1984: Part 1

(As with my last post of reviews, I am including notes from when I first saw each film, when applicable. In the case of Ghostbusters, however, I first saw it long before when I started officially writing reviews.)

Ghostbusters. Directed by Ivan Reitman. The mediocre recent reboot notwithstanding, the Ghostbusters franchise will always be well-loved thanks to the first, best movie in the series (although, granted, there were only two anyway) and the joys of seeing its stars in their collective prime. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson all chip in to help the people of Manhattan fight a spectral infestation that threatens to wipe out the entire city, even though the mayor (the late, great David Margulies) and an especially odious EPA inspector (William Atherton) refuse to believe what’s happening. Sigourney Weaver plays Murray’s reluctant love interest, whose body unwittingly becomes the host for a supernatural villain; Rick Moranis is Weaver’s neighbor, a nebbishy nerd who means well but still gets himself into quite a few scrapes; Annie Potts is the receptionist at the Ghostbusters office; last, but never least, Alice Drummond (one of my favorite character actresses) is the terrified librarian whose hair-raising encounter with a phantom in the bowels of the New York Public Library sets up the opening scenes of the film.

Paris, Texas. Directed by Wim Wenders. Notes from March 11, 2015: What a film to see on the big screen! True to form, MoMA served up annoying moviegoers – this time in the form of a guy sitting right behind me with the worst respiratory problems I’ve ever heard, 2 ½ solid hours of heavy breathing/snorting/snoring that made a woman swear angrily about it at one point – but Paris, Texas is such an impactful, 100% cinematic, engrossing experience that I can put the memory of that unfortunate audience member aside. Harry Dean Stanton: what an actor. Amazing guy. He plays Travis, a man in search of his long-lost wife and young son, so beautifully even though he says so little during the film. Bernhard Wicki, the always wonderful Dean Stockwell, young Hunter Carson (son of L.M. Kit Carson, who wrote the film, and Karen Black), Nastassja Kinski as Travis’s wife, Jane (her eyes and mouth! the pink sweater dress! the Texas twang!), plus the small role that the great John Lurie plays… all superb. The only kind of weak note for me is Aurore Clément, whose voice/accent/line delivery I find distracting. Otherwise, the exceptionally painterly cinematography by Robby Müller (how was he not Oscar-nominated for this movie – or for anything in his whole career?) and the score by Ry Cooder help make this movie one that no film buff should miss. It’s a great, great experience and Wim Wenders gives me faith in the emotional power of films.

Purple Rain. Directed by Albert Magnoli. Notes from April 26: This was truly an unforgettable experience on an appropriate rainy Tuesday afternoon/evening at the AMC Empire 25 theater in Times Square. Obviously everyone in the theater wished we were there under different circumstances, but by the end of the film, I think the sadness over Prince’s death had abated somewhat because of the sheer joy of the music. Every one of Prince’s nine songs in the film is amazing: the “Let’s Go Crazy” opening, Prince and Apollonia Kotero riding his motorcycle along the Minnesota highway to “Take Me with U,” the frenzy of emotion at the end of the ballad “The Beautiful Ones,” the montage that accompanies an abridged cut of “When Doves Cry,” the one-two punch of “Computer Blue” and (Tipper Gore’s favorite) “Darling Nikki,” and of course the trio that ends the film, “Purple Rain,” “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star.” When those last three songs played, the audience erupted into thunderous applause, cheers, some laughs and I’m sure a few tears as well. You can’t exactly make a strong case in favor of the acting in the film, and the love scene with Apollonia is laughable (IFC once labeled it one of the 50 Worst Sex Scenes in Cinema History), but who really cares about how Prince delivered his lines? He acted through his music, his voice and his undeniably electric stage presence. If you hadn’t already known from his music videos and live performances, then Purple Rain is certainly a perfect document of how much the camera loved him. (Donald E. Thorin’s cinematography certainly captures our protagonist beautifully.) Few faces were better suited to the big screen than Prince’s, and I’m sure every person in the theater today must have felt just a little bit swoony every time those big brown eyes gazed into the distance or stared into the lens. We’ll not see the likes of Prince again in this life, but film is forever and we will always have this film to remember him by.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Directed by Leonard Nimoy. Notes from September 12: The Search for Spock, the third entry in the film series, is so much more enjoyable than you would expect from a sequel. The fact that almost all of the movie’s running time is spent with the Enterprise crew trying to return to the site of the action in the last film (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), the Genesis planet, where Spock’s body was left after his “death” (because of course that’s not permanent in a franchise…) at the end of Khan, means that Leonard Nimoy is barely in Search for Spock. (To simplify the explanation for Spock’s return: before he succumbed to radiation poisoning at the end of Khan, Spock mind-melded with Dr. McCoy, placing his metaphysical being – or katra – inside Dr. McCoy’s head. This means that even though Spock’s body dies, his soul is still alive inside McCoy. Since Spock’s body was left on Genesis, a planet that allows for extreme growth and renewal of life forms, Spock is reborn.) Our favorite Science Officer has no dialogue until the last few minutes of the film since it takes more than ¾ of the movie to retrieve his body and then, after he is returned home to Vulcan for a special revitalizing-the-dead ceremony led by the High Priestess (played by 86-year-old Judith Anderson!), Spock does not wake up and speak until about two minutes before the end credits.

