Category Archives: The Cinescope Podcast

Pinocchio (1940)

Note: this film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 10 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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I grew up during the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s, so while I did own and watch many of the older Disney films like CinderellaSleeping Beauty, and The Jungle Book, the ones that stick out most in my memory are the ones that released during my childhood. Pinocchio was one of those films that I definitely owned and watched at some point as a kid, but upon rewatching it I became aware of just how little I remembered of it – and how fantastic of a film it is.

Pinocchio is the classic tale of a puppet lovingly crafted by woodcarver Geppetto. After wishing on a star, Geppetto is astonished to find his wish has come true – Pinocchio has come to life! Still made of wood, the puppet must prove to the beautiful Blue Fairy that he is capable of being brave, truthful, and unselfish in order to become fully human. Guided by a cricket named Jiminy, Pinocchio learns the dangers of lying and disobedience as he sets out on a journey to become a real boy.

When watching this movie as an adult, I’m struck by the beauty and quality of the animation. As we see the streets of the city from the perspective of the tiny Jiminy Cricket, we are treated to an incredible level of detail, and during the final chase with the whale Monstro, every stroke of the brush can be seen in the water – and every single frame is drawn completely by hand, i.e. without the use of any computers. This movie is a work of art, and it’s a true testament to human ingenuity.

One of the most endearing parts of this movie is the character list. I’m actually pretty surprised that I didn’t like this movie more as a kid because watching through now, I was completely hanging on every word that Jiminy Cricket spoke. He’s simultaneously clever and stern, and he’s even occasionally funny, even to the point of toeing the line along the fourth wall a couple of times. He also serves as the audience vantage point for much of the movie; because of him, we bear witness to the creation and “birth” of Pinocchio, and as he follows Pinocchio on his journey through the city, we are able to tag along because we see things through Jiminy’s eyes. Voiced to perfection by Cliff Edwards, Jiminy is easily one of the most endearing characters in all of Disney film history.

Speaking of Pinocchio, he’s a fun main character because he’s believable. He’s a kid in appearance and behavior, and he’s as curious as any toddler would be, constantly asking questions that start with “why?”. His naïvety is funny at first, but it also gives a reason for Jiminy to tag along; he’s not capable of truly knowing right from wrong just yet because he has only just entered the world. His emotions run a wide range and never go past the point of believabilty. We feel his joy, sorrow, and remorse as he feels them because he feels like a real character with real motivations. Plus, he’s adorable!

Other characters that stand out are Figaro the (house) cat, Cleo the goldfish, and Gideon the (antropomorphic) cat, all of whom are mute characters who communicate instead with their actions, allowing for a hilarious mix of human and animal characteristics. The villains, namely Stromboli, the Coachman, and Monstro are all properly despicable and (especially in the case of Monstro) terrifying, which honestly probably contributed to the reasons why I didn’t watch this movie much as a kid.

The story is pretty simple here, but that’s the genius of it: because the story is simple, the artwork/music and the lessons come to the forefront. Pinocchio is given very clear choices between right and wrong, with Jiminy pointing him in the right direction and him instead choosing the wrong direction and subsequently suffering the consequences. When Pinocchio finally does the right thing and follows Jiminy’s advice and shows his bravery and truthfulness, he reaps the benefits, becoming a real boy as it was promised to him. It’s a very clear lesson for children who are watching – if you do the right thing, you benefit. If you do the wrong thing, you suffer.

And speaking of the music, it’s all great here. Songs like “Little Wooden Head”, “Hi Diddle Dee Dee”, and “I’ve Got No Strings” are complete earworms, but the true classic here is definitely “When You Wish Upon a Star”, sung marvelously by Cliff Edwards’ Jiminy. The lyrics are inspiring, the music is beautiful, and Richards has one of the most pure, gorgeous tenor voices I’ve ever heard. It’s certainly deserving of the Academy Award it won!

