September 13, 2014

The List: 9 Truly Freaky Moments in Star Trek


I was recently listening to Random Trek (a truly great podcast that you must all check out) and they discussed the season 1 The Next Generation episode 'Conspiracy'. During the discussion, it was pretty apparent that the hosts were disturbed by how gross the episode was. And there is no arguing, as they agreed as well, that the end is immensely graphic and freaky as all get out.

Now, while Star Trek is a drama, it tends to be a softer view of the future. The show is more allegorical than anything else, so the realm of science, philosophy and morality are explored, not necessarily horror and suspense. And though we are talking about spaceships and aliens with big ridges on their heads, the show certainly tries to keep things grounded. But producing over 750 hours of television and 12 feature films can sap you of ideas from time to time. And when that happened, Star Trek revealed some truly freaky ass shit.

Here are nine examples of when things got crazy (and freaky)*:

*note: I've only watched Voyager and Enterprise sparingly so I've excluded them from this list. I only added episodes of TNG and DS9 as well as some of the films. Hey, I never said this was a comprehensive study! If you know of any freaky moments from TOS, VOY, or ENT, let me know in the comment.

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Speak of the Devil: "Conspiracy" (TNG, Season 1, episode 25)


This is kind of the champion of freaky ass Star Trek. Sure, you can see stuff like this in a horror flick but ... this is Star Trek! The show with jumpsuits, technobabble and elfin merchants with weird ears. How can what happens in the video above be real?!

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That Was Unexpected: "Empok Nor" (DS9, Season 5, Episode 24)


There have been plenty of murder mysteries in Star Trek. There have also been some pretty eerie deaths and such but one thing Star Trek never does is do anything simple. So when DS9's writers got towards the end of season 5 (and the end of ideas for that year), they decided to do a haunted house episode in space and took all the Star Trek out of it, injecting horror and brutality in its place.

Just watch the first forty seconds of the clip above. I can argue, in terms of quick and brutal deaths, maybe only the films can match the uncharacteristic violence of the above clip. 'Empok Nor' is certainly a deep cut episode of DS9 and that is mostly because it is one of the least Star Trek episodes of that series, let alone the franchise.

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Just ... No: "Night Terrors" (TNG, Season 4, Episode 17)


Okay. That was odd.



O .... kay. This is getting wei ...



NO. NOOOO. NO. Just NO! Stop it. *cries*

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Right. Next. To. You: "Identity Crisis" (TNG, Season 4, Episode 18)


Two episodes that freak me out ... back to back. Though lacking the horror tropes of "Night Terrors", "Identity Crisis" offers its own chills. When Geordi uses the holodeck to investigate a mission from his past in which he and a friend were possibly infected with an unknown disease, he discovers that there was an invisible guest that was with him that day. As he slowly deletes all the holographic copies of his old crewmates from the program trying to determine why he sees multiple shadows reflecting off a wall, he is left with just himself and a lone shadow ... apparently coming from no one. 

I've posted a video of the investigation below. However, the YouTube user who posted it recorded it off a live TV so it lacks the impact of seeing this truly eerie moment for the first time and with TNG's amazing production value (the use of lighting was especially effective in the scene). I watched this for the first time in the hospital when my appendix exploded and I had trouble sleeping all alone in my hospital room that night.



Here is a link to the full episode for free on CBS.com: Identity Crisis

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Odo Goes the Way of The Thing: "The Alternate" (DS9, Season 2, Episode 12)


Long before it was determined that Odo was a Founder and long before we even knew what a Founder was, DS9's early seasons dealt with Odo trying to find his origins. In this early run episode, Odo visits a planet and finds life similar to himself. Naturally, the DS9 crew take it back on the station and the life form starts executing and attacking people like a gooey slasher would ... in darkened rooms and poorly lit corridors.

In the end, we find out Odo is the gooey slasher thing and has had a bit of a multiple personality disorder since returning from the planet. Add 'daddy' issues and ... well ... you've got a rampaging blob on the loose. 

