Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

How disappointing.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is far from stunning.

Ricardo Montalban's Khan reminds me of shock rocker Alice Cooper. His henchmen looked like they just walked off a California beach. Would they look that good after spending 15 years on a barren planet? His goons don't look terribly threatening.

Why didn't Khan and his old nemesis Admiral James Kirk (William Shatner) square off man-to-man rather than exchanging jabs over video screens? If Khan is so smart, why does he keep getting outwitted by Kirk? Questions like this bug me as a viewer.

There's lots of references to death, duty and new life in this second film based on the iconic television series from the 1960s. Khan appeared in one episode, Space Seed, broadcast in 1967.

Admiral James Kirk (William Shatner) is choosing not to celebrate his birthday. He feels old, and without a spaceship to command, somewhat useless. He has to wear glasses. Glasses make him feel old. Oh, brother.

Opportunity knocks during an inspection of his old ship, Enterprise. His trusted colleagues are on board - Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Bones (DeForest Kelley), Scotty (James Doohan) and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) with Chekov (Walter Koenig) not far away.

Enterprise is called into service to check up on a space station doing research on Genesis. Want to create a planet pronto where no life exists? Genesis is your answer. Research is being headed up by Kirk's old flame Carol (Bibi Besch) and their son, David (Merritt Butrick). David is convinced Starfleet Command wants control of Genesis for military purposes. Khan's interested too.

Khan gets himself out of exile and zeroes in on Genesis. Kirk and his posse have to stop Khan.

Death is continually present in this film. Many of Enterprise's most veteran hands appear to die early on. A training simulation involves a distress call and failing life support systems. A cadet is praised for not abandoning his post and dying in service of Starfleet. Oh, and Khan wants Kirk dead - even when he has Genesis for himself. Khan, you old coot. Take Genesis and run.

Some of the film's cracks are quite funny, but the late Butrick is mostly weak. There's some rapport, but not much contact between Carol and Kirk.

What was that talk about the even numbers in this series being the better films? I'm not so sure.

RATING: 6/10

FUN FACTS: Ike Eisenmann, who appears as Cadet Preston, appeared as a party guest in John Hughes' Some Kind of Wonderful.

Star Trek II marks Kirstie Alley's film debut.

Paul Winfield was the voice of Lucius Sweet in two episodes of The Simpsons.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Fred Dobbs has a bad case of gold fever.

Maybe that's what happens when a middle-aged American is constantly broke in Mexico in 1925.

Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) is reduced to begging, supposedly for meals, but often to cover his bar tab or a shave and a cut at the barbershop. An offer of steady work holds promise. But after slaving away under the cruel heat for several weeks, bossman McCormick (Bruce Bennett) leaves his employees with no pay.

Then, Dobbs knows about being paid an honest day's wages for an honest day's work. He and another American on hard times, Curtin (Tim Holt), find McCormick, beat him and take just the money they're owed. No greed there. Dobbs' good luck continues when he wins 200 pesos from 1/20 of a lottery ticket he purchased. He's overjoyed with his good fortune on a ticket that includes the number 13. The cash inspires an idea from Dobbs. He and Curtin can become partners, recruit Howard (Walter Huston), an old man with experience working at gold mines, and set out to earn their own fortune. Dobbs offers to cover some of Curtin's share of the start up costs. No greed there.

But Walter is wise in many ways for his years. He knows his way around the Mexican countryside. Walter speaks the language. He also knows how gold's lure can eat away at a man's soul. Walter also happens to still be sleeping in a dorm with lots of other men in his latter years. Why isn't he living in luxury after his mining experience?

Funny how it's Dobbs who wants to call it quits as the trio labours through tough terrain with no promising finds in sight.

A sweet spot in a mountain offers plenty of gold for the three men to be comfortable for the rest of their lives. Curtin and Howard have modest goals. Not Dobbs. He wants lots and lots of money. "I need dough and plenty of it," he vows, with plans to spend the cash on fine clothes and women. Greed, and plenty of it, has seeped into Dobbs' veins.

He begins acting irrationally, convinced Curtin and Howard are out to cheat him out of his gold. This happens even after Curtin saves his life twice.

The trio has other problems including Mexican bandits in the area who'd be happy to get their hands on the miners' weapons and stash of precious metal.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre earned three Academy Awards for best director and screenplay (John Huston) and supporting actor (Huston). The film's exploration about greed still stands today. Dobbs becomes totally engrossed by his pursuit for gold. Money and power still hold plenty of lure in 2013, but there's always someone else with similar goals ready to take it away. Outside forces have a funny way of messing around with one man's dreams.

