Month: January 2020

Scene by Scene: STAR TREK: NEMESIS Pt II – ‘Captain’s Prerogative’

As Star Trek: Picard begins, with the return of The Next Generation era, I’m going to take a scene by scene look back in the next couple of months about the tenth Star Trek film, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis, from 2002…

It almost became a running joke across Star Trek: The Next Generation… when exactly *would* Will Riker accept a promotion to Captain and command his own starship?

It’s a question that defined perhaps the most legendary episode of TNG, Season 3’s finale and Season 4’s premiere The Best of Both Worlds, in which Riker has to step up and truly command the Enterprise when Captain Jean-Luc Picard is abducted and assimilated by the Borg, challenged all the way by spunky first officer Elizabeth Shelby. Riker, ultimately, refuses to take the logical next step in his career for many years. For the remainder of TNG’s run on television. Even during the big screen outings, indeed we see Commander Worf, the Enterprise’s chief security officer, captaining a ship before Riker in Star Trek: First Contact, as he commands the USS Defiant against another Borg invasion. Riker resists his destiny right up until the very last moment, the ‘generation’s final journey’, and it comes in tandem with finally tying the knot with the love of his life, Counselor Deanna Troi, after their romance was rekindled during previous film Star Trek: Insurrection.

The fact Star Trek: Nemesis pulls the trigger on these seismic personal events for Riker is further proof of just how *final* this film was meant to be for the crew of The Next Generation. That show, born as it was of an episodic television structure designed for later syndication and built on many of the episodes being watchable out of sequence, would resist time and again the natural promotion for Riker and relationship with Deanna, both of which almost certainly would have taken place on the serialised, riskier Deep Space Nine at the time. Nemesis has the freedom to change Riker and Troi’s circumstance by virtue of the fact we were never supposed to see them again. Their adventures on Riker’s new ship, the USS Titan, were a chapter meant for tie-in novels and fan fiction, not the canonical Star Trek universe. Nemesis could instigate these developments because it was where the line was being drawn.

Nevertheless, it remains a huge moment for the crew of TNG, the wedding of Riker and Troi, and particularly for Picard himself. He may start his best man speech in jest, yet there is truth beneath his words. “I have commanded men in battle. I have negotiated peace treaties between implacable enemies. I have represented the Federation in first contact with twenty-seven alien species, but none of this compares to my solemn duty today …as best man.”

Picard understands nothing will ever quite be the same again.

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER: Neo-noir, near enough a bore (2000 in Film #4)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, I’m looking at Stephan Elliot’s oddball thriller Eye of the Beholder

Eye of the Beholder will possibly go down in cinema history for the dubious honour of being the first movie to be graded F via the Cinema Score ranking system.

Established in 1979, Cinema Score is a market research firm based in Las Vegas who survey film audiences to rate their viewing experiences with letter grades, report the results, and forecast box office receipts based on the data. In 2017, Kevin Lincoln for Vulture, in the wake of Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! being added to this negatively auspicious list, brought to light the 19 films since 1999 that rest in a category of, technically based on audience responses, the absolute worst of the worst, suggesting that a common denominator was the failed auteur project and many of the entries—films such as Mother! or Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris or Andrew Dominik’s Killing Me Softly—got an unfair shake. For pictures such as those, it’s true. There is no way they should be on a list like this.

Eye of the Beholder is not one of those films.

Film Review: A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD (2019)

If you’re an American reading this, have you ever heard of Tony Hart? Or maybe Peter Purvis? I’m guessing the answer is a resounding no. Well, that’s probably what British people would answer if you asked them who Fred Rogers was. It is also why A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood won’t make too great a ripple on these shores.

Tony Hart, by the way, was a legendary, kindly old artist who fronted a show for years with an animatronic lump of clay called Morph, while Peter Purvis is probably the most well known presenter of children’s TV educational series Blue Peter, a British institution for over 50 years. They are, in short, nice old men who children grew up watching and trusting in, along similar lines to Mr Rogers in the States, who with his show Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood for over three decades entertained more than one generation of children and became a beloved household name to families across the nation. Who else could have essayed such a role on the big screen than Tom Hanks?