Turning away from more typical Star Trek fare with its approach to alien races (or, in this case, infections), 'The Alternate' is dark, moody and uncharacteristically creepy.

*The Best I Could Find Was At 1:29 on the video

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A New Kind of Wet Willy: "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan" (film, 1982)


So ... uh ... that happened. Little, slimy creatures are gross enough. But forcibly putting them in someones ears is extra gross! This disturbing display of body horror is a rare sequence in a franchise dedicated to wonder, not chills.

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Data Myers: "Phantasms" (TNG, Season 7, Episode 6)


So yeah, that is how the episode starts (the YouTube user edited it to make it a bit longer). Eerie enough. But like any good use of tension, comedic relief is necessary and 'Phantasms", an episode in which Data experiments with dreaming, is full of funny moments. Some, as in the clip below, that occur right before the episodes more freaktastic moments.



It is hard to believe that of all the TNG seasons there were, Season 7 was the one chosen by the Emmys to be nominated for Best Dramatic Series. The season is so crazy and tone def (besides 'Phantasms', there were episodes about Data being inhabited by an ancient culture ("Masks"), Beverly Crusher getting fucked by a ghost ("Sub Rosa"), and Geordi being visited by his dead mom's ghost ("Interface"); there were also episodes about adding a speed limit to the universe ("Force of Nature"), comedic character Lwaxana Troi's loss of her young child ("Dark Page") and the crew all devolving and attacking people ("Genesis")) yet visually effective. "Phantasms" is an example of Star Trek going outside its boundaries and freaking you out.

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Caveman Riker! "Genesis" (TNG, Season 7, Episode 19)



As mentioned above, Season 7 TNG is weird. Though not as freaky as "Phantasms", "Genesis" deals with the more literal problem of the entire crew devolving into ... well ... monsters. Barclay turns into a Spider, Troi turns into a lizard thing, Nurse Ogawa turns into Zira the ape, Riker turns into a caveman and Worf becomes PREDATOR WORF!


"Genesis" benefits from putting the familiar, comfy settings of Star Trek into bizarro versions of itself. And, in a rare twist, Picard's devolution (which is delayed) is to be the Final Girl who squares off against the big bad at episode's end.


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Space Zombies: "Star Trek: First Contact" (film, 1996)


Donald Marshall of GeeksOn called Star Trek: First Contact, arguably the most commercially successful and one of two of the most critically applauded Trek films, as "Night of the Living Dead in space" and nothing could be more true.


After having shared their first film with the original crew, the Next Generation cast got their own picture and completely owned it. But they also played against type. In the series first PG-13 film, there were multiple scenes of body horror, torture and just plain spookiness. It's not only a great film but also a perfect blend of Star Trek's philosophical ideals and freaky scares.

July 5, 2014

The Cinematography of Casino (1995)


Lately I've been going through some of the Martin Scorsese films (or crime films in general) I haven't seen for one reason or another. Casino was one of those 'you haven't seen that yet' films and I finally had some time to sit down and watch it.

I thought the film was a little more typical of late-Scorsese: loses its way at the end, overlong and far more style over substance. To some this is blasphemy, and while the film was never boring, it didn't resonant with me on any emotional level (just like how I felt in Scorsese's The Aviator and The Wolf of Wall Street, other true-story epics Scorsese tackled).

The production value was phenomenal so I thought I'd dedicate a Cinematography Of ... post to it.

I rounded these up from all over the web but most specifically from Screen Musings. Check them out.

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Casino
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cinematographer: Robert Richardson

*click on the images for a larger view



July 3, 2014

The Winding Moral Road of 'Dirty' Harry Callahan


When you sit down to watch the Dirty Harry film series, the oft-iconic five film series starring
the universal man's man Clint Eastwood, you are not treated to anything resembling continuity.

When it comes to the more physical universe, for example, you'll see many familiar faces. For example, please meet:

Main Bank Robber Involved in Classic Scene

and Evil Pimp


and Ambiguous Black Militant Leader


and goofy, dog-giving never-before-seen best friend.


