hard time deciding where the start with Death Wish. I wanted to open with a glib comment about how much I appreciated (even though it’s counter to some expository dialogue in the film) more of the criminals being white than black. Very progressive (or cautious) for 1974. But then I thought maybe starting with director Michael Winner–who actually does achieve one well-directed sequence in the entire film (and Death Wish shot on location in New York, so it’s hard to mess up, but Winner makes it look like a Mentos commercial). Or the writing, which is more Hollywoodized than an episode of “Friends.” I never thought about starting with Bronson’s performance, because I wanted to positive comments to come as a surprise. And Vincent Gardenia being terrible isn’t particularly interesting. I even thought about outlining how the story elements could have been juxtaposed to create something good. But then I finished watching the movie and the ending sort of messed it all up. For the majority of the film, Death Wish implies it’s going to be responsible for its content and then ends instead as an action movie. Bronson’s character is obviously suffering from a psychological break and, again, it’s suggested this insanity will be addressed… it isn’t. The lack of responsibility does just undo Bronson’s otherwise excellent work, it also damages the film. The last half hour of Death Wish–the film only really has a good half hour, the middle one–is mostly Gardenia’s bad acting… so it needed to end well and it did not.

Oh, I didn’t mention the score. I guess getting Herbie Hancock was some sort of coup for director Winner (based on wikipedia), but Hancock’s music is the film’s biggest problem (besides the directing and Gardenia, ahead of the writing). Hancock blares everything in the score–there’s practically a ‘mugger theme’–and brings absolutely no nuance to the movie, which is exactly what it needs. Besides the lousy third act, it’s a very quiet, intimate story… something Bronson either gets or just couldn’t mess up.

The real problem is Winner, who can’t figure out how to direct family scenes, fight scenes, men at work scenes–there are a couple good establishing shots, but I’m guessing those were second unit. He’s a terrible, terrible director. Like I said before, Mentos commercials (“it’s the freshmaker.”)

The lousy supporting cast doesn’t help. All the cops are terrible, not just Gardenia. Steven Keats tries real hard as Bronson’s son-in-law, but he just doesn’t pull it off (a combination of his performance and, visibly, not getting enough back from Bronson). Stuart Margolin, as the gun-lover who opens Bronson’s eyes, is good. Otherwise, it’s mediocre acting at best.

The film’s effects (I find it odd I could care less about popular novels of particular eras, but popular films of past eras I usually get around to seeing) are wide-reaching (Taxi Driver being an obvious example–I’m sure, after Death Wish made a fortune, studios got a lot more willing to release this material), though it’s a toss-up between the film’s financial success and Dino De Laurentiis’s particular brand of filmic storytelling. Once I saw his name as presenting it… I actually had some idea what I was in for.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Winner; screenplay by Wendell Mayes, based on the novel by Brian Garfield; director of photography, Arthur J. Ornitz; edited by Bernard Gribble; music by Herbie Hancock; production designer, Robert Gundlach; produced by Hal Landers and Bobby Roberts; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Charles Bronson (Paul Kersey), Hope Lange (Joanna Kersey), Vincent Gardenia (Frank Ochoa), Steven Keats (Jack Toby), William Redfield (Sam Kreutzer), Stuart Margolin (Ames Jainchill), Stephen Elliott (Police Commissioner), Kathleen Tolan (Carol Toby) and Jack Wallace (Hank).


The Great Moment (1944, Preston Sturges)

There are a handful of “Sturges moments” in The Great Moment. I suppose I’d define those moments as the ones where the predictable or familiar filmic device transcends artifice (even if it’s as artificial as the text a character is reading appearing on the screen for the viewer to read as well) and becomes… ideal. Sturges’s understanding of how to make a comedic scene work is amazing. His pacing is perfect, the editing, everything. But The Great Moment isn’t a comedy. It’s the rather depressing story of the discoverer of anesthesia, played by Joel McCrea.

Sturges is visibly passionate about the story (the film’s thesis being the discoverer got a raw deal), but he allows that passion to blind him from his strengths. So, even while there are those good Sturges moments and the film’s generally well-written, there’s a lot of problems. First, Sturges frames it as a flashback with, presumably, bookends. But he quickly discards the framing. Second, the end… once it becomes clear the story’s got a terribly depressing conclusion… Sturges has a serious problem (there’s no, for example, great moment in the film for McCrea–I kept waiting for it, no less). It reminds me a little of Mason & Dixon. Both Sturges and Pynchon are stuck with some sense of historical reality, but Sturges didn’t find… damn it… any great moment.

