“The Narrow Margin” (1952) starring Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, & Jacqueline Wright

Once in a while a low-budgeted film from Hollywood gives off an unmistakable aura of big-time talent. The screenplay is taut, direction swift and performances crisp and clever. Continuity is paceful and tense, with a touch of glib humor…The New York Post

…pungent performances and inventive direction… the cramped train settings are put to striking dramatic effect through expert camera work and cutting. Refreshingly, there are convincing sound effects and no hammering musical score…The New York Journal-American

...Charles McGraw never relaxes his grim tension in a highly effective performance as a vigilant cop…Marie Windsor, a sultry beauty seething with vicious evil…The other girl is Jacqueline Wright, who cannot be described further without spoiling one of the surprises in the story…The New York Times

This is a B movie (check it out on YouTube for $3.99) shot in just 13 days w/ a mere budget of $230K in 1950, but released by RKO Pictures in 1952. Director Richard Fleischer decided to use a handheld camera; this was one of the first films to do that. To save money, the train sets were fixed to the floor and the camera was moved to simulate the train rocking. When a mobster’s widow decides to testify in front of a grand jury and provide names in a racketeering case, she is forced undercover. Two cops reach Chicago to escort her to LA; the mob are on their trail almost from the start. Several shady/gun-toting men are on the train attempting to make sure the widow never reaches her destination.

Brown: Well, what kind of a dame would marry a hood?

Forbes: All kinds.

Howard Hughes screened it in his private projection room; the film stayed in that room for more than a year b/c he forgot about it! Hughes loved the film, but thought he could improve it by removing the scenes w/ Det. Sgt. Brown (Charles McGraw) and Mrs. Neall (Marie Windsor) and reshooting them w/ Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell. However, Hughes sold his interest in RKO before he could carry out this plan. This was Windsor’s breakout part; most casting agents said she was “too tall, too voluptuous, and just too sexy” for any role besides “the other woman”. She was a former beauty queen from Utah who eventually became known as “the queen of the Bs” (as she could very convincingly be the femme fatale). Fans (incl. TCM host Eddie Muller) love the hard-boiled dialogue between McGraw and Windsor (considered some of the best in noir).

“What We Do in the Shadows” (2014) starring Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement

[1] The more you “know” about vampires, the more you’ll enjoy this!

[2] It pokes fun at every part of the vampire mythology without resorting to simply being a parody of other movies.

[3] …the wide range of comedy used, from slapstick to satire and everything in between, is probably the biggest reason why this movie does not feel forced.

[4] Some comedies try too hard to make you laugh and end up the character are being ridiculously stupid and unlikeable, but this isn’t the case, their character’s goofiness is so believable that you find their stupidity quite adorable.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The story follow the lives of Viago (Taika Waititi- before he hit it big in Hollywood), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords) – three flatmates who are just trying to get by and overcome life’s obstacles, like being immortal vampires who must feast on human blood. Hundreds of years old, the vampires are finding that beyond sunlight catastrophes, hitting a victim’s main artery, and not being able to get a sense of their wardrobe w/o a reflection-modern society has them struggling w/ the rent, chores, getting into clubs, and overcoming personal conflicts.

About 125 hrs. of footage was shot for this comedy/horror/mockumentary (which I saw on Amazon), most of which was improvised by the cast. Editing that down to a 90-minute movie took almost a year. Waititi and Clement (who are also the writers/directors) held screenings in the US after a successful Kickstarter campaign. This is the kind of fun/quirky movie that we need in these difficult (quarantine) times! There are a few scenes which include blood. The humor can get dark, which I’ve read is common in New Zealand. The actors- professional and amateur- have easy chemistry w/ each other. I was surprised by the quality of the special effects, which seemed quite good for a low-budget movie.

Each vampire is modeled on one from a famous vampire movie. Petyr (the oldest one) is silent/scary, resembling Count Orlok from Nosferatu. Deacon is like Bela Lugosi’s flamboyant Dracula. Vlad is like Gary Oldman’s Dracula. Nick compares himself to Edward from Twilight. Viago is sensitive/stylish like Louis- Brad Pitt’s character in Interview with the Vampire. Vlad refers to himself as “Vlad the poker,” a joke on “Vlad the impaler,” the 15th-century Transylvanian who was the main inspiration for Dracula. There is also a housewife/wannabe vampire (Jackie), a low-key IT guy (Stu) who befriends the vampires, and a pack of werewolves (headed by Rhys Darby- one of New Zealand’s top comics). Watch the trailer below.

