THE MATING SEASON (1951) is a comedy that deserves to be much better known. Thelma Ritter is a restaurateur, whose son John Lund is a low-ranking executive; after Lund meets aristocratic Gene Tierney he hides his blue-collar origins from her so when Ritter shows up at their apartment, Tierney assumes she’s the new cook. Hilarity (and a sharp skewering of social pretension) really does ensue. Worth looking for (poster courtesy of the Movie Poster Shop, all rights remain with current holder). “You’re on her side already—and she’d be on yours if she’d been lucky enough to be born an orphan.”
After the god-awful Star Trek: Into Darkness, I probably wouldn’t have caught STAR TREK BEYOND (2016) if TYG hadn’t wanted to. As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised by the story of deranged alien Idris Elba (wearing the kind of stiff alien mask that would have looked familiar back in the days of the original series) crashing the Enterprise on his isolated world so that he can steal the Ultimate Weapon Kirk unwittingly possesses and thereby destroy the Federation (“Unity of all races is an illusion.”). The crew’s character arcs include Kirk wondering about the point of his long-range mission and Spock breaking up with Uhura. A good actioner that has more of the Trek spirit than the first two films did. Elba, however, has too stock a role to show off his talent. “There’s no absolute direction out there—all you have is yourself, your crew and your ship.”
JAPANESE SUMMER: Double Suicide (1967) has a lot in common with arty Western films of the era, opening with a string of bizarre visuals involving a horny young woman and a brooding deserter, then winding up in an underground bunker for strange conversations with a clique of possible gangsters and a suicidal high-schooler, then finishing in a confrontation with a Mad Sniper. According to the Criterion Films website, the director wanted this to be meaningless at the literal level and he certainly succeeded, but success doesn’t make it watchable. Given the mad shooter and the emphasis on the summer heat, the logical double bill would be Summer of Sam. “If he kills me he has to watch me—then I see myself reflected in his eyes.”
Long before The Free State of Jones became a Matthew McConaghey movie, the story was fictionalized as TAP ROOTS (1948), which transforms hardscrabble farmer Newt Knight into the kind of wealthy planter (Ward Bond) the real-life Knight Company despised. Bond’s plan to turn Jones County into a fortress for Southern Unionists to defy the Confederacy just serves as the backdrop of a Gone With the Wind knockoff wherein headstrong belle Susan Hayward must choose between an idealist cavalryman and womanizing newspaper publisher Van Heflin who signs on with Bond’s crusade (instead of the War Between the States it’s the War Between Confederates). Too stock to get any mileage out of the premise, though it would double-bill well with Jimmy Stewart’s Southern refusenik in Shenandoah. Boris Karloff plays Bond’s Native American buddy (believe it or not, the second Native American role he’s played that I know of). “If you look behind those curtains you’ll be questioning my veracity.”
I’d forgotten how good STAR TREK IV: The Voyage Home (1986) actually was until I rewatched it. An alien probe (in some ways the weakest bit—it could as easily be V’ger from the first film) begins destroying Earth in its quest for contact with now-extinct humpback whales, forcing the Enterprise crew (flying a Klingon ship due to losing the Enterprise in the previous film) to travel back to the present to bring back a pair of humpbacks). Winning, entertaining and it handles the anachronism jokes well. Unfortunately the rebirth of the Enterprise obviously packs less punch now than it did. With Catherine Hicks as a cetacean expert. All rights to poster with current holder“Can you direct me to the naval base in Alameida? It’s where they keep the nuclear weapons.”
STAR TREK (2009) has a time-traveling Romulan’s attempt to kill Spock create a divergent timeline in which Kirk is a reckless brawler strongly inclined to disrespect authority (from what we know of Kirk’s early years, in the original timeline he was a serious, very focused student), Vulcan blows up and Scottie (Simon Pegg) is stuck at an isolated base with no hope of proving his theories of how to teleport people across space. Entertaining, but I think I agree with a friend of mine that JJ Abrams doesn’t really get Star Trek as anything other than a space opera story (certainly Into Darkness was a mess).
STAR WRECK: In the Pirkinning (2005) was the first full-length film in a long-running Finnish series of Trek parodies. Taking off from the previous film’s parody of First Contact (I haven’t seen that film yet, though I will soon), it has Captain Pirk and his crew (including Dwarf, Info and the Russian Fukov) still stuck in the past until they manipulate the Russian president into building them a spaceship to conquer the world (unsurprisingly Stupid Russians is apparently comic gold in Finland). With the world conquered, Pirk then takes his crew into an alternate universe where they battle a counterpart of Babylon 5. Not without some fun moments, but too much of the humor relies on giving characters parody names (that only gets you so far) and while I like Babylon 5 it’s been so long since I’ve seen it that I didn’t always remember what they were parodying (a common problem for parody) “It is my right to make speeches and nobody will deny me!”