Hell, you'll meet entirely different characters from entirely different movies with the same names. I introduce to you: 

Lieutenant Briggs


and Captain Briggs


Wait. Didn't I see Captain Briggs from Sudden Impact in The Enforcer too?


Oops. That's Captain McKay. Wait ... what was I talking about?

Oh, right: continuity. Yes, in a physical/universe sense, the Dirty Harry Quintology really doesn't have a sense of keeping things tight (except, apparently, every side character's need for a mustache). In the first three films, there are a few recurring characters but they hardly factor into the stories. Inspector Harry Callahan seemingly meets best friends and lovers in each movie and loses them in a kind of less attentive Bondian fashion. 

It should be noted, however, that all of Harry's partners, without fail, are cruelly killed or maimed in some fashion ... or are victims of racial/gender stereotypes of some sort.

This is Al Quan, Harry's partner in The Dead Pool. He takes down bad guys with kung fu without irony. Incidentally, he is impaled by blown up car parts thanks to a deadly remote control car. Not a joke. I think he lives ... but he isn't important enough to check on.

Okay, so despite that one exception, you won't find the kind of continuity you'd find in something like the Lethal Weapon and its three sequels (which featured all the same background extras and rebuilt sets with attention to details like character tattoos and referencing past events).

And while it is fun to point out the many character/universal differences in the series, in a more serious way, it is fun to examine the various worldviews and morals of the title character. Not only does each Dirty Harry movie seem stand alone, its one connecting thread Clint Eastwood playing a character named Harry Callahan, but it contains drastic shifts in tone.

The tonal shifts are so drastic in fact that when each film tries to establish itself as a franchise and diverts from the main plot to cut to 'Dirty Harry Moments' (similar to James Bond moments but with more mustaches and really poorly located diners ...seriously, is every restaurant in this film series in the most crime riddled areas of San Francisco?), it can seem kind of jarring.

We'll go into more detail later but let's take the Clint Eastwood directed Sudden Impact. While far from the best film in the series, Eastwood throws a number of themes at us. For one, you have the iconic diner scene in which a very famous line is uttered:


This was a scene typical of the Dirty Harry sequels. Don't worry about the main story or plot. That grinds to a halt because, well, Harry is thirsty. Just like in the first film, Harry has to find himself in a situation in which he must rescue people whilst dealing out physical punishment and causing as much mayhem as humanly possible.

One liners? Check. Cocky, taking-Harry-totally-for-granted bad guys? Check. Bizarre gun physics and complete disregard for civilian safety? Check. Entertainment? Hell yeah! It's all light and fluffy and no one gets hurt.

Except the major problem is that Sudden Impact's main story, which Eastwood likes to take us away from for goofy ultra violence, is about a woman who, along with her sister, were brutally raped by a gang of local drunkards and maniacs and goes throughout San Francisco and San Pedro wiping them out by first shooting their dicks off and then blowing their heads away (I'd find clips for this to go with the above craziness but I'm kind of scared to type, in any combination, the words 'impact' and 'rape' into YouTube).

Phew, I don't know about you, but in-between vivid flashbacks showing the rape and visceral depictions of men's genitalia being blown away, I love a little wisecracking, tongue in cheek action sequence to liven things up. Don't you?

But this is just one example of the film series' unevenness. With the exception of the first film, each sequel debates with itself on what it should be: a franchise action piece or a serious look at the world's problems. Sadly, most of the sequels try to have both and sometimes fail at both. But these are all isolated to one film each.

When looking at the entire film series, the biggest inconsistencies are with Harry Callahan's moral code. They drastically change from film to film. What he thinks is slightly acceptable in film one and deplorable in film two is totally cool in film four. He'll use his gut in film one and three but will actually investigate, using the resources around him, in films two and five. His approach to women and minorities ebbs and flows. His ability to follow rules is non-existent in films one and four but essential to his actions in films two and five.

