Film Review: Annie Hall (1977)

Also known as: It Had to be Jew, Anhedonia (working titles)
Release Date: March 27th, 1977 (Filmex)
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Music by: various
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Janet Margolin, Shelley Duvall, Christopher Walken, Colleen Dewhurst, Dick Cavett, John Glover, Mark Lenard, Jeff Goldblum, Beverly D’Angelo, Tracey Walter, Sigourney Weaver, Truman Capote, Laurie Bird

Jack Rollins & Charles H. Joffe Productions, Rollins-Joffe Productions, United Artists, 93 Minutes

Review:

“[referring to California] It’s so clean out here.” – Annie Hall, “That’s because they don’t throw their garbage away, they turn it into television shows.” – Alvy Singer

I’m not what you would call a big Woody Allen fan but I do find a lot of his films to be amusing. This is one of them and this is also probably my favorite out of the Allen pictures that I’ve seen.

While I’ve seen all of the famous scenes from Annie Hall time and time again in documentaries and shows about movies, I’ve never seen this film in its entirety and in the proper sequence with all of the narrative context. In some ways, this film is actually kind of genius in how refreshing, original and authentic it feels. But I also didn’t know, until now, that this was sort of autobiographical in regards to Allen and Diane Keaton’s real romantic relationship a few years before this movie.

What makes this work so well is the natural chemistry between Allen and Keaton. But even then, Allen had solid chemistry in his scenes with Shelley Duvall and Carol Kane. It’s hard to say that he’s a great actor when he’s essentially just playing himself but his natural charm works wonders in this picture and it gives a certain life to scenes that may have felt dry if played by someone else.

Diane Keaton was lovable and fun in the picture and I think she is the real glue of the film, even more so than Allen. The reason being is that she just radiates a glow that encapsulates anyone on the screen with her. You clearly see the woman that Woody Allen is legitimately infatuated with.

From a narrative standpoint, this is Allen writing what he knows most intimately. But even then, I don’t think that this authentic tale would have had the magic without the performances in the film. This is lightyears better than a standard romantic comedy but I feel like that’s because the main players felt very at home with the material and they took this very seriously, where most romantic comedies tend to by cheesy and lacking depth in the performances of their actors.

Allen certainly knows how to direct and it is very apparent here. He gets the most out of everyone on screen, including himself. It’s easy to write about your life but it’s difficult to make something so genuine.

In the end, this is a fun, cute, lighthearted picture that presents romance and comedy in a unique way that is very much Woody Allen. He’s had similar films but nothing that hits the right notes in quite the same way.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other early Woody Allen films.

Film Review: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Release Date: December 6th, 1991
Directed by: Nicholas Meyer
Written by: Nicholas Meyer, Denny Martin Flinn, Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Kim Cattrall, David Warner, Christopher Plummer, Iman, Brock Peters, Kurtwood Smith, Mark Lenard, Grace Lee Whitney, John Schuck, Rosanna DeSoto, Christian Slater, Michael Dorn, Todd Bryant, René Auberjonois

Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Captain’s log, stardate 9522.6: I’ve never trusted Klingons, and I never will. I could never forgive them for the death of my boy. It seems to me our mission to escort the Chancellor of the Klingon High Council to a peace summit is problematic at best. Spock says this could be an historic occasion, and I’d like to believe him, but how on earth can history get past people like me?” – Captain James T. Kirk

Something has to be said for the quality that Nicholas Meyer brings to a Star Trek movie, whether as a director or a writer. He directed two of the very best films with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and this one. He also was involved in the writing of my personal favorite film in the franchise, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

While most fans consider The Wrath of Khan to be the very best, this chapter in the franchise is equal to it. Again, I like The Voyage Home the best overall but Khan and this film are very, very close seconds.

Where Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was almost the death of the franchise on the big screen, this was a breath of fresh air and a proper swan song for the original Enterprise crew, as it was the last time they would all be together. It also sort of closes a major chapter in Trek lore, as the Federation and the Klingons, after decades of conflict, agree to try their hand at peace.

It is that attempt at making peace between the two governments that brings out the worst in some of the characters in this film. People on both sides of the coin don’t want to trust each other and some of them conspire to kill the opportunity for peace. In fact, this is more of a political thriller and a conspiracy movie than just some fantastical sci-fi adventure.

Following a diplomatic dinner between the Enterprise crew and the Klingon Chancellor, the Klingon ship is attacked and the Chancellor assassinated. Everything is set up to look like Captain Kirk orchestrated the attack. As he and McCoy are framed for the assassination, they are sentenced to hard labor on a Klingon prison planet. All the while, Spock heads up an investigation on the Enterprise itself, in an effort to solve this mystery, save his friends and to win the trust of the Klingon Empire and bring forth much needed peace.

