Thursday, May 28, 2009

Top Ten Funniest Movies Ever

Here's my list of the top ten funniest comedies of all time, ever. I definitely have a rather strange sense of humor, so some of these films may not be up your alley, but if you have any sense of humor at all, they'll make you laugh. And that's all I care about when I sit down to watch a funny movie. Just make me laugh often enough and I'll forgive anything.

Anyway, these are the ten films that make me laugh more than any others.

#10. Blue Streak
Martin Lawrence and Dave Chappelle in the same movie? How could this movie be anything but comedy gold? I don't care what anybody says... this movie... is hilarious. And I mean that. Martin should've gotten an Oscar for this. His delivery is so damn good. This is one of those movies that's so funny I just have to think about it and I start laughing.

#9. The Big Lebowski
Everybody loves this movie, and rightly so. It's just funny. I'm not a big fan of the Cohen Brothers, but this one works for me, because it's not pretentious or trying to be something it's not. It's just funny, and that's good enough for me.

#8. My Cousin Vinny
I love this movie and I make no apologies for that, nor should I. My Cousin Vinny is that rare fish out of water comedy that doesn't isn't actually mean spirited. This film has no villain, and even though it deals with a clash of cultures, both sides are depicted fairly and lovingly, and everybody learns a lesson about tolerance and acceptance. Also, this film never cheats the audience with the plot, giving us one of the most realistic depictions of the legal system ever put on film. And I'm completely serious, and you'll agree if you've seen it. And one more thing... it has become almost universally accepted to mock the Academy of Motion Pictures for giving a Best Supporting Actress Oscar to Marissa Tomei for her performance in this film. To that I say... go to hell. I'd go so far in the other direction as to say that there is not one actor in this film who didn't deserve an Oscar. I love this movie.

#7. Blades of Glory
How funny was this movie? After I finished watching it for the first time, I restarted the DVD and watched it again. I'm not bragging, I'm just stating a simple fact. I watched Blades of Glory two times in a row. Funny movie. A lot of people tell me it's not funny, but those people are all crazy.

#6. Monty Python's the Life of Brian
Leave it to Monty Python to make a parody of the life of Jesus that is really nothing more than two hours of dick jokes. And, no, I'm not putting down Monty Python by saying that, I'm complimenting them. This movie is brilliantly funny. And no, it isn't really a parody of Jesus so much as it is a parody of the people who follow Jesus without actually understanding his teachings. If you want to view it on that level, that is. I choose to just watch it as a bunch of dick jokes.

#5. Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy
Nobody ever talks about this movie, and those who do are usually disparaging it... but I think it's brilliant. It may not be quite as brilliant or witty as the best skits from the TV show, but it does have nudity and swearing! This is probably my most quotable movie ever, it's just too bad not enough people have seen it to make quoting from it the least bit funny or entertaining. Anyway, if you think this next scene is funny, you'll love this movie. If you find it offensive, strange, or off-putting, I can't help you:

I don't care who you are, that's funny. Here's another scene that makes me laugh every time:

#4. Fletch
Remember when Chevy Chase used to be funny? Ok, I'm sure he's still funny. I'm sure when he goes out to eat he cracks up his waitress. But remember when he used to be a movie star and make movies that were so funny you'd pee your pants watching them? Well, Fletch was his best. And remember, he's Chevy Chase, and you're not.

#3. Young Frankenstein
Even a bad Mel Brooks film is funny, but his great films all have one thing in common: Gene Wilder. Gene Wilder is one of the most talented actors in movie history, and this is one of the all time great screen performances, comedy or otherwise. He's absolutely amazing in this film and somehow gets a laugh even when he's standing still and keeping quiet. And the rest of the cast is good too, but this is Gene Wilder's show, no doubt about it.

#2. The Naked Gun Trilogy
That's right... the entire Naked Gun trilogy is the second funniest film of all time. Picking one would be like picking a favorite child. It can't be done. It shouldn't be done. The only real problem is that there are only 3. Why didn't they keep cranking out these films? We could be on Naked Gun 20 by now! It's not like they'd run out of jokes since the films all only have maybe five jokes between them that they repeat over and over. But they're funny jokes.

#1. Who's Harry Crumb?
"My reputation precedes me. Otherwise I'd be late for all my appointments."
--Harry Crumb

John Candy is probably the funniest man who's ever walked the Earth, and this is his weirdest, most ingenious film ever. It's dumb and silly and over the top, but it also holds the record (according to me) as the film with the most laughs per minute. Here's the funniest scene in movie history:

Don't act like you didn't laugh at that.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day Movie Recommendations

In honor of Memorial Day, and in honor of our brave men and women of the military, I've decided to put together a top ten list of my all time favorite war / army movies. And, just so you know, I've never served in the military so these choices are based on my love of movies, not out of any sense of realism or authenticity. Because I can't judge that. But they are all entertaining and show the bravery of those who have served.

And, to be honest, I didn't fret over this list too much, so I hope you won't quibble too much about the order or my picks. But they are all great films.

Happy Memorial Day!

#10. Enemy at the Gates

"All these men here know they're going to die. So, each night when they make it back, it's a bonus. So, every cup of tea, every cigarette is like a little celebration. You just have to accept that."

I'm glad I never had to fight in any wars, but I'm especially glad I didn't fight in the Russian army during WWII. They had it rough, and this is one of the few films that really explored just how rough it really was. It's a film that doesn't get a lot of attention, but it's one of my all time favorites. I think of it as Medal of Honor: The Motion Picture.

#9. The Caine Mutiny

"Mr. Maryk, you may tell the crew for me that there are four ways of doing things aboard my ship: The right way, the wrong way, the Navy way, and my way. They do things my way, and we'll get along."
--Captain Queeg

This movie is just fantastic. I wouldn't want to pick the best performance of Bogart's career, but his portrayal of the ape-shit crazy captain from this film is as good a pick as any. It's a powerhouse performance in one of the best films about the US Navy I've ever seen. It's just gripping from start to finish, and the suspense, and entertainment, never lets up. Go rent it!