But the biggest problem is with McCrea and wife Betty Field. They barely have a relationship (though they do have mostly invisible, off-screen children) and it only gets worse near the end, when Field’s become a nouveau riche would-be society woman. The film’s focus is on McCrea’s discovery and both he and Sturges do a good job chronicling the various experiments and developments. But Sturges doesn’t have a story to do it in… he’s lionizing the man, certainly not examining him, but not even acknowledging his surroundings (which is why the film has a terrible ending–Sturges didn’t see outside his strict constraints).

The film’s got some masterfully done scenes, McCrea’s performance is solid as can be (though even he can’t pull off Sturges’s all too contrived ending), and the supporting cast is excellent. Harry Carey and William Demarest (who might look a little too much alike) are both quite good, as is Julius Tannen. But Field’s most present in those framing scenes, so there’s a major hole.

I’m not sure I’d say it was a good attempt, but it’s one with a lot of integrity… another reason Sturges couldn’t pull it off–he was way too invested in it. Biopics belong to the subject, regardless of liberties taken, never to the storyteller.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Preston Sturges; screenplay by Sturges, based on the book by René Fülöp-Miller; director of photography, Victor Milner; edited by Stuart Gilmore; music by Victor Young; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Joel McCrea (William Thomas Green Morton), Betty Field (Elizabeth Morton), Harry Carey (Prof. Warren), William Demarest (Eben Frost), Louis Jean Heydt (Dr. Horace Wells), Julius Tannen (Dr. Charles Jackson), Edwin Maxwell (Vice-President of Medical Society), Porter Hall (President Franklin Pierce), Franklin Pangborn (Dr. Heywood), Grady Sutton (Homer Quimby), Donivee Lee (Betty Morton), Harry Hayden (Judge Shipman) and Torben Meyer (Dr. Dahlmeyer).


The Killer That Stalked New York (1950, Earl McEvoy)

The premise behind The Killer That Stalked New York (shouldn’t it be Who?) is almost beyond goofy. The movie mixes one part film noir and one part medical thriller and… I mean, I don’t even know what to say about the story. It’s such a ludicrous idea (the fate of the city, under threat from a smallpox outbreak, hinges on a wronged woman on the run), it really does work to some degree. Some of it might have to do with Evelyn Keyes turning in a rather good performance as the hunted woman, but a lot of it also has to do with that wacky story.

While the movie has to take itself seriously (otherwise, it’d be a farce), it goes a little far, utilizing a voiceover narration (from someone who is not a character in the film), who hurries things along, particularly at the beginning. There’s also the problem of not defining the risks. The mayor orders the entire city vaccinated after five cases, damn the expense, but it’s never explained why they’re so worried if all the cases shown are directly related to Keyes. I know I’m asking quite a bit from a seventy-five minute Columbia B-movie, but some of it’s so obvious, someone must have noticed on set.

There are two main characters, one for each story (until Keyes disappears so she can provide some shock value later on). Keyes, like I said, is good as the carrier. The role’s terribly written, but she conveys a lot of emotion. William Bishop plays the doctor in charge; he’s after Keyes. Bishop’s real bad. Of the larger parts, Charles Korvin is best as the sleazy husband. Lots of good small performances–Art Smith, Whit Bissell, Jim Backus–offset the lousy smaller performances.

The movie shot on location in New York City and it’s great looking. McEvoy doesn’t get trapped in a noir mindset and a lot of his composition is, nicely, defined by the locations. The rest of it feels a lot like Meet John Doe Frank Capra, only with less light.

Killer is barely a diversion. Some good stuff about it, but the story’s not compelling and the major perk of watching it (besides the locations) is to catch the silly oversights.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Earl McEvoy; screenplay by Harry Essex, based on an article by Milton Lehman; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; edited by Jerome Thoms; music by Hans J. Salter; produced by Robert Cohn; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Evelyn Keyes (Sheila Bennet), Charles Korvin (Matt Krane), William Bishop (Dr. Ben Wood), Dorothy Malone (Alice Lorie), Lola Albright (Francie Bennet), Barry Kelley (Treasury Agent Johnson), Carl Benton Reid (Health Commissioner Ellis), Ludwig Donath (Dr. Cooper), Art Smith (Anthony Moss), Whit Bissell (Sid Bennet), Roy Roberts (Mayor of New York), Connie Gilchrist (Belle – the Landlady), Dan Riss (Skrip), Harry Shannon (Police Officer Houlihan) and Jim Backus (Willie Dennis).


