Monday, 21 February 2022
Tilda Swinton's Jessica find herself in Colombia, visiting her sick sister (who believes she's bed-ridden as recompense for some unsourceable transgression) and making half-hearted enquiries about refrigeration units for a barely noted orchid business. Jessica's attempts to sleep in this new environment are thwarted by an unprompted crack that she later describes to a helpful audio engineer as sounding like a rumble from the core of the earth. Although we are shown specific circumstances in which only Jessica can hear these intrusive reverberations, they do seem able to exert some purchase on the physical world - at least enough, in one instance, to elicit a chorus of car alarms. Jessica represents an alien element in the film's opening passages; a person rudely imported into this milieu who, nevertheless, is slowly slipping out of alignment with her own world and disappearing into this one.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Memoria is built out of held frames, the director and his cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom using a flattened space, unmotivated by camera movement, to create vignettes. Swinton creeps across these frames. Her Jessica is always reticent, a trespasser slowly prodding further and further into places they don't seem convinced they should be occupying. Weerasethakul also cranks up diegetic sound far beyond typically acceptable levels; the hums and rumbles directing the eye to a detailing that gradually swallows Jessica up. The audience is prodded to tune into this stillness, understanding these rhythms as extant incident rather than a plotted bread crumb. Weerasethakul never betrays this somnolent trust either; he allows his audience to abandon their search for obvious meaning or direction, sinking into scenes and situations to the extent that they are then able to conjure up a sense memory - a smell, maybe - associated with their own experience of having existed within similar moments.
Sunday, 20 February 2022
With the majority of the original Star Trek cast shuffled off into obsolescence after Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, it falls to the cast and crew of television's Star Trek: The Next Generation to keep Paramount's gravy train rolling. Not that the film studio has any confidence in the ability of Patrick Stewart and pals to immediately grab a big screen audience's attention. Just in case movie goers hadn't been keeping up with the multi-season adventures of Picard and Data on TV, Star Trek Generations is bookended by sequences built around the incredible bravery of William Shatner's Kirk - a proven box office draw. The Enterprise's most famous captain sacrifices his unnaturally extended life, not once, but twice while attempting to upset the genocidal machinations of Malcolm McDowell's crazed scientist. Comparatively, Stewart's Jean-Luc Picard is introduced in the midst of a strained, holographic, fantasy.
Captain Picard heads up a pompous haze in which the Next Generation crew have stepped away from their daily duties in order to spend an afternoon standing around as 19th century sailors. No doubt designed to inspire a sense of nautical whimsy, the sequence instead has the brutal thrum of a workplace team-building exercise. One that, in truth, simply caters to the head honcho's desire to dress up and preen rather than build any actual interdepartmental connection. Screenwriters Ronald D Moore and Brannon Braga double down on Picard's strange pretensions when building the benign prison he experiences after being sucked into The Nexus, an ill-defined cosmic phenomenon that bombards sentient beings with wish-fulfilment. Kirk, when sucked into this intergalactic energy ribbon, decodes his failings; intruding on key moments from his recent past in an attempt to build a lasting connection with a woman - he's realised all too late - that he loves. Picard's emotional lock-up is empty and bizarre when measured against these, all too real, regrets. He sees himself as a minor lord in a Dickensian Christmas scene, one with almost nothing in common with any of Jean-Luc's actual, lived, experience.
Friday, 18 February 2022
Thursday, 17 February 2022
Monday, 14 February 2022
Nicholas Meyer's previous crack at Gene Roddenberry's science fiction series - Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - introduced the idea of Starfleet cadets being trained, on enormous holodecks, to navigate a no-win scenario as a way of testing how they might react under incredible pressure. In that film, Kirstie Alley's Vulcan prodigy Saavik voices her frustration at being forced into a situation where, apparently, there is no correct answer. Later on in Wrath we discover that William Shatner's Captain Kirk had previously beaten this Kobayashi Maru simulation, doing so after reprogramming the game's parameters to allow this victory. Although Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country revolves around the gradual decoding of a convoluted (and not particularly entertaining) conspiracy, Meyer's film - co-written with Denny Martin Flinn - does offer its audience a first-hand glimpse of Kirk defeating a similarly intractable problem.
Framed for the murder of a Klingon ambassador suing for peace with the United Federation of Planets, Kirk and crew find themselves seconds away from a suicidal confrontation with a glowering battle cruiser. Rather than raise their shields and indirectly submit to the idea that any attack originating from the Enterprise was a deliberate act of provocation, Kirk immediately surrenders and beams aboard the Klingon vessel, with DeForest Kelley's Dr McCoy, to attend to the wounded. Undiscovered Country's weakness then is that it never makes this incredible leap of leadership a crux for anything other than further hardship for the human side of the cast. We are given no insight into how individual, Federation sympathetic, Klingons perceive this obvious behavioural contradiction. Any private thoughts or feelings they may have are kept buttoned up. Previous Star Trek films have positioned Kirk as a figure of respect within Klingon culture; they seem to view him as a particularly deadly human warlord. Surely his honest attempts at de-escalation should inspire some, obvious, level of pause in the Klingon high command?
