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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
One Of The Most Enjoyably Cynical Movies Ever Made, 27 April 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Now here is a strange beast, an Australian made thriller about life on the edge of the Melbourne art, fashion & entertainment industry that can only be described as "A Dingo Slacker Soap Opera From Hell". That the original North American distributors were so cynical themselves as to re-name the film from SNAPSHOT to THE NIGHT AFTER HALLOWEEN to trick North American viewers into watching is actually par for the course, since this is one of the most cynical movies I have ever enjoyed seeing.

But it sure ain't a slasher horror film even if its story does manage to sport at least two homicidal psychopaths, possibly even a third if you count the slaughterhouse worker who carved the head off a pig for one of the film's props. You will also note that I have enabled the Spoiler Warning disgronifier, mostly because every event in this film could amount to a spoiler if described. Every scene is significant to the point of literal overkill. By the end I was drained just trying to keep up with the rush of drama & crisis flung at the likable young woman at the heart of the story.

Who would be Angela, described in today's terms as a slacker reluctantly working at a hair salon, where she struck up a relationship with an actress who has taken a bit more than a shine to the girl. Played by Sigrid Thornton, Angela is a wholesome natural beauty unsure of herself after a lifetime of cruel negative reinforcement at the hands of her insufferably narcissist mother & creepy sociopathic younger sister. Her daffy but sincere actress friend introduces Angela to a photographer whose devotion to his craft is maniacal in a way that is actually right on the money without being cliché. He is the best character in a film overflowing with a wealth of potentially fascinating characters trapped in a very believable community; LOCAL HERO has nothing on this baby.

Including "Mr. Whippy" (Vince Gil, the Nightrider from MAD MAX), Angela's way unlikely former boyfriend, openly obsessed with her to the unhealthiest degree, half-comically stalking her around the backstreets of Melbourne in his Mr. Whippy ice cream truck, kindly given its own menacing musical theme by Australian composer Brian May (THE ROAD WARRIOR). Mr. Whippy's ice cream truck's canned jingle is "Greensleeves", not the happiest song ever, though nobody in the film is happy. In fact they are all insane. Singling Mr. Whippy out for his madness misses the point that EVERYBODY in this movie is crazy, warped, twisted, psychotic, deranged, manipulative, egotistical, or at least living some sort of unwholesome lie. All except Angela, of course, unsullied in her drab existence before coming in contact with this cast of lunatics.

Angela agrees to participate in an advertisement shoot for a cologne that requires her to frolic topless in the freezing ocean, bringing her to the attention of industry bigwigs who see an opportunity to use her freshness to sell garbage people don't really need. It also brings her to the attention of a truly frightening psycho who goes so far as to paper a secret room with her picture. Floor, ceilings, walls, everywhere. His primary ambition is to lure her to the room, have her pose topless for his own camera, then murder her. Imagine Angela's surprise!

That would have been enough for any other thriller, but this one goes overboard wedging in all too cleverly written scenes that bombard the viewer with eccentric behavior, menacing undertones, twisted manipulations, bizarre unexpected developments galore, and an ending that unravels rather than is arrived at by conventional means. In many ways SNAPSHOT anticipated two more contemporary films that re-defined the urban thriller by telling their stories unconventionally: David Lynch's MULLHOLLAND DRIVE, and Christopher Nolan's MEMENTO.

In fact I was sort of thinking that because actress Naomi Watts is herself Australian that there as a tenuous connection between the films. If one interprets MULLHOLLAND DRIVE as depicting a psychotic vision concocted by Watts' character, SNAPSHOT could be a model of how a character like hers was driven insane trying to earn their big break, which is how SNAPSHOT ends up. The dead bodies are just a part of how that happens, but by then she could care less. Angela is driven to madness by the madness unraveling around her and decides to go with it, shuttling off to her big legit modeling break with her sanity shattered as the fire rescue squads clean up the bodies of the people killed in the hysteria inducing final moments.

Fanciful but hey, the movie made me think. Which is all but impossible given the amount of material that Chris & Everett de Roche (RAZORBACK) packed into their script for director Simon (FREE WILLY) Wincer's breathlessly hyperventilated camera to record. I'm not sure if it turned out to be the film it should have been, with musical interludes including a visit to a nightclub to see a bizarre Elvis impersonator's act that is itself a study in psychotic obsession. And has also surely proved problematic in securing North American home video distribution rights for a proper DVD restoration (the one circulating is a commercialized bootleg of an Australian DVD release incorrectly framed at 1:85:1), which the film is in need of to be properly evaluated.