The most notable aspect of Marielle Heller’s film, however, is that it is not a biography of Mr. Rogers. For that, you may want to check out the recent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbour? from Morgan Neville which goes into detail about the man and his life, whereas A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is more about what Fred Rogers represented and the quiet power the man had to transform the lives of those he broadcasted to, and in the prism of this story, who he met. It’s a film about Mr. Rogers that isn’t *about* Mr. Rogers at all, and it’s the principal reason why the film ends up working so well.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is by degrees charming, heartbreaking, uplifting and, ultimately, a full rebuke of modern cynicism.

Scene by Scene: STAR TREK: NEMESIS Pt I – ‘A Generation’s Final Journey Begins’

As Star Trek: Picard begins, with the return of The Next Generation era, I’m going to take a scene by scene look back in the next couple of months about the tenth Star Trek film, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis, from 2002…

‘A Generation’s Final Journey Begins…’

That was the uniquely ominous strap line for Star Trek: Nemesis at the end of 2002. The promise of closure. 

After fifteen years, since The Next Generation launched on television in 1987 and triggered the second era of Star Trek, the voyages to go where no one has gone before for Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E (formerly D) would be coming to an end in the fourth and final film for a dynamic new crew slipping gracefully into middle age. Voyager had just ended on television after seven years but Enterprise was in its second season, and there was every indication more spin-off shows would eventually line up alongside it. To Paramount, franchise producer Rick Berman, and the cast and crew, it felt like the right time to bring the curtain down on these characters.

Many remembered how just over a decade previously, The Undiscovered Country had quite naturally retired the crew of The Original Series. It felt apt, with a group of characters born in the heart of Cold War detente and futuristic optimism, to see Kirk, Spock et al warp off into the sunset as the Soviet Union fell and the geopolitical paradigm changed. Nemesis struggles to replicate that same feeling of finished business. The Next Generation crew never entirely gelled with the cinema in the way The Original Series crew had, and arguably only First Contact stands out with time and distance as a truly great Star Trek movie. Kirk & company found each other again in middle age and discovered a creative renaissance, triggered by the success of The Wrath of Khan. Picard and his crew went immediately from the end of their series into Generations and a movie saga, stuttering across a decade in which the world changed around them.

Nemesis, released in the long shadow cast on all American storytelling by the horrific events of September 11th, 2001 in New York, as a result feels like the reluctant last gasp of Star Trek’s second era, wedged amidst the embers of Reaganism and the post-Cold War ‘End of History’ that 9/11 blew out of the water.

It feels, oddly, like a crew who aren’t quite as ready for retirement as everyone thinks.

DOWN TO YOU: A Millennial Romance (2000 in Film #3)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

To begin, released over the weekend of January 21st, Kris Isacsson’s romantic comedy Down to You

In many respects, Down to You must have seemed like a slam dunk of a proposition in 1999, with the hottest new production studio in Miramax front-lining two recognisable fresh faces from hit movies in a teen baiting romantic comedy. From our vantage point, produced as it is by the Weinstein brothers, it leaves a sourer taste in the mouth. 

It isn’t fair to blame writer/director Kris Isacsson, this being his only feature, or stars Freddie Prinze. Jr or Julia Stiles. Nor indeed is Down to You a horrendous movie through our modern, proportionally liberal-minded prism – indeed in many respects it’s quite a sweet natured picture with it’s heart in the right place. It is, however, cynical; attempting to both cash-in on the traditional romantic comedy genre and the revived interest in the teen movie, thanks heavily to 1999’s mega hit American Pie. While Down to You is not a gross-out comedy from exactly the same ilk, by any means, it is impossible to divorce it from the trends of an era where Miramax were combining their indie sensibility with pop-culture hits and brewing them up with attractive, young stars of the day, principally for the purposes of profit.

Down to You was the biggest box office hit of the January weekend it was released but very quickly collapsed in on itself, not even making back its modest, if not entirely threadbare, budget. You can honestly see why.

We need to talk about STAR TREK: VOYAGER

So I have a confession to make about Star Trek: Voyager. I have never sat down and watched, in its entirety, the last two seasons of the show. I didn’t watch them back when they aired around 20 years ago. I haven’t watched them since. I’ve watched some, here and there, but not all.