No Country for Old Men (2007, Joel and Ethan Coen)

There’s something untranslatable about the last line of a novel. Even though maybe it shouldn’t, it essentially sums up everything–not just the scene or the story or the characters, but the reader’s experience as well… (whether the writer’s experience of writing the book is summed up in the line is, obviously, immaterial). With No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers translate that moment in to filmic terms, which is a film first in my experience.

The film is a masterful immersive experience, the wide open Texas plains, the gradual, somehow disinterested narrative, Tommy Lee Jones’s soothing performance of an also somewhat disinterested character. The minute Josh Brolin walks across the plains, looking for the money he and the viewer knows must be there, No Country opens up and swallows the viewer. The maw invisibly closes. Javier Bardem is a red herring. While he’s fantastic, the character is fantastic, he’s not the compelling aspect. Brolin’s generally unlikable character, however, his experience–for much of the film–is the viewer’s reference point. The Coen’s don’t even need to do it in a standard way (I kept thinking about Robocop, how Verhoeven realized he needed to make the violence as graphic as possible to make the audience care about a character they’d known fifteen minutes)… I think they’ve got it down just from Brolin spying the money. The viewer cares about him because, for a few key moments, he or she and the character are the same–realizing the same things at the same time, thinking the same thing. It’s not big realization stuff, it’s empirical observation followed by a conclusion, which is different.

I’m wondering if that immersion is solely responsible for the Coen’s handling of the passing of time. No Country for Old Men doesn’t have a pace, it doesn’t go fast, it doesn’t drag. It just plays out. So I guess the playing out is a result of the immersion… But there are no rises or falls in action, in tenseness. The tenseness is on the scene level. There’s oddly no air of dread hanging over Old Men all together–something one of the characters brings up near the end: what, exactly, could happen differently. There’s no expectation of the coming scene. There’s some foreshadowing, but it’s not the same thing. No Country doesn’t create any anticipation… again, it’s an immersion result. Such effective immersion isn’t a new thing, but in a thriller, one would think it was cross-purpose. But it’s not. No Country for Old Men simply transcends the genre, possibly without even thinking about it (the Coens, usually so ready to be recognized for the dissimilarities between their films, draw no attention to No Country’s genre… in many ways, it’s the least Coen-identified film of theirs in fifteen years).

They also learned how to cast. Usually, their casts draw attention to themselves through familiarity or peculiarity (mostly how distracting William H. Macy got playing his standard in Fargo). Here, not at all. While Jones is playing a somewhat familiar role (though I’ve never actually seen him play a Texas lawman before), he’s doing something entirely different–he’s not a reluctant everyman compelled to act. Javier Bardem takes the film’s hardest role and makes it look like the easiest (he takes his character, a filmic villain only marginally different from Halloween’s Michael Myers and the like, and makes him real). Brolin’s deceptively good as the not-quite protagonist–every time I thought anyone could do the job, he did something to make himself essential.

When No Country started and was in Texas, I tried to force myself to look for some connection to Blood Simple. I quickly gave up, because–as usual–the Coen Brothers were doing something different. Except with this one, they put the film before their name brand quirkiness.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen; screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Roderick Jaynes; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Jess Gonchor; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Tommy Lee Jones (Sheriff Ed Tom Bell), Javier Bardem (Anton Chigurh), Josh Brolin (Llewelyn Moss), Woody Harrelson (Carson Wells), Kelly Macdonald (Carla Jean Moss), Garret Dillahunt (Deputy Wendell), Tess Harper (Loretta Bell), Barry Corbin (Ellis) and Stephen Root (Man Who Hires Wells).


