Logan (*****): Take a moment. Feel it.

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Logan – 2017

Director James Mangold
Screenplay Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Eriq LaSalle, Elise Neal, Doris Morgado, David Kallaway, Han Soto, Jayson Genao and Krzysztof Soszynski

After grinding down so much earth into dust, they finally found a single diamond. Logan is the Wolverine our hearts always thought was there, even if we wasted many years wading through several mediocre movies to get to it. The X-Men universe was brought to a silly dead end last summer with Apocalypse. It was truly a movie that exemplified all that has been wrong with the film version of the hero troupe.

What should have been a crescendo of a decent second trilogy turned into another version of the Last Stand. Filled with colorful weirdos showing powers for no particular reason, we see parts of the planet destroyed and quickly repaired. No consequence and zero impression left.

To say that this movie was intended to counter that film would be cutting it short. Jackman has his own trilogy in the midst of the X-Men films, and in his own series, each film was better than the previous entry. It’s a sad truth, though, that many will find the entire series disposable prior to this opus.

The film starts in 2029 near El Paso, Texas. Logan is living on the wrong side of the border, mainly because he wants to stay hidden. He’s taking care of an aging and ever more erratic Charles Xavier (Stewart). Why? That’s for you to discover.

Adamantium is taking a toll on Logan’s healing powers. To the point that he carries around a bullet made of the stuff to just end it all sooner than later. He can’t end it though. One reason is Charles, who insists he’s been talking to a mutant. This is important because mutants are almost all completely wiped out.

The mutant he is talking to comes into their lives, even though the erstwhile Wolverine would prefer to just take his old friend and go out to sea. That ain’t gonna happen because X-23, or Laura (Keen), as she’s called, comes with some baggage.

Mangold and Jackman score quite a few home runs in this movie that pretends to be playing station to station. Stewart is a Godsend, as he makes even the silliest dialogue seem at once literate and heartfelt. This is nothing compared to what happens when Stewart is given some truly eloquent and memorable words to express.

As antagonist, Boyd Holbrook is an above average placeholder. There is nothing special about him, and this is a wise choice. They have other things to do in this film than to pretend that the bad guy in the ad has a chance.

I won’t say much about the other antagonists in the film, other than to say that the writers hate expositional explanations as much as old man Logan does. This is comes to a welcome relief.

Keen has an excellent, ravaging energy. She is berserk when she needs to be and definitely doesn’t waste words or screen time. Many in the theater really enjoyed her performance, laughing much and snickering as she attacked with ferocity any who crossed her. I found the performance impactful and there definitely were a few funny moments.

The key to Keen’s performance, though, is seeing how she, Stewart and Jackman play off of one another. There is little joy in Logan. For our older heroes, the entire exercise is a drawn out torture that is exacerbated when they see how easily she is drawn into conflict.

When lucid, Xavier believes she is a light in the world, capable of improving on what mutant kind was before now. Logan refuses to invest too much emotion in the little girl who so desperately needs to cling to something solid. Life is hell for her now, he knows. Why should he pretend it ever won’t be?

Clint Eastwood made a remarkable 2nd career out of playing the guy hobbled by age, injury and heartache. Hugh Jackman has always channeled a bit of Eastwood in his portrayals of Logan. This film is different. Jackman owns this version of The Wolverine and he treats it with the utmost care. His emotional range is beyond anything even Eastwood has done. One has no choice but to feel every blow Logan receives in this film. Neither his flesh nor his spirit is willing this time around. When he fights, he fights scared. But not scared stupid.

Jackman has never been better. Stewart has rarely reached this level. Keen is remarkable for such a relatively inexperienced actress. Any or all of the three deserve nominations for their performances here. I won’t hold my breath, though. If they didn’t reward Stallone for his portrayal of Rocky, the Academy will likely assume the Oscars are too good for this astounding film.

The carnage is breathtaking in Logan. There is much mutilation and severed limbs and heads. As bad as it is, it is matched unnecessarily with an over reliance on profanity. Yes, I know that is the image of The Wolverine comics, but moderation might have made a more distinct impression. I will say it does work in relation to Charles. Something must be wrong if that refined and dignified person is throwing curses like punches.

If you’ve skipped all of the X Men films after the 2nd, this might be a good place to pick up again. Heck if you skipped all of the films, but want to see an incredibly well played drama, partake in this feature. Much care went into this film, and it feels like everything is balanced on the edge of a knife. And then the knife slips and goes right through.

It’s worth all of the pain, just to know how Logan feels in the moment.