#8. Platoon

"Death? What you all know about death?"
--Sgt. Barnes

Oliver Stone made this film back before he went crazy. Now, don't get me wrong... crazy Oliver Stone is one of my favorite directors, but there is still something to be said for the stripped down subtlety of his earlier films. They feel more honest somehow, and few films are as honest as Platoon. It's a brilliant film that works both as an examination of war and as an honest to goodness action film. I saw it for the first time when I was a kid and I am still trying to recover.

#7. Paths of Glory

"I apologize... for not being entirely honest with you. I apologize for not revealing my true feelings. I apologize, sir, for not telling you sooner that you're a degenerate, sadistic old man. And you can go to hell before I apologize to you now or ever again!"
--Colonel Dax

Paths of Glory is the true story about a group of French soliders who are tried for cowardice during World War I and sentenced to death. But that plot synopsis doesn't do the story justice, since it is far more intricate and involved than you'd find in most war films. It's a film that asks a lot of questions and never gives any easy answers, but it's an exhilarating depiction of war and of the effects it has on the men forced to fight in them. Go see it, even if it is the most jaded and bitter film on this list. That doesn't mean it's bad.

#6. Letters from Iwo Jima

"We soldiers dig. We dig all day. This is the hole that we will fight and die in. Am I digging my own grave?"

In 2006 Clint Eastwood directed two films about the battle for Iwo Jima, Flags of our Fathers and this one. Both are brilliant war films, but this film is slightly more thoughtful, more original, and just more exciting. In fact, as good as Flags was, I think he released that film just so he could follow it up with this one, which tells the same story from the point of view of the Japanese. Just go rent it.

#5. Black Hawk Down

"When I go home people'll ask me, "Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?" You know what I'll say? I won't say a goddamn word. Why? They won't understand. They won't understand why we do it. They won't understand that it's about the men next to you, and that's it. That's all it is."

This movie is just amazing. No film better shows the absolute anarchy and mayhem of modern combat, nor the bond between those soldiers caught in it together. This movie has a spectacular cast, amazing direction, and a true story that is more gripping than any work of fiction. Go rent it.

#4. Born on the Fourth of July

"People say that if you don't love America, then get the hell out. Well, I love America."
-- Ron Kovic

This movie isn't just about war, but about what happens after. Tom Cruise gives the performance of a lifetime as Ron Kovic, a real-life soldier who received a wound in Vietnam that left him unable to walk for the rest of his life. It's not an easy film to watch, but it is a rewarding one on many levels, and the changes and growth Kovic makes as a person through some hard times mirrors the growth and changes we made as a country, though not always for the better. This film doesn't have the most exhilarating battle sequences, but it's still an incredibly exhilarating film all the same. And no matter how nuts Tom Cruise may be today, he'll always get a pass from me because he was so great in this film.

#3. Glory

"Give 'em Hell, 54!"

There are a select few films that can make me cry. There are even fewer films that can make me misty just thinking about them. And Glory is one of them. It makes me misty not just for its powerful story, amazing acting performances, or dazzling film making, but more for what it represents. It's a film that shows both the best and the worst of our country, and it balances the two perfectly and profoundly. And it's also entertaining as hell, which is important too.

#2. Saving Private Ryan

"Keep the sand out of your weapons. Keep those actions clear. I'll see you on the beach."
-- Captain Miller

Forgetting for a moment the horrible framing sequence with the old man and the fact that this film doesn't really have much of a plot, it's still the most realistic and harrowing depiction of modern warfare I've ever seen. If you brought a camera crew to the Normandy Invasion, your footage wouldn't look too dissimilar from the opening battle of this movie. Spielberg changed the way war films are made with this film, and very few battle scenes since haven't ripped off his ideas and camera techniques. It's an amazing film and one that's well worth viewing over and over again. But, yeah, it's a little corny in places, and the framing sequence sucks. But the rest of the film is so good none of that matters.

1. The Bridge on the River Kwai

“Do not speak to me of rules. This is war! This is not a game of cricket!”
-- Colonel Saito

The Bridge on the River Kwai isn't just the best war movie of all time, but it's up there as one of the best films of all time from any genre. Alec Guinness plays Colonel Nicholson, a rigid army commander who is interned along with his men in a Japanese POW camp deep in the heart of Burma, is expected to lead his men in the construction of a bridge that will be vital to the Japanese war effort. Nicholson refuses, not out of a sense of duty to his country, but because the Geneva Convention expressly prohibits the use of officers in manual labor. His officers will not work, he tells the equally rigid Japanese Colonel Saito, and so the battle begins, between Nicholson’s intention to impose civility in a wholly uncivilized place and Saito’s fear of losing face.

Detached and yet at the heart of this battle is Major Shears, the only American of consequence in the film and one of the only characters capable of rational thought, played to perfection by William Holden. He is capable of rational thought, but in a way that makes him the most tragic character of all, as he is still a pawn in the fate that takes him from his near-fatal escape from the POW camp right back into it on a mission to blow up the very bridge which Nicholson was being forced to build. The conflict builds and builds until it finally erupts in once of the most exciting conclusions in film history.

The Bridge on the River Kwai is about WWII but it is not an anti-war film, at least not in so many words. When a film is this brutally honest, it doesn’t have to make any claim to its convictions on the matter either way. When you show war as it truly is, none can deny that it is indeed pure hell. The film does not show the war as a conflict between good and evil, as there are no characters found therein who can claim a true stake to either side. William Holden’s character is a liar and a cheat and Guinness’s is willing to sacrifice the health of his own men in order to satisfy his mad quest.

