Archive for June, 2014

Star Trek 4 - The Voyage Home (1986)

Director: Leonard Nimoy

Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Catherine Hicks

“Star Trek” made an animal rights infomercial! You know the ones… Sappy music accompanied by pictures of dogs/cats/etc. staring up at the camera with sad looks on their faces. It’s all an annoying ploy to make you feel guilty about how these creatures are being treated by some other assholes somewhere else in the world as though it were your fault. Where “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” differs is that it sprinkles bits of comedy and science fiction in with its main message. Still taking risks at this point, it would be a while before the series settled down into producing “Wrath of Khan” remakes.

A couple of months after the events of “Star Trek III,” Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) and crew are still in exhile on Vulcan while Spock (Leonard Nimoy) completes the retraining of his mind. Having destroyed their beloved Enterprise to foil the plans of the Klingons, Starfleet’s best and bravest are preparing to use their vanquished enemies’ spacecraft to return home to Earth where a court martial awaits them, when suddenly they intercept a distress signal sent by the Federation President himself. An alien probe has entered Federation space, neutralizing the power systems of every starship within its path and wreaking havoc on Earth’s atmosphere. The probe is directing some sort of signal towards Earth’s oceans and, deeming this to be of great significance, Spock determines that the alien is trying to communicate with the species we know as humpback whales. Unfortunately, by the 23rd century, the humpback whale has been extinct for some time. He therefore devises a plan by which the crew can travel back to the late 20th century to acquire some whales.

“Star Trek” has come up with many different methods of time travel, but the one presented in “The Voyage Home” may stand as one of the more fantastical. All they have to do here is to stretch the maximum warp capabilities of their hijacked Klingon Bird-of-Prey to perform a slingshot around the Sun. One could go on and on about how completely absurd and impossible this is, but then so is faster-than-light propulsion… and transporters… and biped humanoids from planets other than Earth (to say nothing of whether or not it would be physically possible for said species to mate with humans). The truly puzzling part of this sequence comes just as the Bird-of-Prey begins its dangerous solar U-turn. Out of nowhere, a very trippy dream sequence plays out, ultimately including sound bytes from scenes that haven’t taken place yet. It all moves so quickly that I’m not entirely sure what any of it is supposed to mean. The only thing I’m fairly confident of is that it’s Kirk’s dream we’re witnessing.

Once we’re in 1986 San Francisco, the movie takes a sharp left turn towards comedy. The crew seems utterly lost as to the lingo of the period, how much $100 will get you, and whether or not it’s a good idea to send the Russian in your team onto the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise to harvest some of that ship’s nuclear power as fuel for the depleted Bird-of-Prey. Kirk and Spock find two humpback whales in captivity at the Cetacean Institiute in Sausalito, California. There, they encounter Dr. Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks), quickly getting off on the wrong foot when Spock jumps into the whale tank to perform a mind meld with the female whale, learning that she is pregnant. Unfortunately, the whales are due very soon to be released back into the wild, where they will very likely be hunted and killed.

Anyone who knows anything about “Star Trek” will guess correctly that the story cannot end with our crew failing in their mission and 23rd Century Earth being destroyed by the alien probe. “The Voyage Home”‘s storyline, similar to that of the sentient Earth satellite returning to make contact with its creator in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” neatly avoids the feeling of déjà vu by setting the majority of its two hours in 1986, giving this movie a light-hearted approach that might have endeared viewers to “The Motion Picture” more greatly. Another connection between “The Motion Picture” and “The Voyage Home” is within the casting. Catherine Hicks, who played Annie Cambden on TV’s “7th Heaven,” was the second member of that show’s cast to appear in a “Star Trek” film, following Stephen Collins (who played Annie’s husband, Reverend Eric Cambden).

With comedy largely taking the place of action, there are some amusing highlights. In one scene, Kirk, McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and Gillian have to weasel their way past security and into a hospital emergency room where the doctors are about to use 20th Century medical techniques to revive a critically injured Chekov. Also great for laughs is the moment where Spock receives appreciation from a busload of passengers for his handling of a situation involving an inconsiderate punk (associate producer Kirk Thatcher, who also wrote the loud song the punk is listening to). Not so great are, as Spock puts it, the “colorful metaphors.” I’m hardly opposed to the “four-letter words,” but they don’t seem to flow naturally even when Kirk tries them out. I acknowledge that this probably was the point of it all, but it just doesn’t do anything for me.

“Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” marked another turning point for the film series. It was clear that the producers looked at the revenue this one generated, and naturally assumed that what worked here could work again no matter what story they came up with. After three very serious movies, this and most of the sequels that would follow would have varying degrees of comedy thrown in, and not always with positive results. Out of the six films featuring the original series’ cast, it’s probably the one that is showing its age the most. An overwhelming favorite among most film critics, I’m not as hot for this entry. It doesn’t encourage me to come back to it as often as the others. Despite that fact, it’s entertaining, nicely paced, everyone obviously had a blast making it, and I like that it’s not just another big space battle/revenge story. If you prefer those kinds of movies, not to worry. There would be plenty more of those that would follow.

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Star Trek 3 - The Search for Spock (1984)

Director: Leonard Nimoy

Starring: William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Christopher Lloyd, Merritt Butrick, Robin Curtis

sacrifice (noun) – the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone

Above is the Merriam-Webster definition of sacrifice, or at least the one that is most applicable to this review. Throughout history, man has made sacrifices for any number of causes, both good and ill. The most noble of sacrifices is that of self-sacrifice, the act of giving one’s own life so that others might live. This is the choice that was made by Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in the last act of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” Spock’s sacrifice had been forecasted by this line of dialogue: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” The death of Spock was hard on all of his friends, none harder than Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) who would gladly have taken his first officer’s place in the irradiated engine room. But Spock had to die in order for Kirk to experience a situation in which there can be no real victory. A friendship seemingly ended by mortality, Kirk’s next lesson would test how far he is willing to go to prove his loyalty to that friend’s immortal soul.

Following the climactic battle in the Mutara Nebula against Khan which resulted in the creation of the Genesis Planet, the Enterprise limps home to Earth to be decommissioned. A despondent Admiral Kirk receives a house-guest in the form of Spock’s father, Sarek (Mark Lenard), who is angry that his son’s final wishes to have his kaatra (i.e. “living spirit”) restored to his body have gone unanswered. Sarek assumes that Spock had joined minds with Kirk in his last moments, but Kirk knows there was never an opportunity for Spock to have done so. Sarek is about to leave when Kirk reminds him that Spock was too smart not to have a backup plan, and they later discover what we already know: it was McCoy who got the mind-meld, and that’s why the good doctor’s been acting odd as of late. He’s carrying Spock’s essence inside his noggin! Kirk makes a promise to Sarek right then and there that he will do whatever it takes to see both Spock and McCoy restored to their former selves.

The Genesis Planet has done more than create a sense of awe and wonder. It’s also created ignorance, fear and lust for power among Starfleet’s allies and enemies. The Klingon commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) fears that his race will face extinction at the hands of the Federation. It was the intent of the Genesis project to create life, not to destroy it. In the wrong hands, it could be a weapon of unspeakable power, as it was when Khan stole it. Kruge has gotten his hands on the report filed by Admiral Kirk to Starfleet, becoming obsessed with unlocking the secrets of this power. He’ll do whatever he has to do to get his hands on it, and sacrifice as many lives as he sees fit. I’ve seen Christopher Lloyd in all sorts of different roles over the years, some of them despicable villains like Kruge. In this case, he’s a villain who is ruthless, yes, but is too overconfident to see that he’s picked the wrong crowd to play against in a Human/Klingon game of chess. As the two commanders are set on a proverbial collision course, with entirely different purposes, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to guess that Kirk will be the one to come out the victor. He’s far more motivated, and yet he also has that much more to give up. Before Kirk and Kruge ever come to hand-to-hand combat, both will have lost almost everything in the pursuit of their goals.

What Kruge doesn’t seem to be able to grasp is that this “ultimate weapon” he’s so keen on acquiring is, ultimately, a doomed experiment, and it was from the very start. David Marcus (Merritt Butrick), Kirk’s son, doesn’t play by the rules and doesn’t have a hell of a lot of patience. As one of the chief scientists in charge of the Genesis Project, he’d used an unstable substance to speed up the process, ensuring that there would be results now instead of years down the pike (or never). The side effect is that the planet is aging too quickly and will soon break apart. In his previous appearance in “Wrath of Khan,” David had given the impression that he was weak and quick to rush to judgment, but not that he was also an unethical scientist, however because his willingness to cheat makes him seem that much more like his father, I can easily let this new wrinkle in his personality slide.