(***** out of *****)

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The Green Room (****) Gives us a glimpse of Yelchin’s future gifts

GREEN_ROOM

Green Room – 2016

Written and Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Starring Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner

Green Room is an escalating nightmare movie. We’ve seen plenty of these in the past, but none of them done  in this way. It’s a good film. It covers ground with people that we don’t want to associate with. The band is so raw, you can almost smell them. Their music isn’t particularly good, and they are definitely on the road to nowhere.

Starting out, they steal some gas just to get to an out of the way town to be interviewed and then do a show for a radio guy they did not know was fired at the time. To compensate, the interviewer gives them an address and the name Daniel. Well, since they are in the area.

They show up and find that they are doing a show for Neo Nazis. After the show, one of the band members forgets her cell phone in the green room and Pat (Yelchin) volunteers to go pick it up. What he finds immediately places both him and the rest of the band in danger. They end up locked up in the green room with a gun after making an emergency call.

It’s at this point the joint’s owner named Darcy (Stewart) shows up. He concocts a plan to turn the cops away. The he begins some aggressive negotiations with the band.

What happens from here alternates from desperate plans to absolute carnage and back to planning. Then more carnage. How and why Darcy needs this to end is for the viewer to decide, but one can guess it’s not so they can clear up the place for the next Log Cabin Republicans meeting.

Stewart masters the scene in a cool, business like manner. He knows it’s going to be bad, but it really is logic more than anything that guides his hand. As much as Patrick Stewart is in on a yearly basis, he really doesn’t do enough. The man is a supreme skill and talent.

Poots piles on the weird chick vibe, but her character overcomes a dumb haircut, driven by the events from a sort of hysteria to survival mode through the chaos. Taking what she knows and putting it together with willing survivors when they need to know it. She gives the film some grist it really needs.

Saulnier is a smart and sober storyteller. He doesn’t pull any punches and definitely does not pretty anything up for the camera. His sensibility is not going to warm anyone’s hearts, but he definitely knows how entertaining playing it straight can be.

Yelchin gives a vulnerably heroic performance as a guy who has no idea what he’s in for, but he has to learn fast. It’s an unusual type of lead performance. Why that is, you have to discover for yourself. The movie is put over the top by his nervous energy. The world will miss his presence, ability and beauty.

(**** out of *****)

X-Men: Days of Future Passed / The Rogue Cut: We can go anywhere from here

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X-Men: Days of Future Passed – 2014

Director Bryan Singer
Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart
Screenplay Simon Kinberg based on Days of Future Passed by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

Theatrical Version:

The X-Men movie series has infuriated those who love the comics as  well as many who love the movies series itself. For those who love the comics its been an endless – some say haphazard – onslaught of characters ripped out of their own stories and thrown into the backdrop of “What’s Wolverine doing now?” episodes. These critics also insist that the key interplay between Magneto and Xavier has been downplayed, outside of X-Men: First Class. This ignores certain truths about Marvel itself, that has never had problems reinventing characters in multiple story lines – different universes even – whenever the creative impulse hits.

As for the movies, the biggest problem until now is how each of the visions and various stories intersect, diverge or are in some cases, prematurely ended. X-Men: The Last Stand and the first of the Wolverine movies are the biggest violators of the implied agreement between story-teller and audience. Each film has taken liberties, though, to be sure.

In the same way as Star Trek‘s reboot in 2009, the beauty of X-Men: Days of Future Passed gives everyone what they were looking for, and more.  We get:

  • Xavier and Magneto contemplating the weight of their friendship in the midst of crisis
  • A bone throw for Kitty Pride (who was the hero of the comic series) as the portal for time travel
  • Halle Berry’s continuous mis-fire as Storm is kept in her place
  • Jennifer Lawrence gets to kick ass in blue, if not much else.
  • Dinklage  delivering to us his version of Bolivar Trask with minimal screen time, which is certainly more advanced than the Bill Duke version we see in The Last Stand.
  • Nicholas Hoult and Kelsey Grammer as Beast.  Hoult’s performance always begs for more screen time, while Grammer seems the perfect result for Beast.
  • Evan Peters in a remarkably sly turn as Quicksilver, perhaps the best segment of the film.
  • And what would X-Men film be without Wolverine getting 2/3 of the screen time?

The conceit to time travel movies is, really, they can go back to any time to get it right. If they go back real close to the event, well you know it’s because they have to ratchet up the tension. Everyone knows that Bolivar Trask could be eliminated at birth, but that would make it a bit cruel. Singer’s skill is making all of this flow as if it were in real-time. His story lines gather and then diverge effortlessly. There is not an ounce of clunk to the early 70’s scenes, even if the “present time” seems as forced as it did in the comic. We all know there has to be a deadline. This time, plenty of people get dead on the way to that point. Some even pull it off twice.

The acting is good throughout, with special mention to Hoult, Fassbender and McAvoy. Hoult’s Beast is a character that begs for its own story line. It would be great to see how we get from his uneasy early years to his confident older ones.