It’s hard to believe that this movie was made more than 70 years ago because it really does stand the test of time. Pinocchio is charming, beautifully animated, and is a true classic in every sense of the word. Whether you’re a child or an adult, you owe it to yourself to check this movie out and simply enjoy this lovingly-made film.

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: G 

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Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 8 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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I might have mentioned this in a review before, but comedy films usually aren’t “my thing”. Sure, I love having a good laugh while watching a fun movie, but films labeled as “comedies”  I usually actively avoid, with a few notable exceptions. Prior to discussing this movie on my podcast, I had only seen it once and had paid it very little attention because I was working on homework at the time (I was 17 or so), but I was certainly willing to give it a try, and, thankfully, it’s a fun movie and better than many other comedies I’ve seen.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights is a Mel Brooks film that tells the story of the man we all know, Robin Hood (Cary Elwes), who famously steals from the rich and gives to the needy. We see very little of that side of him in this movie and are instead treated to song and dance numbers and slapstick antics, as well as a cast of side characters that brings the laughs in thick as we follow Robin and friends on a journey to retaliate against the power-hungry Prince John (Richard Lewis) and to win the heart of the beautiful Maid Marian (Amy Yasbeck).

This movie never quite takes itself seriously, and in the select few moments when it does, it’s to emphasize the ridiculousness of something else that is going on or is about to happen. For example, at the very start of the film, we witness a village being attacked and set aflame. The scene seems to be gruesome and violent, but then the villagers start to complain about how “every time they make a Robin Hood movie, they burn [their] village down”, and they go on to call Brooks out by name, asking him to leave them alone. And there you have it: a seemingly serious moment used to tell the film’s first joke by breaking the Fourth Wall.

The film isn’t the only thing to not take itself seriously; each of the characters has their moment to be hysterically funny at some point before the end credits roll. The obvious standout is Cary Elwes, who played Westley in The Princess Bride (my review), and his portrayal of our eponymous hero almost feels like an extension of his character from that film. He has the same sort of humor and general personality, but at no point does Robin seem like a rehash or clone of Westley. In fact, in this movie he gets the opportunity to be straight-out funny rather than hiding behind the more dry, straightforward delivery of his Farm Boy counterpart. He knows when he’s being funny, and he milks it for all it’s worth. At one point, he cheekily turns to the camera to tell the audience that unlike some actors who play Robin Hood, he can speak with an English accent – an obvious jab at Kevin Costner’s portrayal of the same character in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He has many moments like this that caused me to laugh out loud while watching. Elwes has a fantastic sense of timing with his joke delivery and knows just how to deliver his line for maximum hilarity.

I won’t dwell on other characters for too long – listen to the podcast for that! – but I will mention my favorites. Roger Rees as the Sheriff of Rottingham is often hysterical, many times due to the way he jumbles up his words, often switching starting consonants (“spoonerisms”) but once or twice becoming so enraged that he’s simply unable to form a coherent sentence. Mark Blankfield played the blind Blinkin, and he is the character who makes me laugh the most, especially during a particular fight scene where, in an effort to aid his friends in battle, he feverishly and unknowingly hacks away at a wooden post for an embarrassingly long time, thinking it to be a legitimate enemy. The last character I’ll mention is actually just a simple cameo, and I don’t exactly want to spoil it for you, so I’ll let you watch the movie for yourself…just be ready for the awesome cameo in the last five minutes of the film!

I don’t have much to say regarding the score or music in general except that it does its job of furthering the purpose of the film – to make you laugh. At the start of the movie, we watch an Indiana Jones-style travel scene by map, accompanied by a rousing orchestral rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, which is of course ridiculous in the best of ways. There’s also a fantastic choreographed dance scene to a song called (what else?) “Men in Tights”, and it’s hilarious enough that it was the only part of the movie I remembered from my first viewing several years ago.

Mel Brooks has made his mark on the comedy genre through his many beloved films – SpaceballsBlazing SaddlesYoung Frankenstein, to name a few – but, as guest host Mikey Fissel said on Episode 8 of The Cinescope Podcast, none are as accessible or universal as Robin Hood: Men in Tights, so it serves as a perfect jumping-off point for exploring the rest of Brooks’ filmography. The story is a simple one that we all already know, so the real focus of the movie is the ache in your side you’ll get from laughing throughout.