In all the years he has played the role, it seems to me that William Shatner’s greatest scenes as Kirk have all come as his character is encountering personal loss. One of the best examples is when Kirk is panicking upon hearing Kruge give the order to have one of three prisoners… David, Lt. Saavik (Robin Curtis) or Spock… killed so that he can demonstrate the seriousness of his intentions. Though the end result is sad and painful, it only serves to motivate Kirk to make HIS next move.

James Horner became my favorite film composer based on the scores for “Star Trek II” and “Star Trek III.” I actually find myself slightly preferring his work here in “Star Trek III.” This movie’s soundtrack has a calming effect on me that I can’t really find words to explain. All I know is that listening to my copy of the album can put me totally at peace.

“Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” has long been one of my favorites of the franchise. Some fans/critics don’t care for it. I won’t presume to know exactly why, but the fact that it has the misfortune of being the story that immediately follows “The Wrath of Khan” has to be a contributing factor. Kruge can be seen as weak when compared to Ricardo Montalban’s Khan, but I’m pretty sure that most any villain would have been measured the same way. He’s not especially smart, and he’s easily defeated (although the knockdown, drag out fight he has with Kirk is epic). I can also see how some might not be able to take him or his crew seriously. After all, one of his officers is played by John Larroquette! Two actors known for comedic roles featuring as Klingons in the same movie? Unthinkable! However, Kruge does have something big in his favor: the lasting impact he will have on Kirk’s perception of the Klingon race. Because of the injuries (emotional rather than physical) that Kruge will inflict, it will leave Kirk just as distrustful of the Klingons as they are of him. By the time of “Star Trek VI,” you could even call it racism.

I will always wonder what direction the series would have taken if Spock had remained deceased after “The Wrath of Khan.” But rather than cheapen that film’s ending, “The Search for Spock” actually winds up bringing it full circle. The needs of the one have now superseded the needs of the many. Besides that, the resurrection of a major character is something that happened routinely on the TV series. Why should the movies act any differently? It was a necessary sacrifice made to ensure that moviegoers would return in two years for “Star Trek IV.”

88 Minutes (2008)

Director: Jon Avnet

Starring: Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman, Deborah Kara Unger, Benjamin McKenzie, Neil McDonough

Al Pacino… The master. Le maître. El maestro. Der Meister. Dominus. No matter what the language, no words are truly sufficient to explain the respect I have for this man. For close to 25 years, I’ve been able to call him my favorite actor. I’ll watch anything he’s in… except for “Gigli.” Nothing will ever possess me to go anywhere near that movie. Like anyone else, Pacino’s career has not been without its ups and downs. He was at his finest in the 1970’s with “The Godfather” Parts I & II, “…And Justice for All,” “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon.” The 1990’s were pretty good for him, too. That was the decade where he (finally) was presented with the Oscar he should have won for any and all of the aforementioned films. He also made the crime thriller “Heat” in 1995, alongside two of my other favorites: Robert De Niro and Natalie Portman. Of course, like anyone with a long and distinguished career, Pacino has not gone without his share of forgettable or otherwise bad movies. Most would probably have to think hard to be able to name any movie he did in the 1980’s besides “Scarface.” Similarly, the 2000’s saw Pacino doing a lot of movies with scripts that are clearly beneath him. One such movie, which I would have ignored completely had it not been for his name being on the marquee, is 2008’s “88 Minutes.”

Nine years after being convicted of one of the Seattle Slayer killings, Jon Forster (Neil McDonough)’s execution date is rapidly approaching, but he’s not going down without a fight. Protesting his innocence, Forster seeks to discredit the testimony that put him behind bars. He may have a case, as there are more dead bodies piling up in the style attributed to the Seattle Slayer, murders he cannot possibly have committed from his current location. At the same time, forensic psychatrist/college professor Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) receives a phone message telling him he has 88 minutes to live. Whomever this person is, they have knowledge of a life-altering event in Gramm’s past, and they have a connection to Forster other than copying his killing methods. The person ends each phone call with the words “Tick-tock, Doc,” the very words that Forster taunted Gramm with nine years earlier. Tagging along with Gramm is Kim Cummings (Alicia Witt), a teaching assistant in his psychology class. As the calls continue, Gramm becomes suspicious of everyone in his class except for Kim, who puts her life on the line time and time again for this man whom she respects and admires.