Fassbender’s character has the clearest delineation to McKellen’s performance.  Both are very driven and quite consistent with their rationale.

As his counter, McAvoy is all over the place.  It was a brave place to take the character, but he does a great job showing us what was on his troubled mind and not just saying it.

It’s easy to take Jackman for granted, since he’s been in every one of these films. The miracle is that he has evolved from Eastwood with a growl to a multi-dimensional bad ass. This time is a clear extension of everything he’s gathered from The Wolverine.

The best part about the movie is the epilogue. Seeing the result of the work is heartening because we get to see mistakes corrected without worrying about the consequences.This result will no doubt not give everyone a good feeling. Some might even feel like it’s pulling the rug out. It’s alright for this reviewer. Like merry go rounds, the ride is fun, even if it just goes in a circle.

(****1/2 out of *****)

The Rogue Cut

It is easy to understand why people become leery of the X-Men enterprise, especially when it comes to their home video releases. I bought 1.5 and wondered why the heck I did, and I followed through with purchases for every subsequent film, even following them to Blu-Ray. It is perhaps because I never read the comic and rarely followed any of the animated scenes that my patience has not frayed, even when the talk of Days of Future Past included news of a thread of scenes that would involve Rogue that were eventually excised from the theatrical cut. Most assumed that these few scenes would appear on the video release. By the time that arrived, the sequence had turned into a whole new cut of the film to be released at a future date.

If one decides that this is the place to draw the line…think again.

The Rogue Cut is like the bloom of a rose the day after you thought it had reached maturity. Instead of beginning to wilt, it flows even more thoroughly from its core, giving the bloom a depth and resonance it never had previously. The interesting thing about it though, is that it’s not only or even primarily because of the sequence of Anna Paquin scenes that this version of X-Men succeeds.

The best thing for viewers of the film is a fleshed out perspective of several characters, including Magneto, Mystique and Beast. The arc between past and present has more resonance and clearer connections. The weakest part of the film was that it never felt like it mattered what was happening in the present because even if it is riddled with challenges, the characters were able to continue manipulating time. This is changed for the better. Midway through the last act, they have a mission that takes them away from the stronghold. Accomplishing that mission is not without its cost. The consequence actually leads to a logical reason for a final battle, instead of just having the bad guys show up, because, well, it’s the last act.

The extra 17 minutes don’t feel extra at all. They are fully integrated within the story. Even when it changes the story slightly, this feels like the definitive version. There are some flashback scenes that go through every previous film, making their telling still relevant even if we know they will be ultimately stricken from the official record. It feels like this is the only way the story could have ever ended up. This is the new canon.

(***** out of *****)

Cool Papa E’s Star Trek Movie Chronological Timeline Reviews

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Star Trek: The Motion Picture – 1979

Bones is pissed, but we're happy, until we take 2 hours to get half way through the movie...
Bones is pissed, but we’re happy, until we take 2 hours to get the Enterprise moving…

Director – Robert Wise

Screenplay – Harold Livingston based on the story by Alan Dean Foster

Starring – William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Stephen Collins, Persis Khambatta, George Takei,  Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan

Okuda Timeline – 2271

Synopsis – The Enterprise is drafted back into action mid-upgrade to intercept a strange life form that is headed towards earth.   Admiral Kirk volunteers to take the Captain’s chair from Captain Decker (Collins) as Spock and Bones find themselves drawn back as well.

Review – It’s fun to have them back, but really the film is boring as hell.  Taking elements from the stillborn Phase II television project, we see many experimental effects that work on certain levels, but really just drag for the most part.  It’s a lot of stuff that was handled better in the original series but now is done just for the sake of doing it (Spock’s arrival to Enterprise comes to mind).  The look of the film takes a new life in digital form, however.  The Kirk / Decker interplay still works, even if their motives seem to change a bit, no doubt due to the merging of the TV show pilot with the movie script.  The balance between Spock, Kirk and McCoy are off, though, as the character of Spock is unnecessarily compromised, as if they really had not understood who the character is, even after a 3 year series.  Some believe that his integration with V’Ger helps to resolve his own inner conflicts and pushes them towards what eventually would be The Borg.  It would have been more entertaining if it weren’t so subtle.  The degree of discomfort is just plain strange.  The rest of the crew is there just be patronized, it seems.  Khambatta’s acting actually makes sense when viewed as a robotic monitor.  Still, the ending of the film intrigues when we find out what, exactly, V’ger is.  Plus, it opens the door to greater things.  For this, we give the film as pass.

(*** out of *****)

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan  – 1982

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Khaaan!!!