Until then it's sadly going to remain an enigmatic curiosity. The film aspires to really be "something" and I'm not entirely sure if it was successful in doing so. A bit less might have amounted to more, though the film was hardly boring, is fast paced, has some subtly hilarious touches, a great Unlooked-For Hero at the climax (two, come to think of it), several twists & turns that were nifty to ride along with, and yes, Sigrid Thornton is a total hottie. I hope she got whatever therapy might have been needed after making this.


0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Decent Pop Culture Nihilism, 24 April 2010

If nothing else, the phenomenal popularity of Zack Snyder's 2004 re-visioning of DAWN OF THE DEAD is proof positive that deep down inside our contemporary youth culture is still as morose and titillated by carnage & destruction as mine was. I missed the frenzy of excitement + hype over this film at the time of release, too fully absorbed in my own fascination with European made horror from the 60s and 70s to be bothered with a modern day remake of anything by George A. Romero. A remake of his 1978 DAWN OF THE DEAD seemed especially futile since part of the reason why that movie worked is as a reaction against the tacky polyester disco suit pop culture of the Carter years. People whine about Bush but I had to live through Carter and trust me, it was worse, though after seeing it Snyder's remake I can say it is exactly the movie that the post 9/11 War On Terror era had coming. In spite of its grim source material the film manages to upbeat, exciting, engaging, and most of all fun. Go figure.

Was Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD fun? Kind of, or rather its satire angle gave the mayhem a kick in the pants that was absent from so much of the similar material from the era. Much of it was genuinely hilarious within the context of the film like the priceless epic fail gag where the zombie rises up to attack only to have the top of its head lopped off by a helicopter blade. We had been waiting nearly 20 years to see something like that and at the time it brought down the house. But one of the reasons why Romero's DAWN worked so well is the plodding, relentless course of doom that focuses the film's central themes of the world having come to an end. Even an idyllic life in a fully stocked shopping mall won't cut it, with the primary underlying conflict in the film being providing the survivors with a reason to get the hell out of there.

Snyder's remake does an admirable job of imparting that need before its survivors even get settled in for the long haul. I never felt at home in this mall, which was so impersonal and unaccommodating that even the toilets were fakes in the home decor shop the primaries are forced to bed down in. Then again the film never pauses to really let them get used to being there -- something the 1978 version went to great lengths to depict -- with the zombies existing almost as a Greek chorus to keep the plot moving along. Random new characters are inserted to up the body counts and provide emotional draws for the audience to identify with, including a cute dog put to work in the crux scene where the film starts to spiral out of control and they are finally forced to abandon the mall to the zombies.

Who are more interested in chasing down the surviving humans en masse like they were storming a free Michael Jackson concert. Similar to the creatures in Umberto Lenzi's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD the zombies are fast, deadly, and instinctively trained in hand to hand combat, a fringe benefit of being bitten & transformed. To hell with bombing Iran, we should set a horde of zombies loose on them and flood the airwaves with Johnny Cash songs. They'd go belly up inside of a week. The one complaint I had about the zombies was that fighting them off became a video game, complete with a sewer level where they lost the blue key while getting fresh ammo packs + quad damage. When the movie finally sputtered to an end all I could think was, What no Boss Monster? Which might come across as a criticism but then again this is the visual language that the target audience (10 to 40 year old tech savvy consumers) knows & speaks best. I was grateful Snyder spared us having to use cheat codes on a Thrall map.

A subtle zombie movie wouldn't have been appropriate either, with the mold for the film's approach lying somewhere between the Italian horror epics and Dan O'Bannon's punk rock RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. But unlike that film Snyder's remake retains an air of sobriety and grim seriousness that was strangely refreshing, and quite fitting for some of the 9/11 era images of urban destruction it depicted. There was one shot of a street littered with office paper that was right out of the WTC photo memorials, and Snyder's makeup crew did a marvelous job of creating their zombies by basing the imagery on autopsy photos. All of it felt quite real even if the primary focus of the cinematographers was to find white surfaces for brains to splatter on when a zombie got shot in the head. But hey, that comes with the territory.

The film had two great contributions to zombie lore as well, first with Michael Kelly's superb character of C.J. the cynical security guard, and a zombie baby birth that like the head in the helicopter blade gag was exactly what we had been waiting another 20 years to see. Ving Rhames also created an excellent character with his gruff Officer Ken, and the film manages to maintain a level of mayhem throughout its length that is quite worthy of the traditions on which the movie drew (including a first rate quickie scene of a Presidential Guard detail gunning down a group of journalists who get to close: my kind of stuff!). All of it works pretty well though it is definitely more of a "re-visioning" of Romero's scenario rather than a remake. I guess they felt compelled to re-use the title as an homage because its a very different film, very well made and very worthy of being seen. Even if nobody actually gets eaten.