Probably the most “clever” tactic that the movie uses is to present the story in real-time. From the moment Gramm receives the first threatening phone call, approximately twenty minutes in, there remains 88 minutes to tell the rest of the story. “88 Minutes” plays like an episode of a TV police drama that you’ve got figured out within the first ten minutes. There isn’t much of a mystery involved here. The list of possible suspects gets whittled down fairly quickly, and in truth it could only ever have been one out of two people. The fatal mistake was casting a recognizable actor in what at first appears to be a minor role. It’s a dead giveaway.

In the acting department, “88 Minutes” is sorely lacking. Most of the cast is forgettable. Alicia Witt’s performance as Kim, while not especially remarkable, is serviceable enough. Neil McDonough’s Forster is like an animal with no teeth or claws. He can pontificate to his heart’s content; it still won’t change the fact that this caged beast is completely pathetic. Al Pacino does the best with what he’s got. In the middle of this beat-the-clock scenario, he’s given one scene in particular that stands out. After paying a taxi cab driver $100 plus tip, Gramm has commandeered the vehicle with its owner remaining in the back seat. A heated discussion between Gramm and Kim about the former being emotionless leads Gramm to stop the car and pay the driver a little something extra to step outside for a moment. What he has to say next is for Kim’s ears only. Gramm tells her, in graphic detail, about the day his baby sister was murdered. This is what ’88 minutes’ means to him. It isn’t the most emotional scene in Pacino’s career, but his delivery of this monologue is handled well enough that we feel Jack Gramm’s heartache, as does Kim.

I would wager, at this point, the question comes to why “88 Minutes” would be worth a look. One surefire way to get something out of the experience is to come in a fan of its lead actor, as did I. If you want a real mystery, but don’t feel much like picking up a book, may I suggest an episode of the BBC’s “Sherlock,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch? Otherwise, just go along for the ride. “88 Minutes,” although never surprising, is also never dull. Worth a rental, or perhaps stumble across it as you’re channel surfing, which is what I ended up doing. Infinitely more satisfying than blowing ticket money on another bloated Michael Bay explosion fest.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen

The crime caper genre truly is a most intriguing one. As the audience, we will likely stand as the only living witnesses in following along as felonies are committed, money/jewels are lifted, and bullets fly. We champion one or more of the main characters as the action progresses. We do these things not because these are the characters the movie has chosen to focus on, but because the actors who bring them to life really know their shtick, and perhaps because we’ve seen something of ourselves within them. The hardened criminals, who are capable of gunning down teams of police officers (and the occasional bystanders) without even blinking, have been humanized.

Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) has arranged for six men to steal a satchel full of diamonds. To ensure that they have nothing to tell the police about each other should anything go wrong, all six men go by assigned colors as their aliases. After a pre-title sequence involving a discussion on the meaning behind Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” we find out fast that the heist did not go according to plan at all. Writhing in pain and screaming in fear at the sight of his own blood is Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), dying from a gunshot wound to the belly and sprawled out in the back of a stolen car with Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) at the wheel. At this moment, they have no idea if anyone else made it out alive, and Mr. White is focused on calming his hemorrhaging partner down and making it to the warehouse set up as the rendezvous point.

Once at the warehouse, White and Orange are soon met by Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), who managed to make it out of the chaos with the diamonds. That leaves only two they’re unsure about: Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) and Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker). Mr. White and Mr. Orange (who is now lying unconscious) know of Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino)’s fate. Brown was to have been the getaway driver, but took a cop’s bullet right between the eyes. Mr. Pink and Mr. White talk about the events that led them into their current messy situation. Both are appalled at the actions of Mr. Blonde, who killed many civilians after the bank’s alarm was triggered. Mr. Pink is certain there’s a mole in their group, because he’d noticed two sets of police cars arriving at the scene. One, he surmises, was already there lying in wait while the second wave was the one responding to the alarm. The two start to argue over whether to risk apprehension by driving Orange to a hospital, where he might have a fighting chance to live, and draw their guns on one another.