Director – Nicholas Meyer

Screenplay – Jack B. Sowards and Meyer

Starring – William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, Ricardo Montalbán, Kirstie Alley, Paul Winfield, Merritt Butrick, Bibi Besch

Okuda Timeline – 2285

Synopsis – Space Seed Khan has blossomed in the desert of an uninhabitable planet.  He and the descendants of that episode capture a Federation ship, setting up one of the great confrontations in Trek history.  In the midst of all the chaos, Kirk meets a former flame, Carol Marcus, and her son…his son, David as scientists responsible for a magnificent project, Genesis.

Review – A tremendous script with virtuoso performances of the 3 leads, as well the perfect nemesis for Kirk.  The acting in this film is exquisite, especially when one considers that Meyer never had the antagonist and protagonist on the same screen.  According to Meyer, this allowed for Shatner to do his best work after many takes whereas Montalbán could nail his scenes in one take.  It’s a lean film that gets the most out of almost every situation dramatically and comedically.  If you need proof, keep an eye on Spock, especially when he is not speaking.  The rest of the crew is geared up for action and they give a real impression that they know what a ship’s crew should do.  Even if it’s a little corny, what happens to Chekov is still ghastly.

Kirstie Alley gets the most out of the two-dimensions that she is allowed.  Kirk’s son and his former flame add a necessary dimension to his character, fitting nicely with the metaphor for aging that the script employs.  For the first time, the fearless leader faces mortality and even if he does not flinch, he still suffers.

The filmmakers approach the story fearlessly, heading where Star Trek had never gone before, and out of this new territory, we see much more than we ever could have expected.

(***** out of  *****)

Why is only one of them pointing a gun?  Nice look Sulu...
Why is only one of them pointing a gun? Nice look Sulu…

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – 1984

Director – Leonard Nimoy

Screenplay – Harve Bennett

Starring – William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, Christopher Lloyd, Merritt Butrick, Robin Curtis, Mark Lenard, Judith Anderson

Okuda Timeline – 2285

Synopsis – Kirk is struggling, but not as much as McCoy.  Spock’s Dad shows up and tells them that they messed things up during his son’s wake.  Meanwhile, Savik and David find that Spock is reborn as a rapidly growing child on the Genesis planet.  Klingons, lead by Lloyd, intercept transmissions regarding Genesis and decide that it must be some sort of weapon.  Havoc ensues.

Review – Although it’s a decent film, The Search for Spock ends up feeling like a movie in search of a lead character.  The absence of Spock allows for an expansion of the roles of others, but they prove not quite ready for the task.  They each have their moments, especially Bones, but even though the movie bears his name, Spock’s presence is definitely lacking.  The Klingons seem obligatorily gross and Lloyd just lacks menace to carry as an antagonist.    Lenard has a good presence, though, and the rest of the gang seem to be having fun.  It’s just lacking Spock.

(*** of *****)

Well, a double dumbass on you!
Well, a double dumbass on you!

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – 1986

Director – Leonard Nimoy

Screenplay – Steve Meerson, Harve Bennett, Peter Krikes and Nicholas Meyer

Starring – William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, Catherine Hicks, Mark Lenard, Jane Wyatt

Okuda Timeline – 2286, 1986

Synopsis – Kirk and crew, still in exile after the events of The Search for Spock, find that the earth is in peril once more from a probe heading towards earth.  Turns out it’s a ship of whales who are searching for their relatives left on the planet.  Sadly, all whales had been extinct for some time.  The crew then takes the Klingon cruiser that they hijacked and travels back in time to kidnap two to get an answer to the probe.  While there, they meet a marine biologist (Hicks) who they take along for the ride.

Review – Even if the bones of this film are straight out of the first film, the rest of the script is pure fish out of water gold.  The entire cast is superb and are given many relevant things to do.  There are literally no wasted roles in the film.  Catherine Hicks defines the  sexless leading lady of the ’80’s, and she provides many moments of awe.  The interplay between Spock, Bones and Kirk has rarely been this good, with so many wonderful moments and lines.  That there is no definable enemy is a pleasant success and it shows how the magnetism of the crew was enough to sustain interest for an entire film.  This is not only one of the best Trek’s, it one of the most well-rounded films of the decade.  As an added bonus, the film contains what is the most quoted line by me and my friends:

“San Francisco.  I was born there.”  God love Sulu.

(***** out of *****)

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – 1989

He knows the ship like the back of his hand, or he's bored, just like us.
Scotty knows the ship like the back of his hand, or he’s bored, just like us.

Director – William Shatner

Screenplay – David Loughery

Starring – William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei,  Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, David Warner, Laurence Luckenbill

Okuda Timeline – 2287

Synopsis – Spock’s religious zealot of a brother, Sybok, takes over the Enterprise on a search for God.  They find something, but only after finding out other stuff, you know, about each other’s secret pain.  Kirk and Spock are impervious to the sham, of course, but no one else is.  Oh, and there’s a bored Klingon who is in the vicinity, just looking to cause trouble and, you know, destroy the fabled Enterprise.