The Departed (2006, Martin Scorsese)

It’s hilarious, of course, Scorsese finally won an Oscar for the film least like his work. The Departed is the really serious movie Mel Gibson and Richard Donner never got around to making in the late 1990s… but Scorsese–I don’t know if Scorsese adds something to the mix or if he just knew how to package the product. I imagine he finally won because The Departed showed he was firmly committed, finally, to being commercial. But there’s something subversive in Departed‘s commercial sensibilities. Scorsese and his technical crew (cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and editor Thelma Schoonmaker) loose on a Hollywood picture (the connections to, say, The Devil’s Own are more plentiful than not). Schoonmaker’s editing in the film is her most innovative work because it’s new–the way the story’s being told is new… from Ballhaus’s lighting, Schoomaker’s editing, and Scorsese’s digital happy (but it’s shot on film) shots. The IMDb trivia section talks about CG composites for the film and maybe they’re an indicator… Yes, The Departed is another Scorsese mob movie (but one without storytelling sprawl), but it’s a CG-friendly, Irish Scorsese mob movie.

My friend told me, after he saw the film, it was a comedy. I never quite understood him, until maybe ten minutes in. The Departed takes all the great humor from Goodfellas (and all the stuff from Casino but makes it work) and expands on it. You’re supposed to leave, if not laughing, at least amused. It’s a Martin Scorsese blockbuster, meant to engage you and worry you (Scorsese creates a palpable, pulsating sense of dread) and excite you and then spit you out. Scorsese does such a perfect job with the technical aspects and the legitimacy of the film’s story (not having a Nicholas Pileggi non-fiction to fall back on), it doesn’t matter the film’s got a certain apathy to itself.

The apathy comes through clearest in the case of Leonardo DiCaprio. While Matt Damon gets to run wild–sort of Good Will Hunting gone bad–and have as much fun as everyone else (the film’s filled with wild, wonderful performances), DiCaprio’s the serious one here. His character spends the entire film miserable and the viewer spends the entire film waiting for him to get even a moment of relief. It’s a solid performance from DiCaprio, but pales compared to his supporting cast. DiCaprio’s story, the one the film doesn’t tell, is the traditional Scorsese story (though, still a little more commercial than usual). But somehow the mix of humor and dread make it all disappear–The Departed is about what happens and Scorsese understands (though I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a film with that intent of his before–not even Cape Fear–though I’ve missed the other DiCaprio collaborations) how to use the advance from the viewer to the film’s advantage.

Given how odd a Scorsese movie it is, I’ve ignored Jack Nicholson this long. It’s not going to be particularly exciting, unfortunately… For about thirty years, Nicholson has had a standard crazy performance… in The Departed, he finally manages to turn it in to a character. Maybe all it needed all along was a Scorsese mob movie (Nicholson’s character, Irish heritage aside, resembles a smarter Scorsese Joe Pesci character). Seeing Nicholson finally get those roles to pay off is great.

The rest of the actors–Ray Winstone, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin–are all great. Vera Farmiga is quite good too, though most of her role is spent reacting to the male leads… she’s practically tacked on to the film for a female presence. It’s no surprise her role is the one without the looseness (she and DiCaprio’s scenes together, though contrived, provide a nice, non-plot-driven break… if only because, after a bunch of red herrings, the scenes don’t really affect the film’s events).

The Departed is easily Scorsese’s worst great film… the lack of artistic ambition is stunning, but Scorsese gets it too and he works with it, makes it not matter.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by William Monahan, based on a screenplay by Mak Siu-Fai and Felix Chong; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Brad Pitt, Brad Grey and Graham King; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Billy Costigan), Matt Damon (Colin Sullivan), Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello), Mark Wahlberg (Dignam), Martin Sheen (Queenan), Ray Winstone (Mr. French), Vera Farmiga (Madolyn), Alec Baldwin (Ellerby) and Anthony Anderson (Brown).


Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979, Robert Wise), the special longer version

In addition to being one of the more intentionally boring films ever made, Star Trek: The Motion Picture features some of the more amazing science fiction special effects. The work Douglas Trumbull does in this film is without equal–he makes the unimaginable visual. It’s astounding (and I was watching the pan-and-scan only “Special Longer Version” and it still looked amazing). So, since Trumbull did all the special effects and Jerry Goldsmith’s music went to all those special effects, it was kind of hard to figure out what–if anything–Robert Wise contributed to the film.