This is where a very much alive Mr. Blonde makes his presence felt. He is truly a “psychopath,” as described by Mr. White. There is nothing about Mr. Blonde that should make the audience want to see him make it through to the end. Despite this, Michael Madsen does such a good job at making Blonde a despicable human being that we love to hate him. Quentin Tarantino’s subsequent films have often given the impression that they may exist within the same universe, and the theory goes that Mr. Blonde, whose real name is revealed later (as are one or two others) is the brother of John Travolta’s character from “Pulp Fiction.” Though never confirmed by “Pulp Fiction,” I do like the idea.

Though I’m sure it was done largely to cut down on set costs, I think it’s brilliant that we never see the actual heist. Most of the movie takes place at the warehouse. We have to allow the characters’ testimony to exist as fact, because we weren’t there and didn’t see what happened. We can also use our imagniation to fill in the blanks. This way, “Reservoir Dogs” can focus on its characters, showing in flashbacks how three of the six men got hired. There’s not much to Mr. White’s flashback. We already know he’s a tough guy who will do whatever is necessary to either see a job completed or get away alive. What we aren’t shown… and what WAS shown by that opening scene in the car… is his human side, his empathy brought out by Mr. Orange’s suffering. The other two flashbacks do tell us more about the men behind the colorful nicknames, what their true names are and what their motivations for taking the job happen to be. In addition to the minimization of the set locations, no one was hired to compose a musical score. The only times you hear any songs in the film are when someone turns on a radio (exceptions to this being the opening and closing credits). Otherwise, the roar of the warehouse’s pipes serves as the only background noise.

Everybody who has seen and enjoyed “Reservoir Dogs” has a favorite character. Some like the take-charge Mr. White, owing to Harvey Keitel’s familiarity with this type of role. For many, it’s Steve Buscemi’s pessimistic, paranoid Mr. Pink who tickles the funny bone. For me, it’s Tim Roth as Mr. Orange, the kid who’s in over his head with a job for which time could not have helped him prepare for all possible contingencies. At the time I first saw the movie, I had no idea of Roth’s true nationality, which only further goes to show how terrific an actor he is. (Exactly why is it that English actors seem to have no trouble in faking an American accent, but not vice versa?) “Reservoir Dogs” being Quentin Tarantino’s first go at a full-length motion picture signaled great things to come. No one could have known how great. Tarantino’s ability as a writer/director to communicate to his audience through his characters… often with the use of pop culture references… is part of what makes his movies as entertaining as they are. Even makes you forget that your rooting for the bad guys.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)

Director: Arthur Hiller

Starring: Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder, Joan Severance, Kevin Spacey, Alan North, Anthony Zerbe

Ah, the summer of 1989. Several of today’s big name young stars were either babies or had yet to even be born. It was the season and year in which I first started paying great attention to theatrical releases, has always held a special place in my heart. I can still remember all the trailers, as well as all the posters for the movies I didn’t see until much later. It has taken a lot longer than it should have… 25 years (!)… but I’ve finally seen them all. It hasn’t mattered how good or bad the movies are, because the mission was merely to see everything I either missed or was too young to watch at the time. At the poorly managed theater (which is still poorly managed and is now behind the times but shall remain nameless) where I watched movies like “Ghostbusters 2,”  “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” and “Batman,” I can remember seeing “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” advertised as being in Theater #1 (out of seven). In the quarter-century since, it would not be out of the question to say that movies have been my life. I’ve always relied on two of the five senses, hearing and sight, for a more complete cinematic experience. I can’t imagine doing without either one, nor would I even want to try.

“See No Evil, Hear No Evil” is another tale of men being in the wrong place at the wrong time, becoming fugitives from the law while dodging bullets from the real bad guys, all in the name of proving their innocence. But Wally Karew (Richard Pryor) and Dave Lyons (Gene Wilder) had already fallen on hard times before they’d ever met. Wally is blind and Dave is deaf, though neither man was born with their disabilities. Dave’s ability to read lips comes in handy, especially in dealing with customers at his concession shop, where the sightless Wally has applied for a job. After the mutual misunderstandings in their first meeting, the two form a friendship, each helping to fill the missing pieces in each others’ lives. Wally helps Dave out whenever someone is speaking to him from behind and get belligerent when they don’t recieve an answer, and Dave acts as Wally’s guide wherever they travel. The real trouble comes the day that someone gets murdered at the concession shop. Dave has his back turned at the time and doesn’t hear the shot, but turns around in time to see the legs of the woman responsible. Wally, meanwhile, hears the shot from outside the shop where he is waiting for the arrival of the daily newspaper, and smells the woman’s perfume when he enters. As both are the only witnesses present, and are seen with the murder weapon, the natural assumption of the police is that they have their suspects.