14 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
Welcome To Wasted Opporunity City, 21 April 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Been home nursing an emergency tooth extraction over the past week and nothing was able to assuage the misery like wallowing in "Star Trek". I watched a bunch of the cartoon shows & made myself come to grips with THE FINAL FRONTIER (re: Shatner's movie), which managed to be fun when regarded as a study in applied narcissism. But boy how I dislike GENERATIONS, and won't be watching it, though I decided to try and deal with my feelings about it once and for all.

I think its a cop-out, a cheap sloughing off of responsibility that should have been handled with graceful dignity. This is not the way that I will remember Star Trek. I say that because for me the essence of Star Trek is James Tiberius Kirk, watching him grow & learn. I switched on the spoiler warning disgronifier in case you are not aware that Captain Kirk dies in this movie, and for absolutely no reason at all. It was as if to say his learning curve was arbitrarily being concluded in a re-write, even changing the way he died from the original script (two versions were filmed) for reasons that have never been explained to my satisfaction.

I had learned to like TNG and her crew by the time the film premiered, though I think that Tourette's Guy is probably right when he addressed what Brent Spiner is up to these days. Google it if you don't know what I mean, I always despised Data. He was a decent plot device and they did come up with at least one great episode where they got him a sweet girlfriend with nice legs, but enough with the emotion chip already, OK? It's clear that his model was incompatible for the input, they had long milked the gimmick dry, and it turned him into a jerk.

I did like watching the saucer section crash, which in a theater looked about as believable as Godzilla destroying Yokohama, enhancing the enjoyment. The producers knew we would get off on seeing it and were so kind as to show the mayhem twice, providing the film with it's two most interesting sequences, thoughtfully shot from different angles for variety. But the rest of the treatment left me cold. I didn't give a damn about the Nexus, which sounded pretty swell compared to graduate school. I went with my fiancée at the time, smuggling in a flask of blackberry brandy so we could drink a toast to Kirk when he finally bought the farm. Turns out the bottle was 3/4's empty by then due to the draining experience of watching the film. Which looked muddy and rushed, filled with subplots that went nowhere, cameos by assorted Next Generation personalities which distracted from the focus, and a forced sentiment that was at odds with my own feelings about the show.

Which was great, don't get me wrong! Heck the TNG episode "Tapestry" is one of Star Trek's finest hours, whichever series that turned up in rocked. It was just that the series run had come to an end with a superb show-stopper of its own. There was no unfinished business left to attend to, no need to "pass the baton" as producer Rick Berman put it, by having the Original Series crew and Next Generation crew appear in a film at all. The classic crew made a rousing, emotional exit in the very satisfying THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY. Kirk had said himself in the soliloquy that it was the final adventure for that crew, but by forcing the issue Shatner became the proverbial drunk who wouldn't leave after the party was obviously over.

Which in many ways turns out to be the case as Shatner used his studio muscle to not just get himself written into the picture but threatening to direct at one point. The whole subplot involving Kirk is a distraction from the rest of the story and feels superimposed, though yes, the horse riding scenes with Picard are nice. But if they had to happen at the expense of the dignity of Kirk's character then they were as unwelcome as his demise. Shatner also bullied himself into the film specifically to have his character killed off heroically, then posited himself to come back in the 2009 prequel film, as if. I now realize he deserved to be left out of that one, having cast his fate already. It was about time someone made Bill keep his place in the line after such an unnecessary curtain call.

Kirk deserved a better movie to go out in, or rather his own movie if it was that damn important. And I say it wasn't: Why kill off anyone in the Star Trek universe at all if there are an infinite number of ways to bring them back? Emotional death scenes suck, and it made the film perfunctory or formulaic in my eyes, trying to fix what wasn't broke in the first place. On its own the Next Generation crew's story was pretty good, and from what I've read a lot of what they would have been doing ended up being chopped out to make room for Kirk's scenes back when A-list talent movies at least didn't run three friggen hours. This crew was short changed, eventually coming back to make at least one good feature in FIRST CONTACT, though by then my heart just wasn't in it anymore in part due to GENERATIONS.

So I don't know. I thought maybe I had confused my feelings for the woman I had gone to see this with the film itself, which I have seen since on home video and didn't like any more. Actually less, wishing I'd had more of that blackberry brandy or at least a six pack of Romulan ale. Here is a Star Trek movie that will drive a classic series fan to drink, and that isn't ever a pretty thing.


4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Enjoyable "Star Trek" Installment, 21 April 2010

I would rate writer Margaret Armen's script for "The Ambergris Element" to be a decent, enjoyable, worthy example of how the 1974/1974 "Star Trek: The Animated Series" attempted to translate the universe of Star Trek into a cartoon show. Very good, but not great on the same plane as "Yesteryear", "The Slaver Weapon" and "Beyond The Farthest Star", which to me represent the most successful episodes from the series where everything came together -- The mythology of Star Trek, the commanding presence of the Original Series voice actors, above average writing and a conscious effort to push the envelope of animation in an effort to both capture the flavor of Star Trek in its classic sense and create something new.