-Chad

RECOMMEND

MPAA: PG-13 – for off-color humor


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 7 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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I first read J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the latter days of 1999 after receiving it from my grandmother for Christmas that year. I was only 7 years old at the time, but I devoured it and was ready for more, so I was given Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban for my birthday just a few weeks later. When this movie adaptation was announced, I forced my grandmother to read the book so she could take me to the theater, and despite her initial reluctance, she loved it as well, and so we went to the theater together. While it will never capture the exact magic of the book series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone remains one of the best book-to-film adaptations I’ve seen as well as one of the most important movies of my childhood.

10-year-old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has grown up believing that his parents died in a car crash, which is why he lives with his terrible aunt, uncle, and cousin; he’s forced to wear his large cousin’s too-big hand-me-down clothes and sleeps in the cupboard under the stairs. His life is far from happy, but all of that changes when mysterious letters start arriving in strange ways, all addressed to him. Harry soon finds out that not only did his parents not die in a car crash, but that they were wizards who died protecting him from the most evil wizard of all time – and that Harry himself is a wizard too. He’s whisked away into a world that is entirely new to him and to a new magical school called Hogwarts, filled with friends, teachers, and danger.

It should be said right off the bat that the production team absolutely nailed the casting decisions; every single actor is perfectly placed in their role, and as a result, I find it difficult to imagine others playing these characters. The child actors – Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron, and Emma Watson as Hermione – aren’t all-stars here, but they visually fit the descriptions and perform their parts believably. Yes, they’re children and make typical children mistakes, but they’re still charming and make you feel for them when they are emotional and worry for them when they are in danger, which is what really matters – that they make you care.

And of course the adults in the film are outstanding as well! Richard Harris is pitch perfect as Professor Dumbledore, completely capturing the “twinkle in the eye” aspect of the character as described in the book series. Though I did enjoy Michael Gambon as Dumbledore in later films after Harris passed away prior to the release of Chamber of Secrets, I think that Richard Harris more perfectly embodies the calm, wise old wizard demeanor. Maggie Smith as McGonagall is every bit as stern as her book counterpart, but at the same time she’s able to show the proper warmth and joy when she discovers Harry’s flying capabilities and concern while watching his first match against the rough-playing Slytherin team. Other admirable performances come from Alan Rickman as Snape – you can catch some subtle hints towards his characters’ eventual fate if you watch for it, but at the same time he appears just as loathsome and borderline evil as the children believe him to be – and Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid – who, as Harry’s first real father figure is just as warm and gentle as you would expect him to be despite his size, and his constant refrain of “I shouldn’t have said that” shows both his loyalty to Dumbledore and his secrets as well as his dedication to the children and their safety.

The story, which is basically just a reiteration of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, isn’t overly complex, so the real focuses of this movie are the characters and world-building. Since Harry is just as new to the world of wizards and witches and magic as we are, we are able to witness everything through his eyes and experience things such as Platform 9 3/4, the magic feast in the Great Hall, and the moving staircases through his eyes. J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world is a wonder to behold in all of its details, but the addition of magic doesn’t take away the human lessons to be taken away here. In observing Harry, Ron, and Hermione, we learn about the importance of true friendship and sacrifice for the ones you love, as well as bravery in the face of danger and difficult choices. Additionally, Dumbledore teaches us the importance of living our lives rather than focusing on what could be (“It does not do to dwell on dreams, Harry, and forget to live”) and the power of true, pure love.

Though I won’t go on about it at length here, I have to at least mention John Williams absolutely incredible score for this movie (my review). It was the very first film soundtrack I ever owned, and it sparked a fascination with both film scores and John Williams that continues to this day. More than that, it taught me that instrumental music can still tell a story; when listening to “The Quidditch Match”, I can completely visualize every single action on screen based on the musical cues alone (and to this day, that is one of my top 5 favorite-scored scenes in all of moviedom). “Hedwig’s Theme” remains a classic to this day and is recognizable by those who have and haven’t seen the movies alike, and “Leaving Hogwarts” still causes me to shed a tear or two every time I hear it. This soundtrack is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t given it a listen before.

