Monday, April 21, 2014

Film Review: STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989, William Shatner)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 107 minutes.

Tag-line: "Why are they putting seatbelts in theaters this summer?"  [Why, indeed?!]
Notable Cast or Crew: William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, David Warner (TITANIC, TRON, TIME BANDITS), Laurence Luckinbill (COCKTAIL, THE BOYS IN THE BAND), Spice-Williams Crosby (famed stuntwoman, THE LOST BOYS, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, BATMAN & ROBIN).  Music by Jerry Goldsmith (ALIEN, POLTERGEIST, GREMLINS).
Best One-liner:  "Damn it, Spock!  God damn it!"

Though STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER could easily be remembered as the STAR TREK movie where Spock zips around in roller-blade rocket boots or the STAR TREK movie where Uhura puts the moves on Scotty, it should mostly be remembered as the STAR TREK movie where Captain Kirk kills God.  Allow me to elaborate.

Leonard Nimoy helmed STAR TREKS III and IV, and apparently watching his fellow cast-mate take the Director's chair inspired William Shatner to take a stab at one himself.  Already a veteran director– of exactly 10 episodes of T.J. HOOKER, that is– Shatner steps into the role like many actors who find themselves directing for the first time:  with a combination of utter sincerity, greenhorn amateurism, and a tremendous attention to detail- where acting specifics are concerned.  As such, the story, too (co-written by Shatner) is incredibly ambitious, often naïve, and grandly metaphysical, like the work of a college student who just took Philosophy 101 and is bursting with ideas- some of them fresh, some groan-worthy. 

With all that in mind, I would now like to examine my five favorite elements of this much-maligned fifth STAR TREK film:

#1.  The go-go dancing, three-breasted cat-woman.  

It must be noted that portions of this film take place on a desert planet, a poor man's Tatooine or Arrakis, you know, one of those planets where everybody wears a burlap sack and nobody has any fun.

On this planet (Nimbus III), there is a dive bar– and you all know I'm a sucker for dive bars. 

Inside this dive bar (nay, on this dive bar's bar) a three-breasted cat-woman lazily go-go dances

as the patrons sip their drinks and pretend not to look, afraid that eye contact will result in a community-theater-quality version of "Memory,"

and indeed I am absolutely certain that they swiped that costume from the wardrobe department of a regional production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's CATS.

Now, though this three-breasted woman predates TOTAL RECALL (1990) and comes after VICIOUS LIPS (1986, yet another movie to feature a three-breasted alien), I'm going to go ahead and say that TOTAL RECALL remains the cultural touchstone we most widely associate with three-breasted alien women.  Therefore, I would like to analyze the spectrum of human interest, using a Venn diagram to demonstrate that STAR TREK V truly has something for everyone:

I learned how to make a Venn diagram in Microsoft Office just so I could show this to you.  I hope you appreciate it.

#2.  David Warner.

Seems like everywhere you go, David Warner's around there someplace. Whether he's rocking out to Vanilla Ice, disapproving of folk dancing on Billy Zane's behalf, giving Stacey Keach a hair transplant, offering Neve Campbell acting pointers, psychoanalyzing Sam Neill, hunting lovable vampires, or smarmin' it up in a purple suit.  Like a bad penny, he always turns up– but unlike a bad penny, he's capable of delivering an engaging, nuanced performance.  (How proud I am to have enriched the English language with the brilliance of that sentence.)

He doesn't have a whole lot to do here, and when we first meet him, he looks pretty hung over:

When we last see him, he's all buttoned up and having a fine time at a Klingon cocktail party:

so I guess we've been through some kind of a hero's journey with him. 

#3.  Uhura reveals her true feelings for Scotty.

It would take too long and wouldn't really be worth it to explain what's happening there, but suffice it to say, Spock's half-brother (Laurence Luckinbill) is sending hippie vibes all over the Enterprise and it's like all those episodes from the original series where every other week somebody known for no-nonsense professionalism (Spock, McCoy, etc.) suddenly lets their hair down and gets wacky for twenty minutes or so before coming to their senses.  I always liked those episodes– it was like STAR TREK was momentarily hijacked by a soap opera.

