Reviews

Star Trek

The much-anticipated movie reintroduces all the characters from the franchise’s first iteration, but its most intense and rewarding focus is friendship between Kirk and Spock.


Star Trek

Director: J. J. Abrams
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, John Cho, Winona Ryder, Ben Cross, Simon Pegg
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Paramount Pictures
First date: 2009
UK Release Date: 2009-05-08 (General release)
US Release Date: 2009-05-08 (General release)
Website
I can tell you I am emotionally compromised.

-- Spock (Zachary Quinto)

"We gain nothing by diplomacy." So says the rebooted Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) when faced with a crisis involving angry time-traveling Romulans. It's a rousing sort of judgment, the sort you'd expect from the old Shatnernian Kirk, whose quick assessments and bold decision-making were hallmarks of his lengthy tenure at the helm of the USS Enterprise.

In this new imagining of the starship's voyages, courtesy of the irrepressible J.J. Abrams, such assessment also helps to delineate the differences between Kirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto). And their initial confrontations and evolving friendship are the salient subject of the 2009 Star Trek. The much-anticipated movie reintroduces all the characters from the franchise's first iteration, but its most intense and rewarding focus is this friendship. The fact that it is rather strikingly engineered via the time-traveling plot gives pause, especially given the identity of the engineer. But that pause is its own pleasure too, recalling the original TV series' ethical and political dilemmas -- worthy despite and because of their frequent clunkiness.

In this version of their history, Kirk and Spock meet at Starfleet Academy, where the traumatized angry son of a much-revered self-sacrificing captain (Chris Hemsworth) arrives with fresh cuts on his face -- following a barroom showdown with a battery of Academy cadets. Within minutes of screen time, young Kirk has completed the four-year program in three years, flirted audaciously with Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and cheated on the daunting Kobayashi Maru simulation, a test designed, according to its designer Spock, to be unsolvable.

It's a neat bit of plotting that has the two men (or more accurately, one all-human and one half-Vulcan) confronting one another according to their most thumbnailish character traits -- the rebellious, motorcycle-riding, womanizing Kirk versus the coolly calculating outsider. That Spock contends daily with his raging in-betweenness, his rejection by both Vulcans and humans, makes his own essential rebellion flashily sympathetic. Literally beaten by nasty little Vulcan boys in a childhood-trauma scene, he develops a fierce loyalty to his mother (Winona Ryder), honoring her in his life-shaping decision to enter into Star Fleet rather than the Vulcan Academy. This doesn't exactly surprise his father (Ben Cross) -- who calls him a "child of two worlds" -- but it does set him on a new course, less precisely "diplomatic" than subtly vengeful.

And so you see right off that Kirk and Spock are more alike than different, each determined to make his own way inside the Federation's system of universe-governing that demands its officers hew closely to order and directives. Supported by his best friend, the recently divorced and ever voluble Bones (Karl Urban), Kirk outsmarts the system at the Academy, busting up the final exam and earning himself a trip before a judiciary board. Here he confronts Spock (as well as a self-congratulatory panel headed by Tyler Perry, of all people) over the Kobayashi Maru simulation. But their conflict, however cute, is really false, as they will inevitably be assigned to the Enterprise together, with a still-walking Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) in charge and Spock ranked over Kirk.

On this bridge, they boldly go directly into a big fat grudge fight with the Romulan Nero (Eric Bana), whose bald pate, slashy facial tattoos, and rugged-leather-sorta jacket mark him and his similarly adorned underlings as the villains. Nero especially likes to appear wide-screened and looming in the Enterprise viewscreen, issuing threats and decrees, inciting disdain and macho-posing from his Federation opponents. Pike's crew includes some youngsters, like boy genius Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and hand-to-hand-combat-trained Sulu (John Cho) (who describes that training in a word inserted to delight Trek fans: "fencing"). But it's clear that the captain knows his origin-story place, entrusting the ship in absence to a combination of first officer Spock and that loudest troublemaker Kirk (whom Pike has recruited personally) to ensure the survival of the ship, earth, and likely the universe.

The adventure this time includes plenty of action -- martial-artsy fisticuffs, phaser shootouts, and planet-annihilating explosions -- most all deployed to figure the Spock-Kirk bonding experience. This relationship, for all the beloved other stuff that goes on in Star Trek has always been its emotional and political center (not unlike the friendship-tension between Jack and Locke on Abrams' Lost). Arguing over means to ends -- diplomacy or showdowns -- Kirk and Spock reinforce one another, a point made by Leonard Nimoy's Spock here, his appearance awkwardly commenced but quite satisfying once he starts talking.