Wally and Dave have two things going against them, one being that they’re the prime suspects in a murder investigation, and the other being that they have what they bad guys are looking for. Yet, even after Eve (Joan Severance)… the woman who did the shooting… takes the coin from Wally’s pocket, she and her accomplice Kirgo (Kevin Spacey) are still under orders to kill the duo just for having been witnesses. So, the chase is on, and it all eventually leads to a confrontation with the boss man himself, Mr. Sutherland (Anthony Zerbe).

The movie’s funniest scene by far is the one where Wally gets into a bar brawl, which he wins thanks to Dave instructing him on where to throw his punches. Sadly, like almost every other gag in the movie, this one is repeated until it’s no longer funny. Some aren’t even funny the first time. It’s really a shame, because it’s obvious by now in this, the third of four movies the two would do together, that they had great chemistry. (Interesting side note: Pryor and Wilder’s first movie together would have been the 1974 comedy classic “Blazing Saddles,” but Warner Bros. was squeamish about hiring Pryor based on his stand-up act.) Particularly a bummer for me is how utterly wasted Kevin Spacey is in his role. The future Oscar-winning actor deserved better than to play second fiddle to the woman who, forgive me, is only in this movie to do two things: shoot a gun, and make the men who gaze upon her shoot theirs. Anthony Zerbe’s Sutherland reminds me of Blofeld from the 1967 James Bond film “You Only Live Twice,” as played by Donald Pleasance. There’s a great deal of mystery surrounding the character, his face remaining obscured from the audience’s view for much of the movie. Like Pleasance, when Zerbe is finally revealed… that’s the moment where disappointment truly settles in, not because Zerbe isn’t a good actor, but because the idea of Sutherland is better than the reality.

There are movies for which we have some compelling need to be able to say we’ve seen them. “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” definitely fell under that category for me. Finally scratching this one off my list, I can’t say it was worth the wait. It’s more subpar than outright bad, but it does present the image of having been written by amateurs, and must be held accountable for not doing everything it can to get the best out of the talent that is present. Most of the great Hollywood actors never do seem to go out on top, and our comedians are no exception. Wilder and Pryor only had a few movies left in them after this, including their final pairing in 1991’s “Another You.” Pryor will always be best remembered for his stand-up routine, while Gene Wilder’s best moments come in the films he did with director Mel Brooks, as well as his unforgettable role as the title character in 1971’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” I could take this opportunity to make a joke about how “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” is better unseen and unheard, but I think that would be a bit too obvious… much like what passes for humor in the movie itself.

Star Trek - The Motion Picture (1979)

Director: Robert Wise

Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins

After three years on NBC, the original “Star Trek” TV series was cancelled in 1969 due to poor ratings. Whether you can attribute this to the fact that the third season is full of sub-par episodes, or that the show had been moved to the 10 o’clock spot on Friday nights (where all programs are sent to die), this would have signaled the end for any normal TV series. Good thing “Star Trek” isn’t normal. By the early 1970’s, reruns of the show were catching on, and in a very big way. It took a few years, but an idea as to how to capitalize on the newfound popularity of the show was finally settled upon. At first, there were several movie ideas tossed around. When nothing stuck, it was decided that a new TV show might be the way to go.

All the early development was in place, and casting decisions had been made. Not returning for the new series would be Leonard Nimoy as Spock. The lovable half-Vulcan, half-human science officer would instead be replaced by a full-blood Vulcan named Xon (actor David Gautreaux, who plays the Commander of the ill-fated Epsilon 9 space station in “The Motion Picture”). It’s impossible to know what effect this change would have had on the show and the loyal fans of “Star Trek” who would tune in, because “Star Trek: Phase II” was abandoned in 1977 before it ever came into being. The undeniable success of science-fiction on the big screen that year, thanks to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Star Wars,” renewed the interest in making a “Star Trek” movie, with Nimoy once again a part of the cast. Thus, the pilot episode for “Star Trek: Phase II,” to have been entitled “In Thy Image,” was expanded to become “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”

An alien vessel of unknown origin and unknown intentions enters our quadrant of the galaxy. The only thing that is known for certain about it is that it will respond to any actions it deems hostile with deadly force, and that it is on a direct heading for Earth. In what is by far the silliest moment of the movie, the Enterprise (still in the final stages of a refit) is referred to as being the only ship in interception range. This line underscores one of two things: either the writers were desperate for a way to beef up the Enterprise’s importance (unnecessary… it’s the ENTERPRISE!) …or, Earth’s confidence in its’ own defense systems is so high in the 23rd century that we have only one starship to guard us at any given time. Clearly, it’s the former.

