The Morning After: Mar. 21, 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.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Allegiant


The third film in the Divergent series brings Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James) and their team outside the walls of Chicago into a desolate, irradiated wasteland where they are rescued by a military encampment set up to watch over and protect the citizens of Chicago.

Jeff Bridges joins a cast of adult acting heavyweights including Octavia Spencer and Naomi Watts, each providing their unique and overplayed skill sets to the film. Bridges plays the benefactor who promises Tris the safety of Chicago if she can convince the mysterious Council that they are worth saving, but there’s a catch.

The rote roles that have been assigned to each character have played out precisely as expected. There are no surprise revelations that aren’t telegraphed early in the film and while the story is a bit thin since it’s a setup for the fourth and final film, there are areas where it could have been more engaging. The cast performs as expected, but never rise to the level of the more impressive Young Adult adaptation The Hunger Games.

There are still some interesting concepts at play in the film that give the series some sociopolitical weight, but, being targeted at tweens, are frequently superficial and overarching. There could be more depth at play, but the bolstered special effects and action set pieces make up for a lot of the deficiencies in the plot.

Youth


Paulo Sorrentino’s first English-language feature is a meandering contemplation on getting old and refusing to let go of the past. Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel deliver solid performances as best friends living in a Swiss resort surrounded by strange and miserable people.

Caine is a retired composer approached by a representative of Queen Elizabeth II who wants him to conduct a performance of his “Simple Song #3” at his knighting ceremony. In deep sorrow after the loss of his wife, he refuses, sending the man back to England to convey his refusal. Caine’s melancholy is palpable and gives the film some needed emotional depth.

Keitel plays an aging screenwriter working on his final film, hoping to lure his longtime muse (Jane Fonda) to star in his movie. Surrounded by a bizarre cadre of collaborators, Keitel’s passion and warmth is a vast departure from the deadly goons and villains he’s become known for playing. Together, the two salvage a film that too subservient to its own ego.

Star Trek (The Original Series): CatspawCatspaw


Returning to my episode-by-episode viewing and review of Star Trek episodes after a nearly three-year hiatus, it’s regrettable that I come back to an episode so cheap, so cheesy and so horrendously uninspired that it currently ranks as the worst the series has so far offered.

Captain Kirk and company are alarmed that their away team has not returned and beam down to investigate the situation. There, he, Spock and Bones discover that Scotty and Sulu have somehow been hypnotized into the service of two aliens with the ability to transmute matter in a medieval magic-inspired manner. With an inspired set design, but cheap-looking visual effects, the Enterprise crew must seek escape from the clutches of the malicious pair.

Explaining away the “magic” in the show by referencing matter transmuting devices is a terrible tactic. One of the reasons Star Trek has been hailed in so many quarters is that it takes a realistic and compelling look at how science can be used creatively and effectively. The point of science fiction is to use science responsibly. This episode represents a cheap tactic to take a weak story and put it into the Star Trek Universe. I’ll give credit for the exceptional production design, but beyond that, there’s not much to recommend.

Star Trek (The Original Series): I, MuddIMudd


After his previous appearance in the episode “Mudd’s Women,” Harcourt Fenton Mudd (Roger C. Carmel) is up to his old tricks, this time having an android redirect the Enterprise to the planet on which he is being held prisoner in order to trade his freedom for that of the Enterprise crew.

Carmel’s rendition of Harry Mudd is one of the highlights of the television series, oozing a surprising amount of self-assurance and charm. His duplicitous ways are often boggled by his own tunnel-vision, which leads he and the Enterprise crew to remain trapped on the planet against his personal wishes.

The beautiful women on the planet at first tempt the crew with things like immortality, engineering puzzles and other endeavors, but their human nature enables to them to understand what the androids intend and craft a clever ruse to trick them into not only destroying themselves but enabling the crew’s release.

After the weak “Catspaw,” it’s nice to see the series picking up a compelling narrative to thrill its sci-fi fans. The premise is built on the idea that while androids, being computational wizards, are capable of incredible feats of intelligence, human nature and its ability to use guile and trickery when necessary show just how important a blend of intelligence and wits can be.

Star Trek (The Original Series): MetamorphosisMetamorphosis


When the Enterprise shuttlecraft Galileo is diverted to a seemingly uninhabited planet, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and an ill diplomat (Elinor Donahue) discover Zefram Cochrane (Glenn Corbett) who has been marooned there since shortly after first contact with the Vulcans and wants nothing more than to travel with the crew back to the Enterprise and return to the world he inspired.

The only thing standing in their way is a mysterious energy being known simply as “The Companion” who wanted to bring Cochrane friends to make his life on the planet more bearable and has no intention of allowing any of them to depart. As the crew begins investigating, they come to the realization that this being has fallen in love with Cochrane and wants to see him happy.

Exploring the nature of human love and how the concept would translate to other species is a compelling tack for the series. Too often, romance and love are treated as circumstantial aspects of the crew’s regular dealings. Here, it’s given a brilliant exploration, attempting to explain how humans love and how they cope with loneliness and a lack of emotional contact. It may not be the most high minded of episodes the series has ever put out, it’s no less important a message.

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