The Bridge on the River Kwai is not the kind of film you watch, but the kind that you experience and find yourself profoundly changed as an individual after having done so. Still not convinced? It won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Actor, and Director, so it’s gotta be good, right?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Star Trek: The Musical

Wait... did I say Star Trek Month was over? I have one more thing to post... videos of all the Star Trek captains singing! Let's see if I can actually pull this off:

Captain Kirk / William Shatner (The Original Series)
Finding footage of Shatner singing is easy. As Captain Kirk, not so much. But that's ok since it's pretty much impossible to separate the two anyway. Though, I guess you can't really call what he does "singing" so much as "talking slowly and passionately with some music in the background." Whatever it is... it's something. It is sad there were no episodes of Star Trek where Kirk sang, but this is close enough:

Jean Luc-Picard / Patrick Stewart (Next Generation)
If you're on a show that lasts seven seasons, at some point you're going to have to sing a song. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a clip of Picard singing that drinking song from the episode Allegiance (yeah, that's right), so I have to imbed this clip from Insurrection instead:

But this is even better:

Benjamin Sisko / Avery Brooks (Deep Space Nine)

Here is one of my all time favorite scenes from Deep Space Nine. I don't think it needs any comment:

Kathryn Janeway / Kate Mulgrew (Voyager)

I can't think of any episodes of Voyager where Janeway sang, so I did a generic youtube search. This is the best I could find:

Jonathan Archer / Scott Bakula (Enterprise)
Scott Bakula is actually a pretty good singer, but I don't think Captain Archer ever sang on Enterprise. But Sam Beckett used to sing all the damn time. This was my favorite:

Somewhere in the Night/Scott Bakula

Bonus Videos

Just for fun, here are some videos of the various crew members singing. By no means is this any attempt at a complete or comprehensive list of all Star Trek music moments. These are just a few of my favorites.

Vic Fontaine / James Darren (Deep Space Nine)
Vic used to sing all the time on DS9. He was a lounge singer, after all. Those were always fun scenes, but this one is my all time favorite. This is from one of the very few good Holodeck-themed episodes. What's especially awesome about this clip is that, taken out of context, it becomes the weirdest music video of all time. Check it out:

The Doctor / Robert Picardo (Voyager)
Bad show, but the Doctor was always awesome:

Mr Data / Brent Spiner (Next Generation)
Brent Spiner actually has a few albums out where he sings some old standards, and he has a fairly decent voice, if you're into that sort of thing. Here are a couple funny little bits:

Kira / Nana Visitor (Deep Space Nine)
Of course I'm going to include this one! Vic's intro is far better than anything I could write, so let's just get to it:

Odo / Rene Auberjonois (Deep Space Nine)
From the same episode as the one above, this is just a cute little moment:

Uhura / Nichelle Nichols & Mr Spock . Leonard Nimoy (The Original Series)

And here's the first Trek musical sequence that started it all rolling, and it's still the best:

And even though Shatner is the most famous Star Trek "singer," the work of Leonard Nimoy goes woefully unappreciated. Here are some highlights:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Star Trek Overload

I officially declare Star Trek Month over! Yeah, I got sick of it too.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek

I saw this movie at 7:oo pm Thursday evening, and, four days later, I still don't know what to think of it. As a die-hard Trekkie (in case you haven't noticed), I found a lot more to love about it than I thought I would. It was reverent and respectful to the original series in many ways, and was filled with enough inside-jokes, references, and homages to keep even the most resistant of Trekkies smiling. But...

Unfortunately, as a film, it was kind of a trainwreck.

Let's pretend for a moment that this wasn't a Star Trek movie, and that it was just another generic science fiction film, like Event Horizon, Red Mars, Supernova, etc. Would it be compelling on its own? Would it stand up as good science fiction? Would it be considered a good movie? Would it, dare I ask, justify its existence? Well... no. It would've sucked. Just like Event Horizon, Red Mars, Supernova, etc. The science was bad, the script was lazy and poorly written, and very little made sense.

But it was entertaining. Let's talk about what worked first:

The cast was great, pretty much without exception. I had reservations about the casting of Chris Pine as Kirk -- even though I liked him in the two movies I had seen him in previously -- but he pretty much blew me away. He was hilarious, heroic, charming, and seemed born to play this kind of role. And Karl Urban, an actor I've always liked, was incredible as McCoy. I've read a few reviews that called his performance too much of an impersonation of Deforest Kelley, but I thought he was perfect. He was my favorite thing about this movie, and every line he was given was gold. I wish he had been given a little more to do beyond being just comic interest, but that was pretty much all anybody was given to do, except for Uhura who was a pretty and independent and brilliant and all that, but was still a frightful bore.

The only actor I didn't like was the guy who played Spock, who just wasn't very good. Every line of his dialogue was spoken either through a smirk or through gritted teeth. This guy is a Vulcan? You'd think having Nimoy on set would allow them to get this character right, but as it turned out, he was the only one they really got wrong. And did they really have to go so over the top in the scene where he loses control so Kirk can take over? Why not have him throw a punch and then realize he lost control? They had to have a knock down, drag out fight that ended with Spock almost chocking the life out of Kirk? Wouldn't Spock be court-marshaled for that sort of thing?

Also, this movie was really, really funny. And in a good way! For the most part, anyway. There were a few scenes that felt too much like Galaxy Quest, like when Scotty transported himself into a water tank, but for the most part, the humor came naturally or through witty dialogue. The might want to tone the slapstick down a bit for the sequel, however.

And the special effects were great, but that kind of goes without saying these days. The action sequences were off the hook, even when they didn't really make too much sense, like when Kirk is outrunning some giant snow bug, or when Sulu is having a sword fight on the edge of a space drill. And even though they were way overused, I even liked the shakey cam and lens flares. But, they also might want to tone those those down for the sequel as well.