Review – It’s a silly film that does not get any better with age.  The circumstances of this, like most Star Trek films after the first, is to give each minor character their own special comic moment.  That said, Uhura’s belly dance is downright odd.  Scotty, well, he hits his head.  Kirk climbs El Capitan (with his bare hands, and that big gut) and then, when he gets back to the ship, he’s wearing a shirt that says “Go climb a rock.”  It’s that kind of humor, folks.  Shat humor.

This is often called the film Shatner got to direct because Nimoy got to direct a couple of films.  There is nothing on-screen that tells us that there was anything close to inspiration or artistic merit driving the effort.  Okay, well, there are two things…towards the end, when they are facing the supreme being and Kirk gives himself the great line: “What does God need with a starship?”  Then after that, the core of the group, Bones, Spock, Kirk, all singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” by the campfire.  Cheesy, but it feels good.

(**1/2 out of *****)

Don't wait for a translator...this one speaks wisdom to the heart
Don’t wait for a translator…this one speaks wisdom to the heart

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – 1991

Director – Nicholas Meyer

Screenplay – Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn

Starring – William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, Kim Katrall, David Warner, Christopher Plummer, Rosanna DeSoto

Okuda Timeline – 2293

Synopsis – When the Klingon moon Praxis explodes The Enterprise is volunteered by Spock to pick up their Chancellor, Gorkon (Warner) and bring him back to Earth to pursue peace with the Federation of Planets.  Along the way, the Chancellor is murdered with Kirk and McCoy absorbing the blame for it.  They are given a life sentence to the Klingon prison asteroid Rura Penthe.  As Spock works on the mystery of the murder on the ship, Kirk and McCoy work on surviving and escaping.

Review – The most eloquent Star Trek of them all finds everyone at their wisest.  We get to see Kirk grow from agony to acceptance.  We see Spock at his most moving, in a performance that sets the tone for all of his subsequent television and movie appearances as the wise older Vulcan.  We get to see Sulu as a Captain of his own ship, The Excelsior.  And Bones is funnier than hell.

It’s a remarkably graceful exit for the old cast and crew, even if the ending stretches believability.  Who can believe that those geezers could give the saboteurs a run for their money, physically?  Katrall does a good job creating a new Vulcan protoge, although it would have been better if the character would have been Saavik.  The best of all is Plummer as Chang, quoting Shakespeare as he attacks from a cloaked ship.

There are several great lines, many nuanced moments and the film is full of all the grace that the earlier effort lacked.

(****1/2 out of *****)

Star Trek: Generations – 1994

Crap...they couldn't spare a bigger budget for my death.
Crap…they couldn’t spare a bigger budget for my death.

Director – David Carson

Screenplay – Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga

Starring – William Shatner, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden, Malcom McDowell, Whoopi Goldberg

Okuda Timeline – 2293 and 2371

Synopsis – Kirk is seemingly killed while saving the Enterprise B at the beginning of the film.  Flash forward 3/4 of a century and we have TNG crew on Enterprise D.  The bonds between the two eras, Guinan (Goldberg) and Dr. Soran (McDowell).  One is a friend of the crew, who tends bar and listens.  The Dr. is crazy to get back to the ribbon, which he believes will connect him to his long dead wife.

Picard and his crew are thrust into a mystery of an attack at a space station involving Soran and the two ostracised Klingon Duras sisters.  Picard, dealing with the loss of his brother and the brother’s family and Data, dealing with a revisit of his emotion chip, lead the crew’s efforts to solve the mystery before something bad happens.  Picard finds Kirk under circumstances too convoluted to explain and then together they work together to save the day.

Review – The gift of seeing TNG crew on the big screen has lessened over the years.  What we are left with is good, but not great.  What is the Nexus?  Really, I w0uld like to know.  After all this time, and the many viewings, it’s still unclear it is anything more than a plot contrivance.

The good news is that we get plenty of Guinan, who offers wisdom, honesty and star power.   The stellar cartography room is fantastic.  The crew shos the levity that they possessed in the latter part of the series was a natural progression.  Particularly effective are Riker and Worf.

Data, usually a staple in the series, is compromised by the distraction of the emotion chip.  If it was intriguing, it lacks the value of being entertainment.  We get it.  Brent Spiner sings and dances off set, we don’t need to see it on film.  Picard is an oozing puddle of emotion himself, giving Troi a scene to seem valuable.  McDowell’s motives are clear enough, but seeing him push around Klingon’s makes the whole race seem less.