(Oh, and Christopher Lloyd plays the main antagonist, a Klingon named Commander Kruge, but there’s not much to say about him. Kruge is suitably evil and Lloyd does a pretty good job of emoting under all the makeup and chewing plenty of scenery.)

Despite the weird stuff and the many leaps of faith, the action is so entertaining and so many of our beloved Star Trek mainstays have wonderful scenes that it’s hard to resist this sequel’s charm. There’s the toast to “absent friends” (Spock) between Kirk and his shipmates back on Earth (a moment which was reused in this year’s Star Trek Beyond), somewhat homoerotic tinge to the close-ups during the mind-meld between Kirk and Sarek (Mark Lenard, reprising his role as Spock’s father) in front of Kirk’s fireplace (bless Leonard Nimoy and his occasionally odd directorial choices), the wacky interstellar bar scene between Dr. McCoy and a bizarre alien (who I was convinced was played by Leonard Nimoy), Sulu and Uhura have time to shine when the crew is forced to steal the Enterprise in order to make their covert return mission to Genesis, the surprisingly tender pon farr scene between Lt. Saavik (Robin Curtis, taking over for The Wrath of Khan’s Kirstie Alley) and teenage Spock while they are stranded on Genesis and, perhaps my favorite of all, there’s the scene where McCoy talks to Spock’s unconscious body – I think it’s the finest acting I’ve seen from DeForest Kelley thus far. And then, of course, there are the amazing costumes designed by Robert Fletcher: Kirk’s not-very-futuristic tracksuit, McCoy’s ascot, Sulu’s outfit (how could I possibly begin to describe it? as a leather cape-jacket with an Asian-fashion-inspired wrap-shirt underneath?) and, at the end of the film, Spock’s fuzzy white robe. That Vulcan never met a long, hooded garment he didn’t love, an observation which I suspect is – besides striving for intergalactic understanding, respect and peace – one of the greatest takeaways from this series of films.

Stranger Than Paradise. Directed by Jim Jarmusch. Notes from March 22, 2015: As endearingly oddball as Jarmusch’s 1986 masterpiece Down by Law, though even weirder, Stranger Than Paradise has three great leads in John Lurie, Eszter Balint and Richard Edson (later the scene-stealing (and Ferrari-stealing) garage attendant in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). I was especially certain that the film would be good when Balint walks down the street to the tune of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” a song that plays throughout the film. As the trio stumbles through a black-and-white world photographed by Tom DiCillo, encountering other colorful characters (played by Cecillia Stark, Danny Rosen, Richard Boes, Rockets Redglare, the aforementioned Mr. DiCillo and others), their anti-adventures and aimless exploration of America keeps you watching. Stranger charms you as you try to figure out where these characters are headed, how they feel about one another, and what happens after the movie ends.