But, storywise, this movie just didn't hold together at all. The script was lazy and tried to move way too fast for its own good. They could've even wait until the cadets graduated from the Academy before sending them on their first mission? And, sure, they did really well, but I still take issue with the fact that none of them really earned the roles they're given at the end of the film. There's nobody else more qualified to captain the flagship than a cadet who barely even graduated? What happened to Kirk's time spent on the Farragut, or whatever his first ship was called? And shouldn't they send Scotty back to that iceplanet? They really just made him chief engineer because he, well, happened to show up? This was all lazy storytelling that hurt the characters more than it helped them, in my opinion. And where was Finnigan? I would've loved to have seen a cameo from that character.

There there was that ridiculous scene where the "plot" is revealed, at which point the film completely fell apart. The villain's origin, his motivations, and the time travel plot were all revealed in a really strange, awkward, five minute interlude that made zero sense. My girlfriend turned to me and whispered that she didn't get it, and I had to tell her that I didn't either.

Seriously, I'm no dummy and I've been reading science fiction novels since I was a kid, and this was one of the dumbest science fiction films I've ever seen, at least from a storytelling point of view. It pretty much ruined the film for me and turned it into a train wreck.

Here are a few other nitpicks that DEFINITELY CONTAIN SPOILERS:

- Uhura and Spock are lovers? Why did they feel that was necessary?

- Why in the world did Spock maroon Kirk on that ice planet? The Enterprise doesn't have a brig or even a broom closet with a lock on the door? That was moronic.

- And after getting marooned, Kirk just managed to find Future Spock? On a barren ice planet, these two just happened to run into one another? That's some of the worst storytelling I've ever seen.

- Did nobody tell the director that Vulcan also has starships? Wouldn't they have some kind of planetary defense system in place? They really would do nothing while a Romulan ship drills a whole in the crust of their planet?

- Kirk used a Nokia radio at one point. We really need product placement in a Star Trek movie?

- Nero and his crew hung out in space for 20 years doing nothing? Huh? And, really, what was he so mad about? I ask because I honestly don't know. He was mad at Spock for... attempting to save Romulus and failing? Or something?

So... this movie kind of sucked. But it was also entertaining. You know, like most Summer blockbusters. I'm being hard on it because, frankly, Star Trek should be better than your average Summer film.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Star Trek: The Television Shows

I'm not going to go into detail here like I did in my individual film reviews, but I wanted to give my thoughts, opinions, and observations on each Trek TV show. I'm going to try to keep these as brief as possible.

The Original Series

The Original Series is classic. This show is Star Trek. Not only was it a brilliant, visionary series that set the tone and foundation for all other series and films that followed, it is, quite rightly, what most people envision when they think of Star Trek. What can I say about this show that hasn't already been said a million times?

I can think of one thing: It hold up better than you'd think. A lot of people laugh at this show and call it cheesy or poorly made or overacted or any other such nonsensical criticism. Sure, the show's sets, wardrobe, and effects are somewhat dated, but the show itself holds up remarkably well, with far better acting than most people will give it credit for, and some of the best written, and most thoughtful science fiction stories you'll ever seen on TV.

This is a great show, and if you don't believe me because you either haven't watched in a few years or not at all, do yourself a favor and give it a look with an open mind. You'll discover an absolutely brilliant show with superb acting and engaging stories.

Except for, you know, the episodes that are really terrible. But what show doesn't have some terrible episodes? Season 3 in particular gets pretty sketchy, but it never gets boring or lacking in entertainment value.

The Next Generation

Next Gen is my personal favorite Trek series, perhaps because it premiered when I was a kid so I was able to watch it as I grew up. Whatever the reason, Next Gen always stands out to me as having the best overall series run, with some exceptional episodes that stand up to the best science fiction has to offer.

I will admit that Next Gen got off to a rocky start, with the first two seasons being lackluster and somewhat forgettable, with the exception of a few stand out episodes along the way. For those first two years, the show mostly got by on the basic appeal of having a new Trek show, and because of the overwhelming charm of the cast of characters. Put Riker, Picard, Data, et all, in a poorly written episode and it'll still be watchable, if not incredibly brilliant.

But luckily the show got better and better as it went along, at least until the the seventh, and final, season, where things started to get really weird. This show is probably the best series for first-time viewers or newbie Trekkies, since the episodes are so well done, so clever, and mostly stand alone. Also, All Good Things is the best series finale ever, Star Trek or otherwise.

Deep Space Nine

If I had to be completely objective and pick a "best" Star Trek program, I might choose Deep Space Nine, even though it isn't my personal favorite. As a whole, however, it follows such a strong story arc, takes risks, and really delivers in terms of characterization, science fiction storytelling, and overall brilliance. It's really a remarkable show.

Like Next Gen, it got off to a rocky start with a first season that is less that stellar, though the first episode is probably the best of all the Star Trek pilots, immediately setting the tone for the show as a bold departure from what we had come to expect from the first two Trek programs. The show finally hit its stride and found its niche with the introduction of the Dominion and the War, though it did take a long time to get there. And while the characters may not be as immediately memorable as those from TOS or Next Gen, I think Avery Brooks is probably the best actor who's ever worked on a Star Trek show. That's right, I said it.

Also, if I were asked to pick a best Trek episode of all time, DS9's Far Beyond the Stars would be as good a pick as any.


Voyager is the only Trek show I actually dislike. It's also the only Trek show I haven't watched completely, from first episode to last. It's just... boring. And kind of annoying. And lame. But, it's still Star Trek so I watch it whenever I happen to catch a rerun on Spike or TNT or wherever, but I don't really have any emotional investment in it.

I did try Netflixing the series recently, because it always kind of nagged at me that there are actually Star Trek episodes in existence that I haven't actually watched yet, but I gave up after making it through four seasons. I just wasn't enjoying it and realized that I was watching it just to watch it, and life is way too short for that. I have blogs to write!