“Star Trek: DS9” – S3, E11 & 12 (“Past Tense: Parts I & II”)

Part I: The Defiant has arrived at Earth and Cmdr. Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) and Lt. Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) are beamed to the surface, where they will address the Starfleet Symposium in San Fran on the situation on the other side of the wormhole (the Gamma Quadrant). But they never arrive! Chief Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney) has no clue what happened; it was a transporter accident (very common in the ST universe). Meanwhile, the three find themselves in San Fran, but the time is 2024. Bashir and Sisko are arrested and put the Sanctuary District (a ghetto where homeless, jobless, and mentally ill people live). Sisko notices this is a few days before a major riot breaks out (a pivotal moment in history). Lee (Tina Lifford), a woman working at the processing center, gives them ration cards (for food) and explains how things work. Dax is assisted by Chris Brynner, a wealthy businessman, who helps her get an ID and hotel room (assuming she was mugged).

Part II: Sisko has taken the place of the revolutionary Gabriel Bell to ensure the hostages at the processing center stay safe. He needs to keep the trigger-happy B.C. (Frank Military) and security guard Vin (Dick Miller) calm and away from each other. Bashir fears for the captain’s life, as the original Bell died in the riots. When their new friend, Webb (Bill Smitrovich), manages to reach the processing center, Sisko asks him to find some stable men to guard the hostages. Dax decides to take action, frustrated w/ just watching the news on the riots. On the Defiant, Major Kira (Nana Visitor) and Chief O’Brien decide that their only option is to go back into the past, though Odo (Rene Auberjonois) looks a bit worried. (This ep as directed by Jonathan Frakes, who played Riker on TNG.)

Sisko: By the early 2020s, there was a place like this in every major city in the United States.

Bashir: Why are these people in here? Are they criminals?

Sisko: No, people with criminal records weren’t allowed in the Sanctuary Districts.

Bashir: Then what did they do to deserve this?

Sisko: Nothing. Just people, without jobs or places to live.

Bashir: Ah, so they get put in here?

Sisko: Welcome to the 21st century, Doctor.

Bashir [after a day at Sanctuary]: Causing people to suffer because you hate them… is terrible. But causing people to suffer because you have forgotten how to care… that’s really hard to understand.

This is the first Star Trek production to feature scenes set in the 21st Century. Ira Steven Behr’s inspiration to create the Bell Riots was the 1971 riot in New York’s Attica Prison (where inmates demanded better living conditions). While this ep was being shot in LA, the city was deciding whether they should set up a separate area for the homeless. This is the kind of story that Roddenberry would’ve approved of, as it tackles current social problems under the guise of sci-fi. If you (or a friend) are new to Trek, these might be up your alley.

Chris: Don’t worry, your friends are fine. That’s the whole point of the Sanctuary, to give people in trouble food and a place to stay.

Dax: If that’s all it’s for, then why is there a wall around it?

On the Women at Warp podcast (May 8, 2016), they discussed these eps in depth. Sisko and Bashir (both men of color) are quickly taken away and arrested; Dax (who landed in a different area) and is a beautiful white woman was the one who got rescued. Though Dax is not human (she is a Trill w/ hundreds of years of knowledge), she easily explains that her markings are tattoos. Later on, we see her at a party w/ Chris’ upper class friends; one couple is annoyed that protests in Europe led them to cancel their vacation. Dax knows just how to charm Chris and uses her privilege to help her friends. Sisko decides that Webb (an even-tempered white man w/ a family) should be the public face of the riot; this is a clever move. While police surround the area, Webb gets on the call w/ Det. Preston (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) and states the demands of the Sanctuary residents. Bashir, young and coming from a sheltered background, learns much from Sisko and experiencing hardship. Kira and O’Brien provide a sprinkling of humor in the dark story by hopping through time periods.

“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979)

Well, that’s it. We gave it our best shot, it wasn’t good, and it will never happen again. -William Shatner’s first thoughts on viewing this movie

[1] Everything is very straight-faced and sincere. To introduce someone to Star Trek with this film would be a bad idea.

[2] The Enterprise is much more of a physical ship traveling in space, and less of a device to facilitate storytelling.