#4.  The aforementioned rocket boots.

Are they stupid?  Yes.

Are they out of place in a movie that spends most of its run-time tackling the nature of spirituality with a straight face?  Assuredly.

Are they implausibly put to use on a regular basis?  Indubitably.

Do I love them?  Of course I do.

#5.  William Shatner vs. God.

I can already tell what you're thinking– how can William Shatner fight himself?  Well, contrary to William Shatner's opinion, I do not believe that William Shatner is, in fact, God.  Let's get to the bottom of this:  **SPOILERS ABOUT THE NATURE OF THE UNIVERSE TO FOLLOW**

So Spock's half-brother leads the Enterprise and her crew to the center of the galaxy to meet the being who many Earthlings, Vulcans, etc. have worshipped as "God" or "The Creator" or what-have-you.  The journey has some nice theosophical moments– mostly silly, sure, but occasionally it stumbles upon the subversive or the profound.  Anyway, they get to God:

who can change forms, but appears most comfortable as a giant blue head with fake eyebrows and a cheap Santa Claus beard.

Spock's half-brother is pretty excited to meet his maker, but the rest of the gang is fairly doubtful.  Note that Spock and McCoy appear uncomfortable/slightly dazed, whereas Kirk is peacocking, arms akimbo, already trying to upstage God.  Well, hold on to that thought.

God wants to borrow their spaceship, which seems perfectly reasonable until the 'Shat steps up to the plate, ready to poke a deity-sized hole in this religious experience:
"Excuse me."

 "What does God need with a starship?"

Now, to be fair, God kinda reacts like the God of the Old Testament would and shoots 80s lightning out of his eyes to smite the 'Shat:

which is sort of one of the best things I've ever seen.  Also, note that Shatner lives, and is thus invulnerable to smiting (which also explains the longevity of his music career).

We then get a cutaway to the Enterprise bridge so that Uhura and David Warner and some characters we don't really care about get to react with concern:

And then, with the look of an amazingly pouty teenager, the 'Shat asks (rhetorically?) "Why is God angry?" while McCoy looks on in shocked amazement.

Anyway, Shatner calls an airstrike in on God

and the Enterprise zaps a space torpedo down below which blows God up real good.

 Now I know that the takeaway here is probably that this bearded spirit was a con-man energy creature of some variety (he's skeptically referred to as "God" in the end credits), but who's to say– in the STAR TREK universe, anyway– that through his galaxy-wide psychic influence, he wasn't the being worshipped as a deity by much of mankind?
So my point is this: Kirk and crew regroup and the 'Shat says, "Let's get out of here."

I feel as if this was a MAJOR missed opportunity for a God-related action movie one-liner.  I shall now conclude this review with my Top Ten blasphemous one-liners that would have worked better for Shatner in this scene than a bland "Let's get out of here":

X.  (pithily murmured)  Oh, for God's sake...
IX.  God damn... yourself!
VIII.  Thy will be done– I blew ya to kingdom come!
VII.  Damned... with torpedoes!
VI.  Oh, Thank God... NOT!
V.   I believe it was Voltaire who said, 'If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him'... and then blow his ass to Broadway!
IV.  Who's a holy ghost now?
III.  Now that's what I call an eye for an eye!
II.  Talk about a baptism by fire!
I.  Heavens to Betsy!

And that's about all there is to say about that.  Three stars!

–Sean Gill

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... DAYS OF THUNDER

Only now does it occur to me...  that following in the footsteps of incredibly "whacky" credit pairings like George A. Romero & Menahem Golan and Jesse Ventura & Andre Gregory that the mind-blowing, onscreen juxtaposition of Robert Towne and Tom Cruise is truly one for the record books.