It wasn't all bad, however, since the effects are fantastic and some of the plots are interesting and well written. With a better cast, many of these stories would've been great entertainment. But that cast... I just couldn't get invested in any of them, except for Tuvok, because I love Vulcans and because Tim Russ is a great actor, and Kess, because Jennifer Lien is a wonderful actress who deserved better. Once she left the show and was replaced by the "sexy" Borg (who was actually really boring and kind of unnatractive. Lien was far sexier, in my opinion), the show never recovered. And I also loved Robert Picardo's performance as the Doctor, but the character was a little too unbelieveable and annoying to be all that great, but it was still a clever idea for the character, and they pulled it off extrememly well.

Also, there were a few standout episodes, my favorite of which was Tuvix. This was actually a brilliant episode with a really powerful, brave ending, where Janeway was forced to "kill" Tuvix in order to save Tuvok and Neelix. Great episode, and there were a few others, but none as immediately memorable as that one.

At the end of the day, it was a ship that wasn't just lost in the Delta Quadrant, but it was lost without a real cast too. And Janeway was the worst captain ever, and not because she was a woman, but because she never showed any real leadership ability, in my opinion, and was poorly written and acted.


I like Enterprise, though it isn't quite up there in my estimation with the first three series. But it's still a quality show that deserved better.

Enterprise was doomed right from the start, since the idea of a prequel would never sit right with most die-hard Trekkies. There was no way to get around how often they would be rewriting Trek continuity and canon. I'm also a die-hard Trekkie who hates retconns and changes to continuity, but at least I can respect a good show that keeps me entertained. All things considered, Enterprise kept the continuity mostly intact, with very little for me -- or anybody -- to complain about. Trekkies will never forgive them for that theme song, however, even though I actually kind of like it.

Enterprise is also a fantastic looking show, since it's all CG, shot in widescreen, and filmed in HD. Great looking cast too, with two of the most gorgeous women in Star Trek history. Scott Backula is easy on the eyes too, and a favorite among sci-fi fans already because of Quantum Leap. More importantly, the cast of characters were all really likable, though Hoshi was kind of annoying and Travis never had anything to do. Phlox is my second favorite doctor after McCoy, and Trip is just awesome.

The show never quite managed to find its voice, however, since it aired in a different time than the other shows, a time when a program has to be an immediate success or else it goes away. As the other shows have proven, only the Original Series started out strong and got worse. Every other show started out weak, and got better. Enterprise just didn't have a chance to grow at its own pace and find its voice along with an audience, so the producers kept changing things and hoping to make an impact. The first two seasons are my favorites because they feel more like Star Trek, with standalone episodes as the norm, while the last two seasons are way too focused on long story arcs that were never all that interesting.

At the end, Enterprise was a show that deserved better, in my opinion, but it still stand as an interesting and entertaining failure, even if it was never allowed to become the show I had hoped it would be.

Star Trek Movies Recap

Well, I did it. Granted, they weren't all great reviews, nor terribly well written or entertaining, but I got them all done before the premier of the new Trek movie this afternoon. I've already got my ticket. Expect a review of that one to be forthcoming. I hope it's ecstatic.

To recap, here are my (un)official rankings of the films, in order from best to worst. Remember, these are just my opinion, and are knee-jerk at best. This isn't an exact science, and I like all of the films, though I only love and compulsively rewatch a few of them.

(Click on the links to read my reviews.)

1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

2. Star Trek: First Contact

3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

4. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

5. Star Trek: Nemesis

6. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

7. Star Trek: Insurrection

8. Star Trek: Generations

9. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

10. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Frontier is probably a "worse" movie, but I gave it the nod over this one because at least it's vastly more entertaining and kind of funny.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Star Trek: Nemesis

And then we have Nemesis, the last film to feature the Next Generation cast, and the last film set in the franchise's original chronological order. It remains to be seen how J. J. Abram's upcoming Star Trek film will fit into the continuity or canon, but all things being equal, this was considered the final Star Trek film at the time of its release.

It's also another film that is almost universally hated by the most vocal Trekkies, though it's actually a pretty good movie. I think it's hated more for what it is not than for what it is. What it is not is an epic finale to the series, nor is it the greatest film in the entire series. It's just a pretty good movie, but for the very last Trek film, that just doesn't feel good enough.

Nemesis is about the duality of man, or some such nonsense. Anyway, it's about an evil clone of Picard named Shinzon who attempts to take over the Romulan empire, using a clone of Data named B-4 to infiltrate the Federation. Or something like that. It was a clever, ambitious plot that unfortunately raised more questions than it answered.

How did Shinzon find B-4? How did he know to put him on a planet where the Enterprise would find him? Why did Shinzon attack Earth? How did the Romulans clone Picard? And why does Shinzon look nothing like him? If you're going to go with the whole cloned Picard thing, why not have Patrick Stewart play both roles? Better yet, get rid of the clone plot and have the film about the Mirror Mirror universe. How awesome would that've been?

So, at its heart, the movie doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but that doesn't mean it wasn't still a whole lot of fun. The marriage of Riker and Troi was long overdue and well done, the action sequences were off the hook, and the special effects and look of the film are the best from the entire series. And the death of Data was bittersweet and actually took me by surprise (SPOILER! OOPS!).

The death of Data was a sore point for a lot of people. Most negative reviews of the film I've heard call it a total rip-off of Wrath of Khan, an accusation I find wholly unfounded. It's a rip-off because a main character died to save the rest of the crew? By that logic, Full Metal Jacket is a rip-off of the Godfather because both films have pivotal scenes that take place in a bathroom. No, this film owes nothing to Wrath of Khan, aside from being a Star Trek film with a cliched villain bent on revenge for no good reason. This film would actually have benefitted from ripping-off Khan.