All of which are found in this fine episode though the execution was a little clumsy and the synthesis doesn't quite come together. Though they sure gave it the college try and pulled out all the stops, setting up a marvelous adventure where Kirk and Spock are transformed into water breathers after an accident while exploring a planet submerged beneath a global ocean. Unable to exist in a tank in sick bay for the rest of their careers the two set off into the depths to try and find a method to reverse the process.

And come in contact with a civilization of aquatic humanoids living on the ocean floor, an intriguing concept handled well by the animators. Such a scenario could never have been staged during the production run of the original series and its enjoyable seeing Kirk & Spock in a truly alien environment that is at the same time quite familiar looking. The structure of the episode is also quite familiar, with a tribune council of elders, young upstart Aquans threatened with exile to the open seas for helping the two, and a marvelous giant squid beast with six foot fangs who of course turns out to be the crux of the plot's focus.

So all of the elements are there but the results are still a bit stiff and uneven in part due to the scope of the episode's aspirations. This was probably one of the most complex and costly of the Animated Series episodes to produce even with James Doohan providing voice work for nearly every character other than Kirk, Spock, and Bones McCoy. It's a tour-de-force performance by Doohan, the animators, and Armen's script, which like her Original Series episodes "Gamesters of Triskelion" & "The Cloud Minders" features a strong female character who is an equal of Kirk & Spock rather than just another tidbit of alien nookie to be conquered.

So it's still pretty daring stuff for Saturday morning cartoon fare and comes off well enough in relation to the rest of the Animated Series episodes, and is a unique little view of Star Trek in that 90% of the action is set underwater. And if like me you consciously prefer the funky low tech look of 1970s hand-drawn animation this is one eye popping & adventuresome little cartoon show. Even with modern digital animation techniques one would have a difficult time capturing the nuances of such a world and if the cartoon vision presented uses a short-hand approach to depicting its only due to the limitations of the form. It's supposed to look a little stiff, maybe.

Which would be my only complaint about the results, though this has always been a favorite in part due to having been blessed with a box set of Alan Dean Foster's "Star Trek Log" novelizations of the Animated Series stories, this being one of the best of his non-expanded upon straightforward adaptations. Credit for which should go to Margaret Armen for her engaging story, which has some great little Star Trek moments in it. And represents one of the more ambitious attempts at making a functional Star Trek adventure that utilized the limitless possibilities of the animation medium. You can certainly do worse for twenty three minutes of your time, and kids who love Star Trek will of course go nuts.


13 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
A Unique & Satisfying "Star Trek" Adventure!, 21 April 2010

Larry Niven's "The Slaver Weapon" -- adapted from his original story "The Soft Weapon" and re-configured into the basis of an episode from the 1973/1974 "Star Trek: The Animated Series" -- is one of my all time favorite installments of Star Trek, period.

Of the now 45 years we have had the mythology of Star Trek as an entertainment form, regardless of what shape it took (TV show, movie, book), this is one of the most unique and rewarding, packing enough Trek and sci-fi interest into its 23 minutes to enthrall any geek. I'd actually call it a cyberpunk work, utilizing advanced fictional technologies as a plot focus and projecting a vision of the future that is cynical, unromantic, and indifferent to humans if not outright hostile. Gene Roddenberry took a chance on green-lighting this one and it paid off big time, in my opinion at any rate. Way out of proportion to what was expected of it, at any rate.

The episode is also unique in that it is the only official example of "Star Trek" in any form before the debut of The Next Generation series in 1987 to *not* feature the presence of William Shatner's Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Which is ironic, not just because of how cool it turned out to be, but due to Shatner's well known disregard for the Animated Series, which he found to be debasing & embarrassing to participate in. So they made this one while he was off doing Shakespeare In The Park for $200 a night. Hey, gotta make a living.

They picked a winner of a script for his absence too, with Niven adapting "The Soft Weapon" to feature Spock, Sulu, and Uhura piloting a starfleet shuttlecraft to rendezvous with the Enterprise when the Slaver Stasis Box in their possession indicates the presence of another stasis box nearby. What pray tell is a Stasis Box? Let's just say that inside of one there is no passage of time, sort of like the ultimate refrigerator except no leftover 3/4 empty bottles of salad dressing on the doors. Archaeologists had found it on a remote planet and Spock had been dispatched to collect it. Following so far?

Their Box leads them to finding a 2nd one on a small ice bound planetoid ... which turns out to be a trap laid by Niven's alien species creation, the Kzinti, completely hostile eight foot tall creatures with feline characteristics who consider human meat to be a delicacy. And they want that Stasis Box & whatever might be inside, knowing very well that the Slavers -- another species created by Niven and long died out -- had weapons which could potentially devastate a whole galaxy.