THE RIDE (2003) is the kind of film that slipped through the cracks of several time-travel website as it’s a primarily a surfing film in which the protagonist drowns, wakes up in 1911, suffers the usual anachronistic confusion, meets the usual Pretty Girl (who turns out to be the sister of the Hawaiian who introduced surfing to the world) and of course learns valuable life lessons. I don’t think I’d have liked this even if I were into surfing, and the Pretty Girl’s double turning up at the end is even less likely a romance than usual (would you want to date someone who used to sleep with your great-grandmother?). “You’re too young to reminisce.”
FREEJACK (1992) is a really bad adaptation of Robert Sheckley’s imaginative Immortality Inc., a mindless action film that could have dropped the time-travel angle completely. Emilio Estevez plays a race-car driver pulled 18 years into the future to become the host for Anthony Hopkins’ (phoning it in as a corporate mogul) brain transplant (because in 1992, the environment is so pure that bodies are better!), going on the run from thuggish bodysnatcher Mick Jagger and trying to find old lover Rene Russo (who does a good job subtly aging in her body language). Amanda Plummer steals several scenes as a pottymouth nun and Jonathan Banks gives a nice cold-fish performance as Hopkins’ scheming flunky. “Applause? You couldn’t get the clap if you were in a whorehouse.”
I liked JJ Abrams first ST movie. I was primed for STAR TREK: Into Darkness. I was disappointed. Not all the way through, but by the end it had tanked. And it only gets worse when I think about it.
First, the plot: Kirk gets caught violating the Prime Directive (which apparently bans even averting planetary destruction) and reduced to First Office under Christopher Pike. When Benedict Cumberpatch arranges a terrorist attack on a records facility, the Captains and first officers gather for a confab and Kirk realizes this is standard operating procedure—and sure enough Cumberpatch strikes again. Pike dies, Kirk’s first action saves most of the others and Kirk’s back in charge of the Enterprise. Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) reveals the killer is hiding on the Klingon homeworld and sends the Enterprise to nuke him with photon torpedoes.
After Spock convinces Kirk they should bring him in for trial (infuriating one conservative), an away team goes down, gets almost killed by the Klingons until saved by Cumberpatch. He reveals himself to be Khan (yep the Khan) and surrenders to prevent firing the torpedoes—which it turns out contain his fellow genengineered superhumans in cryo.
Khan reveals Marcus thawed him out of cold sleep in the belief humanity had gotten too soft and a race of sociopaths could win the inevitable war Marcus hoped to provoke with the Klingons. Oh, and Marcus has built a dreadnought class starship, which now attacks the Enterprise. Khan and Kirk team up against Marcus (helped by his daughter Carol), then Khan turns on Kirk to free his people (after which he’ll begin a mass genocide against ordinary humans). In a role reversal of Wrath of Khan, Kirk dies restarting the Enterprise engines, Spock screams “KHAAAAAN” and then goes to hunt down Khan, who having failed to get his people back, plans to smash the dreadnought into Starfleet HQ. Bones discovers Khan’s healing-factor blood can revive Kirk, Spock captures Khan (who goes back into cold sleep with the others) and a resurrected Kirk warns us against militarism.
The minor problem in this is a shit-ton of plot-holes. Why does Khan hide out on the Klingon world? How is the Klingons are oblivious to federation starships on the very edge of contested space? How come Starfleet doesn’t notice starships dueling inside the solar system?
A bigger problem is the decision to remake Wrath of Khan at all.The whole point of launching a new timeline is to do something different: I had no problem with the use of Khan per se, but the blatant knocking off of key plot points from WoK was incredibly annoying, rather than amusing. And pointless: I could seriously contemplate Spock dying in the original (there was, after all, no guarantee we’d get an ST III) but Kirk in the new series? No way. And alt.Spock’s pain after two movies with Kirk pales compares to Kirk watching Spock die after they’ve known each other 20 years (plus Spock’s death in WoK tied into the theme of Kirk finally accepting Kobashi Maru—that sometimes he couldn’t save everyone).
And then there’s Cumberpatch. Fans have legitimately complained about taking a nonwhite guy (judging from the name) played by a Mexican actor and turning him into a white guy (there’s also complaints that Dr. Marcus has gone from the woman who built the Genesis device to the woman who gives us an underwear shot). It’s a valid point, but I admit I was more annoyed by his performance. He sneers, he talks down to people and that’s about it. Even when he talks about saving his people, there’s no real warmth. It’s not a very interesting performance (certainly less fun than Montalban’s swaggering ubermensch).
And while it’s a minor point by comparison, referencing the original Eugenics Wars was a bad idea. Because in this timeline they still took place in the 20th century and in case you haven’t noticed, that didn’t happen. That totally dragged me out of the film.
Maybe some people are right and in this series, all the even-numbered ones will suck.