Indeed, the exchanges between young Kirk and old Spock provide this Trek outing with particular pleasures, as they rethink the vagaries of movie-style time travel (who can appear in the same space, how one person traveling affects the future that becomes a present eternally and repeatedly, how the loss of entire worlds changes or doesn't change individual personalities). However the plot works out (as it is a pre-story, you can guess whether or not Kirk saves earth/America, though the fates of a couple of other planets are startlingly apocalyptic, and not unrelated to recent US military global bumbling), the point is that these boys find out how they will shape each other.

If the new film doesn't exactly expand the parameters of their friendship, it does reinforce its reflective, allusive qualities. If Kirk's predictable stubbornness or Spock's odd moment of willful blindness or even Uhura's romantic commitment doesn't irrevocably alter the future that is also the franchise's past, it does at least offer up a reasonably alternative and insistently upbeat set of possibilities. Most hopefully, perhaps, Star Trek repeatedly embodies its forward-looking harmonies and clashes in half-breedy figures, from Spock to Worf (Michael Dorn, in The Next Generation) to even the Borg, always-already children of "two worlds" (best and worst). Yes, humans prevail, and Kirk incarnates that prevalence. But Spock -- now and then -- remains something else.

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Music

Mike Stern: Trip

Photo: Sandrine Lee (Concord Music Group)

Mike Stern has fallen. Trip shows that he can get back up just fine.


Mike Stern

Trip

Label: Heads Up
US Release Date: 2017-09-08
UK Release Date: 2017-09-08
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Artist website
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Guitarist Mike Stern suffered from a big owie last year. It seems that, while trying to cross a street in Manhattan, he tripped and fell, breaking both of his shoulders in the process. He underwent surgery and reports that "I still have to use glue so I can hold a guitar pick." While you're busy trying to figure out just how a jazz-fusion guitarist needs glue to hold a pick, keep in mind Stern is an embodiment of a working musician, and his chosen genre of expertise is famous for its pay-to-play, sink-or-swim business model. Such a setback can really eat into one's career. Gigs need to be canceled, which sometimes leads to venues blacklisting you in the future. And in a world where most people listen to their music via streaming services, gigging may be your only reliable source of income. Thankfully, Mike Stern, who was 63 at the time of his injury, has made a full recovery and is back to work with an impressive array of professional help. His new album is ironically named Trip. Apart from the title,

Trip makes it sound like nothing ever happened to Stern. At all. In the same way that John McLaughlin and his current Fourth Dimension band sound like a bunch of barnstormers who haven't hit 40 yet, the powerful performance of Stern and his colleagues coupled with the high quality of the material belie both age and medical condition. Now I'm aware that our very own Steven Spoerl did not care for the writing on Mike Stern's 2012 All Over the Place, but there's no way I can sling the same criticism at Trip. The opening title track alone is enough to nullify that. Stern plays the melody in unison with saxophonist Bob Franceschini, and it's all over the place. The song slinks into a B section where the chords shift from a minor vi to a major IV, and again, Stern and Franceschini drive an even meaner melody down the scale with plenty of sharply punctuated intervals. This guy fell, broke his shoulders, and now needs glue to hold a pick? Are we all sure he wasn't just replaced with Steve Austin?

Another number that, to me, offsets any concerns about the able-bodiness or strength of the material is a spunky one named "Watchacallit". This time, the B section brims with even more tension with Franceschini flying high and bassist Tom Kennedy doing little divebombs at the start of each bar. When it's all put together, it's truly a moment for you to crank your listening device of choice (in the past, we would say "stereo" right about here). But that's just two songs. There's a total of 11, spanning an hour and six minutes. Stern doesn't use every bar of every number to punch us in the gut. He still goes for the smooth bop ("Emelia"), the funky intersection of Miles Davis and Funkadelic ("Screws"), and the soothing ballad ("I Believe in You" and "Gone").

No review of Trip would be complete without mentioning the musical pedigree of Mike Stern's friends. When it comes to drummers, he managed to net Dennis Chambers, Lenny White, and Will Calhoun (yes, that Will Calhoun). Those names alone give you a money-back guarantee that the rhythm section will never, ever falter. But just to be sure, Stern summons Victor Wooten to play bass. Top shelf names like Randy Brecker and Bill Evans, in addition to Franceschini, provide Trip with soulful wind. Pianist Jim Beard pulls double duty as the session pianist. Normally, I'd wrap this up by saying that Mike Stern is under the process of pulling himself up by his bootstraps and dusting himself off after a major boo-boo. But after listening to

Trip over and over again, I'm convinced that he's beyond that. The straps are up, and the dust has cleared. He's back, playing and composing just as well as he ever did. Better than he did before the accident, perhaps? You can be the judge of that meaningless hairsplitting exercise because Trip is worth the journey no matter where your expectations may lie.

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