Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: Star Trek (1973-1974) [11-16]

"The Terratin Incident" (5/10)
Shit, a gas cloud. That can’t be good. Bones has gotten way too mouthy. There’s that damn “jury-rig” phrase again!
--Well, they tried a little harder. The animation on Cepheus looks interesting, they use some new camera angles, and the script is tightly plotted for being an “everybody shrinks” story. In fact, the writing is really strong in general. Is it a rejected script from the live-action show? Who is this gent? *looks up Paul Schneider* Oh SHIT he wrote “Balance of Terror!” … oh and “The Squire of Gothos.” But still!

"The Ambergris Element" (2/10)
The WHAT? Running a specimen retrieval gambit, the away team pisses off a monster and Spock and Kirk somehow get lung-fucked. Like Neelix! And a red shirt survives!
--This episode has elements of the John Smith/Pocahontas story, with an incredibly uninteresting progression of events ending in a violation of the Prime Directive. I’ll tell ya one thing: it’s good to know that fishwomen still possess boobs.

"The Slaver Weapon" (5/10)
Spock takes us on a journey through a short story full of big ideas and Stasis Box politics. Yes. I don’t even want to know what a “soft weapon” is.
--They get Spock down pretty well here, in the sense that he fucks up yet another command gig. Not that it wouldn’t have happened under Kirk’s watch too but c’mon, give the guy a win some time. The episode makes a couple of dumb decisions in the execution department, of course, but it ends up being another one that’s goddamn impressive, given the show it’s in.

"The Eye of the Beholder" (3/10)
After battling a series of monsters one after the other like assholes, the away team is captured by some giant snails. Is EVERY woman Nurse Chapel?!
--Another Galactic Zoo episode masquerading as something else until the last ten minutes. I’ll give that a difficult problem is established for the characters to overcome, and they do it somewhat cleverly. I’d rather they funnel that ambition into the universe they’re portraying. “Wait a minute! You… you… Hey!” Nailed it again, Bones. I’m glad you didn’t suffocate comically.

"The Jihad" (3/10)
Ready your asses for xenophobia sublimation and some obvious religious parallels. Are the birdmen… Jews?
--A Dirty Dozen style team goes on a tightly-regimented excursion to basically recover an artifact that proves the existence of god. It’s not as exciting as it sounds. Unnecessary plot twist ensues. I really wanted this one to be better, too. Don't ask me why.

"The Time Trap" (3/10)
Why is it that the Enterprise is the one that gets stuck investigating all of the disappearances? Why are there so many of them to begin with?
--They used the same character models from “More Tribbles, More Troubles” for the view-screen, but the Klingon captain looks different when we see him in his ship. The animation is incredibly shitty all over the map. Eh, who cares at this point, I guess. The plot of this one is like the Voyager episode where everyone is trapped in that void and trying to work together to get out, only here there is an annoying all-powerful mediator (cabal). You know how I adore those. I’d also complain about the awfully convenient way in which there is no racial overlap in the so-called randomly assembled void committee, but… Orion slavegirl…

Monday, May 21, 2012

Review: Star Trek (1973-1974) [06-10]

"The Survivor" (3/10)
Oh God, let’s watch them fuck up the Romulan Neutral Zone some more. Jesus, a cat lady!
--They took some precautions regarding Cutter’s identity, but didn’t report an anomaly with the medical exam and Kirk’s keyphrase from “Whom Gods Destroy” is not utilized. This episode is really really out of control with the re-used animation, and still it weirdly results in continuity errors when used within the story. And… he became a deflector shield?! Blugh to you, sirs!

"The Infinite Vulcan" (4/10)
Stuck in a state of denial about whether or not you can justify this series as canonical? Then keep in mind: there is a giant Spock on a planet somewhere.
--Hard sci-fi amid some stupid things. A crazy dude from Khan’s eugenics war clones himself over and over to keep his work going. Plant-based people search for a cure. Misuse of Vulcan mind meld, which is becoming this show’s set theory paradox. “Now wait just a minute, I can’t let you infect him with some alien…” *searches for appropriate word* “… dewdrop!” Nailed it, Bones. Nailed it.