You will note:  one of these men is the screenwriter of CHINATOWN and THE LAST DETAIL.  The other one is Tom Cruise.  Extra bonus:  the "76" car up there says "Die Hard" on the side of it.  Fine by me.

DAYS OF THUNDER subscribes to the genre of movie (TOP GUN, COCKTAIL, RISKY BUSINESS, THE COLOR OF MONEY) where Tom Cruise engages in a flashy and specialized activity (jet-flyin', cocktail-makin', pimpin', pool-hustlin'), works with a mentor (Tom Skerrit, Bryan Brown, Joe Pantoliano?-admittedly a stretch, Paul Newman) gets the girl (Kelly McGillis, Kelly Lynch, Rebecca De Mornay, Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio), loses the girl, gets the girl back again, and triumphs over all. To fill in the ingredients of DAYS OF THUNDER, we have:  Nascar-racin', Robert Duvall, and Nicole Kidman.

It's designed as a high-octane Tony Scott thrill ride where we cheer on our bad-boy hero who dips his hat low over his eyes, cause he's cool like that and quite the bad boy:

but upon watching it today, you can't help but root for Michael Rooker the whole time.  Michael Rooker (character-actor extraordinaire and veteran of HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, THE WALKING DEAD, SLITHER, JFK, CLIFFHANGER, MISSISSIPPI BURNING, RENT-A-COP, and THE DARK HALF)

plays a rival driver who eventually becomes a sidekick to Cruise, but his natural pathos and inspired acting choices contrast so severely with Cruise's tiny-whiny-bad-boy demeanor that you have no choice but to think of him as the true protagonist of the film.  Also, Rooker's character name is "Rowdy Burns" and for the record, I have never disliked anyone named Rowdy.

At one point, after they're both  injured in a wreck, Rooker and Cruise have an epic wheelchair race (to their orderlies' dismay) that just might be the highlight of the film.

Furthermore, Rooker's wife is played by Junta Juleil favorite Caroline Williams (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, ALAMO BAY, THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN, STEPFATHER II: MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY, LEPRECHAUN 3) who still remains one of Texas' best exports.

Seen here a little more morose than usual.

In closing, I will rattle off three disjointed observations:

#1.  I love it when Randy Quaid says that we look like monkeys fucking a football.

#2.  "Superflo" is only one letter away from "Superflu."

Also, there is so much "1990" happening in that picture, that I feel as if staring at it and meditating (á la SOMEWHERE IN TIME) could in fact transport you back to 1990.

#3.  Nicole Kidman plays an Australian medical doctor whom Tom Cruise mistakes for a stripper.  Later, Tom tries to buy Nicole's love (as in real life) by sending her a shitload of balloons, and– most importantly– a stuffed kangaroo dressed in a doctor costume, you know, because she's a doctor from Australia.

And the best part is that...  it works!  Score one for 'Merica.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Michael Ironside, Welcome to the Criterion Collection

Oh, how I've long waited for this moment.  What would be the first Michael Ironside film in the Criterion Collection?  Would it be STARSHIP TROOPERS, FORCED TO KILL, HIGHLANDER 2, or FREE WILLY?  A special edition of CHAINDANCE?  TOTAL RECALL?  Or maybe THUNDERGROUND?  A box set of his WALKER, TEXAS RANGER episodes? 

Well, the wait is over, and it's SCANNERS– the head-s'plodin' Cronenbergy classick.  And what's this??

Nope, not "The 'Scanners' Way."  Not "The Ephemerol Diaries."  Yep, this one:
 Now that he has newfound legitimacy with the cultural elite, I say bring on the box set of his Labatt Maximum Ice Commercials!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... WISE GUYS

Only now does it occur to me...  four quick things.  WISE GUYS is a sorta mediocre mobster comedy from Brian De Palma starring Danny DeVito and Joe Piscapo.  Laugh-worthy and groan-worthy moments appear in equal measure; approach at your own risk, depending on your tolerance level for zany Italian-American hijinks.  But here are four quick things that I appreciated:

#1.  "The De Palma Shot."  One of De Palma's trademark shots is the composite of two different shots so that characters in the foreground and the distance both appear in focus without sacrificing the depth of field he likes.  Danny DeVito at this point in time was most famous for playing a character on TV's TAXI named "Louie De Palma."  So here, in all of it's glory is Louie De Palma in a De Palma movie in a De Palma shot:
That's a lotta De Palma, but that's the way I like it.