Wouldn't you know it but Spock's Box does indeed contain an intriguing device that shifts its appearance and function with the twist of a toggle switch. And one of the settings does prove to be for quite the formidable little Weapon of Mass Destruction, leading to a startlingly violent little climax that infamously resulted in the only loss of life during the Animated Series' run. They kill people in this one ... Far out.

This was supposedly a Saturday morning cartoon show for kids, remember, airing at about 10am during its initial run on CBS when we were sitting there in our pajamas with the feets on the bottom & chowing down on the King Vitamin. I don't particularly recall seeing this episode as a kid where others did leave an impression, but it is exactly the kind of stuff I would have been fascinated by: Space ships, space suits, laser guns, hand held rocket launchers. You betcha.

I will still concede that "Yesteryear" is the best episode from the Animated Series, and that "Beyond The Farthest Star" remains my single favorite episode, necessitated by the absence of Kirk from this installment. Love him or hate him, James T. Kirk was the essence of Star Trek, as nobody else really had any cosmic lessons to learn. So the absence of Kirk sort of requires this episode to be set aside when considering singling out *the* best of what the Animated Series had to offer.

But by golly this one rocks! When I talk to some of my associates about watching Star Trek cartoons I'm sure the imagine me sitting here in my slippers with a bowl of Mult-Grain Cheerios and a bong, pretending that I'm 9 all over again with some stupid dumb cartoon show that you have to be stoned to appreciate as a grownup. Screw that! This is first rate Star Trek any way you slice it. That the Animated Series offered Niven the opportunity to work with Roddenberry & his talents to produce this episode was an opportunity to create something new, and this is one of the best examples of the creative team actually managing to do that. It is great science fiction, great Star Trek, and one of Saturday morning programming's finest half hours, with commercials.

9/10; Alan Dead Foster expanded the story to book length form for his "Star Trek Log Ten" novelization, which is still in print, and Niven's short story which formed the basis can also be found with relative ease in a collection with other works. Good art leads to more art once again.

5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Superb Little "Star Trek" Adventure, 21 April 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Excellent "Star Trek" installment here any way you slice it, and one of the more successful episodes from the short lived Animated Series adventures from 1973/1974. It is easy to dismiss the series but by golly there is some decent Star Trek to be had in the scant 22 episodes produced, and this is one of my favorite examples to point to.

First time writer Howard Weinstein and series creator Gene Roddenberry dug back into the Original Series and its traditions to craft a tightly wound story hinging on one of the show's favorite standby plot devices: Spock's Vulcan physique, specifically Vulcanian sensitivity to a particular space virus that doesn't effect humans but is fatal to Vulcans. Only a rare drug found on few worlds can save him, and a rendezvous with a dilithium freighter is arranged to give Spock a fighting chance to survive.

Wouldn't you know it, the pesky Orions from "Journey To Babel" are back, with a small pirate vessel intercepting the freighter, making off with the precious drug, and setting off a classic Trek race against time to track down the pirates & retrieve the drug before Spock goes belly up. Which isn't quite as easy as it sounds, with the Orion's custom of suicide before capture and their use of an asteroid field of unstable explosive planetoids to elude the Enterprise raising the ante to even stakes against a fully armed Federation warship.

It all leads up to a fairly tense personal confrontation between Captain Kirk and the Orion commander that is played totally seriously with the threat of death & destruction for all. Pretty advanced viewing for a children's show, as concepts like dying in a huge explosion, one's duty to their world, and ritualistic suicide customs being raised. Even the Orion bad guys come off pretty good, the commander matter-of-factly stating in a superbly written scene that Orion's neutrality comes before the well being of his ship or its crew, and it is not the ravings of a madman.

The episode is fast paced, adventuresome, filled with technical lingo that never goes over the head of even the youngest viewer, and most importantly *feels* like a real Star Trek episode. And indeed the usual emphasis on eye popping animated space creatures & situations where the writers could indulge their fantasies without fear of budget constraints is set aside for a sort of hard edged functional feel. This could just as easily been a live action Original Series episode, where many of the Animated Series episodes could not have been staged as they were drawn & rotoscoped.

So here is a great example of the Animated Series delivering classic Star Trek by any other name (pun intended). It is a shame that Mr. Roddenberry and his marketing directors chose to de-canonize the Animated Series, a situation that was only set to rights after his passing and the restructuring of the Star Trek franchise. Some of the Animated Series adventures are marvelous examples of the best of what the whole concept of Star Trek had to offer, and it is gratifying to see episodes like this finally receiving the attention they were due.