"The Magicks of Megas-Tu" (2/10)
If a Giant Spock isn’t enough, the fact that there’s a centaur dude seated at the center of the universe should do the trick.
--No sooner does Spock attempt a “science survey” that a bunch of things begin to happen way too fast. Then the Centaur Man makes fun of them for wanting to remain cohesive and asserts that his world operates on “magic.” A shot holds on Earth for a long time, stretching that animation budget. The crew learns to wield the power of the Megans with the simplest of arbitrary rituals. “stay with us no wait you have to leave no wait engage in a colonial trial sure why not PLOT TWIST satan SUDDEN BATTLE OF MAGIC wait we like you after all now you can leave.” That’s how ya fuck up a trip to Creation Point.

"Once Upon a Planet" (3/10)
Another This Again episode. Sulu gets rape eyes, Uhura sings (ugh), there’s a giant cat, Kirk even calls it the “Shore Leave” planet. You can’t say it isn’t trying to attach itself to the universe.
--Bones has a wild hair up his ass in this episode. Goddamn is he pissed about almost getting killed. We get to see the hangar bay, finally, and somehow the Enterprise has a shitload of smaller crafts now. Had a good moment where the planet’s computer tries to pilot the Enterprise by running through a familiarization program. Kirk dispatches the computer through negotiation this time, and forgives it of murder for some reason. All in all, it’s the most like an actual Star Trek episode so far. But a bad one.

"Mudd’s Passion" (4/10)
Harry Mudd again? Aww buttballs. Let this be known as the episode where Scotty fucks the Cat Lady.
--The crew kinda screws over Mudd in the beginning, apparently without appropriate jurisdiction, so they somewhat deserve the wackiness that ensues. The crew is euphoric again, wahhh wahhhhhh! Confusing fight with rock creatures ensue. Did Nurse Chapel get court martial’d for letting a prisoner go? Eh, who am I kidding, some parts are fun. Holy shit, am I getting dumber?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: Star Trek (1973-1974) [01-05]

"Beyond the Farthest Star" (2/10)
You thought I was done with this, didn’t you you mother? Fuck no I’m not! Kirk and Crew utilize a different storytelling medium to explore a disgusting ship without the aid of spacesuits. Complaints about the quality of the previous aesthetics cease for all time.
--Nice to see the crew is back, except for Chekov but who gives a shit. You can tell Roddenberry didn’t have much of a hand in this to keep the rules (whatever those were) intact, and certain disconnects result in hilarious scenes. Listen to the contempt in Leonard Nimoy’s voice as Spock is forced to say “jury-rigged.” Off-putting character and set designs, animation used and re-used, poorly-paced garbage and not much to recommend, but a whole lot more I could say. obeyme

"Yesteryear" (4/10)
Starfleet is actively utilizing the stargate from City on the Edge of Forever. Wow, well, I’m impressed that we’re revisiting things from the previous sh- WHOA WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING?! A BIRDMAN?!
--Kirk and Spock, after adventuring in spacetime, accidentally change the future in a most insignificant way. Before you can cry “Wait a minute, I didn’t know this time travel shit was revisionist!” they send Spock back to fix it. Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense but the situation is at least compelling, more than the previous episode. It could have made it to mediocre if the general execution of the show wasn’t so torturous. This Vulcan stuff isn’t canon, right?

