My Week in Movies: May 12-18

Union Station (1950) William Holden stars as an iron-fisted railway cop on the trail of kidnappers whose plan features the titular train station, and the whole thing moves like a firecracker thanks to director Rudolph Maté, who brings a visual verve and a noirish toughness to the proceedings. The cat-and-mouse construction is tight, the tension tighter – Maté and screenwriter Sydney Boehm work wonders with minimal dialogue and just the hint of a threat. There’s great character work, too, especially from Barry Fitzgerald as a cranky but clever inspector and Lyle Bettger as the twisted kidnapper.

The Captains (2011) Oh, the self-indulgence of this thing. What else would you expect from a movie about William Shatner, starring William Shatner, directed by William Shatner? Sure, he’s interviewing a handful of others, but for the most part, Shatner is the front-and-center topic. He might as well have titled it But Enough About Me, Let’s Talk About You. What Do You Think Of Me? And yet, by gum, it works. Shatner is a hell of a conversationalist, so even when the chats with Patrick Stewart and Kate Mulgrew circle back around to His Kirkness, we’re drawn in. It’s easy to forgive the egocentric clips of our host being adored at a Trek convention, because that’s just filler; the real meat is the time spent trading experiences about long work days and pondering deep questions about the universe. When Shatner abruptly asks Avery Brooks, “What happens when we die?”, we lean in, eager for the answer, or, at least, another question.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) Of course it’s the best Trek film. But more than that, it’s one of the greatest sci-fi films, one of the greatest adventure films, one of the greatest films period. The characters achieve a depth rarely attempted in popcorn cinema, resulting in a film that’s not only a revenge thriller but also a rumination on aging, death, and the fear of both. More than Shatner screaming and bagpipes weeping, it’s a rich, gorgeous, exciting work, always worth a revisit. Always.

Trek Nation (2011) A few minutes into this Trek-themed documentary, I realized I caught some of it back when it premiered on cable TV, hated it, and turned the channel. This time, I stuck with it all the way through, only to decide I was right the first time. Trek Nation spends the better chunk of a decade (we see both a 2004 Trek convention and a 2009 J.J. Abrams interview) following Eugene Roddenberry, son of you-know-who, as he attempts to understand his father’s legacy. It’s supposed to be a heartfelt first-person documentary (Roddenberry doesn’t direct, but he acts as narrator, host, and focal point of the story) supplying an intimate account of a legend, but it’s too haphazard to truly click. Turns out there’s not much to the personal side of the elder Roddenberry – we get the stuff fans already knew about his rise to success and post-Trek struggles, and while the movie reveals the darker side to his personal life (he was a womanizer; he and his son never quite connected), it turns out there’s nothing more to discuss about it, so it moves on with a shrug. The rest is is a mishmash of celebrity interviews, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and Trekkies-lite study of fandom, although there’s no verve to any of these angles. There’s one nice moment, however: an interview with George Lucas, who (despite some awkward efforts from Roddenberry to keep himself at the center of the conversation) discusses Trek’s cultural impact and the differences between intellectual adventure and his own brand of space opera.

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