At the end of the day, Nemesis is a fine film, in my opinion, that more than delivers in the thrills and effects departments, but it just doesn't feel big enough for the end of a series. Shinzon is almost a great villain, but the actor who plays him is a little too stiff, his origin makes too little sense, and we never really get a good idea of what motivates him. Also, considering that this is the end of the series, it's sad to see that this film is pretty much just the Picard show, with little to nothing memorable for the rest of the cast to do, except for Data who gets to die.

But don't listen to the haters. It's a good movie that just should've been great.

Star Trek: Insurrection

Boy do people hate this movie, but I really don't know why. Sure, there's not a whole lot to love about it, since the plot is fairly uninspired and derivative, and the whole thing feels like a less than spectacular episode of the television show, but it's hardly the worst film in the series, and it definitely isn't worth hating. At the end of the day, it's a fun, entertaining film that just isn't all that great or memorable.

The story is about... you know what? Who cares. Let's just say it has a story that is actually pretty good, though maybe not good enough to base a movie around. Some of the ideas are ripped from earlier Next Gen episodes, like the booth in the mountains overlooking the primitive aliens or the holodeck ship used to transport those aliens without their knowledge, but all in all it's a satisfying yarn about which I can't say all that much good or ill. It works.

Most of the complaints I've heard about this movie is that it tries to hard to be funny, and just ends up being annoying and embarrassing. This is a valid concern, but not really one with which I can agree. I actually think this movie is hilarious. Picard and Data singing Gilbert and Sullivan? That's comedy gold. Troi and Crusher talking about their breasts? It was a clever and real moment, in my opinion, and in stark contrast to the kind of humor from Final Frontier jokes about how old people are stupid. To all the people who didn't think this movie was funny, I just have one thing to say: lighten up. This movie always makes me laugh.

Sure, I wish the film had a better villain. I honestly have no idea what F Murray Abraham was up to as the heavy in this film, and he was neither scary, intimidating, or the least bit entertaining. Who could possibly be scared of that guy? And don't get me started on the idea of the Federation forcibly removing a group of people against their will. Then again, if you get rid of that idea, you have no movie. But it's a pretty big flaw, in my opinion.

What saves the film is the fact John Frakes came back as director. Without his sure touch behind the camera, the film may have turned into the train wreck a lot of Trekkies will try to claim it actually was. Frakes gets great performances out of the Enterprise crew again, though the supporting cast were all pretty boring. But the action set pieces are great, with the space battle near the end one of the best of the series. It's pretty awesome.

But, at the end of the day, this movie is like Star Trek Lite, or like a Star Trek salad when what you really want is a full meal, like Wrath of Khan, Voyage Home, or First Contact. But what it isn't is a bad film, in my opinion. It just isn't a great one, which is kind of a let down in my opinion.

Star Trek: First Contact

Now this movie is awesome.

Free from the shadow of the original series, the Next Generation crew get their first solo theatrical adventure, and it's a damn good one. In terms of action and thrills, this is the best Trek film of all, though it doesn't quite have the intelligence or emotional impact of Voyage Home or a villain nearly as memorable as Khan. But it's my second favorite Trek film, and far and away the best from the Next Generation cast.

In the director's chair is Riker himself, Johnathan Frakes, who had already earned a reputation as one of the best directors from the TV series. Frakes is a great action director who gets the best out of his cast of actors. I wish he had gone on to bigger and better things after the end of this film franchise, instead of bombing with the Thunderbirds. The man can direct, Hollywood. Give him another chance!

The storyline is one of the most clever and epic from any Trek film, with branching storylines taking place on the Enterprise and on the surface of Earth in the past. The action and suspense never let up, and the plot keeps you guessing as the story unfolds. It's a testament to the script and to Frakes's direction that the film never gets confusing, even for casual viewers and nontrekkies.

I do wish the film had a better villain, however. Alice Krige is a wonderful actress and she turns in a suitably creepy performace as the Borg Queen... but I dunno. Borg Queen? I don't think we needed that. The Borg are creepy enough as a collective, and somehow the concept of Borg Queen just didn't feel right. But, all things considered, it was well done and worked within its own internal consistency. But she was no Khan. Maybe she should've quoted some Moby Dick.

No wait... that was Picard! Another problem with the movie -- at least for a die hard Trekkie -- is that they brought out another parallel to Captain Ahab! Just like Khan was the Ahab to Kirk's Dick (um, Moby, that is), now Picard is the Ahab to the Borg's Dick. However, unlike in Khan where the villain follows the same character arc and goes to the same fate, Picard actually has somebody point out the similarity to Moby Dick, cluing him in to the error of his ways and leading him back to his humanity. It's a retread, but it works better this time around, in my opinion.

And, of course, we get the awesome scene where Picard totally freaks out and screams, "The line must be drawn HEE -HAW!! This FAH!! NO Further!!!" It's hammy and overthe top and ridiculous, but I could watch that scene a thousand times and it would never get old. The film is filled with other such great moments, like when Data shuts off his emotions before going into battle, Troi getting drunk, or the spacewalk on the outside of the Enterprise. In fact, when Cochran played Magic Carpetride during the launch of the Phoenix, the crowd in the theatre where I saw it errupted into applause. It was one of the biggest, and funniest, crowd reactions I've ever seen in a theatre. I giggle everytime I watch that scene.

And then we also have Oscar nominated actors Alfre Woodard and James Cromwell, both of whom are brilliant, though Cromwell is given a better role and more to do. Some Trekkies have taken issue with Cromwell's portrayal of Zephram Cochran because it doesn't quite fit with the one we saw, briefly, in the original series, but I'm ok with it because Cromwell is so good and because it's from a time far earlier in his life. He'll still move to Andromeda, or wherever the heck he is when the Kirk and his crew find him. The Continuity is fine.