[3] ...most of the film has the crew standing on the bridge, gazing out in awed-wonderment at all the expensive, and impressive, special effects…

-Excerpts from IMDB comments

I learned that this movie is often derided as Star Trek: The Motionless Picture. So, what’s good about this movie!? The original TOS actors, particularly Nimoy, do the best w/ what they get (which is not much good dialogue). We don’t see much of their chemistry or friendship; everyone seems cold and distant. If you love TOS and/or grew up w/ it in the ’60s or saw reruns in ’70s, then this isn’t a total waste of time. If you’re not much of a fan, then go ahead to the second film (which is great). They basically pretend like this one never happened- LOL! There is a fun scene where Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is sporting a full beard and (very ’70s) casual outfit w/ chunky gold necklace. Also, Gene Roddenberry loved the (now iconic) main theme from the musical score, which he reused for Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). Below this review is the scene which I thought was done very well.

The original script was written by Roddenberry and titled “The God Thing” though it was rejected by Paramount executives b/c of the storyline in which the Enterprise crew meet God. Many other story ideas were considered: preventing JFK’s assassination, becoming the Greek Titans, and trying to prevent a black hole from swallowing the galaxy. The popularity of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) had a big impact on the story, pacing, and marketing of TMP. Many sci-fi fans (incl. writers) viewed Star Wars as fantasy and fluff. Roddenberry always saw Star Trek as a more serious endeavor. The story was pushed toward more complex ideas; the decision was made to have no battle scenes (which hurt the movie). The early promos for newspaper ads had as the line “There is no comparison.”

Orson Welles narrated trailers for this film- a voice familiar to classic film fans! Director Robert Wise was also the editor on Citizen Kane (1941); he also reedited and reshot The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). Welles held a grudge against Wise b/c of the latter work; he probably recorded the trailers b/c he needed money. Wise (who was unfamiliar w/ Star Trek) was convinced to take on the directing job by his wife Millicent (a huge fan of TOS). She also convinced Wise to campaign for Leonard Nimoy’s return. Nimoy agreed to do the film only after Paramount agreed to a settlement of his lawsuit for allowing his TV series likeness to be used by advertisers. Wise (best known for West Side Story and The Sound of Music) is sadly not in his element here; his directing style contributes to its slow pace.

The producers and cast were worried about their appearances after being away from TOS for 10 yrs. In the later movies, the aging of the crew became part of the story. The cast hated the uniforms (as did viewers). One of the cast’s conditions for returning for a sequel was to have new uniforms. It was understood in the script, but not said outright, that Cmdr. Will Decker (Stephen Collins- who also didn’t watch TOS) was the son of Commodore Matthew Decker from The Doomsday Machine. Persis Khambatta (who played Lt. Ilia) was a model from India; she had her head shaved for the role. She has very little to do, though it is rare to see a Hollywood newcomer/woman of color at that time in such a big production. The abandoned TV series (Phase II) was to have three new main characters. Paramount was concerned that Shatner might ask for too much money (if the series was extended). Decker was created, so that once Kirk had to be written out, he could take on the new lead role. Will Riker and Deanna Troi on TNG were later incarnations of Decker and Ilia.

As many have pointed out before, Klingons continue to be the one-note baddies; they were not developed until TNG. The Klingon words spoken by the Klingon captain were invented by James Doohan (Cmdr. Scott). Linguist Marc Okrand later devised grammar and syntax rules for the language, along w/ more vocabulary words in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), and wrote a Klingon dictionary. Doohan also devised the Vulcan words heard during Spock’s Kolinahr ceremony. The scenes were first shot in English, but when it was decided to use Vulcan, Doohan wrote lines (to fit the existing lip movements).

“Star Trek”: Must-See Episodes of The Original Series

This is a list I compiled after reading many comments (IMDB and YouTube), listening to a few podcast episodes (focused on ST universe), and (of course) considering what I liked best. As w/ much of episodic TV, you don’t need to watch these in order. This should be helpful to those viewers who are not so familiar w/ TOS, but would like to start watching (or perhaps re-watching after many years). FYI: I watched the (remastered special effects) eps on Netflix first 6 years ago, then also over the past 2 months (during quarantine- when stuck at home). Enjoy, leave a comment, & stay safe!

Season 1

The Naked Time

The Corbomite Maneuver

Balance of Terror

Arena

Tomorrow is Yesterday

Space Seed

This Side of Paradise

The Devil in the Dark

Errand of Mercy

The City on the Edge of Forever

Season 2

Amok Time

Mirror, Mirror

The Doomsday Machine

Journey to Babel

The Trouble with Tribbles

A Piece of the Action

The Ultimate Computer

Season 3

The Enterprise Incident

Day of the Dove

The Tholian Web