"One of Our Planets is Missing" (3/10)
Another cloud thing menaces the Enterprise and entire planets. Isn’t this plot used in a Next Generation episode? Or was that a giant crystal? Man, fuck clouds.
--Once again, we are trapped inside of a giant space amoeba, making the existence of them not so special. Develop some procedure for dealing with this things, you fools! A live action version of this might not be so bad, but y’know… the usual complaint…

"The Lorelei Signal" (3/10)
Bermuda Triangle in Space, recurring disappearance is a job for one ship and one ship only. Oh don’t worry though, it’s just some bitches causin a ruckus.
--Well, it’s gradually getting more on-point. Witness a slow shot of the Enterprise as a love-drunk Scotty sings a ballad. There’s an implication here that The Cage’s “I’ll never get used to a woman on the bridge” is true, else how would the female’s methods have worked for so long? And I guess no one on the Enterprise is a lesbian?

"More Tribbles, More Troubles" (4/10)
Everybody’s favorite furry blobs return to wreak some good-natured havoc more or less identical to the first time ‘round. Klingons still ain’t Klingony.
--I suppose there are just enough extra ideas to make it distinct from the last adventure. The major story beats from The Trouble with Tribbles remain; Cyrano Jones hucksters it up, high-density grain is eaten, the Klingons get stuck with the bill. And more on-point humor, like some good Kirk/Spock exchanges and that gag where Kirk keeps pushing the gradually growing Tribble off of the helm. Still: not enough.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Review: The Tree of Life (2011)

“Fuck a historical event. Let’s use all of existence.”

In the beginning, there was an explosion of matter, space, and time. There was intense heat, followed by a cooling period and some really shitty looking dinosaurs. Approximately 13.75 billion years later, Sean watched The Tree of Life and thought about it.

That above paragraph doesn’t tie into anything other than a vague satire of the film. Yes, you should be pissed at me.  Assuming that you experienced the same sort of childhood as Terrence Malick (and feel as intensely confused about it), the film might make some kind of immediate sense. For the rest of us, one would have to know going in that 1) we are in the Present in spite of the actors not looking sufficiently aged and Past Texas and Present Texas are too similar, 2) Sean Penn and Brad Pitt are related, 3) these are Sean Penn’s memories and musings, disregarding the contributions of the other characters to the narration. Either I am a somewhat dense individual and it is my own fault for not picking up on this, or, as I am more inclined to believe, it is the film’s fault for not speaking the language of cinema and is just jumping around in a self-indulgent manner willy-nilly. Hopefully I can convince you it is the latter. And off we go.

Here is what it looked like out the gate: we hear of the death of a character we haven’t gotten to know yet. Brad Pitt laments choices he made as a father we don’t get to see yet. Sean Penn mopes about a lost childhood we haven’t gotten to experience yet. And before we get to know any of it, we first have to endure the creation of the universe set to some overbearing choral score that seems like it is overcompensating. By this point, it is too late to be truly engaged by what is going on without that personal relation to Malick. It cannot even be enjoyed on a level of pure style (see: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) because, until we get to the shot of the bats racing across the sky, the film can’t hold on a shot for longer than three fucking seconds.

The Tree of Life suffers from a constant arrhythmia, its biggest folly also its most noticeable, and you’re not even twenty minutes in.

Throttling back a bit to talk about the story. After hearing about the death of his brother, Sean Penn slips into memories of growing up in Texas. Well, first we are shown the Big Bang and it is unclear if this is Penn’s doing or if it is illustrated to us by the universe itself. Anyway, we are submerged into childhood for a long time, witnessing the tiny nuances that make up the family’s ordinary life. The father tries to enforce discipline, the mother insulates them from father, the children act out, the family moves out of the house. Every once in awhile there is an out-of-place image inserted in the middle of the scene, or a voice whispering a question that given its placement in the narrative, can only be rhetorical. The final portion of the film is, spoiler alert, some more stuff.

Using the stone-to-statue analogy yet again (I’m proud of it, can you tell?), Malick has an immense stone slab of his own life and the life of the universe itself, which means a daunting amount of choices to make and near-infinite possibilities. It is clear now that it is beyond his ability to make the right ones, for the choices he makes are all the wrong ones, and he is content to do so. He had options of beginning the film with the abstract images of: the space ribbon, the Creation of the Universe, or the blue candle that Sean Penn lights in his apartment. He “chose” to begin with the Nexus, but went on to include the others anyway, at points chosen arbitrarily. Like they all deserved a share of the theme. Which they don’t. He could have chosen a linear story, saving the meditations for the end after we’ve experienced his past, the source of his pain. Instead, he scatters them everywhere. He could have found some way to focus, as he has done before. He is not interested.