Simply put, he made it real. The Enterprise actually seemed to function on a believable level, people walking around doing menial, but necessary, tasks. Shatner and Kelley have a cup of coffee at one point, because they’ve been up forty hours straight. That cup of coffee is a significant contribution, because even though Star Trek fails in the final act, the film’s more about the journey than the outcome. But Wise also gets some really good performances out of the usually neglected supporting cast–Nichelle Nichols is good, but it’s really James Doohan (and, in a strange coincidence, usually with Shatner) who turns in the best performance. He doesn’t have many scenes, but he does a great job with them.

As for Shatner… Wise only knows how to direct him when he’s not talking. When Shatner looks at people with warmth in his eyes or wonderment (when he’s looking at the retrofitted Enterprise), he makes Star Trek work. Nimoy’s got problems throughout, DeForest Kelley is good as usual (though some of his dialogue makes absolutely no sense and suggests a cut scene involving Romulan ale–not really, but it’d help… Star Trek: The Motion Picture has an utter lack of humor for the first hour and a funny scene would be totally alien), but the real trouble comes from the new additions. Stephen Collins and Persis Khambatta are both terrible–Collins being so bad, he makes Shatner look great in their scenes. Khambatta manages to do better as an android than in the (supposedly) emotive part of her role… I’m not sure how much they affect Star Trek, however, besides simply annoy.

The film is in two distinct parts–little surprise since it was originally a two-hour pilot–and neither part particularly wins over the other. While the first half does offer the deliberately paced, boring but competent (enough qualifying?) look at life in Star Trek’s future, the second half does feature Trumbull’s best work in the film and the “action.” As the film enters the final act and the big revelation, which might not have surprised audiences in the 1970s but is probably fine today since NASA is less familiar than Nabisco), Star Trek becomes rushed and silly. Wise managed to make it anything but silly–not a small feat given an entire cast in their pajamas–but he’d obviously checked out, mental involvement-wise, by the conclusion. Then there’s the summing up scene on the Enterprise bridge–another television throwback–and it almost undoes any positive regard for the film. Luckily, Trumbull’s back for the close and the Jerry Goldsmith music doesn’t hurt.

Oddly, I think Star Trek: The Motion Picture is far more influential than Star Wars. No one of any serious concern ever attempted to ape Star Wars, but bits and pieces of Star Trek–particularly its storytelling (which everyone says they dislike) and the special effects integration–have entered the standard film lexicon.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is one of those films (and there are not many of them) to partially succeed simply because it does not entirely fail.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Harold Livingston, based on a story by Alan Dean Foster and on the television show created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Richard H. Kline; edited by Todd C. Ramsay; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Harold Michelson; produced by Roddenberry; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Admiral James T. Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), DeForest Kelley (Dr. Leonard McCoy), James Doohan (Cmdr. Montgomery Scott), George Takei (Lt. Cmdr. Hikaru Sulu), Majel Barrett (Dr. Christine Chapel), Walter Koenig (Lt. Pavel Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Cmdr. Uhura), Persis Khambatta (Lt. Ilia), Stephen Collins (Cmdr. Willard Decker), Grace Lee Whitney (CPO Janice Rand), Mark Lenard (Klingon Captain), Billy Van Zandt (Alien Boy), Roger Aaron Brown (Epsilon Technician), Gary Faga (Airlock Technician) and David Gautreaux (Cmdr. Branch).


Cry Danger (1951, Robert Parrish)

Cry Danger is a strange film noir… it takes place almost exclusively during the day. It also relies almost solely on humor to move itself along through the first act–not Dick Powell, who spends the whole film with a slightly bemused look on his face, but Richard Erdman. Erdman’s the whole reason to watch Cry Danger… when he’s not around, I just kept waiting for him to show up again. He never disappointed.

Erdman’s so important because Cry Danger is not a particularly involving mystery. It establishes the good guys and the bad guys very early and doesn’t do much to make things interesting between the setup and the resolution. The problem is the lack of a mystery and the foils throughout are spare. Eventually, everything comes to rest on Powell’s shoulders. He’s got to carry the movie through and, while he’s able to do it, it’s at the expense of quite a bit.

The story takes place over three or four days and is occasionally confusing–someone refers to last night and it really seemed like it should have been two nights. But these mistakes (or confounding moments) are forgivable, because Powell’s journey–even if everything is predictable–is fun to watch. Powell knows how to do these roles and he fulfills the genre requirements, but he takes it much further–his character is very likable and without that affection, it’d be hard to get through Cry Danger.