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Star Trek Into Fandom: The Movies

For my final post commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of “Star Trek” this month, here are twenty-one of my favorite scenes from the six films featuring the original show’s cast (often identified as “TOS,” 1979-1991) and the three films featuring the “alternate” original-series cast (aka “AOS,” 2009-present).

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): Disco Bones. I don’t believe there has ever been a satisfactory explanation (other than the time when the film was made, of course) as to why Bones (Dr. McCoy) has a beard and is wearing disco-friendly attire when he first appears in TMP. Whatever the reason, DeForest Kelley somehow managed not to look nearly as ridiculous as he might have.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): Spock’s Arrival. I’m not sure if I have ever loved a Vulcan outfit more than the one Spock wore when he returned to the Enterprise after many years of being away from active duty. (The iciness in Spock’s demeanor is due to a long time spent on his home planet, purging himself of emotions.)

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): This Simple Feeling. Anyone who has watched this scene and not felt even a slight bit emotional clearly does not love Kirk or Spock nearly enough. Kudos to Nimoy and Shatner for carrying the scene so beautifully.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): KHAAAAAN. Ah, yes, Captain Kirk’s infamous scream.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): Best Friends Forever. Tears, tears and more tears.

Star Trek III: The Search of Spock (1984): Stealing Their Own Ship. The crew works together to steal the Enterprise away from their own space station and embark on a mission back to the Genesis planet (from Star Trek II, where Spock’s “dead” body was left) and then onward to Vulcan, where Spock’s soul can be rejuvenated. The best part of this scene: Uhura finally contributes more than just being a glorified receptionist.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984): McCoy’s Greatest Moment. If I had to pick a single scene from either the original TV show or any of the original cast’s movies that had DeForest Kelley’s finest acting as Dr. McCoy, it would be the first scene from this clip. As the Enterprise brings Spock to Vulcan to rejoin the body with the mind (currently encased for safekeeping inside McCoy’s head – it all has to do with the events from the end of Wrath of Khan), McCoy displays true tenderness. Below the veneer of frustration, the good doctor really does care for his comrade. I hope that Leonard Nimoy was proud of his work as a director here.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): Taking Care of Business. Leonard Nimoy continued his top-notch track record as a director with Star Trek IV. Clad in an 80s headband and stuck on a bus with Captain Kirk (they time-traveled back to 1986… don’t ask), Spock knows exactly how to take care of a punk fool. This scene also takes pains to note that Kirk is well-acquainted with classic literature. Good times.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): Not the Hell Your Whales. There are too many terrific things happening in this video to properly explain them all. This, my friends, is my favorite “Star Trek” movie by a mile.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): Hello, Computer. Scotty, the dear old sweetheart of the Enterprise, displays his A+ knowledge of archaic technology.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): Star Trek via the Keystone Kops. The gang must work together to break Chekov out of a 20th century hospital. Fun times abound.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989): Camping Fun. Never forget the “Star Trek” movie that William Shatner co-wrote and directed. Mountain climbing (gloriously explained and remixed here)… jet-powered boots… “marsh melons”… McCoy’s last line in the second video. All so superb.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989): Adorable Things. Apparently it was Shatner’s prerogative to make sure that Kirk/Spock really was a part of the canon.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991): The Final Farewell. I can’t imagine a better ending for our beloved Enterprise crew, right down to Captain Kirk’s ongoing sense of wonder and joy at exploring the universe (the Peter Pan quote “…and straight on ’til morning”) and the extra special touch during the last minute.

Star Trek (2009): First Meeting. I like how the first of the reboots sets up Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) first – and rather negative – encounter at Starfleet. Bonus: Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy, doing the role justice.

Star Trek (2009): Chekov at His Best. I know everyone loved Anton Yelchin’s interpretation of Ensign Pavel Chekov, and this is one of the character’s nicest showcases.

Star Trek (2009): Spock Meets Spock. In the first film of the rebooted series, the undeniable high point was getting to see Leonard Nimoy reprise his role as our beloved Spock. Obviously that’s kind of strange, but somehow – because I still don’t totally understand the time-space mechanics of this – Zachary Quinto’s Spock is able to coexist in the same universe as the elder “Spock Prime.”