The Nexus allows us to see the fantasy of Picard and Kirk.  Picard’s, as expected, is a bit prissy.  Kirk’s is filled with macho manliness.  Of course none of this is real.  Kirk chopping wood or jumping with a horse requires a willing suspension of disbelief.

The crash onto the Veridian planet is curious and silly, given the amount of money spent  on it makes the final action scenes between Picard, Soran and Kirk look like something that the Super 8 kids could have achieved.  Not that the crash is all that better anyway.  No matter how many times we see it, it still looks like a play set with dirt painted green.  We can’t forget the re-use of the Warbird explosion scene from VI, either.  Cheap-O’s.  The ensuing conclusion to Kirk’s character is a waste; one that Shatner himself would spend years trying to compensate for.

(*** out of *****)

Star Trek – First Contact – 1996

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Director – Jonathan Frakes

Screenplay – Brannon Braga, Ronald D. Moore

Starring – Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden, Alfre Woodard, James Cromwell, Alice Krige

Okuda Timeline – 2063 and 2373

Synopsis – The Borg are back, and they have individuals now.  Well, a few of them.  There’s this Locutus guy (Picard) and then there is a Borg Queen (sublimely creepy Krige).  Going against his command’s orders, Picard takes the Enterprise E  to face the threat, ans seemingly end it.  We then discover that The Borg has travelled back in time to assimilate Earth.  Of course the TNG crew has to go back and undo the Borg’s plans.  Along the way, they meet Cochrane (Cromwell) and his assistant, Lily (Woodard), the two that orchestrated the first light speed flight, which predicated “First Contact,” or the day that humans meet the Vulcan race for the first time.

Review – The most deftly handled of all of TNG films.  Finally using a fair about of digital effects, interesting puzzles and just plain brute force, we get a chance to see more of the ship do more than just fall back and forth while the ship is fired upon.  Picard is in action hero mode, something he dabbled with in Generations and will do with more frequency as the series goes on.  This ignores the strength of the character, especially when you see him barking at Worf  about being a coward.  He’s a different sort of man than this.

As for action with The Borg attacking the ship, at least it makes sense.  Worf, in particular gets a few wonderful moments in zero G combat with a youngish Neal McDonough.  Troi actually gains some appeal while working with Riker on the landing party.  LaForge has new eyes and they are cool.Data is put to better use this time, as his Pinocchio journey finds a natural fit with The Queen.  Cromwell and Woodard are two of the best TNG costars ever.  Woodard, in particular, gives Stewart an unflinching mirror for Stewart when he gets unhinged.  It’s a wonderful, odd moment seeing Picard say “the line must be drawn here!”  In the next scene, he is apologizing to Worf.

The negatives on TNG’s movie life is in their inherent lack of distinct personality.  Here we get to see Riker continue the subtle asshole manoeuvres that he started with Generations, mostly on Worf.  Still, it’s nice to see him say “we don’t have time for this” and then zap a fleeing Cochrane with a phaser set to stun.  Every time we see Crusher, though, we are reminded that there is no one with the caliber of Bones to throw real insults out.  These complaints are small, though, compared to how entertaining this film is.

(****1/2 out of *****)

star trek insurrection sleepy
She could use a fresh, hot cup of Sanka.

Star Trek – Insurrection – 1998

Director – Jonathan Frakes

Screenplay – Michael Piller

Starring – Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden, F. Murray Abraham, Anthony Zerbe, Donna Murphy, Daniel Hugh Kelly

Okuda Timeline – 2375

Synopsis –  So there is a  study  going  on of  a planet where the people do not seem to age.  In  the midst of the study, for some reason, Data goes berserk.   We find out that there are some sneaky things going on behind the scenes, where some folks have decided that they need to suck the life force out of the planet that gives these guys their longevity and “spread it  around,” you know, for the good of the many.  Picard and the Enterprise decide to stick their beaks in the midst of the process and keep these folks from being subjected to communist group think.

Review – Oh Lord, but this movie is bad.  While I do love the irony of a Federation based in San Francisco might agree with a thought process that is so clearly socialist, the execution of this film is tremendously bad.  The special effects, being the first movie to be entirely digital, look a tad below what we  have come to expect on the TV shows.  The acting is loopy at best.  The lead native chick (Murphy) looks very sleepy at most times and the overall effect rendered is that of a coffee commercial.  Abraham is a prototypical bad guy, but the greater sin is that this movie  did not seriously look at the options they were presented with: a break from the Federation.  The effect takes the oomph from any of the decisions made in the film, taking away the drama and making the thing look as muted as it seems.

(** out of *****)

Yeah, these guys don't look like each other...at all.
Yeah, these guys don’t look like each other…at all.

