The Morning After: Jul. 5, 2016

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

With the holiday weekend plus an extra day off, this is posting later in the week to get everything combined. So, here is what I watched this past week:

CrossfireCrossfire


Edward Dmytryk’s noir drama follows the story of three soldiers and a murder that one of them committed. Ostensibly a condemnation of antisemitism, with a hint of support for gun control, Crossfire is an entertaining and compelling film that lays on the sermonizing a bit too thickly.

Sergeant Keeley (Robert Mitchum) is questioned in the death of Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene) in his apartment where two of his military compatriots have been witnessed. His friend Mitch (George Cooper) is the prime suspect, but his recollection is shot due to a heavy dose of drinking that evening. His lone alibi that of bar worker Ginny (Gloria Grahame) whose mistrust of the police investigator seems misplaced.

As Keeley and police investigator Finlay (Robert Young) begin piecing together the events of the night, the key to it all may be the testimony of two others seen in the apartment with Samuels: Montgomery (Robert Ryan), whose explanations of the events of the night are crucial to the investigation, and his main mate Floyd Bowers (Steve Brodie), who is afraid to tell anyone what he witnessed in fear of being the next victim.

The various elements of noir cinema are present here, including murder, seduction and mystery; however, the most important statement the film makes is regarding antisemitism and its cancerous effect on culpability, honesty, and the value of life. This film speaks as well on the subject as 1947’s other major work on the subject, Best Picture winner Gentleman’s Agreeement..

The film also features a scene that, in hindsight, sends a clear message about the danger of gun culture in the United States. It’s a scene you’ll have to discover on your own, but it’s potent.

A Matter of Life and DeathMatter_of_Life_and_Death


Released in the U.S. as Stairway to Heaven, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s gorgeous romantic drama is a sight to behold. A Matter of Life and Death, the original British title, takes place at the end of World War II as a RAF pilot (David Niven) faces certain death as his plane is about to crash.

The voice of a control tower operator (Kim Hunter) provides his final comfort before plunging into the ocean. As his friend (Robert Coote) awaits in an otherworldly place, it is discovered that Niven’s Peter Carter has missed his destiny and remains alive, lost in the fog and washed ashore on the very coast where the radio operator lives. There, he falls in love, but his happiness is threatened when the afterlife conductor who missed him in the fog (Marius Goring) insists that he follow him towards death in spite of his new found love interest.

A trial awaits, but not before Hunter’s June and Peter’s Doctor Reeves (Roger Livesey) begin to suspect he suffers from a brain abnormality that’s causing him to hallucinate his encounters with the afterlife.

This film has a technical wizardry about it that puts to shame most films of the period. A compelling fantasy that sits thematically somewhere between Lost Horizon and The Devil and Daniel Webster, A Matter of Life and Death brilliantly employs gorgeous production design, stellar cinematography, and superb performances from a multi-talented cast. This is the kind of movie that fades from broad appeal, but is nevertheless impressive.

While the film does not seek to call this afterlife Heaven, since it seems to house members of various religions, as evinced in the trial sequence where thousands of military personnel from around the world have gathered to watch the events unfold. That said, the similarities are strong and, whether you believe in an afterlife or not, it’s one of the most fascinating depictions in cinema history. The color photography of real world scenes and black-and-white style of the otherworldly scenes add a nice touch to the proceedings in a reverse of the usage employed in The Wizard of Oz almost a decade earlier.

Star Trek (The Original Series): The Trouble with TribblesTOS_Trouble_with_Tribbles


Easily one of the most famous episodes of the original Star Trek series, “The Trouble with Tribbles” is a humorous story that surprises the audience with its strong underlying story.

Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew are diverted to escort a shipment of grain to a planet where the Federation and the Klingons are working at cross-purposes attempting to influence their political position. Set on a starbase near Sherman’s Planet, a team of Klingon agents demanding rest face off against the Enterprise crew as they attempt to protect the high-yield grain quadrotriticale from potential saboteurs. While these high stakes events are playing out, the Enterprise becomes home to an invasive, pleasing creature known as a Tribble.

Born pregnant with an insatiable hunger, their shocking deaths in the grain bins on the station open up the possibility that the grain had been poisoned and who did it is a matter of suspicion and mystery that’s resolved in the episode’s final moments.

