(On Cable TV, January 2019) There’s a surprisingly strong subgenre of Christmas horror movies, and A Christmas Horror Story seems like it wants to be four of them at once. An anthology of four short stories loosely linked by none other than William Shatner as a radio DJ (and a few more throwaway links), it’s a Canadian tax-dollar-financed low-budget feature aimed at domestic cable channels in an effort to meet CanCon requirements. While most movies of that type are terrible, A Christmas Horror Story is a little bit better than most: the direction and production values aren’t bad, and the stories generally hold up. Still, not all segments are created equal, and the film’s standout sequence is a Santa-versus-zombie-elves story (and then on to Santa gunning for Krampus himself) with deliciously filthy dialogue and a surprisingly nasty stinger. A Christmas Horror Story is the kind of thing you watch as an antidote for Christmas cheer, and it’s almost exactly what it portrays itself to be (even though your cable channel may mistakenly tag it as comedy). The soundtrack features some pretty good spookified version of holiday tunes, and the end credit promises us that “no elves were harmed during the making of this film”. (Whew.) It’s bound to be watchable in the January-to-October timeframe.
(Second viewing, On Blu-ray, October 2018) Now this is how you make a Star Trek movie. Learning from the lessons of the infamously slow-paced Star Trek: The Motion Picture, here comes Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to set things right. From better uniforms to a pair of great space battles to a memorable antagonist to a thematic exploration of character flaws to zippy pacing and reasonable odds, this film still stands as one of the most-improved sequels in Hollywood history. Writer/director Nicholas Meyer wraps surprisingly dense (and appropriate) thematic concerns in a relatively short running time. I hadn’t seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in a long time, and I had forgotten that the film is efficiently contained to, essentially, a bridge set and a handful of other locations. Kirstie Alley shows up in an early role as a young officer, the innovative CGI sequence still looks good, the actors are comfortable with their characters (with William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban free to scream as much as they’d like), the film builds upon the existing series mythology and we do get the feeling of a story slightly too big to fit in an hour-long episode, but well aligned with the rest of the franchise. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is still a really good movie by anyone’s standards, but it also remains a particularly good Star Trek movie, perhaps still the best one so far.
(Second or third viewing, on Blu-ray, October 2018) I remember being fascinated by Star Trek: The Motion Picture as a kid in the early 1980s. To me, it was the epitome of high-gloss science fiction and sense of wonder. I watched it a few times on VHS. Another viewing right now has me jumping over to the camp calling it “Star Trek: The Slow-Motion Picture”: Not a whole lot happens over the more than two hours running time of the film, and the pacing makes a bit more sense knowing that it started life as a TV series pilot given a budget boost in the footsteps of Star Wars’ blockbuster success. While I still like much of the film’s concept (including a rather elegant tie-in with the then-topical Voyager space exploration probes) and do have some affection for seeing the original Enterprise crew back again for adventure (including a visibly older William Shatner), Star Trek: The Motion Picture definitely sputters on execution. Note: The Blu-ray version seen here is the original theatrical version, not the reportedly snappier 2001 re-edit with new special effects. As such, the 1979 picture shows its age: there are a lot of effects and they haven’t aged very well: It really doesn’t help that the entire film dwells on those visuals, allowing plenty of time to notice its imperfections. (That wormhole sequence … ew.) The pacing does introduce two other issues—early in the movie, the drawn-out overflight of the USS Enterprise was meant as a loving homage to a ship beloved by its audience, but now comes across as overdone fetishism for an audience that has since seen much better. (I’m an Enterprise-D fan myself). Second, the lengthy overview of the alien ship (especially during Spock’s ill-conceived solo outing) now comes across cut-rate attempts to replicate 2001: A Space Odyssey’s trippy third act. Does it work? Well, yes but probably only for an audience already receptive to Trek’s basic explore-and-empathize ethos. As I said: good concept, but sputtering execution. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is now best seen as the financial reason why the much-better Star Trek II exists.
(On-demand Video, March 2012) As far as premises go, this documentary keeps it simple: William Shatner goes around interviewing the five other people who have played a captain (as lead) in a Star Trek universe. While there’s a little bit of footage of Shatner being himself at a Star Trek convention, much of The Captains is a series of one-on-one conversations between very different actors. Shatner seems to be enjoying himself (he wrote and directed the film), as he adds another piece to his very public voyage of self-awareness regarding his most iconic role –you’d think that after a few books, and many self-referential appearances in Trek-related works, there would be nothing left to say, but there is thanks to his interviewees. Patrick Stewart is grace incarnate as a top-level actor who has accepted his place in Trek history, but it’s his regrets at the toll the acting life has taken on his personal relationship that ends up being his moment in this film, much as Kate Mulgrew’s extraordinary description of the rigors of a TV series lead over a single mom’s life that ends up being the film’s emotional highlight. Otherwise, well, Avery Brooks is one weird/cool cat as he riffs off jazz music and somber themes. There’s no denying that The Captains is for trekkers: While it’s kind of entertaining to see Shatner arm-wrestle with Chris Pine, the film remains a definite vanity project meant to develop the kind of meta-Shatneresque personae that Shatner has been enjoying for the past two decades. Even so, it’s remarkably entertaining for those who know a bit about the Star Trek universe: discussions between fellow professionals often are.