All Clint Eastwood really gives the part, in terms of continuity from film to film, is, as I said above, the name Harry Callahan. While this seems like a slight on the actor, it isn't. This was just the case of stories and ideas being born first and the character of Dirty Harry being added on later.

In the end, Harry Callahan is a new man each and every go around. This crude, unscientific picture guide will tell you the Harry Callahan that appears in each film:

DIRTY HARRY (1971)
FUCK THE SYSTEM!!!!!

MAGNUM FORCE (1973)
For better or worse, HELL YEAH! THE SYSTEM!

THE ENFORCER (1976)
The system is pretty good AND is equal opportunity!

SUDDEN IMPACT (1983)
Fuck the system???

THE DEAD POOL (1988)
HARPOON GUN! Oh, and the system will be televised.
Let's look at the first, second and third films of the series primarily. In the first Dirty Harry, Harry Callahan is the loose cannon we all know and love. But do we really love him? Harry is insensitive, lacking any emotion or affect, is cruel, borderline racist and is not against torturing suspects and harassing them when they seemingly beat the system. His biggest moment is at the end, after dispatching the Scorpio killer, when he throws his badge in a lake, disgusted that the system couldn't stop Scorpio but he could. Why need a system when your gut and bullets can take care of the bad guys alone?

Makes sense for the character of Harry as introduced in the first film. So, then we go to Magnum Force.

In Magnum Force, Harry Callahan is a mildly temperamental police officer who participates in authorized skill competitions (would you see the Harry from the first film doing this?), using forensics to aid in his investigation (as opposed to his gut) and is completely disgusted with a gang (or 'death squad') of motorcycle cops who are wiping out the worst criminals in the city without due process.

Wait, what? Is this the same Dirty Harry? Wasn't he basically dying for the chance to have a death squad of his own so he could take care of bad guys? Well, Harry changed a lot between films, I guess. He says he doesn't like the system but accepts it until a better one comes along but, wasn't he trying to invent his own system in the first film?

And that brings us to Sudden Impact. In that film, Harry's love interest Jennifer (Sondra Locke) also happens to be the killer going around shooting balls and heads off as revenge for the rapes she endured that left her tortured (and artistic, apparently) and her sister comatose.

Harry, at first, tries to stop her because, well, he is against premeditated, non-thug related murder, but he eventually sides with her when he sees how scummy the rapists are. In the end, thanks to happenstance, he is able to place the murders on the now-deceased head bad-guy and let's Jennifer go free.

Wait, what? Wasn't Harry railing against vigilante justice in Magnum Force? But wait, wasn't he kind of sort of advocating it in Dirty Harry? I'm confused.

System schmystem
So, I guess I've taken a lot of time and typed a lot of words simply to say that while the Dirty Harry films all share Clint Eastwood, a .44 Magnum and crazy action sequences, they certainly don't share philosophies. And that can make for some confused viewing when watching the films in order.

In some cases, you side with bad good guys. In others, good bad guys. Etc. Etc. Etc. It makes me wonder about the planning stages of the films and Eastwood's involvement in them. Was he interested in just 'good' stories (I use 'good' loosely because I watched The Dead Pool and good does not exist there) or was Eastwood (and the writers) trying to say something about society, conveniently wrapping around fantastical sequences of mayhem?

I almost view it as alternate universes. The Harry from Dirty Harry wouldn't function in the world of Magnum Force. However, you could see him getting by in Sudden Impact. It seems each film offers a different perspective on what is good and what is bad. Harry himself goes from anti-hero to hero from film to film.

In the end, it is a fascinating approach to a film series that has never felt organized or planned. Instead of writing the characters into corners by keeping them true to form, growing only from point A and thus only moving forward to a limited B and C, the producers, writers and actors basically take a clean slate and start over each time, telling the story they want to tell, regardless of character history.