Technically, as a result, despite being a self-professed Trekkie and fan since I was a child, I’m not a Star Trek completist. This isn’t the case with any other show, either. I’ve seen all of Enterprise, for example. I’m up to date with Discovery. So why Voyager? Those episodes have been around for decades yet I have never felt the urge to revisit them. I think it goes back to my problematic relationship with the third spin-off series to Gene Roddenberry’s initial vision, one I’ve had ever since 1995.

I’m discussing this now as Voyager is, this week, a princely quarter of a century old which a) is fantastic and b) is terrifying for someone who grew up with it. Voyager first debuted when I was 12, almost 13 years old. I had discovered Star Trek on TV probably around a year earlier, having wore out VHS copies of The Search for Spock and The Wrath of Khan while in single digits. I liked The Next Generation. I already *loved* Deep Space NineVoyager, therefore, I greeted with enormous excitement. This was back in the days when in the UK they would release two episodes of a season in VHS tapes for DS9 & VOY every few weeks (these would cost more than a monthly Netflix subscription does now) and I bought them religiously up until, I would say, probably about the end of Season 4. Then something happened.

Well, two things happened. Firstly, this was around 1998 and as a sixteen year old leaving school, I was beginning to discover that being a Star Trek fan openly wasn’t doing me any good if I ever wanted to cop off with a girl. Secondly, I realised that I didn’t actually *like* Voyager all that much, and maybe I never had. Not in comparison to DS9, which aside from The X-Files and Babylon-5 around this point was the show I had lived and breathed during the 90’s. I started to realise that, a few episodes aside, I never found Voyager at all compelling.

TV Review: TREADSTONE (Season 1)

Treadstone feels like a show that somebody made in 2008 and forgot about for over ten years.

There is something a little strange about Tim Kring’s series set in the Jason Bourne universe. For one thing, it seems utterly determined to never mention the ‘B word’ at any point. Not Blackbriar, the second secret CIA project to recruit, train and brainwash super-spies. That gets a mention, having collapsed during The Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Legacy. The events of those films, particularly Ultimatum, are expressly referenced or at least heavily hinted at. Bourne *himself* is referred to (as “the asset”, or something deliberately wink wink nudge nudge), but his name? Nope. It could be a rights issue. The credits do after all say “based on an organisation from the Bourne series of novels by Robert Ludlum” which is about as thin a tether as you can mine in order to put together a TV show. You can have the name Treadstone, and that’s it.

Yet at the same time, Kring goes out of his way to make this show, effectively, a lower-budget tribute act to the Bourne franchise, predominately the Paul Greengrass films which really established the tone and style of that saga – all shaky cam, pass the sick bag Krav Maga fight sequences, a global travelogue, lots of shady government intelligence agents in rooms trying to outfox assassins working as much with raw instinct as intellect. You’ve all seen a Bourne film, right? This doesn’t just inhabit the same narrative world but also the same visual and iconographic one. The music has John Powell’s percussive style. The fighting is close combat, no quarter, balletic hand to hand. The intrigue is post-Cold War (and mid-Cold War, actually) spycraft. It works to place itself as a side-story to the Bourne saga in the same manner as The Bourne Legacy from Tony Gilroy. That worked to distance from Greengrass in many ways. Treadstone works to revel in the comparisons.

The biggest surprise of all is that Treadstone, well… it’s actually not that bad, for what it is, even as a show caught between two worlds and two eras.

NEXT FRIDAY: It’s all about the neighbourhood (2000 In Film #2)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, I’m looking at Steve Carr’s stoner comedy sequel, Next Friday

All things being equal, you may have imagined Walter Hill’s dark science-fiction thriller Supernova would have ruled the box office in the second week of January 2000 but it ended up a critical and commercial dud, paving the way for the modest success of Steve Carr’s Next Friday – the sequel to a film that struck much more of a chord in the culture of black cinema.