While this movie is definitely not the best in the series – or even second best, to be honest – it’s the one that means the most to me, and it’s the one that started it all; if Chris Columbus and company hadn’t gotten it right here, then Harry Potter may have continued on very differently and might not have become as successful as it ended up being. To that end, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is exactly the film that needed to be made at that time – it’s not only a great and accurate book-to-film adaptation, but it’s also full of the magic, wonder, and heart that inspired me as a child to seek true friendship, to be brave in the decisions I make, and to unselfishly love others.

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: PG – for some scary moments and mild language


Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 6 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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Most of the movies I remember from my childhood are animated and no longer worth my time. However, there are a few gems that withstand the test of time, and the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is one of those movies that is part of some of my earliest movie memories; it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Based on Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this movie tells the story of young Charlie Buckett, a boy who lives in a rundown one-room shack with his mother and four bedridden grandparents. They are the very definition of poor, and Charlie himself has a paper route to help to provide for his family. One day, the mysterious Willy Wonka – a reclusive, highly successful candymaker – announces to the world a contest that will allow five lucky people access into his factory for a day, along with a lifetime supply of chocolate. When lucky Charlie finds a ticket, it’s off to the factory with four other children to see what awaits them.

*this movie is 45 years old; there are spoilers*

This movie is a classic for obvious reasons, not the least of which is the fabulous Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. He captivates the viewer in every moment he appears onscreen, and his energy is occasionally menacing but more often charming. The twinkle in his eye will make you smile, and listening to him sing “Pure Imagination” will tug at your heartstrings. In the final scene when Wonka promises Charlie his factory and a “happily ever after”, the warmth felt is so incredibly genuine that you can’t help but smile – and maybe even shed a tear.

But Gene Wilder isn’t the only highlight here. All of the children are wonderfully despicable and spoiled, but believable to the point that children viewers can identify parts of themselves and therefore learn from the mistakes of their onscreen counterparts. Peter Ostrum as Charlie shines in his only film role to date: he portrays all of the character’s honesty, kindness, and pure intentions with such an earnestness that you feel for him when he longs for a Golden Ticket but realizes how low his chances are, you grin when he sprints home with the Ticket clutched in hand, and you cheer as he hugs Wonka, knowing that his family will hunger no more. Rarely do you get a child actor, especially one with so little other film experience, who is able to portray such a wide range of emotions believably. Jack Albertson as Charlie’s Grandpa Joe is also a standout role, featuring the love and care expected of a grandfather as well as the energy and zeal of a much younger man. His love for Charlie is obvious as he acts as the beacon of hope for Charlie during his search for the Golden Ticket and as he climbs out of bed for the first time in twenty years to accompany Charlie to the factory – and the first thing he does is participate in an entirely too fun dance number! Watching him sing and dance to “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” is one of my two favorite scenes in the entire film.

Speaking of songs, I’ve already mentioned my two favorites – “Pure Imagination” and “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”, and “Candy Man” is a great show opener featuring the wonderful Aubrey Woods as the candy shop owner singing to a group of ecstatic children, a scene that also introduces us for the first time to the idea of Wonka and who he might be: a man born to make candy, apparently! The team of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley composed both the songs and the film score, for which they won the Academy Award for Best Original Score, and rightly so; the overture that plays over the montage of candy-making in the opening credits is a fantastic introduction to the musical landscape of the movie, and other fine musical moments include the instrumental versions of “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” and “Pure Imagination” that play in the scenes when Charlie runs home to show off his prize and when Wonka, Charlie, and Grandpa Joe view the city from the Glass Elevator at the end of the film, respectively. And who could forget “Oompa, Loompa” (no one…the answer is “no one”).