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013): Respecting the Chair. The newest entries in the “Star Trek” franchise continue the tradition of employing excellent character actors; Bruce Greenwood, as Captain Christopher Pike, is no exception. (If you’ve been watching TV this year, you may have seen Greenwood play Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti on FX’s “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.”)

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013): Wrath of Khan Redux. I have a lot of problems with this film from the rebooted series – not the least of which is the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch, of all people, as the character Khan Noonien Singh – but I did love the homage to the famous ending from Star Trek II. In this case, there is a twist: it is Kirk who absorbs a potentially fatal amount of radiation and Spock who reacts so emotionally to the impending loss of his friend.

Star Trek Beyond (2016): Survival. I love the way the AOS “Star Trek” movies depict Spock’s and McCoy’s contentious bond. This scene is yet another enjoyable example.

Star Trek Beyond (2016): Meeting Jaylah. One of the benefits of Simon Pegg co-writing Beyond’s screenplay is that he was able to incorporate a new, strong woman (or, more accurately, female alien) character, Jaylah (played by Sofia Boutella). She is a warrior who also has a sensitive side and she delivers some of the film’s best (and occasionally funniest) lines. Moving forward in this series, I hope that Jaylah returns and that she and Uhura continue to be multifaceted characters.

Star Trek Into Fandom: Some Favorite Scenes

Photo courtesy of They Boldly Went: “DeForest Kelley, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy pretend that hand phasers are electric shavers while filming ‘Operation: Annihilate!’ on the TRW Campus in Redondo Beach, CA.”

As I continue to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of “Star Trek,” here are some golden moments from many of my favorite episodes from the TV series. As soon as I have finished watching the six movies starring the show’s original cast, I shall have a new post ready with more superb clips.

We begin with the beloved catchphrase of Dr. Leonard McCoy, better known as Bones: “I’m a doctor, not a [insert other profession/object].”

“Charlie X” [S1 E2] – There are some rooms on the Starship Enterprise which we only saw once or twice; one such place is the exercise area, in which Captain Kirk attempts to show a confused teenage passenger, Charlie (played by Robert Walker, Jr.), how to work off his teen angst with some martial arts-lite moves. Kirk’s training tips are not particularly helpful, but it’s an awful lot of fun watching William Shatner roll around wearing what appear to be several layers of Spanx.

“The Naked Time” [S1 E4] – The crew is overwhelmed by an unknown germ which strips them of their inhibitions, like a kind of extraterrestrial alcohol. Sulu believes he is a dashing swordsman – while pursuing Uhura, he makes the mistake of calling her a “fair maiden,” to which she replies, “sorry, neither!” – and Spock’s surge of emotion causes a plethora of problems when he interacts with Captain Kirk.

“The Corbomite Maneuver” [S1 E8]But first, the tranya. The Enterprise is held in the orbital grip of a frighteningly powerful planet, which appears to be ruled by a grotesque entity (described in one fan’s review as “Nosferatu lying on the bottom of a swimming pool”). The mysterious alien scares the living bejesus out of everyone – or maybe just me – for the entire episode but when Kirk finally beams over to the planet, it turns out that the supreme being he saw was merely a puppet (albeit a very creepy one) and the actual leader is an adult who looks like a small child… played by seven-year-old Clint Howard (Ron’s younger brother).

“Shore Leave” [S1 E15] – Oh, McCoy, you old rascal. Flirtation is usually Captain Kirk’s department, but in this episode our favorite country doctor gets to stroll through a meadow with a lovely young shipmate, Yeoman Tonia Barrows (Emily Banks).

“This Side of Paradise” [S1 E24] – A trip to a utopian colony, which is covered in flowers that spurt magical pollen, allows Spock to feel emotion and fall in love with Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland). Truly, the joys of seeing Spock grinning as he hangs from a tree like a sloth are boundless. In the end, however, he realizes that he must revert to his stoic Vulcan ways and return to the Enterprise. Spock’s recovery from emotion is heartbreaking to watch, culminating in a tearful goodbye between him and Leila. The dialogue by scriptwriter Dorothy (“D.C.”) Fontana’s gives us one of Spock’s best lines: “If there are self-made purgatories – and we all have to live in them – mine can be no worse than someone else’s.”