#2.  DeVito's De Niro impersonation.  Because no comedy would be complete without a groundbreaking send-up of the "You Talkin' To Me?" sequence from TAXI DRIVER.  Ordinarily I'd roll my eyes at this– but DeVito's De Niro is actually pretty good!

#3.  The many loves of Rhea Perlman.  WISE GUYS features real-life Perlman husband DeVito, as well as fictional husband Dan Hedaya (who played "Nick Tortelli" on CHEERS).  How 'bout that?

#4.  WISE GUYS features a scene which I shall describe without comment:
A mob Fixer (wrestling's "Captain" Lou Albano) throws a profanity-laced hissy fit in the presence of casino owner Harvey Keitel.
 Keitel shuts him down by saying this isn't Newark and he should watch his language,
which leads to the exquisite mortification of Captain Lou
 and the shit-eating brilliance of Harvey Keitel.
Carry on.  WISE GUYS, ladies and gentlemen.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... TITANIC

Only now does it occur to me...  that the true enduring star of TITANIC is not Celine Dion, Kate Winslet's boobs
or Bill Paxton's wicked, pirate-y earring.
No, the true stars are the expressive, Svengali-ish, and immaculately waxed eyebrows of one William G. Zane, Esquire:

Now I hadn't seen TITANIC since in theaters way back in '97, and because my interest in The Zane Factor had been so amply reawakened by TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT, I decided to give it another go.  As "Caledon Hockley," the moneyed gadabout in pursuit of villainy and a loveless marriage to Kate Winslet, Billy Zane gives one of the bitchiest, most cattily malevolent performances ever to grace a mainstream film that didn't star Joan Crawford or Faye Dunaway.  

Here he is using the whites of Kate's eyes to admire his own reflection:
 I dare you to prove me wrong.  That's totally what he's doing:

He dismisses Monet and Picasso as "fingerpainters":

Tries to buy off the man (DiCaprio) who saved his wife-to-be with a crisp twenty-dollar bill:

He judges you with judgey eyebrows:
Offers smarm-infused false comfort as the ship goes down:

 Goes full "Tim Curry" for a segment where he's a gun-toting madman:

Steals babies to get on lifeboats:

He steals scenes he's not even really in:

[And somewhere amongst all this Zanery (hey, "zaniness" was already taken) apparently there's an epic romance and a sinking ship, but that's really more of a subplot.]

He's even got one of the all-time great villains and fellow TWIN PEAKS alum David Warner (TIME BANDITS, TRON, STRAW DOGS, TIME AFTER TIME, MY BEST FRIEND IS A VAMPIRE) as his henchman.  When David Warner is playing second fiddle to you– goddamn, you're doing something right!  One of my favorite moments is this wonderful bit where Warner catches Leo and Kate doing some unauthorized folk-dancing hanky-pankery:
His disapproving look is worth at least three AVATARS.  

BONUS!:  Also of note to Cameron aficionados– there's two great ALIENS references.

1.   Legendary badass Space Marine Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) shows up as an immigrant mother from the lower decks
comforting small and adorable children (instead of using a swivel-mounted minigun to rain death and destruction on those blocking her access to the lifeboats).

2.  When Kate Winslet gives Billy Zane the ole' spit-in-the-eye treatment, instead of saliva, they used K-Y Jelly:
Incidentally, they also used K-Y in ALIENS to make the Alien Queen look like the world's most terrifying, lacquered sex toy.  To hear Zane talk about it (and the 27 traumatic takes therein) on OPRAH, go here, to the eleven minute mark.