The Undiscovered Country isn’t just a great Star Trek movie, it is a great political thriller. It feels real and gritty, even if it takes place in outer space of the future. The experience of the cast really shines through here. Spock takes charge of things on the Enterprise and its really the first and only time we see him truly step into the role of leader. Nimoy knocks it out of the park and his chemistry with the other Vulcan on board, played by Kim Cattrall, was incredible.

We also get to see Sulu as a star ship captain and not only that, he is the captain of the Excelsior, a ship he greatly admired in Star Trek III and Star Trek IV. Seeing Sulu get his moment to shine in the captain’s chair was fantastic for those of us who have been fans of this series for decades.

Another highlight was Christopher Plummer as the Klingon villain General Chang. Plummer is the greatest villain in the film series after Khan from Star Trek II. While I loved Christopher Lloyd’s Kruge in Star Trek III, Chang is the best Klingon commander in the franchise. He’s a character I’d love to read more about, assuming he’s got a novel out there.

The Undiscovered Country is Star Trek at its best. It stands well above any of the modern films, as well as The Next Generation movies that would follow for a dozen years after it.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Star Trek‘s IIIII and IV.

Film Review: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Also known as: Star Trek IV: The Adventure Continues (working title)
Release Date: November 26th, 1986
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Written by: Harve Bennett, Leonard Nimoy, Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Nicholas Meyer
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Catherine Hicks, Majel Barrett, John Schuck, Brock Peters, Grace Lee Whitney, Michael Berryman, Jane Wiedlin (cameo)

Paramount Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“They like you very much, but they are not the hell your whales.” – Spock, “I suppose they told you that?” – Dr. Gillian Taylor, “The hell they did.” – Spock

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was the perfect film to follow the emotional roller coasters that were Star Trek II and Star Trek III. It was lighthearted, a ton of fun and I guess, the first and only Star Trek comedy film. However, it is still grounded in its roots and the comedy is mostly because of the crew we know and love finding themselves having to adapt to 1987 San Francisco culture in an effort to blend in and accomplish their time traveling mission. It’s actually cool seeing all these confident, savvy crew members, who are always at the top of their game, suddenly being awkward fish out of water in every situation they encounter.

This is also the third and final part of the trilogy of pictures that I like to refer to as The Genesis Trilogy. They aren’t officially a trilogy but all three films share a common plot thread and happen literally one after the other.

Like the previous film, this one is directed by Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy. This is also a superior film to the previous installment, even though I like Star Trek III a great deal. I feel like Nimoy really learned a lot on Trek III and took the lessons of that experience, better honed his skills and turned out this science fiction masterpiece.

Unlike the directing situation, the film’s music was created by newcomer to the series, Leonard Rosenman. While I much prefer the James Horner scores of TrekII and III, Rosenman created a bold and beautiful theme for the picture and it is still one of my favorite pieces of film music from the era. The overall score is fairly redundant, especially if you’ve watched the movie nine dozen times like I have, but it works well and captures the right kind of emotion for this picture.

The writing on this was absolutely fantastic. It had to have been a fun project to work on, as the Trek writers got to explore new territory in a new way. It was probably a nerve-racking task, to some degree, as there was really no way to know whether or not the fans were going to take to this drastic change in tone. However, in the end, Star Trek IV is a defining milestone in the franchise and also changed how future Star Trek stories were written. Humor became much more apparent in the television series that followed this film. The Next Generation, which came out a year later, was full of humor and fun adventures that took its crew out of their comfort zones. I don’t think that show or anything after it would have existed in quite the same way if it weren’t for Star Trek IV. Also, had the film not been a huge success, we might not have had new Star Trek projects for later generations.

The thing I love most about this movie, is every character has a purpose and their own mission to accomplish. We get Kirk and Spock on a mission, Bones and Scotty on another one, Uhura and Chekov go their own way and Sulu gets to fly an old school helicopter. The Bones and Scotty material is comedic gold, as is Chekov asking where to find the “nuu… clee… ar… wessels”.

A real highlight though, is Catherine Hicks joining the cast in this film. Her chemistry with Shatner, who she shares almost all of her scenes with, is great. I love the restaurant scene between the two where Kirk reveals who he is, where he’s from and why he’s there. It’s kind of a shame that we never got to see Hicks return after this film, as I feel like she had a lot to offer the franchise beyond just this one appearance. Plus, she was incredibly likable and witty.

When I was a kid and I had a bad day, I gravitated towards this movie. It was the right mixture of badass sci-fi and wholesome humor. It always sort of put me in the mood I wanted to be in. It still works the same way for me and honestly, this is the Star Trek movie I have seen the most. I’ve owned them all, pretty much my whole life, but this is the one that just resonates with me more than any other.