The ultimate shame is that, like Christopher Plummer has eloquently stated, the photography of Creation and Earth’s evolution is nothing short of extraordinary, and in a better film would be wielded as such. Because we are spending an extended amount of time with Malick surrogates, an ideal theme would be that the trials of these people are part of a cosmic fabric, as beautiful as the formulation of a universe which may or may not possess consciousness (and which may or may not be an old man with a beard masturbating into an abyss, as per popular theory, but that is not the portrayal here). With the current juxtaposition, the characters aren’t endearing, but petty and goddamned irritating. Is that what he is meandering towards? Again, I could have stayed at home and you could have iterated this with a phone call. You stupid stupid asshole, why does it seem like you’ve suddenly unlearned everything?

It is quite a feat to create something more uninteresting than The New World. We have gone to an even further thematic impotence. “We test the boundaries of an impenetrable adult world by waging acts of wanton destruction.” And? “Our mother will always love us.” And? “We will eventually become our father.” So? Too, there’s something inherently incorrect about the statement of the film, nature vs. grace. There’s nature, the intense emotional reactions that accompany a dangerous situation, where the “grace” of going hungry over a dying dinosaur or crying over a woman’s underwear actually belongs. And there’s logic, the final causation, the search for meaning we assign form and function, how we order the universe after we see its effects, which is in a different class than both. You aren’t surrendering to the way of “grace” if you stumble around a city, looking up at the buildings and acting confused and then smile as you give up the struggle to understand your life. You’re a dumb animal, returned to the primitive, equivalent to the state of “nature” that you fear.

What do I want out of the film? Do I want a quicker pace? Do I want something “less personal,” whatever that is? Do I wish for a bank heist and some titties? Well, I want what I want from all films: a good product, both in economic and thematic terms. The Tree of Life is an inferior product, in both. It is inferior to The Fountain in terms of a love story dressed in science fiction's clothing, to 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of mankind breaching the unknowable, to Neon Genesis Evangelion in terms of an adolescent male’s psychological struggle, in marrying science with religion, in asking the big questions about existence on this planet… and just about everything else. Worst of all, it fails to be interesting.

And yet gorsh, I went on and on about it, didn’t I? Fuck me, I guess that deserves some credit. I’ll admit that for all its wretched stylistic choices, it is certainly a puzzle I want to solve, perhaps brought on by glowing reviews, which baffle me. I mean, it certainly is a puzzle. It’s broken in some way, and there's a clear picture in there somewhere. My desire to fix it is what is keeping it above the median line. If barely.

 I would hate to have been a producer on this thing, but not an editor. Hell, I’d really like to take a crack at re-editing this film right now, at least moving the creation of the universe to the beginning and the dreamlike imagery that is scattered throughout, to the end where the shots goddamn belong. I have to believe that at least one of the six editors (maybe even the first five) suggested this. When placed there, a question is asked. What eventually happens to the data we’ve gathered? Does it finally make sense or does it start to come apart? Is there more to do afterward? C’mon, Bruce McDonald made that possible for The Tracy Fragments, why not put the raw footage for this one online too?… You say it’s 2,000,000 gigs worth? OH.

Summary paragraph time. Speaking Malick’s language, The Tree of Life has been raised from a rough childhood from many different fathers who strive for balance and structure, and one mother possessing unconditional love and infinite patience but sheltering his child from discipline, boundaries, formulation, a common language… the unfortunate symptom of which is finally a lack of synthesis. Malick eventually steps away, as one has to, declaring “I am done. This is all I can do.” (See within the film the derision of the ‘not good enough yet’ mentality). More time or a stronger fatherly influence would have prevented this kid from being a total fucking brat.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review: The New World (2005)

Englishmen arrive in the Americas and clash with the “naturals.” Less insightful meditations break up the tedium. By “break up,” I mean “add to.”