7/10; Even non-fans will find this installment entertaining, and it so involving you may even forget you are watching a cartoon.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Captain Quirk's Version Of Star Trek, 18 April 2010

The way that I figure it, this is Captain Kirk's version of the Star Trek universe, his take on things. It's not so much that the movie sucks, but that Kirk's own version of reality is so slanted and skewed that when the rest of us are allowed to see things through his eyes the results don't add up. It's not the way things really are. They are they way that Kirk, or William Shatner, would *prefer* them to be. He can blame writers strikes, budget conflicts or special effects deadlines being missed all he likes. Bill screwed up, not by making a crummy movie, but by slipping and honestly showing things as he really sees them. I think the results fit his vision perfectly.

Take for instance Kirk's interaction with the rest of the crew. Longstanding behind the scenes legend painted a less than harmonious relationship between Shatner the actor and the rest of the contingent that made up the Star Trek family. We saw a unified front that was a wholly fictional creation, while Shatner was reportedly deliberately distant and off-putting, regarding his costars as subordinates who cut into his screen time. He was the star and they were there to make him look good, not shine out or create authentic characters that we as fans came to know & love, an unforeseen side effect he actively resisted.

So Shatner the writer/director immediately sets things to rights in his world view by subordinating and humiliating the characters who had worked so long for their dignity. Spock is subjected to fart jokes, retarded mispronounced word jokes, drunken McCoy jokes. Scotty is turned into a clumsy buffoon horny for the receptionist, who herself does a nude fling in the desert to re-objectify Uhura as Kirk's occasional Chocolate Fantasy, while Chekov and Sulu wander around lost even though they are supposed to steer the starship. All of these people are elementarily inept compared to Kirk, who climbs a god damn mountain with his bare hands, showing everyone who wears the pants on this bridge once & for all.

The film has no real villain since science fiction thrillers are often more about their villains than their heroes, something that would have threatened Shatner's quest for personal validation by being the focus of the story. Which concerns itself with the "Wizard of Oz Complex" of exposing a fraud with a fancy bag of tricks behind a mask. Via this perfunctory story of forced cosmic redemption the film celebrates Kirk's relative physical youth, his amazing vigor, and the male bonding that he has enjoyed with his closest confidantes at the expense of all other relationships. Kirk's personal life is hollow & empty without his professional obligations to Starfleet, which must exist even if they need to be created via chaos manufacture.

And that is how the primary conflict is set into motion, existing only to have James Tiberius Kirk prove once again that he is as fit & capable as any 35 year old former Academy legend, that his crew are dotingly loyal to the point of being sycophants, and that everyone shares his ingratiating sense of humor. That's the one thing that always bothered me the most about this movie, its presumption that everyone would find its jokes to be endearingly appropriate rather than cheap, demeaning little shots that amount to devaluement tactics.

Shatner did manage to come up with at least one great Star Trek scene though, a quiet one where Kirk is trying to figure a way out of the Enterprise brig and Spock offers some play by play advice. If the film had more of that and less of the smarmy pandering to sentiment that defuses whatever engagement of the viewer was generated it might have amounted to something. It also introduced a marvelous piece of hardware to the Trek universe in the form of Spock's instant marshmallow fabricator. Screw the limited edition phaser reproductions, I want one of those!

Ultimately the story is secondary to the film's function of celebrating Kirk, and as such is the weakest of the classic Trek crew's theatrical outings. Legend has it the plot was arrived at after Shatner's original plans for the crew to travel to the center of the galaxy to find a "fountain of youth" were rejected due to practical concerns. Shatner apparently pursued a personal version of that theme regardless; He looks younger and more vital than he did in any of the other Trek movies, with a nasty rumor persisting that he fully intended this to be the final Star Trek film even if that meant bankrupting the whole franchise.

Who knows. All things being equal William Shatner is my favorite screen personality, and Captain Kirk one of my dearest personal heroes. For my money Kirk was the essence of Star Trek, and the fun in watching the original crew adventures is in seeing him learn from having his lunch handed to him repeatedly. By the Klingons, the Romulans, assorted women, the Gorn, flying space pancakes, you name it. Take Kirk's narcissistic buffoonery out of the equation and there's nothing to learn, no growth that was needed by anyone. On their own Spock, Bones and Scotty did just fine.

But it would have been a pretty boring show without James T. Kirk screwing everything up, and this film is maybe an ironic example of how untenable the universe would have been with him in control. I wouldn't have wanted to have been the one to tell him no at production meetings, and from the looks of this bloated, overstuffed movie nobody else could get up the nerve either. Though there are certainly worse things you can do with your time, and bad Star Trek beats most forms of entertainment hands down anyway. But just between you & me, I'll go for KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS again next time I feel like a two hour William Shatner overload.


