Q The Winged Serpent
ONLY a maverick filmmaker like Larry Cohen (It's Alive, Black Caesar, God Told Me To) would have conceived a genre mashup combining a New York police procedural with a man-eating flying monster. But that's precisely what he does in this 1982 oddball.
Call it Godzilla Goes to Naked City.
Michael Moriarty (who would eight years after this play a New York DA in TV series Law & Order) is simply unforgettable as Jimmy Quinn, an ex-junkie/musician/wheel man who stumbles on the nest of a giant reptilian predator at the top of the Chrysler Building while on the lam from a failed jewelry store robbery.
Realizing his knowledge has cash value, Jimmy tries to barter his info for a lucrative score, while police detective Shepard (David Carradine) investigates a concurrent spree of ritualistic homicides in which the victims voluntarily allowed themselves to be flayed or eviscerated. The coincidental deaths lead Shepard to believe this head-chomping Aztec beast may have been "prayed into existence."
"It wouldn't be the first time in history a monster was mistaken for a god," Shepard says.
Carradine, an old army buddy of Cohen, entered into the filmmaker's improvisational style with some evident discomfort, but it's the manic Moriarty who steals the show here, outshining even VFX specialist David Allen's stop-motion Q (short for the winged Aztec god Quetzlcoatl) with an over-the-top display of self-pity, fear, greed, and non-stop panic. (Moriarty plays a pretty mean jazz piano, too.)
In the director's audio track on Shout Factory's Blu-ray release, Cohen proudly asserts that his film was an inspiration to Korean director Joon-ho Bong when he made his 2006 genre classic The Host, which likewise placed a grungy slacker against a formidable scaly beast.
The Host is the better film. Q is downgraded by some bad performances (Candy Clark as Moriarty's girlfriend, for one) and cheesy effects. Also, it looks like it was edited with a steak knife.
But in the constellation of exploitation movies, it still shines like the rough gem it is. ***1/2
Star Trek Into Darkness
J.J. ABRAMS' 2009 reboot of Star Trek painstakingly introduced a time-travel element that essentially meant the franchise was free from the constraints of the Shatner-Nimoy Star Trek universe as we knew it.
Given liberty as expansive as the universe, this second chapter is something of a retread, not-so-boldly going where Star Trek has gone before.
We find hot-headed Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) getting in trouble with his mentor Capt. Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and facing the loss of his command due to his First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) and his unwavering Vulcan honesty when it comes to filing reports to Starfleet.
But a terrorist attack in London implies Earth has bigger problems, specifically a mysterious gent named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) intent on inflicting damage to Starfleet and its high command.
Kirk, itching for a fight owing to a personal loss, finds a sympathetic non-pointy ear in Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), who gives Kirk the OK to surreptitiously enter enemy space to retrieve the fugitive Harrison, despite the imminent threat of war from the combative Klingon empire. Once there, Kirk discovers there is more to his enemy than he imagined.
Suffice it to say that Star Trek Into Darkness revives a plot thread from both the movie and TV universes.
And it really need not have bothered. Abrams concocts a different take on a canonical chapter of Star Trek lore to no real purpose. After the slam-bang action of the first film, it was time for the franchise to deliver some of the science-fiction smarts for which it was once celebrated, not to take out the recycling. ** 1/2