In conclusion, this movie is an awesome, exhilarating crowd-pleaser. Check it out.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

I saw this movie on Sunday afternoon with my girlfriend. It was an utterly incomprehensible story retconned to fit into the continuity of the earlier films, filled to the brim with poorly written and defined characters that only resemble the original characters in the vaguest possible sense.

So, in that, it was refreshingly faithful to the comics.

I love X-Men and I love Wolverine, or, at least, the X-Men and Wolverine I remember from the 70s into the early 90s. After that is when the character began to get a little sketchy, and that is the character they choose to put on screen. Well and why not? That's the character kids today know. It's just too bad that Wolverine Origins mini was one of the worst comics I've ever read. All things considered, the film improved on it in many ways, simplifying things as films are want to do.

Also, it was a benefit that most of the characters from the Weapon X team are ones I am not all that familiar with, so they didn't do to much damage for me. And the characters I did know, came out fairly unscathed. No, I didn't understand why Gambit was suddenly able to fly around, but he was still fairly well done and a lot of fun to have on screen. And Kestrel from the film has, um, the same hat as the one in the comics.

But this was the Wolverine / Sabertooth show, and they were both great. I've long since forgiven Hugh Jackman for being too tall and too handsome to be Logan, since he is such a badass in every other respect. He's great as Wolverine, in my opinion. And the fact that he is so handsome means that my girlfriend wants to see these Wolverine movies even more than I do. And Liev Schreiber was awesome and deliciously evil as Sabertooth. I never really understood what his character wanted or what he was doing most of the time, but he was always fun to watch on screen.

So... I liked it, to the same extent that I've liked the X-Men and Wolverine comics for the past decade or so. That is to say, they have the X-Men in them and they are reasonably entertaining.

And my girlfriend loved it. She has obvious affection for Mr. Jackman, but she also said that she really enjoyed the story. And that's from somebody who had probably never read a comic book before she'd met me. In fact, after seeing this movie, she asked to see some of my Wolverine comics. After we saw Watchmen, she asked to see my copy of tha comic as well, which she really liked, but she only reads about a page or so before bed every night. At that rate, maybe she'll finish it in about 500 years.

Star Trek: Generations

Star Trek Generations was the film that was supposed to bridge the cast of the Original Series with the Next Generation, with the proverbial torch passed by the former to the latter, but it didn't really work out that well. A poorly written story, an underdeveloped villain, and an over attempt to be an epic, important film in the Star Trek mythos made this film into a mediocre entry in the series, albeit an entertaining one.

The film's main, fatal flaw is that the story make no sense. The plot revolves around some strange time vortex / energy ribbon that orbits around the galaxy and sucks up anybody in its path, transporting them to an eternal heaven of their own creation. Our villain Soran was one such person sucked into the ribbon, only to be ripped out again by the Enterprise. He spends the rest of the movie blowing up stars in order to change the orbit of the Ribbon so he can get back into it.

Unfortunately, this makes no sense.

There is some line of dialogue explaining that he has to change the orbit of the ribbon so it will intersect with a planet because any ship that flies into it gets destroyed. This is true, since a few ships are seen flying into it and are destroyed. However, all of their passengers were sucked into the Ribbon! And even if he didn't want to destroy a ship, why not just put on a space suit and beam yourself in front of the Ribbon? I can think of a million ways to get into the Ribbon that make more sense than spending a century building rockets in order to change the orbit of some nebulous space vortex.

So that was a letdown, but how was the rest of the movie regardless? Pretty entertaining. The special effects are incredible and the action sequences are great. The cast are all given a lot to do, with Data in particular having a very funny, satisfying character arc.

It would've been nice to see a better bridge between the old and the new, however, since only Kirk and Picard get to meet and team up, and event that was really forced and kind of a let down. Kirk really got killed by Soran? That guy? I didn't buy that for a second. And for what? To stop Soran from blowing up some planet we know nothing about? Have Kirk die to save Earth or the universe, some not backward planet in danger of some lame villain who's motives don't make any sense.

But it's a fun movie, it just has too many lapses in logic and a let down of an ending for Kirk. It isn't one of my favorites, but it's worth it to see Kirk and Picard together on horseback!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

I feel about this movie in much the same way Santiago felt about the fish in The Old Man and the Sea: I love it and respect it, but I must kill it. Undiscovered Country is an immensely clever, well thought out, thought provoking science fiction film, that unfortunately fails as a Star Trek film.

And it's also a really poorly done mystery story, but we'll talk about its failings as a Star Trek film first. And I have to warn you... I'm going to get really nitpicky.

Undiscovered Country is a not so thinly-veiled allegory about the Cold War and the fall of the USSR. The Federation are the United States, Klingons are the Soviets, The explosion of Praxis is Chernobyl, the dismantling of the Neutral Zone is the end of the Iron Curtain, etc. Even Klingon Chancellor Gorgon's name is ridiculously similar to Gorbachev's, as if we wouldn't have picked up on that without the hint. Unfortunately, as any long-time Trekkie could tell you, the comparisons simply don't work, because the Federation and Klingon empires were never really at war, Cold War or otherwise. But instead of broading the allegory and making it more than just a direct parallel of the Cold War, they changed the Star Trek universe itself to make the plot work.

So that's why we have Federation Officials asking moronic, unthinkable questions like, "Does that mean we're mothballing the fleet?" in regards to the news that the Klingons want peace. Or that the warriros in Starfleet are afraid they'll have no one else to fight. Have they never watched an episode of the original series, whose villains were Klingons maybe 10%, at most?

Bottom line, Starfleet exists for scientific exploration, not warefare. But you wouldn't know it from watching this film, where even the basic Starship procedures are changes from anything we've seen before to be more akin to American naval procedures. So nothing that takes place in the plot makes all that much sense, since there would never be much controversy over helping a dying race from reaching mass extinction.