So, in actuality, these aren't Dirty Harry films in the sense that they are movies with Harry Callahan and his reaction to an ever changing world. No, these are films in which a man named 'Dirty' Harry just happens to appear and, interspersed throughout gun fights and ironic mutterings such as 'swell' and 'marvelous', ends up being involved in a kaleidoscope of human emotion.

In each film, you can pick a side. Hell, Harry picks all of them. But it wouldn't be a unique film series, through the classic, good films and the horribly bad ones, if in its attempt to remain utterly inconsistent they actually become consistent on accident. These films are social essays whether they wanted them to be or not and Harry is simply our ever-evolving psyche, tackling new ideas.

I'm not complaining. In fact, I feel lucky. Punk.

June 21, 2014

The List: The Godfather Edition, Part IV


Concluding The List: The Godfather Edition with Part IV. In this four part column, we've been looking at my Top 20 favorite scenes from The Godfather Trilogy, with commentary. Here is #4-#1:

#4. Brother vs. Brother (The Godfather, Part II)

*I couldn't find the complete portion of this scene, but the majority is intact.

Why It's Cool:
 The most powerful brother, with the smallest of emotions vs. the smallest brother with too many emotions; Michael had to go up against his own family when Fredo betrayed Michael. Though the betrayal may not have been premeditated or motivated by anger, it certainly was eased along by jealousy. Sonny got himself killed with his rage and Fredo sealed his fate with his need to feel wanted. In the end, Fredo got the bullet ... but despite it being 'justified', it would haunt Michael for the rest of his days.

Best Line: "I can handle things ... I'm smart. Not like everybody says ... " -- Fredo

#3. The Abortion (The Godfather, Part II)


Why It's Cool: What a brutal, brutal scene. In many of Michael's moments, especially in Part II, Michael is very cold and calculating; he hardly ever shows his true feelings. However, his wife Kay seems to bring out those hidden emotions and it is usually never a good thing.

In a culture that thrives on family and finding a successor, the loss of a child is damaging not just for the heart but for the soul of the family business. Though Michael has one son and one daughter by this point, any addition is helpful. Just look at Vito's brood: puny Fredo, adopted Tom, angry Sonny and future king Michael. Michael worked out but heirs are no guarantee. So when Kay says she aborted Michael's son, he loses that cold-as-ice composure and lashes out, which makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Hats off to Diane Keaton and, of course, Pacino, for acting the hell out of this scene.

Best Line: "I wouldn't bring another one of your sons into this world". -- Kay

#2. The Business (The Godfather)

*start at 00:46

Why It's Cool: Kay sees first hand how cold and horrible Michael can be ... but, giving the benefit of the doubt, believes his lies. And thus, a world of 'dread' begins for Kay. I love this scene mainly because the two most important women in Michael's life, Kay and Connie, see what Michael has become and both deal with it in different ways (Connie becomes a tramp, traversing the world on Michael's dime before becoming the defacto head of the family; Kay eventually leaves and moves on). While Connie eventually forgives, Kay can only suspect and slowly realize the continuing horrors of being Michael's bride.

My favorite part of the whole scene is when Pacino slaps the table. It is one of the only times Michael ever raises his voice in the entire film ... one of the only times he cracks that newly formed emotional shield ... and it is telling. Kay represents the potential disruption in his plans and he quickly seals the crack. However, and the scene has become iconic, Kay realizes at the very end of the movie, that lies are just part of the business.

Best Line: "Don't ask me about my business". -- Michael

#1. The Confession (The Godfather, Part III)




Why It's Cool: I know, I know. I picked a scene from the least popular Godfather film as my all-time favorite scene. I can't help it: this ties everything together for Michael. It took decades but Michael finally breaks down and reveals his greatest sins. Slowly, his body has been punishing him, it seems, for his crimes. Now, he has to punish himself ... by letting it all go. It is a powerful scene, acted with sincerity and heart breaking emotion by Pacino. It isn't the Michael we have come to know, but that might be the point.

Best Line: "I killed my father's son" -- Michael