I really don’t need to say all that much about this movie because no doubt you’ve already seen it. And if you haven’t? Shame on you. Go get yourself a copy, now, and bask in the magical, scrumdiddlyumptious world. Roald Dahl was always one of my favorite authors as a kid because he taught that childhood was something to relish rather than rush, and that creativity and imagination are our greatest gifts. Not only does Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory display these themes of childhood wonder and pure imagination, but it also serves as a visual and musical treat that stands the test of time and still dazzles to this day. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, and it’s a movie that’s as (or even more) important to me now as it was when I first watched it as a child.

Rest in peace, Gene Wilder.

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: G


Blade Runner (1982)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 4 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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*very mild spoilers*

What is the appeal of the sci-fi genre? Certainly the potential of catching a possible glimpse of the future is a draw, and people are always glad to see the exciting action sequences that are typical in sci-fi works. But I would argue that what sci-fi does well, often better than other genre films, is ask questions, present new ideas, and generally give us life questions to ponder after the credits roll. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner accomplishes all of the above.

In 2019 Los Angeles, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is brought in by his former supervisor Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) and briefed on a new assignment: four Replicants – illegal androids – have escaped to Earth from off-planet human colonies, and they must now be killed. You see, Deckard used to be what they call a “Blade Runner”, a sort of bounty hunter tasked with tracking down these Replicants and “retiring” them. With Replicants being nearly indistinguishable from humans, Deckard has his work cut out for him, and he may just lose his humanity or even his life along the way.

The plot of the movie is relatively simple: good guy needs to hunt down robot bad guys and kill them before bad things happen. But, as I mentioned, the real highlights here are the questions…are the bad guys actually bad guys? Are the good guys actually good guys? What is right? What is wrong? What does it mean to be human? All of these questions carry quite a bit of heft and really drive the momentum of the film. I won’t attempt to answer any of these questions here – namely because my answers might be different than yours, as they’re meant to be.

Though the whole cast shines, there are three in particular that stand out in my mind when I watch this movie. The obvious choice is Harrison Ford as Deckard. As our primary human character, he brings us an interesting mix of the empathy we expect in a human but also the coldness and moral distance you would expect from a machine or, in this case, a Replicant. One of the biggest – if not the biggest – questions from this movie is whether Deckard is a human or a Replicant, and Ford masterfully plays along that fine line without definitively revealing anything either way. Another standout is Rutger Hauer as the Replicant Roy, who has perhaps the biggest character arc in the film, or at least the most interesting one. He possesses a strange energy that both endears and frightens, especially through the vibrancy of his bright blue eyes, but he also often shows more human traits than Deckard does: compassion, empathy, sadness, happiness, and he delivers one of the finest speeches to be found in any sci-fi film, or to be honest, in any film at all (and partially improvised, at that!). The last one I’ll mention here is Sean Young as the Replicant Rachael, who is particularly fascinating because her character initially believes herself to be a human thanks to implanted memories. Where Deckard is a human with many Replicant qualities, Rachael is just the opposite, and watching her cry as she learns that the memories of the life she thought she had were forgeries is heartbreaking. Throughout the rest of the movie, she expresses conflict between which faction she owes her allegiance to – the humans who created her or the Replicants who share her origin.

Vangelis, of Chariots of Fire fame, sets the tone of the film with another synth-based score that works extremely well in this futuristic dystopian setting; there’s a technological energy in the music as the film opens, but this eventually gives way to a strong feeling of melancholy and despair that matches the state of the world and the conflict going on within our characters’ minds.

The questions and the themes found in this movie could be talked about and written about for ages to come (and probably will be), but for now I’ll leave you to watch the film for yourself and ponder over everything on your own. If you do, I highly recommend checking out the basis for the film as well, Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Reading the book really helped me to get into Deckard’s head and to understand some of his motivations and internal struggles. Once you have watched the movie and maybe read the book, talk about it with others! Blade Runner is a film that demands discussion because of the complex questions found within, but, for the more casual moviegoer, it still has a lot to offer in the way of good sci-fi worldbuilding and action. However you take it on, enjoy the ride and consider: what does it mean to live?