In the time since the end of the Enterprise crew’s five-year mission (we must assume they had two years worth of other adventures after the TV show’s cancellation), the cast of characters has become scattered. Kirk (William Shatner) is now an Admiral, trading the Captain’s chair for one behind a desk at Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco. Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) has gone into semi-retirement, enough time to grow a Grizzly Adams beard. Spock, meanwhile, returned to his home planet of Vulcan to undergo the Kolinahr discipline, intending to purge himself of all emotions. But Spock, like the rest of the Enterprise crew, is drawn in by the consciousness he senses from the mysterious alien, and leaves Vulcan with a new purpose.

It is “purpose” which is the movie’s main theme. Spock finds his in the exploration of the unknown onboard the Enterprise. The alien, which we come to know as V’Ger, questions its own purpose in life, and believes the answer lies in tracking down its creator. In its own way, V’Ger is searching for God. Commander Decker (Stephen Collins) loses direction when his command of the Enterprise is taken by Kirk, his immediate predecessor who had recommended him for the post, and never ceases in reminding Kirk how upset he is. Further complicating things is the appearance of his old girlfriend, Ilia (Persis Khambatta), who is the Enterprise’s new navigator.

Admiral Kirk’s own journey also involves a reunion with his first love: the Enterprise. Take the scene where he and Scotty (James Doohan) ride the shuttlepod to dock with their starship. Seeing ‘her’ again for the first time in over two years, Kirk gazes upon the Enterprise as if to say, “You may look different, but you’re still my girl.” Admittedly, this is a scene that goes on longer than it probably should, but it does help drive home the point that this is an almost totally new Enterprise from the one seen in the TV show. There are actually several long scenes of the actors staring at things that aren’t really there, and that’s part of what has caused “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” to draw a lot of negative criticism over the years. Some, who subscribe to the “odd numbered ‘Trek’ movies suck” theory, would say that the “curse” started here. I can’t say I agree. Besides, most of those same people loved 2009’s “Star Trek,” the J.J. Abrams reboot of the franchise. Technically speaking, that one is #11, so that busts the “curse” right there.

The original version of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” always felt a bit unfinished. In particular, the 1983 cut made specifically for ABC (which used to air late evening movies on a fairly regular basis) gives the impression of something haphazardly pieced together. Several scenes were added which director Robert Wise had never intended to be a part of the finished film. A few years before his death, the former two-time Oscar-winning director (for “West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music”) got the chance to fix some things he didn’t like about “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” The resulting 2000 Director’s Cut is a superior work. It’s not among my most favorite “Star Trek” movie, though if you were to break the series into three groups of four, it would be the leader of the second set. I would also argue that it is the one “Star Trek” movie which is aging the most gracefully. If the musical score sounds familiar, it should. Anyone familiar with “Star Trek: The Next Generation” will recognize the main theme immediately.

Inevitably, there will be a 13th “Star Trek” movie. It’s just a question of when. As much as I have enjoyed all but one of these movies over the years, I grow weary of the same tired plot involving loss, revenge and big space battles. I’d like to see the series return to what defined “Star Trek” in the beginning, the seeking out of new life forms & new civilizations, perhaps encountering a little trouble along the way (because SOME drama is required), but not the kind of trouble that requires phasers and photon torpedoes to blow shit up. While “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” may not look like the TV show, nor carry with it the light-hearted tone that made that show so popular, it remains the closest cinematic representation.

X-Men Days of Future Past (2014)

Director: Bryan Singer

Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” ~Roger Daltrey

Bryan Singer returns to the director’s chair for the “X-Men” franchise after an eleven-year absence, during which time the series added another sequel and two solo outings for Wolverine (Hugh Jackman)… all of which were terrible movies. “X-Men: The Last Stand” had committed the most egregious offense in the way it botched the “Dark Phoenix” saga from the comics. After that fiasco, anything “X-Men” related would either draw limited enthusiasm or no interest whatsoever… even 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” which I ended up liking very much. So, when the announcement came that my favorite storyline from the comics was next up for cinematic treatment, I feared the worst and kept my expectations low. If they could screw up one of “X-Men”‘s two greatest stories, who could say that they would fair any better with the other? One thing was for sure… I would not be fooled again.