Tim Holt and Bruce Bennett, who makes a brief appearance as another American with a passion for a buck, don't stand up well next to Bogart and the senior Houston. Better casting with these two roles would have made a great film even better. Bogart's Dobbs gets so consumed by riches his judgment is clouded and he risks losing everything he worked so hard to get. Viewer beware.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Director Huston appears as a wealthy American who helps Bogart out, repeatedly, in Tampico.

Tim Holt was Virgil Earp in My Darling Clementine.

Barton MacLane also appeared with Bogart in The Maltese Falcon.

The young lad who sells Bogart his winning lottery ticket is Robert Blake (Baretta).

Pat Flaherty, who appeared in Mutiny on the Bounty with Clark Gable, has a small role here as an American who knows about McCormicks's tricks.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Christmas in Connecticut isn't much of a present for movie fans.

That's too bad because look at this cast - Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity), Sydney Greenstreet (Casablanca) and Reginald Gardiner (The Man Who Came to Dinner).

Real laughs are too hard to come by in this 1945 comedy from director Peter Godfrey (The Two Mrs. Carrolls, That Hagen Girl). Instead, too many scenes are just cute or mildly amusing. That's just not enough to make this movie a Christmas chestnut.

The set-up is inspired. American seaman Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) is adrift in a dinghy for more than two weeks after the Germans torpedo his ship during the Second World War. With little to eat, he fantasizes about fantastic meals. There's no hearty chow when he's in hospital. His gut can't take the solids. A buddy suggests he feigns romance with nurse Mary Lee (Joyce Compton) to score a tasty steak. His faux falling in love with Mary Lee leads her to contacting publisher Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet).

Would the magazine titan let Jones, whose never had a real home, spend Christmas with one of his prized talents, Elizabeth Lane (Stanwyck? She writes about her idyllic life with her husband and baby in the country in Connecticut. Lane is billed as "America's best cook." Yardley's game, little knowing Lane actually lives in an apartment with not much of a view in the city, is single and can't cook. She relies on neighbourhood restaurant owner Felix Bassenak (S.Z. Sakall) for her culinary inspirations. Lane can't afford for Yardley to know her real work situation. His motto is "Print the truth and obey my orders."

She appeals to stuffy architect John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner), the bore who wants to marry her ("Saying no to your proposals has become a habit," she tells him), to pose as her better half and use his cottage in, yep, Connecticut.

Jones appears and falls for Lane. She's crazy for him too, but she's supposedly married to Sloan. He keeps trying to get a neighbour, Judge Crothers (Dick Elliott), to wed him and Lane. But their nuptials keep getting pushed back.

The scenario gets more complicated as Yardley suspects Lane is fooling around on her hubby and that a woman has kidnapped her prized writer's child.

Give this film credit for twists and turns to keep the story going. But come on folks, where are the laughs?

RATING: 6/10

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Big Sleep (1946)

You'll like what you hear in The Big Sleep even if what you see leaves you a little confused.

This 1946 crime film from director Howard Hawks offers plenty of great lines and a cast chock full of Hollywood greats and character actor veterans.

General Sternwood (Charles Waldron in his last screen credit) wants private eye Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) to clean up the latest mess left by his youngest daughter. Sternwood, crippled and dying, knows said child, Carmen (Martha Vickers) and Vivian (Lauren Bacall) are "pretty and pretty wild."

Marlowe is soon up to his neck in a trail of blackmail, murder and cover-ups. Sternwood's daughters live up to their reputation rubbing shoulders with gamblers, pornographers and henchmen.

Sparks fly between Marlowe and Vivian. Heck, sparks fly between Marlowe and just about every woman he meets including a cab driver (the only time I can ever remember seeing a 20-something shapely lady behind the wheel of a taxi) and a book store owner (Dorothy Malone, still alive at 88).

I keep notes when I'm watching films, but tracking this storyline is a doozy. If you can understand it all in one viewing, my hat's off to you. Well done. Instead, I'll highlight some of this film's best lines:

Marlowe: "I don't know how much trouble you're used to, but I hope you've had plenty of practice dodging it."

Eddie Mars (John Ridgely): "I could make your business mine."
Marlowe: "You wouldn't like it. The pay's too small."

Marlowe: "My, my, my. Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains."

As an added bonus, Elisha Cook - the hapless goon who tracked Bogart's Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon is back for a small role. Here he's Harry Jones, a hood trying to cash in on some information. Cook, it's good to see you again after your great work in John Huston's directorial debut.

I'll spend some more time trying to figure out the plot. Give this film a go. It's a Hollywood classic.

RATING: 9/10