-Chad

(P.S. – Watch the Final Cut.)

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: R – for violence and brief nudity


Frequency (2000)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 3 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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*very mild spoilers*

It shouldn’t be any secret ’round these parts that I am, let’s say, fond of time travel movies, Back to the Future (my review) being the top of the bunch. Time travel, however, can be a tricky subject, and if it’s not done well, it can be almost painful to watch. Thankfully, Frequency – which happens to be a time travel movie that doesn’t actually feature time travel – handles its subject matter with great care and gives us some great drama along the way.

In October 1969, we’re introduced to Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid), a firefighter who loves his job, his wife Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell), and his son John. Flash forward to October 1999 where we meet John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel), now a 36-year-old police officer who we learn lost his father in a fire…30 years ago. Struggling with the departure of his girlfriend and the impending anniversary of his father’s death, John discovers Frank’s old ham radio and, upon hooking it up, finds none other than his own deceased father on the other end of the conversation. Faced with the question of “what if” and all the implications that lie therein, John and Frank begin to reconnect but then must face the consequences that come with meddling with time.

As I mentioned above, this is a time travel movie that doesn’t feature time travel; instead, we have John’s ability to manipulate the past by communicating with his father and changing the way things “originally” happened, causing fascinating ripple effects that we witness in the form of memory flashbacks, changing pictures, and even matter being manipulated in real time. For example, in one scene Frank, in a moment of irony, accidentally sets fire to an object on his desk, and John, sitting at the same desk 30 years later, witnesses the scorch mark appearing first hand. Scenes like this (and another in which Frank writes a message with a soldering iron on the same desk) communicate to the audience that these two characters’ interactions at different moments in time are happening concurrently and have an effect on each other.

Speaking of these two characters, Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel are perfectly cast as a father/son duo. Quaid’s introduction as Frank shows us both the passion he has for his job and for helping other people – at his own peril – as well as his immense love for his family; dancing with his wife while singing Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” (my favorite Presley song) is a highlight of the movie, and Quaid’s natural ease and likability boosts the scene even further. Jim Caviezel’s John is tortured and depressed – his girlfriend is gone, he has grown up without his dad, and he’s distanced from his mother – but he ultimately shares in his father’s desire to help people. Once they are able to reconnect with each other via the radio, we get a great sense of chemistry despite the fact that they are never in the same room at the same time. One scene in particular has the two catching up on subjects such as life, baseball, and marriage, ending with an incredibly heartfelt “I love you” – something they haven’t been able to say to each other in 30 years. It’s this relationship between Frank and John that serves as the focus of the film and presents the majority of the heart.

Other characters I want to mention but won’t linger on too long for fear of spoilers are Elizabeth Mitchell’s Julia, or “Jules” as she’s affectionately called by Frank and others. She fills the dual roles of loving mother/wife and tough woman who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself or others. As a nurse, she works hard to save others’ lives, but in a scene late in the film when her son’s life is in danger, she does what it takes to jump in and potentially sacrifice herself in order to save his life. Andre Braugher’s Satch, police pal of Frank and eventually John when he joins the force, has his moment in the spotlight as well in a scene where he expresses a huge range of emotions, from anger to incredulity to disbelief to tenderness, and at no point does it seem over the top. One more character to mention: Shawn Doyle eventually appears as the villain, and he’s a perfect mix of grounded while still maintaining a certain level of sleaze that makes you know he’s up to no good, but, again, he’s never over the top or hard to accept as a potential real person. (Worth noting that we also get a young Michael Cera in his first feature film role, playing the son of John’s long-time friend Gordo, who is played by Noah Emmerich.)

The rest I’ll leave to the podcast because it features some great discussion between Mugglecast‘s own Eric Scull and me. It isn’t the first time I’ve said it and it certainly won’t be the last, but I love time travel movies, and Frequency is no exception. Sure, it has its fair share of sci-fi and even a bit of action, but the real strength of this movie lies in its characters and the love that they show for each other…everything else is just an added bonus. This movie is underrated and is definitely worth the watch!