Where The Thin Red Line was a giant leap forward, The New World is twenty seven short steps backward. The narration is worse, the editing is worse, there’s only the supposed existence of a narrative, no shortage of compositions which fail to impress, even John Savage played a better crazy person last time. They broke their inertial cage hard.

If you’ve seen the Disney film Pocahontas or have read John Smith’s contested accounts, you’re aware of the gist of the story. A Virginia colony has trouble synthesizing, along with a peaceful treaty, and a roustabout falls in love with a 12 year-old. So in that last regard, we’re in familiar Malick territory. The New World goes a bit further with the story and shows the destruction of the tribe and the Princess’s eventual trip to England. Y… ipee?

With a bit too much data in favor of the Injuns to be another Cosmic Perspective thing, we watch glorified melodrama unfold in the most disengaging way possible. Colin Farrell wanders about the countryside, whispers some trite shit about selflessness, receives foodstuffs during the hard winter, there are some battles I think, then he attempts to put his colony back together before abandoning it outright, exits after he has won what he supposedly possesses an intense love for. And you still have 50 minutes of film left to assign some sort of motivation for the characters and the filmmaker.

Assuming that stone-to-statue method I mentioned in the last review has been transferred to this film, it looks like immense raw footage cut down to a somewhat tolerable length, but somebody accidentally kept all the wrong scenes -- the goddamned outtakes. Major events, Captain Smith’s torture or the battle of Jamestown Fort for instance, don’t stick. They just happen. As though we are a lesser form of God and half asleep, and every time we blink we see something recognizable but not enough of its cause or consequence, and when we fully wake up, we won’t remember it at all.

BONUS VIDEO: Christopher Plummer is the man.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: The Thin Red Line (1998)

That twenty-year gap spent walking around and thinking about nature really did Terrence Malick some good. Sure, he does the same shit he’s always done, but this time, there’s focus.

This is an all-star cast, so brace yourself motherfucker. Nick Nolte spearheads a campaign into Guadalcanal with Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Elias Koteas, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Jared Leto, Nick Stahl, Thomas Jane, Tim Blake Nelson, John Savage, and allegedly Kick Gurry. John Travolta and George Clooney even stop by to say hello. And those are all just the actors I recognized, and I suck at that. Anyhow, explosions occur, people die, things are terrible for the characters for awhile, eventually a victory is declared by one not present, and we leave the island. The job to record the events is one for somebody else.This doesn’t fit easily into the category of ‘war film.’ The common tropes and beats, morality, bravery, disassociation, national pride and so on appear very briefly. The film is more interested in an analysis of the cosmic perspective, an objective camera view as a spirit floating over the tall grass from soldier to soldier, switching suddenly to a subjective view of their memories, their thoughts while a horrifying, mainly unseen enemy tries to kill him. Death as both paralyzing and the ultimate climax with nature. While you could look at it as every character suffering from PTSD at all times, it is not so much as a claim on realism or an anti-war push. We aren’t watching soldiers per se, not the proficient killing machines who have passed the academy and do their country proud by being good at their job. Forget about that shit, don’t even let it enter your mind. We don’t see the men themselves, but the men’s souls, and the immediate effects of violence while they struggle to comprehend their own behavior. We see men who are uncommonly honest, who slip easily into blissful memories of home, who intimately explore their surroundings, who speak different languages but appear to understand one another perfectly. This is a far cry from the cynicism (near nihilism, actually) that we have seen previously.

Only at the 2:10 mark does it begin to lose its power, quickly closing out arcs of minor characters and showing clips of scenes that were probably complete in the alleged six hour work print. It unfortunately sucks the life out of an otherwise extraordinary film.