One of the more interesting elements in the film is the excessive violence. Powell beats William Conrad mercilessly twice in the film, both times probably in the second act, and I’d never seen anything like these scenes in any films of the same era. They’re almost 1994 Tarantino-esque. (So Powell turning out to be the hero, who also happens to beat people with sculptures, makes for an odd situation).

But Cry Danger (the title has nothing to do with the film) also uses another neat trick to get around not having a compelling story. A lot of the action takes place in a trailer court and something about returning to the familiar setting, along with peculiar confinement (it’s not inside and it’s open enough for the characters to move around, but it’s also set aside and closed off…), make Cry Danger an enjoyable eighty minutes.

Besides Erdman, who’s so good, and Powell, who’s sturdy and can carry this kind of film without any help, there are also some good performances from Regis Toomey and Conrad. Rhonda Fleming is underwhelming (and the film never reveals how she manages to get so fixed up while living in a trailer), but Jean Porter is kind of good. Porter’s in most of her scenes with Erdman and it’s hard to tell.

Film noirs are not supposed to get by on charm… but Cry Danger does and does so well.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Parrish; screenplay by William Bowers, based on a story by Jerome Cady; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; music by Paul Dunlap and Emil Newman; produced by W.R. Frank and Sam Wiesenthal; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dick Powell (Rocky Mulloy), Rhonda Fleming (Nancy Morgan), Richard Erdman (Delong), William Conrad (Louie Castro), Regis Toomey (Cobb), Jean Porter (Darlene LaVonne), Jay Adler (Williams) and Joan Banks (Alice Fletcher).


Defence of the Realm (1985, David Drury)

Defence of the Realm starts–and spends about a half hour being–a British variation of the Hollywood newspaper reporter story. There’s the story and the reporter’s dilemma about his morality–there’s even the wise old mentor (Denholm Elliot) for the young reporter getting his first big break (Gabriel Byrne). It’s not particularly good, it’s not particularly bad. Never good enough to care about what’s happening, never bad enough to stop watching–even though Richard Harvey’s musical score has got to be one of the worst I’ve heard in recent memory.

Then it turns in to a British variation on the conspiracy thriller, which is problematic, because Gabriel Byrne’s reporter is the stupidest reporter on to a big case in the cinematic history. He knows he’s being watched, so he hides his notes in full view of the people watching him (checking before and after and seeing they’re watching) and is then upset when they’re gone.

I’m trying to remember what happens in between… bad investigative reporting and general stupidity mostly. It seemed less a film and more a bad TV movie–one trying to mimic more popular films (All the President’s Men) and failing. There’s one amazing scene hinging entirely on Byrne’s lack of hand-eye coordination. Second-billed Greta Scacchi (in essentially a cameo role) tries to help, but she too is unable to accurately control her limbs. It’s such a dumb sequence (precipitated by Bryne being a terrible reporter even), it’s marvelous to watch. There’s the pounding, synthesizer music and the stars trying desperately to manipulate their arms in simple motions.

As it nears conclusion, ripping off Murder by Decree, it almost just goes away painlessly… until the ludicrous ending montage, meant to lionize the free press. Amusingly, these heroes were previously shown as cruel, corrupt and generally unlikable.

The acting is questionable all around. Byrne isn’t particularly believable, Scacchi less. Denholm Elliot’s fine until the script turns against him. Roger Deakins shot the film, but it’s plain, like a TV movie… and director David Drury soon ended up in that industry. But the film could have survived all of the previous defects if it weren’t for writer Martin Stillman’s idiotic script, which just gets stupider and stupider as it goes along.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Drury; written by Martin Stellman; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Michael Bradsell; music by Richard Harvey; production designer, Roger Murray-Leach; produced by Robin Douet and Lynda Myles; released by J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors.

Starring Gabriel Byrne (Nick Mullen), Greta Scacchi (Nina Beckman), Denholm Elliott (Vernon Bayliss), Ian Bannen (Dennis Markham), Fulton Mackay (Victor Kingsbrook), Bill Paterson (Jack Macleod), David Calder (Harry Champion), Frederick Treves (Arnold Reece) and Robbie Coltrane (Leo McAskey).


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