Star Trek: Nemesis – 2002

Director – Stuart Baird

Screenplay – John Logan

Starring – Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden, Tom Hardy

Okuda Timeline – 2379

Synopsis – Finally, we see Romulans, but as subjugated by a former slave (Hardy) who is actually a clone of Picard.  He’s got evil plans, but the crew of the Enterprise, brought into the area by a clone of Data called B-4, immerses themselves into the situation.  The former slave, Shinzon, is hell-bent on doing bad stuff: even going so far as to mentally rape Troi while she does the deed with her new husband, Riker.  In the end, 2 versions of Data prove too much for Shinzon, as one of them saves the day by sacrificing himself.  B-4 is left with every bit of programming the first one had, thus giving us the same result that we had with Spock’s death, without the need for resurrection.

Review – Whoa, this film is even worse than Insurrection.  Every move is telegraphed, desperate, and, frankly, wrong.  So little do we respect the character of Troi that she is limited to the role of wife and victim.  On the other hand, I would have thought she would have been ready for anything after being with Worf.  The move completely obliterates the monumental decision of her marriage to Riker.

Similarly, what better way to drum up sales in a floundering franchise but to promise the death of a major character?  Not one person believed that Star Trek would dare remove Data from the equations in any real way…even if we know what is coming from the moment we see yet another version of the droid.

Picard seemingly exists only for physical peril these days.  Setting the scene for moving in different directions (especially for Riker), we instead get a bunch of predictable stuff that just happens.  Thanks for breaking the curse, though.

If you notice that none of the other staff are mentioned…take a hint.  There is a reason for that.

(*1/2 out of *****)

Star Trek – 2009

Director – J.J. Abrahms

Screenplay – Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman

Starring – Leonard Nimoy, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Bruce Greenwood, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana

Okuda Timeline – 2387, 2233 and 2258

Synopsis – Nero is pissed, and he’s taking his anger into the past, chasing the man who caused his anger.  Starting out with an attack on the USS Kelvin, we see Kirk’s father, George, and his mother, Winona, who is about to give birth to James T. Kirk.  Dad does not make it, but nearly 800 of his crew mates(including his family) do survive.  Nero, who is on a quest for Spock, decides to lay low for a few years and catch up with him later, when he gets out of his own wormhole.

Meanwhile, on Vulcan, we see young Spock, going through the trials.  His burden as a half-breed is great, and he has a little harder time holding his emotions.  Years later, he has mastered them somewhat, as he answers the call to join the Federation.  This leads to his eventual meeting with an upstart Kirk, and through a series of misadventures, they both end up on the same vessel, The Enterprise, as commanded by Pike (Greenwood).

After old Spock arrives, Nero and his Romulan horde captures him and begin his quest to exact revenge on Spock and his planet.  From here, it’s a certainty that he would head to Earth to complete the annihilation of the half-breed’s people.

Will Kirk, Spock, Bones and company prevent all of this?  No.  But they do save the Earth, and continue the original Spock’s timeline, all while changing their own futures.

Review – click here

(***** out of *****)

 

Cool Papa E Reviews Marvel’s The X-Men / Wolverine Movies

Many are hailing this coming week’s X-Men: First Class as the best Marvel movie ever.  Everything I have seen so far looks fantastic.  Now is as good a time as any to check what we’ve seen so far from the X-Men Series of films.  This list will be comprehensive within the next couple of weeks, but for now, we will just cover the ones that have been released and are available on Blue Ray and DVD.

X-Men – 2000

Directed by Bryan Singer

Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, James Mardsen, Bruce Davidson, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Ray Park, Tyler Mane, Halle Berry

Screenplay by David Hayter based on a story by Bryan Singer and Tom DeSanto and characters by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Review Solid basis as the foundation for the series.  The strengths of this film lay in the casting of McKellen and Stewart as kings on the chessboard of a game of mutants.  They take their time introducing new characters, and they can afford to do this with the introduction of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.  His delivery is straight Clint Eastwood, but it is the best stroke of casting luck this film could’ve had.  After Dougray Scott, the original choice, chose to go be the bad guy in the unremarkable Mission: Impossible II, the director Bryan Singer settled on Jackman.  The rest is cinematic history.  Janssen is excellent as the tortured Jane Grey, even if James Mardsen seems a little too young to be her husband.  Or maybe just too short.  The brilliance of the movie, however, is that they are able to use McKellen and Stewart so effectively.  The only stretch in casting is Halle Berry as Storm.  The weak actress lacks any sort of presence at all as the supposedly powerful Storm.  It would have been nice to see a real actress, like, Angela Bassett, wreak havoc with the character.  Apparently she refused the role.

Best Sequence – Magneto (McKellen) exhibits how far he is willing to go beyond Professor X (Stewart) to get what he wants at the train station.  All of those humans with their guns.  Nice to see Wolverine so helpless.