Friday appeared in 1995, the brainchild of successful rapper Ice Cube and his co-writer DJ Pooh, who teamed with director F. Gary Gray (in his debut, long before the heights of The Fate of the Furious) to shoot in a modest 20 days a low-budget comedy which was designed by Cube to emulate the modest, indie stylistics of a Kevin Smith but rather for African-American culture. Friday was a slice of life which transformed Cube from rapper to movie star—within two years he would be headlining Dangerous Ground and starring in the schlocky Anaconda and the critically acclaimed Three Kings a couple of years beyond that—not to mention featuring a raft of stars to come: Chris Tucker, Regina King, Michael Clarke Duncan. It was also a surprise hit, tapping into a sub-genre that Cube astutely realised had not been mined by black performers and filmmakers.

As a result, Next Friday was almost an inevitability but, to paraphrase Hugo Drax in Moonraker, it arrives with the “tediousness of an unloved season”. While outwardly amusing, with plenty of basic scatological and farcical gags to keep punters busy, it is an example of the kind of diminishing sequel returns that the early 2000’s would deliver in spades.

It is, quite simply, a film with absolutely no reason to exist beyond the financial.

Film Review: BOMBSHELL (2019)

Bombshell never lives up the explosive promise of its title.

While satire has caught up with the age of Donald Trump, what with Alec Baldwin’s razor sharp Saturday Night Live impersonations which have infuriated the humourless Bigly-in-chief, cinema has to date struggled with how to capture not just this most divisive of Presidents but also the culture he has fostered in American politics and mass media. Jay Roach’s Bombshell is one of the first significant efforts to explore what this means for a country Hollywood has struggled in since 2016, defined as it is by ostensibly liberal values – even if economically they are far more conservative than they would ever let on.

The doorway opened for screenwriter Charles Randolph, best known for penning Adam McKay’s The Big Short, to detail this fairly recent chapter of American political life following the death in mid-2017 of Roger Ailes, the long-standing CEO of Fox News, as controlled by the global conglomerate under Australian tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Ailes no longer being able to litigate allows Bombshell to tell the story, primarily, of Megyn Kelly, the Fox News host who with previously dismissed host Gretchen Carlson stood up to years of pervasive, institutionalised sexual harassment by Ailes within the Fox News system, triggering a lawsuit that saw Ailes reputation in tatters and cost him his position. Within just under a year, that failure apparently killed him.

Bombshell, therefore, could easily have exploded as such and entirely destroyed Roger Ailes and the broader, Trumpian culture of old, white male abuse in the public eye. So why does it end up so remarkably toothless?

THE HURRICANE: A powerful case of injustice lacking punch (2000 in Film #1)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

To begin, released over New Year 1999-2000, Norman Jewison’s The Hurricane

There is perhaps a little bit of cheating going on by including The Hurricane in a collection of 2000 movies, given it was released on December 29th, 1999. It is more of a bridge, notable as the major cinematic offering over Millennium Eve; a film that sits between cinema’s first and second centuries.

1999 was last year celebrated across film culture as among the greatest years in cinema history, with a whole range of retrospectives from articles to books to podcasts devoted to its fusion of high-concept event movies, powerful franchise films, and the big-budget legitimising of the Sundance indie-darling filmmakers who would build their careers on some of that year’s defining works. The Wachowski Sisters with The Matrix, David Fincher’s gut-punch adaptation of Fight Club, Sam Mendes’ now tainted American Beauty and Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling Magnolia lined up against George Lucas reviving the Star Wars franchise with The Phantom Menace, Pixar’s animated marvel Toy Story 2 and the blockbuster romance of Richard Curtis’ Notting Hill.

It was, looking back, a remarkable year to close out cinema’s formative century. The year 2000 was always going to struggle in its shadow and, truthfully, struggle it does. This is a year in which Mission Impossible 2 is the most profitable box office hit. A year not without its triumphs, among them Ridley Scott’s Gladiator or Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, but beyond them little that truly remains iconic at a distance in the manner we look back at 1999 and see around the corner The Sixth Sense or The Blair Witch Project or so on and so on. And if any film marks this transition, manages to serve as a pointer to how 2000 will struggle to carve out the same kind of historical legacy as the year before it, that film is surely Norman Jewison’s The Hurricane.

As, while by no means a poor piece of cinema, beyond the most ardent supporters of Denzel Washington, it struggles to truly define itself in any meaningful way.