That isn't to say things wouldn't be tense, nor that some people wouldn't be wary of forging a peace with a long-time enemy. Kirk's hatred of the Klingons is a staple of his character, and the arc he takes in the film to overcome those fears and emotions is heroic and brilliantly done. The film should've centered around the crews fears and emotions, not Starfleet's as a whole. It just doesn't work for me. And don't get me started on the notion that highranking Stafleet officers and Klingon warriors would ally themselves together into a conspiracy to end a peace process that would force Starfleet officers and Klingon warriors to become allies. Huh? Was that supposed to be ironic? Because it wasn't. It was just stupid.

And then we have a mystery story used as a device to move the plot along. Unfortunately, as mysteries go, it's not very well thought out. The knew the assassins used gravity boots on the Klingon ship, so Spock (not so logically) deduces that if they locate the boots, they will find the assassins. Why? Why can't they throw them away? Or leave them in the middle of the shuttlebay? What about the boots will actually lead them to the people who wore them? Or, here's a crazy idea, why didn't the assassins just put them back where they found them? Of course, this idea is proven to be illogical because when they find the boots, nothing is revealed. Duh.

And so the mystery continues, with very little clues given or deductions made that are the least bit logical. For a man who has written two Sherlock Holmes novels, Nick Meyer's ability to direct a good mystery is mysteriously limited. And then we have the not so shocking reveal that the traitor on the bridge is the one new addition to the bridge crew with an actual speaking part. And then the rest of the conspirators are revealed to be everybody else who was given lines earlier in the film. That's such bad writing.

And Chang has to be the most poorly thought out, annoying villain in Trek history.

Don't get me wrong, Khan was annoying too, and his entire character arc, and a good deal of his dialogue, was stolen from Captain Ahab. That never made sense to me. After his third or fourth reference to Moby Dick in regards to his need for vengence against Kirk, wouldn't somebody in his crew say something like, "Um... you know Ahab died in the end, right? I'm just saying."

But at least Khan's cartoonish behavior and overuse of literary quotes make sense in context. Chang just babbles Shakespeare at random. In every scene. For no reason. That finale where he keeps shouting different quotes over and over again is obnoxious.

But... the movie still works because it's a good story and because the actors are all so great. Among the films, this is the best use of Spock, who finally isn't either dead, a child, or suffering from amnesia. His illogical deductions throughout the mystery not withstanding, Nimoy is great in this movie and he has a lot to do. And, come on, Sulu is finally a captain! It's nice to see somebody other than Kirk and Spock getting a career boost.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Hoo boy, this one ain't too good.

How bad is this movie? I own all of the Star Trek movies except for three: Part I, Generations, and Final Frontier. I owned I and Generations on VHS, and never really saw any reason to upgrade, even though I haven't owned a VCR in close to a decade and I've long since thrown out the tapes years ago. But Final Frontier I've never owned, which is weird because, bad as it is, it's more entertaining than Part I and makes more sense than Generations.

But it still sucks.

I wanted to be fair and give it equal ground for this review, so I decided it was finally time to add it to my Star Trek DVD collection. However, the cheapest I was able to find it at a used bookstore was 12 bucks. That's far too much for a copy of Final Frontier. So I rented it.

Yeah, this movie was as bad as I'd remembered, but it wasn't the horrific abomination most Trekkies would have you believe. I'd rather watch this than most episodes of Voyager or the worst episodes from The Original Series, Next Gen, etc. It isn't all that bad, per se, just really dumb, uneventful, unoriginal, lacking in capable direction, and treats the main characters with very little respect. But, you know, not that bad. It's better than Spock's Brain.

The main problem with the film is its lack of story and good direction. Only William Shater would come up with a story where Kirk fights God... and Kirk wins. Though, it wasn't actually God (spoiler!) which was a cop out that ruined what was an already stupid movie. If you're going to have the villain be god, follow through and have it be God. But, since you can never do that -- certainly not in a science fiction film -- don't have God at all. It just doesn't make any sense, nor does the idea of some galactic barrier than nobody had ever talked about before nor will anybody ever mention again.

The film also tries way too hard to be funny, which wouldn't be a problem if it was actually funny. Humor should always be a part of any Star Trek episode, but the tone should never go full tilt toward full on farce or slapstick. Voyage Home was the funniest Star Trek film of all, and it's also the best, so humor doesn't mean the film doesn't take itself seriously. Final Frontier doesn't take itself seriously, and the humor doesn't come from having the characters say witty things, nor does it come from putting our heroes in absurd situations. The humor in Final Frontier is at the expense of the character, who's buffoonary becomes the butt of the jokes, as though the studio refused to believe viewers would take senior citizens seriously. Even though a lot of the jokes are funny, they are out of place and harm the overall tone of the series.

So what works? I enjoyed the camping framing sequence. It was funny and well done, and contained a tone and point of view that was lacking in the rest of the film, though there was far too much slapstick. I also liked the irony that the "Planet of Galactic Peace" was actually some barred wasteland where everybody was completely miserable. And I liked Laurence Luckinbill as Sybok. He was a really good actor who was given a pretty good role. I don't even mind that he was revealed to be Spock's half-brother, which so many Trekkies have refused to accept as cannon. I'm ok with it. Vulcan's are long-lived, so it's easy to accept that Sarek has been in a few relationships that resulted in off-spring. And it's been pretty well established that my boy has a thing for Earth chicks.

But, all things considered, this is a pretty dumb movie, with too much slapstick, poor direction, bad special effects, and a story that goes nowhere, never makes sense, and falls apart at the end. So, it's like a bad episode of Star Trek, but even the bad episodes are worth watching. The best compliment I can offer is that it's still Star Trek, so that's enough for me.

But it shouldn't be enough for, you know, anybody with more discerning taste.