Worst Sequence – Pretty much all of Halle Berry’s scenes with that wig make one feel like they are watching a B-Grade film.

Rating – ****

X2: X-Men United – 2003

Director Bryan Singer

Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, James Mardsen, Bruce Davidson, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Aaron Stanford, Shawn Ashmore, Kelly Hu, Michael Reid-McKay

Screenplay by David Hayter, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris based on a story by Bryan Singer, David Hayter, Zak Penn and characters by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Review – A more comprehensive film that takes advantage of the strengths of the first picture and adds glimpses of other characters, while expounding on the others enough to make them well-rounded.  Jackman grows exponentially in a role that, while not as entirely a leader, a damn good captain.  McKellen and Stewart again are solid, if less of a focus as before.  Cox provides the perfect bad guy, using hypocritical methods to get what he wants, all while providing enough of a sly grin to let you know he really enjoys it.  Speaking of enjoying it, Romijn expands her performance to match Mystique’s cult figure status.  Alan Cumming, as Nightcrawler, plays the most normal creature of his career.  Seeing him as religious is ironic.  Halle’s wig is better…slightly.  The acting isn’t any better.  Good script, tight direction, well-paced.  This is the jewel in the crown of the X-Men universe thus far.

Best Sequence – Wolverine absolutely kicking ass unrepentantly as the men of Stryker (Cox) attack Xavier’s School.  This is Wolverine as all X-Men fans dreamed of seeing him.

Worst Sequence – Adamantium boiling for 15 years is kind of a stretch, but the fire guy is mostly annoying…mostly.

Rating – (****1/2)

X-Men: The Last Stand – 2006

Directed by Brett Ratner

Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, James Mardsen, Bruce Davidson, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry. Kelsey Grammer, Michael Murphy, Vinnie Jones, Bill Duke,  Ben Foster, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Ken Leung, Aaron Stanford, Eric Dane

Written by Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn based on characters by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Review – After an organic pairing of the first and second films, this one feels overwhelmed by new characters and too many factions.  The disappearance of Cyclops feels like someone who was called off set to another movie.  From there, the handling of Phoenix / Jane Grey is a mess.  It was powerful enough to have been a multi-movie arc, but instead just jumps around here and there, dotting the storyline like a ghost.  The “death” of several of the characters feel like cheats, especially when you see mutants (like Toad) who died in the first film appear in the third.  That said, Berry is better than she was in either of the first two films, but that does not say much.  Storm and Wolverine are showcased probably too much, due mainly to the economy of characters.  I am not sure how the brotherhood ended up in a tent city out in the woods.  The end is a hodgepodge of one note power shows.  It’s hard to fault Director Ratner too much for any of the issues, as he was thrown into the mix late in the game.  It’s really not a bad movie, but it certainly is not a very good one.

Best Sequence – Hard to say.  So much seemed over the top, nothing was really that entertaining.  It would be a tie, I guess, with Wolverine versus the man with regenerating arms (“Grow a new pair of those.”) and Kitty Pryde versus the Juggernaut.

Worst Sequence – The Golden Gate Bridge?  Really?  Really dumb.  To top it off, they give McKellen’s Magneto the dumbest line of all time:  “Charles always wanted to build bridges.”  He must have absolutely cringed.

Rating – (***)

X-Men Origins: Wolverine – 2009

Directed by Gavin Hood

Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Dominic Monaghan, Ryan Reynolds, Will.i.am, Kevin Durand, Lynn Collins, Taylor Kitsch

Written by David Benioff, Skip Woods

Review – The fact that this is just another ensemble of mutants teaming together and falling apart does not detract from the good performances.   I thought it was nuts to have Sabretooth back, but hiring Schreiber in any capacity was a masterstroke.  Overall, the story is passable, but having Huston, Schreiber and especially Reynolds along helps to push the material up a notch.  Jackman shows a great early version of the role that made him a star.  His multi-layered performance shows how lucky they were that he landed on the producer’s doorsteps for the first movie.

Best Sequence – Seeing the early version of Deadpool (Reynolds) in top form, massacring a room full of gun-firing Nigerians with only two swords.  It beats anything else by a long shot.

Worst Sequence – Not sure which is worse, killing Grandma with a shot to the head, or the ensuing motorcycle chase which leads to the incredibly ridiculous stunt with the helicopter.

Rating – (***1/2)

X-Men: First Class – 2011

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Starring Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon

Written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stenz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn

Review – here

Best Sequence – Magneto finally moves the coin…much to Sebastian Shaw’s dismay.

Worst Sequence – The Beast outfit almost outdoes Hoult’s performance, and who can forgive the fact that they did not kill off Michael Ironside.

Rating – (****1/2)