The future is a dark, depressing nightmare reminiscent of James Cameron’s “Terminator.” Mutants (and the humans who dare to aid them) are being hunted down like animals by an unstoppable armada of Sentinels, giant robots who had originally been created by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) in the 1970’s as a deterrent against the perceived threat posed by mutants. The worst part is that the whole thing could have been prevented, if only someone had gotten to Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in time to prevent her from killing Trask in 1973. A small group of mutants, among them Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) have come up with a way to make this happen. Kitty has been using her powers to help her friends prevent/delay their own deaths. She sends their minds back into their younger bodies, but this trick only works for short time distances. To send someone back several decades, Kitty would need to be working with a mind not easily broken. Enter Wolverine, the only man for the job.

In 1973, Wolverine must locate and convince the younger Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to work together to alter the future by saving the present. It’s a pretty daunting task that Wolverine’s been handed. Xavier has been wallowing in depression in the X-Mansion following the events of “X-Men: First Class.” Most of all, he feels betrayed by Mystique, with whom he’d been friends since childhood. Magneto’s as big a problem to reach, having spent the last ten years under lock and key underneath the Pentagon for murdering JFK with the “magic bullet,” although he has a much different account of events. The worst thing anyone could do is release the world’s most dangerous mutant from his cage, arm him with knowledge of the future and who’s responsible for its creation, and yet breaking Magneto out of prison was the only thing our heroes could have done.

Bolivar Trask is a man worth saving if it means preventing mass casualties on a scale no one’s ever seen before, but that’s about it. He’s been experimenting on mutants, which has resulted in the deaths of several characters from “First Class,” and he has his sights set on Mystique because of her powers of mimickery. He believes that he can perfect his Sentinels using her DNA to give them her ability to adapt, and he’s right. The Sentinels of the future win not just because they’re stronger, but because they can also mimic whichever power happens to be the one that neutralizes their enemy. Trask doesn’t care about flags, either. If the U.S. Congress doesn’t like his plan… the hell with them! Perhaps the North Vietnamese, who’ve just celebrated victory against the Americans, will be more properly motivated to hear him out. Never for a moment do you consider Peter Dinklage’s height when he is onscreen. His commanding voice gives Trask all the authority he needs.

The returning actors from “First Class,” who all did impressive work three years ago, feel much more like they are playing the characters as we had come to know them in Bryan Singer’s earlier films. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, having been on her own since November 22, 1963, has finally developed into the cold, world-hating woman who will wisecrack in the same breath as she is cracking your neck.  And yet these are not the same characters as in the first three movies. Like with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” every change that our heroes make in the past will add up to a new, unpredictable timeline. The future is not set.

One of many things I was concerned about going into this movie was whether or not the PG-13 rating would mean that the movie would weasel out on the carnage in the future scenes. While it’s not particularly gory (it’s “X-Men,” not “Friday the 13th”), there is no real compromise going on here. Mutants die left and right, and they die horribly. I love the idea of giving the Sentinels the ability to adapt. In the comics, they basically just had three ways of killing you: spears shot from their arms, brute force, or Iron Man-like repulsor beams shot from their hands… on the extra-crispy setting. Giving them Mystique’s power makes them scarier than ever.

So how does the movie fare overall? Color me impressed. Very, VERY impressed. I would even go as far as to call this my favorite “X-Men” movie, and to thank Bryan Singer for paying respect to the original material while providing a new and exciting take on “Days of Future Past.” Finally, I have the “X-Men” movie I’ve always wanted! Also, we finally have an answer to the oft-repeated question, “Does it ignore ‘The Last Stand’?” It does. At the same time, I don’t feel any real excitement for any future sequels, the first of which will be “X-Men: Apocalypse” in 2016. In reading the comics, I was essentially done with it after “Days of Future Past” concluded with Uncanny X-Men #142. Likewise, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” feels like it has brought things to a proper conclusion. In both the case of the comics and of the movies, I don’t see how anything can ever top this X-traordinary chapter.