As usual, Shatner and crew deliver solid performances with Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura and James Doohan as Mr. Scott the notable standouts, given prominent scenes in the episode. “The Trouble with Tribbles” proved so popular that both the animated series and Deep Space Nine both featured prominent episodes featuring the critters, the latter being one of the franchise’s best episodes built on this, one of the original series’ best episodes. The episode showed that the series could dabble in strong comedy just as well as solid science fiction.

Star Trek (The Original Series): The Gamesters of TriskelionTOS_Gamesters_of_Triskelion


Three highly evolved gamblers kidnap Captain Kirk, Lt. Uhura, and Ensign Chekov (Walter Koenig) to fight against other captives in “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” an interesting look at a Romanesque view of gladiatorial combat among prisoners.

Although the intelligent species at the crux of the investigation have planned for many situations, they’ve never met a species as resolute, resistant, or passionate as humans enabling Kirk to manipulate their senses of gamesmanship to help secure his crew’s escape. He also recognizes the stakes for the various prisoners on the planet, including a young woman (Angelique Pettyjohn) who was raised on the planet.

The episode sticks heavily to sci-fi and alien tropes to represent a world that bares strong resemblance to Rome and its arenas where prisoners would fight to the death for the amusement of their owners in the hopes of winning insignificant wagers. While the episode doesn’t have a great deal to say about modern society, its reflection on horrific practices of recent civilizations, including during the antebellum period of the United States, is still poignant and important today. And, at the time the episode released during the Civil Rights movement, acted as a powerful rebuke of slavery in its myriad forms.

Star Trek (The Original Series): A Piece of the ActionTOS_Piece_of_the_Action


One of several episodes in the Star Trek canon that involves traveling to primitive worlds that bear striking resemblance to our own historical periods, “A Piece of the Action” looks at the harm human interference with developing cultures can have.

Sigma Iotia II was one of millions of planets with civilizations in the early stages of development. Before the Prime Directive, which prevented interference with the normal development of a planet’s culture and technology, spacefaring visitors from the Federation inadvertently left behind a book that discussed Earth in the 1920s. Taken as a sort of Bible on how the world should be run, the book became the backbone of society leading the various citizens of the planet to take on the affectations, policies and violence inherent to Chicago’s dangerous mafia history.

Kirk and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) become the captives of an intelligent kingpin (Anthony Caruso) who wishes to use their technology as an advantage against a rival gang led by Krako (Vic Tayback). As they walk into trap after trap, springing themselves in the nick of time and ultimately turning the tables on their would-be captors, Kirk and Spock concoct a very interesting series of setups and traps that will set them free while pushing the culture towards a non-violent future.

The episode is set up both as a tribute to gangster films of the recent past and a rebuke of the posturing and violence-minded dangers of the era. It’s an interesting reflection on the past and its condemnation of violence is commendable, but its filled to the brim with corny dialogue and Shatner’s hallmark overacting. Were it not for Nimoy’s Spock’s level-headed nature, the episode might have turned into a true comedic misfire.

Star Trek (The Original Series): The Immunity SyndromeTOS_Immunity_Syndrome


Before Star Wars popularized the concept of a million voices crying out and then being suddenly silenced, Spock had a similar experience with the destruction of the primarily Vulcan starship Intrepid. Kirk and crew must respond to the sudden disappearance of the Intrepid along with the Gamma 7A system they were in, including its myriad inhabitants.

One look at the single-celled space amoeba that threatens the crew of the Enterprise might lead the jaded among us to laugh at the ludicrousness of the situation, but beneath the deceptively corny-looking creature lies a brilliant episode that explores science in a fascinating and compelling way, genuinely threatens the safety of the crew of the Enterprise and leads to one of the most satisfying and risky adventures the crew has yet faced.

“The Immunity Syndrome” doesn’t have a lot to say about society, something science fiction focuses on in most situations, but it does give the audience an idea of how science and deductive reasoning can solve seemingly insurmountable problems. The series frequently returned to the concept that the human species was unique in its broad-ranging application of science, grit and determination. This is epitomized in a scene where Spock questions the theories Kirk puts forth believing that his more logical and intelligent Vulcan kin should have been able to stop the creature but could not.

Saving the universe from a gargantuan space creature that feeds on energy and is dangerous close to reproducing may not be the most plausible situation, but the writer, crew, and cast more than sell the story to the audience, the make it feel like one of the most important and crucial adventures they’ve ever had. The construction of drama and tension through the strong editing of the episode mark it as one of the best.

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