A Good Weekend for Movies: “Star Trek” and “Valentino: The Last Emperor”

May 11, 2009 § Leave a comment

One of the certainties of documentaries is that I never feel like watching them when I’m in the heat of making them. Regardless of how things are going with my own projects, it’s safe to say the last thing I want after a long day in the editing room is to sit down with someone else’s documentary (though features and TV are generally OK).

Now that I’ve finished “Under the Hollywood Sign,” however, I’m avidly lapping up documentaries as well as features. In the past four days, I’ve seen two documentaries in theatrical release: “Every Little Step,” and “Valentino: The Last Emperor.” The former is moving in exactly the same way “A Chorus Line” was when I first saw it on Broadway. The latter, while it doesn’t quite live up to its fabulous trailer, is a fascinating portrait not only of Valentino and his partner in business and life, Giancarlo Giametti, but the dying needle trades of haute couture. “Apres moi, le deluge,” Valentino says, and anyone watching his seamstresses as they stitch yards of tiny pleats from gossamer silk (and somehow managing to add to them such details as ribbons and sequins) would have to agree. Clothes aren’t going to be made this way in the future, for anyone.  And all of us–including the vast majority who will never wear couture–will be poorer for the loss of artistry.

As for features, “Star Trek” bowled me over and I couldn’t be more pleasantly surprised. Although so far removed from Trekkie concerns that I don’t recall watching an entire episode of the television series, I can hardly remember a time when “Star Trek” wasn’t playing in the background, like Greek mythology for the space age.

The new “Star Trek” is at once an homage to the television show and a welcome departure from it. While the Enterprise looks reassuringly familiar, the actors playing Kirk and Spock (Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto) surpass their elders’ performances, brilliantly reinventing their characters when they could have settled for imitation. The effect is rather like seeing in 3-D for the first time after a lifetime of reading comic books. And the nonstop action is thrilling rather than gratuituously violent.

In an era of generally dismal movies and pointless remakes, it’s wonderful to see a worthwhile film of any kind, but “Star Trek” goes far beyond worthwhile. J.J. Abrams could have easily failed in his attempt to revitalize the franchise; instead, he has succeeded so well that his previous work, including “Lost” looks wan and wooden by comparison.

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