While most people will see this now and probably find flaws and be able to pick it apart, it has always been a film that is a true classic, in my eyes. It has just about everything I want: action, adventure, humor, William f’n Shatner, a Klingon Bird-of-Prey, a good environmental message, camaraderie between beloved characters, a deep dish pizza, outer space, a powerful score, good special effects and redemption for the crew.

I don’t care what anyone else thinks; this movie is absolutely perfect.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The other Genesis Trilogy films: Star Trek II and III. Also goes good followed up with Star Trek VI. Maybe it’s best to ignore Star Trek V.

Film Review: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

Release Date: June 1st, 1984
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Written by: Harve Bennett
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: James Horner
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Merritt Butrick, Robin Curtis, Christopher Lloyd, John Larroquette, Miguel Ferrer, Grace Lee Whitney, Scott McGinnis

Paramount Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

[Witnessing the destruction of the Enterprise] “My God, ‘Bones’… what have I done?” – Capt. James T. Kirk, “What you had to do, what you always do. Turn death into a fighting chance to live.” – Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy

This is the second part of a trilogy of Star Trek films that I refer to as The Genesis Trilogy. It isn’t officially a trilogy but all three films are linked together and happen successively. These films are Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), this film from 1984 and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). All three films have to deal with the Genesis Project and the consequences of those events.

In this chapter in the film series, we see the beloved crew of the USS Enterprise returning home from their battle with Khan, as well as having just endured the loss of their friend and crewmate Spock. We soon learn that Dr. McCoy has Spock’s mind trapped in his head and that it is Spock’s wish to have his body and mind returned to Vulcan. The crew, lead by Kirk and McCoy, have to stage a mutiny and steal the soon-to-be decommissioned Enterprise from Spacedock. They must return to the Genesis Planet, recover Spock’s body and return him and McCoy to Vulcan. What we also soon discover, is that the Genesis Planet has resurrected Spock but without his mind he is just a living shell. All the while, the crew has to deal with a rogue Klingon commander who wants the power of the Genesis Planet for himself.

This is a film that gets a bad wrap but that is probably because it is wedged between two superior films. Still, The Search for Spock is a damn good Star Trek movie. However, it might not have the impact on a casual fan, as it does for someone who has watched the original television show and been emotionally invested in these characters for a couple decades.

What I love about this picture is that the crew truly comes together as a family like they never have before. They put themselves and their careers in jeopardy all to help a fallen friend fulfill his final wish. I almost get a little teary eyed writing about it.

This film also introduced us to the coolest ship in all of Star Trek lore, the Klingon Bird of Prey. It really is the Millennium Falcon of Star Trek. We also, get our first real look at the Klingons of the ’80s and ’90s, that would have a major impact on the two long running television series Star Trek: The Next GenerationStar Trek: Deep Space Nine and other Star Trek films before the modern J.J. Abrams era.

Christopher Lloyd is absolutely stellar as the Klingon commander Kruge. Without his incredible performance, the Klingons might not have had as prominent of a role going forward. This was my favorite era of Star Trek in films and on television and I feel that Lloyd was instrumental in the shape of it all because he helped make Klingons something different in the best way possible.

At its core, this is a film that comes with its own sense of tragedy but also carries a sweetness with it. The cost of fulfilling the mission is a huge price for the crew to pay, especially Kirk. In the end, the crew gets to see their comrade again but the future is very dark and uncertain. There is a lot of emotional weight here and maybe that’s why the fourth film would be more of a lighthearted comedy after the doom and gloom of TrekII and III.

Leonard Nimoy did a fine job directing this and man, that James Horner score is incredible.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, both nice bookends to this film and all three sort of form a trilogy.

Film Review: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Release Date: June 4th, 1982
Directed by: Nicholas Meyer
Written by: Jack B. Sowards, Harve Bennett, Nicholas Meyer (uncredited), Samuel A. Peeples (uncredited)
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: James Horner
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Bibi Besch, Paul Winfield, Kirstie Alley, Ricardo Montalbán, Merritt Butrick

Paramount Pictures, 112 Minutes

Review:

“[quoting from Melville’s Moby Dick] To the last, I will grapple with thee… from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee! For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee!” – Khan Noonien Singh

This is many people’s favorite Star Trek film of all-time and for very good reason. I like The Voyage Home (Part IV) a wee bit more and The Undiscovered Country (Part VI) is also pretty damn high up on my list. However, even though this isn’t my favorite, it is pretty damn perfect if you are a Trek fan and you can suspend some disbelief and get lost in this rich universe.