Intimate Stranger (1991) (TV)
7 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
About Two-Thirds Works Pretty Good, 16 April 2010

Up until about the second song in the bar sung by Deborah Harry and a backing band that is certainly not Blondie, Allan Holzman's INTIMATE STRANGER works well enough even without the Blondie vanity project angle. I'm not sure if Allan or the writers were thinking of Italian Giallo thrillers when composing the film but I sure was when watching it. The one basic difference is that the identity of the film's maniac isn't kept a secret as he plays a game of phone tag with his targets that would serve such an important function for John Malkvovich's psycho from IN THE LINE OF FIRE, made a couple of years later.

We have your standard issue Giallo sleazy kink secret sex obsessed lifestyle angle (phone sex girl runs afoul of psychopath playing a game with her), the stylized camera work with lots of oblique diagonal angles, the use of cross media technologies, photography and recording devices as plot elements, steamy sex scenes photographed like advertisement art, the sordid unreality of the sex entertainment industry, brutal murders with bizarre killing methods, and the name brand sex symbol starlet to sell the package -- Instead of Mimsy Farmer, Evelyn Stewart or Erika Blanc its Deborah Harry, who had already made a sexualized horror thriller with David Cronenberg's VIDEODROME. She is older this time out and sadly chose to try and hide her figure beneath layers of Goth-punk fashions. She looks sexier when she's just being herself at 40 during some of the quieter scenes. I mean, she IS Blondie and all, something that is impossible to get around while watching the film, though that may have been the point. She is essentially just appearing as herself in the same way that Ms. Blanc et al were just being themselves, for the most part.

The film also gives us a very worthy psychopath in the form of ubiquitous B movie & TV actor Tim Thomerson's white haired, foul mouthed killer. He is just oily and unkempt enough to suggest that creepy record store manager who always seemed to slime you over & pry into your life when you were just looking for some new tunes. Grace Zabriskie has a fabulous little role as another one of his victims, acting circles around everybody else by just standing there rolling her eyes, with additional eye candy in the form of Tia Carrere and Paige French as Ms. Harry's sexy sister. The only casting flaw in the film is James Russo as the basic rogue cop type character who steps outside of the law to help the damsel in distress. He's fine during the action scenes but lacks the complexity of a Giallo anti-hero like Anthony Steffen, George Hilton, or Farley Granger with their "Seen It All" eyes.

Like a good Giallo the movie pays attention to its mystery solving angle via unorthodox methods as cop Russo works with Harry's phone sex girl & her hot sister to track down the phone sex killer on his spare time, naturally to the hostile disapproval of his superiors & fellow police officers who could care less even as the bodies pile up. All standard by the book formula material for such thrillers, he even gets kicked off the force at one point but the film had already moved on to its ridiculous climax, heralded in by the unlikely sight of Deborah Harry running around the streets holding a loaded handgun out in plain view like she was carrying her purse. Only in Los Angeles, maybe.

The less said of the big finish the better probably, though I will mention that it does involve Blondie actually shooting off a flamethrower, and you sort of have to admire the movie for having the nerve to be so absurd without flinching. The film felt under-written and somewhat lacking in focus as to what it wanted to say about its subject, which shouldn't be surprising given it was a Showtime cable feature produced for the small screen. Director Holzman -- a noted visualist with a background as an editor, as evident from the film's fast-cut flashback sequences -- even stages a scene lifted from BLADE RUNNER at one point for the hell of it, set in Blondie's cluttered, memento filled apartment that I didn't believe she lived in for one minute.

I also didn't believe she was a singer in that particular band, though Ms. Harry's screen presence is certainly fine for the role. She just needed a new backup group who didn't do their best to upstage her by looking painfully goofy. And she is convincingly burnt out + world-weary as one would expect from a sex industry worker, so jaded by her work that she can do her house chores while getting a client off over the phone. Which as others point out are the scenes when the film works best, getting to hear Blondie talk dirty in that husky, sensuous voice of hers. The rest of the movie is all filler material, though fortunately easy enough on the brain for such a production.

6/10: Soundtrack rights have no doubt kept this from being revived for the DVD era which is a shame. Blondie fans will want to dust off their VCRs and give it a look for sure, and old rental tapes can readily be found for a few dollars.

5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Disturbing And Worthy, 16 April 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Paul Schrader's ROLLING THUNDER is one of the most disturbing and painfully effective films I have seen in quite a while. William Devane has always been one of my favorite actors and was a wise choice for Air Force Major Charles Rane, decorated Vietnam War veteran and former POW who comes home to a world that is completely hostile. The movie has an aura of grim, unromantic raw irony about it that is the perfect embodiment of the paranoid 70's post Vietnam angst trip. This is exactly the movie 1977 had coming to it, and the great shame is that studio indifference has kept it from widespread release on home video and now DVD for years.