There’s an inertial cage -- the novel The Thin Red Line, the original adaptation, and sure, the actual historical events at Guadalcanal that deserves a share of the success. And there’s the sensibility of a director that, as I now understand it, has worked very hard to create a giant stone monolith, complete with raw data but without form, and later, painstakingly carves a statue out of it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Review: Days of Heaven (1978)

My mistake. This one is also under two hours. I would hardly call it merciful, though.

Richard Gere, far too pretty to be the workin man his character is, loses his job (somehow) and rail-hops with his wife and their surrogate orphan daughter to Sam Shepard’s wheat field on the American plains. Some romance novel shit starts up pretty quickly. Or rather, slowly. And then the film runs out.

Filled with more jarring, rule-breaking cinematic abstractions than Badlands, we watch as a thin plot resolves itself in a far-too-long hour and a half. Between the critical action, we are given improvisations from both actors and director (save for the occasional well-choreographed shot of locusts swarming away from the farm). A good version colors the landscape with naturalistic, serendipitous performances. A bad version tends to stray outside the narrative, pad the runtime and become noticeably useless. Worse times, they transition between a logical contradiction and a claim for a salient contrast. A scene in particular shows this new family, most of whom come from abject poverty, joyfully throwing food at one another. This comes thirty minutes after a scene where Richard Gere wastes food defending his wife’s honor, the meaning of the sacrifice now ruined. A statement about their newfound prosperity bought by corrupt means? If it is, it came about by pure accident. But okay, the film might be saying that mankind’s state is completely transitory. It is then foolish in the first place to attach an efficient causation to the story. When Richard Gere returns to the farm in the third act, does he bring the plague of locusts with him or would it have happened regardless? Does our nature have an arbiter or doesn’t it? The Shakespearian overtones of the story say it does, Malick’s sensibilities as a director say it doesn’t.

In a response to the recent complaints about Malick’s Tree of Life, Days of Heaven proves that he has actually been making nature documentaries since the 1970’s. We the audience are an anthropological survey team, watching the rituals of a strange and alien culture that happens to be our own. Rituals that go on unexplained, without motivation or reason, and mostly without synthesis other than how we feel watching the construction of a massive failure of integrity. And we shouldn’t interfere. Well, I could have done that without seeing the film in the first place. “Let’s end this… here.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: Badlands (1973)

A 25 year-old wants to run off with a 15 year-old. The father says “Uhhh” and then is killed. Then more stuff happens.

Terrence Malick is one of those “Oh, okay,” directors. What I mean is, you know what you’re getting into, down to a level more precise than say, Clint Eastwood (it could be good or bad) or even David Fincher (it could be good or fucking awesome). He’s close to David Lynch’s “Oh, okay, I’m about to be confused and probably angry.” Malick is “Oh, okay, I’m in for some slow pacing and beautiful shots of nature. And the main characters are going to be losers, or at the very least, bad at their jobs.” Badlands might be the only time you can add “At least it’s under two fucking hours.”

What we’re watching in Badlands is a road trip movie with a lot of boring moments and the occasional murder. Martin Sheen drives and provides provisions and escapes by velocity, Sissy Spacek talks about it in a way that I can only assume is directly from her diary after all this happened. Or maybe it’s testimony. They have some quiet moments together where they sit around and love one another like an ordinary couple, until eventually they need to kill someone again. It’s all Texas justice and animal chaos, no mention of morality whatsoever.

While this has shades of an actual “movie” movie, something that easily could have been made by Hal Ashby or Arthur Penn (there’s a car chase), Malick at this early stage manages to assert his desire to film banality and put narration over it in the hope that it comes across like a modernist novel. Martin Sheen stashes a body in the basement, comes back out with a toaster in his hand and says joylessly “I found a toaster.” Then we listen to a choir as the house burns down. Very suddenly some sepia toned B-roll footage appears over some more testimony, and other strange stylistic choices blast you out of the movie. Whatsitall mean? Other than sublimating our mass-murder fantasy… prob’ly nothin I reckon. *shot of clouds*