Are there flaws? A few. But the positives outweigh the negatives by such a wide margin that I’m not going to nitpick about small things that don’t matter much in the grand scheme of how great and how fun this movie is.

Ricardo Montalbán as Khan Noonien Singh is one of the greatest villains that ever graced the silver screen. Other than Darth Vader, who really made a bigger impact in the 1980s? Sure, we could argue a few villains, maybe a handful, but Khan is the main reason why people love this picture.

Montalbán gave the performance of a lifetime and even though he played this character once before, in the Star Trek TV episode Space Seed, he upped the ante so much that he really made this his film. This is one man, overshadowing a magnificent cast who had worked together for two decades and who had unbelievable chemistry with one another. There was a certain chemistry between Khan and Kirk though, even if you never actually saw them together in the same room. Their hatred reached through the physical barriers that separated them and made everyone else in the story, a pawn in the grandest chess game ever played in the galaxy. Everything between Khan and Kirk felt so organic and so real and it was only accented by Khan’s unrelenting quest for revenge and his Shakespearean dialogue.

The film is also littered with incredible special effects, which have actually held up really well, 35 years later. The ship models are fantastic, the look of space, especially the sequence within the Mutara Nebula is breathtaking. The effects used for the birth of the Genesis Planet were impressive as well.

One thing that really brings all of this to the next level is the score by James Horner. While I loved Jerry Goldsmith’s music in the first Star Trek film, Horner made the best score in the entire film series with what he did here. This is such a musical movie but that was pretty common with big blockbuster type films back then; unlike nowadays where the music in massive summer films isn’t as memorable as the cinematic tunes of yesteryear.

Plus, you have the heart wrenching scene between Kirk and Spock at the end that still makes me weep like a little bitch every time I see it, even with the knowledge that the tragedy will be erased in the next movie.

The Wrath of Khan is spectacular in every way. Seriously, how can you not be pulled into this adventure and just sit there for two hours, grinning ear to ear like the Cheshire Cat after raiding the cupboard for Colorado edibles?

I mean sure, I could point out that Khan and his people were marooned on Ceti Alpha V for fifteen years and before that, they tried to overtake the USS Enterprise but failed miserably. And then before that, the Enterprise crew found Khan cryogenically frozen in a pod in a ship that disappeared in the 1990s. Yet they were able to steal the USS Reliant in the 2200s, a star ship that was 300 years more advanced than any technology they had ever seen. And then somehow they were able to take this ill equipped science research vessel and inflict crippling damage to the Enterprise, an explorer ship with superior defensive weaponry and a crew with two decades worth of experience. I mean, I could point all that out…

But I’m not going to nitpick because this film is literally friggin’ perfect.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Release Date: December 7th, 1979
Directed by: Robert Wise
Written by: Alan Dean Foster, Harold Livingston
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett, Grace Lee Whitney, Mark Lenard, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins

Paramount Pictures, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Touch God…? V’Ger’s liable to be in for one hell of a disappointment.” – Commander Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy, M.D.

I feel like this chapter in the Star Trek franchise gets a bad rap.

Here’s the thing, it does not play like the films that came after it. This plays a lot more like an episode of the original television series, which should have been okay, actually. But I guess after Star Wars, two years prior to this, people wanted more action heavy science fiction. The film series rectified that after this picture, however.

The thing is, the reason why I liked Star Trek, as a kid, was because it was more than just sci-fi action. It went deeper philosophically and it tried to find solutions to problems and conflict without resorting to violence. This movie is an incredible example of that. But I get why it didn’t excite general audiences in the same way as Star Wars.

The mission in this film sees the original show’s crew reunite on a very updated version of the original Enterprise. They are sent to investigate a massive nebula looking space oddity that is traveling towards Earth and destroying anyone that comes close to it. The plot is really a mystery in trying to figure out what this massive thing is and what it wants. I really like the big reveal at the end and thought it was an imaginative idea that was executed well on screen. Others seem to differ on this but to me, it’s really just classic Star Trek in the best way.

Plus, the special effects are stunning and they still hold up quite well by today’s standards. The interior of the alien vessel is incredible and Spock’s journey through it was reminiscent of the final sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is bizarre but it’s supposed to be. It all just adds more to the mystery and enriches the mythos as it develops on screen. It isn’t so bizarre though, that it is a hard film to follow. It doesn’t sacrifice narrative for style, it is a good marriage of both actually. It also has its own unique look when compared to the television series and the films that came later. This is a truly unique sci-fi epic that looks beautiful.

Now it can feel slow at times and that bizarre wormhole experience is a distraction but the strengths outweigh the weaknesses.

I really like this film. It is not my favorite in the series but it certainly isn’t as bad as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.