The film's central home invasion scene is chillingly portrayed not as a crime of passion or genuine gain for the aggressors but just a matter of routine, including the massacre of Rane's family which puts the plot's 1970s revenge thriller into motion. By then we understand that Rane's humanity had been destroyed long before he returned home to Texas, where he is actually regarded as something of a hero, even by the men who demolish his existence and feed his right hand to a garbage disposal grinder. I always hated those things and will never allow one in my home after seeing this movie.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the film is a pre-fame Tommy Lee Jones as Major Rane's Sargent attendant who likewise returns home mentally shattered to an outgoing family who can only react in mild bemusement as the two don their A class dress uniforms and set off "to kill a bunch of people", as Jones nonchalantly tells a prostitute at the whore house they shoot up in the film's all too unsatisfying climax. I say unsatisfying because it doesn't provide an emotional release or catharsis that is in proportion to what the audience had been put through. Which includes Linda Haynes's delectable breasts remaining cruelly concealed beneath her brassiere-less t-shirts, a running tease that the film never reconciles even after she and Devane share an off-camera love scene.

Which may have been the point of Schrader & Heywood Gould's script, expertly directed by little known director John Flynn, who had a wonderful eye for ironic juxtaposition. The film's iconic image is of Devane and Jones bedecked in their best dress uniforms with their mirrored aviator glasses reflecting the world back at itself with an unemotional fixed gaze. As Devane sums it up, here are two men who had basically already ceased living the day they were captured, enduring years of solitary confinement, torture, psychological abuse and malnutrition that left them hollow shells of the men they were. Since their own ability to feel had already been destroyed, why should the audience get off any better?

8/10: Totally worthy of its reputation and cult status. That this film has not been restored and made readily available is a symptom of what is wrong with today's entertainment industry.

Evil Eye (1975)
3 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Boring And Clumsy, 10 April 2010

Reporting in to note that I tried my best to like THE EVIL EYE and have failed. The movie has a lot in it to like: Spaghetti Western favorites Anthony Steffen & Eduardo Fajardo, the beloved Luciano Pigozzi, deliriously sexy Daniela Giordano, Pia Giancaro, Eva Vanicek & Pilar Velázquez, plus Lone Flemming, nothing to sneeze at herself. Music by genre film legend Stelvio Cipriani. Story & screenplay by Julio Buchs and Federico De Urrutia, who had graduated from the Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent school of Spanish Spaghetti Westerns themselves, and had previously collaborated on the under-appreciated A BULLET FOR SANDOVAL.

So the film bombards viewers with all sorts of fantastic elements, including some great Italian urban & rural scenery, a feast of cavorting nude women, some hunky Euro Manbeef for the ladies (or whoever -- is this movie gay?) and a couple of truly bizarre scenes that are difficult to explain ... Like the scene where a 2 ton pallet of cinder blocks are dropped on somebody, but when the camera goes in for the medium angle it looks like someone had tossed a few bricks into a pile. Was it a gaffe due to the film's tight budget or a surrealist touch meant to make you stop for a minute and say "Wait, did I see that right?"

The problem is that the film never really gels. It seems hesitant to tell its story and pads out the scenes which do move the narrative along with excessive travelogue photography, or just small scenes thrown in that have nothing to do with the story. I would also single out the lead Jorge Rivero, a fine actor from Mexico, with being totally wrong for the role. He doesn't come across as tortured or even involved in his story no matter what language his voice voice dubber was speaking. Roles like this need a tortured soul to wander through the film looking for answers -- Fabio Testi, George Hilton, Farley Granger, even cast mate Anthony Steffen, they could all do it in their sleep. Rivero comes off poorly but it isn't his fault.

It does have Anthony Steffen though, made up & costumed to look like Dirty Harry right down to the corduroy tie. The problem is that the film doesn't come up with anything for him to do that required the role to be filled by Anthony Steffen, who was a very special presence. They don't even do anything with the Dirty Harry angle, which would have made sense given how Steffen was marketed as Italy's own answer to Clint Eastwood. He isn't wasted in the role because he's just one of those actors where every performance is always pretty decent, the script just wasn't sure if it wanted to tell its story and subsequently doesn't really give him anything to do.

It also kept Daniela Giordano cruelly encased within her clothing, while lingering many a flattering camera angle on Jorge Rivero and his hunky roommate buddy -- who apparently share bathrobes -- lounging around in various states of semi-dress. Which led me to wonder if the film had a quietly gay subtext to it, which would be fine and can be the basis for some interesting results (look up a little number called ROOM OF CHAINS sometime). But the story dances around the idea clumsily, parading out the usual quota of bared breasts in a manner that comes across as perfunctory. The real passion is in showing Jorge Rivero lying in bed with his shirt off, and that in itself makes the film somewhat unique.

4/10; Euro Horror fans will be more sympathetic than others.

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