(On DVD, December 2010) I’ll be one of the first to bemoan the increasing cooptation of geeks from social outcasts to lucrative market segment, but even I have to admit that Fanboys is a fun comedy aimed squarely at that audience. The story of four Star-Wars-loving friends racing to steal an early copy of The Phantom Meance from Skywalker ranch, Fanboys gleefully indulges in geek references, inside jokes and enough re-quoted dialogue to qualify as a derivative work. I’m not sure why I was expecting something cheap, because the end result is polished B-movie, low-budget but not necessarily unpleasant to look at. The actors do their best (Jay Baruchel shows up in a decent early role, even showing his maple leaf chest tattoo), but it’s really the geekery of the film that takes center-stage in reflecting in the state of fandom circa winter 1999, still hoping that George Lucas would pull off a new trilogy of classic Star Wars films. (Part of the film’s humour is in the knowing references to the post-1999 reputation of The Phantom Menace, Jar Jar Binks or Harrison Ford) The geek stereotypes are extreme, but good-natured and even endearing when it comes to the five heroes of the story. If nothing else, fans should see Fanboys for the succession of cameos and bit parts for notables such as William Shatner, Danny Trejo, Seth Rogen (in three different roles), Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams and many more. (Only Kevin Smith’s cameo feels rushed and incoherent.) There’s also a snappy pop soundtrack. Fanboys isn’t much of a comedy without the geek references (people without knowledge of the Star Wars universe, in particular, will miss out on much), but it’s good enough to exceed low expectations. [Classification note for metadata nerds: The film was shot in 2007, pushed back numerous times during the film’s troubled production history and eventually released in theaters and DVD in 2009. IMDB thinks it’s a 2008 film, but I’m listing it here as a 2009 release.]
Ace/Putnam, 1996, 256 pages, C$30.95 hc, ISBN 0-399-14131-6
I must have Lemming genes somewhere in my DNA.
Otherwise, who else to explain me reading this book? I have heard, time and time again, the maxim that novels “written” by Star Trek actors are generally beyond bad. Heck, I even wrote that in a previous review.
And yet, I still bought Man o’ War. The fact that I paid 50c for a good-quality hardcover at a charity sale is a pretty sad rationalization for what was, after all, an unexplainable poor choice.
Let’s review facts, shall we? William Shatner is a Montreal-born actor whose greatest claim to fame is the starring role of “Captain Kirk” in the most famous Science-Fiction television series, “Star Trek”. Even though the series lasted only three years, it gained a huge cult following that eventually made it a cultural icon, along with Shatner.
In the early nineties, Shatner “wrote” a rather fun novel called “Tekwar”. The quotes around “wrote” are important, given that most insiders credit SF author Ron Goulart with the novel and subsequent series. To say that the first novel was fun in no way implies that it was good; the sequels went downhill from there, both in quality and enjoyment.
Man o’ War is not related to the Tek series. Here, the hero is Benton Hawkes, ace diplomat. As the book begins, he’s just made the biggest mistake of his life: taking the side of the poor oppressed people against the big evil corporation in delicate negotiations. As punishment, Hawkes is sent to Mars, where colonists are allegedly revolting against the government. Gee! Is he going to be able to defuse the situation?
There’s nothing terribly original in the above outline, and there’s even less originality in the actual novel. Between the nicely-designed cover minimally illustrated by Bob Eggleton, we don’t get much more than ink on paper in actual real value.
It’s a real sign of trouble when the action scenes in an action-oriented book are more boring than what surrounds them. In fact, they’re handled with so much ennui that we practically feel revulsion for the protagonist while he’s dispatching the opposition: Why so much bloodshed when Hawkes himself isn’t worth our interest?
And so on and so forth: There’s nothing remotely interesting in Goulart’s, er, Shatner’s future, neither on Earth nor Mars. Man o’ War is a complete waste of time.
But the novel descends even further in mediocrity by a blatant disregard for anything resembling solid economics, basic physics or simple logic.
Economics: The novel will try to make you believe that Mars is able to produce vital quantities of foodstuff for Earth. Uh? What about the costs of shipping the stuff? Why should the colonists be oppressed if they hold Earth’s stomach in a grip?
Physics: The Earth-Mars trip takes a dozen days. Uh-huh. Right. Wait, there’s more! Like unexplained artificial gravity on the ship. Or even -that’s where my already-well-stretched suspension-of-disbelief snapped-, in Chapter 37, Hawkes phones up an acquaintance on Earth… and start talking in real-time. Okay, everyone associated with this book: it’s time to go back to high-school physics!
Logic: The Evil Guys ships hundreds of soldiers to Mars -casually disregarding expenses- in hope of fermenting a rebellion. Why the heck? Why not just pay the darn colonists?
Anyway… Stay away from Man o’ War. It’s one of the best example of pure garbage produced by a gaggle of people without the slightest respect for A> Science-Fiction, B> Your Money and C> Your Intelligence. This goes far beyond the Curse of Star Trek Actors-cum-Novelists: It’s a literary debacle of INDEPENDENCE-DAYesque proportions. There are no redeeming features to this book. And my review will stop there, because now I’m getting really angry.