Tag Archives: Patrick Stewart

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

For years, Trekkies have perpetrated the “odd-numbered curse” rumor that befell the original crew’s movies. According to this theory somehow, someway the odd numbered movies are mysteriously inferior to the even numbered entries. While there is a certain truth in that, it is not because of some silly curse, nor is it a mystery. Movies do not just magically “make themselves,” and the actors do not make it up as they go along. The common denominator in the even numbered Star Trek entries is Nicholas Meyer, who wrote and directed Star Trek II (1982) and Star Trek VI (1991) and co-wrote the script for Star Trek IV (1986). The strengths of Star Trek IV lie in the writing, particularly that which is clearly from the stylistic hand of Meyer. The film’s weaknesses lie in Leonard Nimoy’s pedestrian directing.

Still from X-men Days of Future Past (2014)When the third X-Men movie, The Last Stand (2006) was released, fans (and some critics) were shocked that it fell far short of the first two entries. Since Bryan Singer directed and co-wrote both X-Men (2000) and X-Men 2 (2003), and was not at all associated with The Last Stand, that third film’s lesser quality should not have been a surprise. Regardless, Singer has returned after an eleven year absence to direct and co-write Days of Future Past. With him, the franchise is vital entertainment again. Although not without flaws, X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014) is as much imaginative dumb fun as Singer’s previous efforts. Its biggest misstep is that it is not a stand alone movie. It expects the audience to have seen all the previous X-Men movies, and after The Last Stand it should be counted as almost a miracle that any future movies were even made about mutant super-people. (Except, of course, we are talking about the 21st century American market; the same market that actually made a hit of live action Scooby Doo movies, the Transformers franchise, and the Fast and Furious franchise). It is probably helpful to have along a translator who speaks Marvel Comics if you are unfamiliar with all the characters’ histories—and there a lot of characters, too damned many for Singer to balance with the same level of deftness that Joss Whedon is adept at.

Like many Trek stories, this X-Men opus tackles a time travel plot, albeit an overly complicated one. Thankfully, it turns playful. There are plenty of allegories bandied about and historical parallels abound (think the Vietnam War and a Terminator-like apocalypse). An older Professor X (Trek veteran ) and Magneto ( ) meet their  younger selves ( and ), shades of Picard-meets-Kirk or Spock-meets-Spock-Prime. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has to go back to 1973, which means waking up to the music of Roberta Flack and the discovery that Richard Nixon (Mark Comancho) was not only deep in Watergate, but also aiding and abetting Dr. Trask () in a robot plot (it always helps to have robots). References to the Kennedy assassination and the magic bullet are thrown in for good measure (which diverts us back to another unused Trek plot).

Singer occasionally gets waterlogged, probably from trying to appease fanboy expectations. Additionally, his return to pulp is excessively long in its last quarter. However, it is capped off with a winning finale, which feels like a teenage interpretation of “Twilight Of The Gods” (minus Wagner himself, of course).  Singer keeps the film flowing through pop references galore, which helps levitate all that on-sleeve, existential mutant angst. Even the much-missed Jim Croce provides good tonic, via his legendary “Time In A Bottle,” as does John Ottman’s assured score. Once past the confusing opening, X-Men: Days Of Future Past shifts gear into ambitious, melodramatic fun, and has a few surprises up its sleeve, at least to those of us who forgot our Marvel concordance. Now, if the producers are smart, they’ll keep Singer employed in this franchise (providing he can keep out of jail).

CAPSULE: DUNE (1984) [BLU-RAY]

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: , Kenneth McMillan, , Sean Young,

PLOT: As simply as I can put it: set in the year 10,191, inhabitants of three planets attempt to gain control of the “spice” Melange.  The substance extends life and allows space travel.  Whoever controls the spice controls the universe.  The planet Caladan, home of the House Atreides, is the main threat to the current emperor of the universe.  Duke Atreides son, Paul, appears to be the “chosen one” due to his special gifts of prophetic visions and skillfulness as a soldier.  Paul foresees the emperor’s plan to destroy the Artreides clan and sets out to take control of the spice and defeat their enemies.

Still from Dune (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Dune is too confusing, an altogether jumbled mess, to give it any consideration for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made.  There are too many characters, words, names and ideas that occupy the screen.  Overt weirdness does flit about many times, but is marred by cheap-looking special effects and poor acting.  Disappointing, considering who was at the helm of the picture.

COMMENTS: First off, being a new contributor, I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to cover three masters in the realm of weird cinema; Roeg, Cronenberg, and now David Lynch. Truth be told, Lynch is probably the greatest director in the pantheon of weird movies.  That said, this is the worst film David Lynch ever committed to celluloid.  I don’t think he would mind my saying so, as he too has publicly announced his hatred towards this film.  He refuses to talk about it in writings or interviews.  A production debacle, Lynch feuded bitterly with Dino de Laurentis to retain his artistic vision against the producer ‘s extravagance.  The film looks slapdash at times.  This problem likely stems from the complex source material: Frank Herbert’s 1965 cult sci-fi novel of the same name.  Lynch claimed  never to have read the book pre-production and to personally dislike the sci-fi genre.  For unclear reasons, he actually turned down the opportunity to direct Return of the Jedi to do this film.  I imagine Ewoks would have become much more menacing under the Lynchian lens.