“The Devil in the Dark” [S1 E25] – An underground mining colony is terrorized by a monster which resembles an old pizza on top of a pile of meatballs. Our favorite Vulcan does a mind-meld with the creature, which we learn is called a Horta. Leonard Nimoy praised the episode, saying that “it was about the way we tend to demonize the things that we don’t know or understand or the people that we don’t know or understand.” And, as we learn at the episode’s end, the Horta also has impeccable taste.

“The City on the Edge of Forever” [S1 E28] – Often cited as the all-time greatest “Star Trek” episode, “City” has a plot that would take me far too long to explain, but there are two things which are clear: 1) Spock wears a terrific hat to hide his ears, and 2) the ending – in which Kirk must sacrifice the woman he loves, Sister Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), because whether she lives or dies in 1930 will alter the rest of human history – is one of the saddest of the show’s run.

“Operation — Annihilate!” [S1 E29] – Attack of the flying latkes!

“I, Mudd” [S2 E8] – For sheer comic craziness, no episode can ever top “I, Mudd.” Captain Kirk and his crew outwit a bunch of androids by acting bizarrely; the illogical actions promptly fry the robots’ brains. I guess that the Academy offered improv classes in addition to all the other Starfleet requirements.

“Wolf in the Fold” [S2 E14] – Captain Kirk should probably know better than to invite Spock to a weird outer space nightclub.

“The Trouble with Tribbles” [S2 E15] – Here we witness one of William Shatner’s most memorable moments on the “Star Trek”: Captain Kirk mired in a swamp of little Tribbles, a number of the fuzzy beasties being thrown directly at Shatner’s head by the show’s crew.

“A Piece of the Action” [S2 E17] – On the fly, Captain Kirk (stuck with Spock and Dr. McCoy in a world modeled on 1920s Chicago) improvises a card game to distract his captors: “Fizzbin.” My personal favorite touch in this gem of a scene: when Kirk explains the astronomical odds of getting a “Royal Fizzbin” hand, Spock nods and mouths “astronomical” in agreement.

“Return to Tomorrow” [S2 E20] – Ancient alien consciousnesses want to inhabit the “receptacle” bodies of Kirk, Spock and Dr. Ann Mulhall (Diana Muldaur) so that the long-dormant beings may live again? Sure, what harm could there be in that? William Shatner does some wonderfully strange/hammy gesticulating when one of the entities, Sargon, occupies his mind for the first time; later, Shatner delivers one of Captain Kirk’s greatest monologues when he reminds his shipmates of the crucial scientific and philosophical imperatives which give meaning to the Enterprise’s intergalactic explorations.

P.S. Fun fact: Sargon is voiced by James “Scotty” Doohan (minus the Aberdeen burr, obviously).

“Patterns of Force” [S2 E21] – Surely the “Nazis in Space” episode, one of the weirdest concepts of the series, deserves an extra commendation for being the only episode of the series in which Spock appears shirtless. (Not to be outdone, Captain Kirk’s always-waxed upper half appears sans clothing in the same scenes.)

“By Any Other Name” [S2 E22] – Scotty is one of my favorite characters; I just adore James Doohan. One of Scotty’s finest showcases is in this episode from the tail end of season two, in which he does his best to weaken an alien intruder by getting him super drunk. Bonus – some delightful decor: the kilt and bagpipes on display in Scotty’s quarters.

“Requiem for Methuselah” [S3 E19] – Where did Spock learn to play the piano? Surely such an endeavor would not be a normal activity on Vulcan since the performance of music requires the engagement of emotion. In any case, apparently Spock is well-versed in Brahms.

“The Way to Eden” [S3 E20] – This is a much-maligned episode (who in their right mind would want to see Captain Kirk deal with space hippies?), but I have a real weakness for its goofy musical scenes. Charles Napier, as an enthusiastic peace-seeker named Adam, leads an embarrassing anthem for his group, but the true joy comes later when Spock joins in with some tuneage from his Vulcan lyre. Far out, man.