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense violence and disturbing images


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 2 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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My experience with Star Trek is limited, especially in regards to Classic Trek. In fact, JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot was my introduction to the franchise in any way, and it wasn’t until a few years later that I saw any Classic Trek at all. So when my friend TJ told me that he wanted to talk about Wrath of Khan when I asked him to be on my podcast, I did a tiny bit of research and preparation, but my goal was to view this as a non-Trekkie to see if it was not only a great Trek film but also, and more importantly, a great film as well, and whaddya know? It certainly is.

Following the events of the 1967 Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Space Seed”, in which Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) maroons Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán) and the remainder of his people on a planet as punishment for the attempted takeover of the USS EnterpriseWrath of Khan features an older, dissatisfied Kirk – now Admiral – joining his former crew on the Enterprise once again for a routine training mission. However, things become anything but routine when Khan is revealed to have returned, angrier than ever and prepared to do whatever it takes to seek vengeance against Admiral Kirk. Faced with a new adventure and tasked with protecting the lives of his crew, Kirk and company must find a way to defeat Khan before he unleashes a technology with the capability of destroying all life on any planet he chooses.

*mild spoilers ahead*

Even with my limited experience in the classic Trek universe, what I’ve found that I love about it most is that the sci-fi/adventure aspect is almost an afterthought; yes, there are cool spaceships and futuristic technologies, but the main focus in everything I’ve seen so far has been humans (or aliens) having human moments with each other while going through human experiences. The setting is merely a setting – the situations are universal. This movie deals with themes such as mortality, youth, sacrifice, and love vs. hate, and it deals with these themes better than many non-sci-fi movies.

That being said, the character with whom we identify the most is Admiral Kirk himself. He is profoundly human in that he is flawed. He features strong charisma and leadership capabilities, and his love and duty for his friends and crew are apparent, but he, like all of us, is often emotional and reactionary, which leads to mistakes. Thankfully, he learns from his mistakes throughout the course of the film through self-evaluation and through listening to the advice of his friends, and by the end he is a better man because of it. Spock, played by the iconic Leonard Nimoy, is merely the other side of the coin. To contrast with Kirk’s emotions, Spock makes decisions through logic and necessity, but he shows by the end of the film that logic is not always the antithesis of emotion – that sometimes the two go hand in hand because the logical thing to do is to make sacrifices for the ones you love.

Khan, on the other hand, features a personality similar to Kirk’s in that he is driven by emotion, but his emotions blind and deafen him to the warnings of his crew. Montalbán gives a great performance here – you can see the calculating look in his eyes as he decides what his next course of action will be, and his fits of passion are just as powerful as the moments when he menacingly whispers, showing his ability to control a situation when he has the advantage. He’s a fantastic villain in the sense that you know why he is doing what he’s doing, which is what you want when it comes to the antagonist – believable motivation.

Storytelling and characters aside, this is a sci-fi film, and those elements are done extremely well. For a film made in 1982, the graphics hold up surprisingly well, with a particular CGI sequence made by an early iteration of Pixar being a definite highlight. Another element of note is the space combat, with the idea by director Nicholas Meyer to approach it like a submarine battle proving to be an effective action sequence. And I can’t praise the score enough; composed by a young James Horner, the music switches from horror to sci-fi/adventure to drama with apparent ease, and the main theme is such an earworm (pun intended if you’ve seen the film) that I was whistling it for 20 minutes after watching for the first time because I couldn’t get it out of my head.

I could go on and on about this movie because it really is so much more than just a sci-fi flick, and the whole crew gives outstanding performances – including a young Kirstie Alley in her first feature film role. There are moments of pure joy as well as scenes that are sure to guarantee tears, and all the while it feels firmly like Star Trek. With strong themes and solid characters, The Wrath of Khan is a prime example of how prioritizing story and characters is the key to success in filmmaking, no matter the subject material at hand.

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: PG – for violence and language