Lynch came to direct only after several other directors bowed out due to differences and strife on the set.  One of the directors previously associated with the film was none other than Alejandro Jodorowsky, who planned on taking the film to new heights… a 14-hour epic!  Yeah, that didn’t fly.  What we are left with is a 137 minute hodgepodge of sci-fi jargon and mediocre direction.  Apparently different cuts exist; a 190 minute version has been aired in two parts for television.  The added material only caused more uproar with the legions of “Dune” fans, who thought the additional scenes and extended narration further stifled the already confusing flow of the theatrical cut.  Lynch has refused to release a director-approved cut, and demanded the pseudonym Jonas Booth replace his name on the extended television version.

There is way too much happening in this movie…all the time!  The multitude of characters, all with hard to pronounce names, come and go and never really make an impression.  The viewer is left wondering, “who is that?”, “are they important?,” and “what do they want?”  Ultimately, the answer to the last question is that they all want that damn spice.  Spice is cultivated on the planet Arrakis, or Dune, a desolate sand-covered planet; the only place where one can attain spice and thus total domination over the universe.  What protects the spice from any regular Joe-Schmoe getting at it?  Enormous man-eating worms, that’s what.  At least Lynch got to expand on his worm fixation.

I’ll refrain from putting in text the many characters that inhabit the different planets.  I will say the cast is fairly impressive and many went on to bigger and better roles.  The recognizable faces are: Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow, Dean Stockwell, Sean Young, Virginia Madsen, and Eraserhead‘s own Henry, Jack Nance (almost unrecognizable without that pompadour).  The most impressive over-the-top performance comes from Kenneth McMillan as Baron Vladimir Harkkonen (see, I told you about the names).  He gets the chance to unspool some great weirdness in his role.  The disgusting pus-and-blood filled boils that crater his face; his ability to inflate his suit and hover around like a lumpy balloon; his crazed, madman line deliveries: he get props in the weird department.  He plays up his vileness quite nicely to cement his baddie status.

I don’t think Dune is complete garbage.  I’ve seen much worse.  The elaborate sets and ornate costumes are most impressive.  The Blu-ray picture quality is probably the best you’re ever going to get (is this the first Blu-ray film reviewed on this site?!?  Blu-ray is beautiful, and hopefully an expansion of weird titles is to come).  The colors are crisp and flaws are minimal.  Many of the set designs were created by the legendary H.R. Geiger of Alien fame (although he eventually dropped out of the production, many of his creations were still used).  Speaking of Alien, I saw many subtle similarities to other classic sci-fi films, with Star Wars leading the pack.  “May the force be with you” is changed to “may the hand of God be with you.”  Young Paul (MacLachlan) undergoes a training sequence very similar to the exercise blindfolded Luke Skywalker practiced on the Millennium Falcon; instead of a lightsaber, Paul uses some sort of laser gun to blast tips off harpoon spears that randomly thrust out of a fight simulator.

The action sequences and special effects are what bog this movie down to the depths of an over-blown ridiculous flop.  For as much money as this thing cost, it should have looked a whole lot better, even by 1984 standards.  The first action occurs when Paul trains in a battle simulation.  There’s a knife fight, but a force field shields the  combatants: it’s a box/cube that engulfs the person into something that looks straight out of Intellivision video games from three years earlier.  The final battle depicts heroic Paul in knife-combat with evil Harkkonen lackey Feyd, played by an insignificant Sting (looking like Sex Pistols-era John Lydon).  The fight is sloppily choreographed and lame.  Overall, a perfect descriptive term for this film… lame.

To get a final understanding of just how corny this movie can get, I’ll offer up three more tidbits in list form:

  1. A dog (a pug) features in several scenes.  Paul lovingly strokes its fur aboard a spacecraft.  His father, the Duke, carries it around like an ornament.  Most hilarious, though, is the scene in which Patrick Stewart’s character charges and screams in full-blown battle mode while cradling the mongrel in his arms.  Where’s a wookie when you need one?
  2. The guns that are controlled by screams and a certain pitch of voice.  A trigger needn’t be pulled.  Just yell.
  3. The potential effectiveness of the giant worms is completely squelched when Paul and his comrades mount, harness, and ride them into battle like horses.

I’m sorry David, your film is lame.  You know it.  I know it.  Still, you managed to get some devout followers.  I just can’t figure out why.

The Blu-Ray additional features include very rough deleted scenes that add nothing of significance.  Special features document the making of Dune and its sometimes cringe-worthy special effects.  There are also segments on the various models, miniatures, and costume designs, which I find to be the only saving grace of the film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a brilliant mistake, misguided from the start but still aesthetically satisfying… Those who give it a chance…  will be rewarded with something surreal and strangely evocative…”–Bill Gibron, PopMatters (Blu-ray)