Instead, Meyer's film concerns itself with rattling through a fragmented scheme that makes precious little sense even when all the pieces are revealed. For instance, if the phaser blasting assassins that murdered David Warner's Gorkon did originate from the Enterprise, why is their teleporter after-image red? Isn't that colour-coding usually associated with transportees originating from Klingon craft? It isn't commented on within the film so, presumably, this aesthetic decision was intended to signal something to the audience. A bread crumb to hint towards an as-yet-revealed invisible Bird of Prey stalking the Enterprise? Similarly, Kim Cattrall's Valeris, a treacherous element aboard the Starfleet vessel, is never organically threaded into the unfolding mystery. She's an observer then, suddenly, a solution. What Valeris does consistently provide though is an askew angle when appraising the strange sexuality of Leonard Nimoy's Spock. Their earliest scenes together feature an unusually relaxed Spock preparing drinks for the pair, lit by candlelight - alien ceremony with a hint of lumpen seduction. When Valeris' duplicity becomes clear, Spock's reaction is actually alarming. He strides over to his protégée - the frame itself rocking in time with his steps - then forcibly establishes a telepathic connection, one invasive enough that Valeris bares her teeth like an animal, tears streaming down her face.
Sunday, 13 February 2022
Friday, 11 February 2022
Thursday, 10 February 2022
Like the Batman: Gotham Knight anthology and 2018's Batman Ninja before it, Shinsuke Terasawa's Catwoman: Hunted allows us another glimpse of American superhero characters as interpreted by Japanese filmmakers. This cross-pacific collaboration is a well-worn but still promising conceptual shake-up that the DC animated movies, as they currently exists, are in desperate need of. Director Terasawa, a key animator who has worked on everything from New Dominion Tank Police and the Megazone 23 OAVs to Barefoot Gen 2 and Akira, does weave a few atypical pops into this straight-to-video animated film, but - judging this vid against the last half-dozen - his interjections seem largely limited to the shot-to-shot construction of Hunted's finale action sequences rather than, say, anything that might actually alter the film's formulaic dramatic trajectory.
Similarly, the film's character designs are obviously indebted to Kotobukiya's Bishoujo statues, a range of collectible three-dimensional pin-ups that depict superheroines - and other pop culture mainstays - as beautiful young women in form-fitting outfits. Greg Weisman's screenplay is at least consistent with this cosplay affect, reaching for the kind of playful trysts familiar to fans of Lupin the Third (and the character's many animated adaptations); Elizabeth Gillies' Selina Kyle taking centre stage as a femme fatale in the Fujiko Mine mould. Catwoman: Hunted sees Bill Finger and Bob Kane's cat burglar traveling to Spain to bump heads with a secret society after stealing a different Gotham import's precious stone vig. Like the rest of the recent DC animated stable, Hunted plays like a feature-length pilot episode for a television series that hasn't been picked up. It's a piece stuffed with go-nowhere introductions and lumbered in the early going by an interminable car chase that inherits none of the elastic mayhem evident in Hunted's Monkey Punch derived inspiration.
Sunday, 6 February 2022
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier suffers, in the main, from fielding concepts and ideas far grander than either first-time director William Shatner or his shortened production cycle is capable of completely tidying away. Despite a larger budget than the previous instalment - Leonard Nimoy's Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home coming in at an estimated $26 million to this film's $33 million - Final Frontier struggles to make the most of these increased funds. So, the world conquering mujahideen led by Laurence Luckinbill's Vulcan prophet Sybock amounts to little more than a dozen or so knackered looking extras while the Enterprise sets themselves visibly strain around our ageing actors. Shatner's onscreen bullheadedness - the actor cranking out Kirk at full volume here - is abetted by Andrew Laszlo's more obviously mobile photography style. The cinematographer brings a Steadicam glide to Star Trek, one that constantly pokes away at an unappreciative cast. Leonard Nimoy, in particular, looks exhausted throughout. The actor retreating into quiet murmurs when essaying this Spock.
That is not to say Final Frontier is as awful as its Golden Raspberry award-winning reputation would suggest. On occasion the mismanaged money actually ends up working for the piece. A finale meeting with a malevolent alien posing as an Abrahamic God cannot afford the scripted host of rioting rock monsters, so the film settles for the wonderfully ludicrous sight of a disembodied energy head dragging its jaw through purple sands, chasing Kirk up the kind of rock formation familiar to anyone who watched the original Star Trek television series. Sybock isn't simply an alien madman either. Unlike the small screen televangelists that quite apparently inspired the character, this Vulcan emir does genuinely seem to believe that he's on a righteous quest to enlighten the galaxy. His methods though are alarming and deliberately overwhelming. Sybock uses his mastery of the mind meld to conjure up all-consuming vignettes that trap prospective disciples inside their worst moments as a way to then leverage a certain amount of control over that person. It's a beautifully blunt excoriation of any organised religion that uses human suffering as a bartering chip. Spock and Kirk's reaction to these attempts at recruitment are even better again. Spock shrugs off a scene in which his father refuses to hold him as a newborn baby; Kirk doesn't even entertain Sybock's proposition, refusing to open himself up to examination then shrieking that he needs his pain and refuses to let go of it.