Sunday, May 31, 2009
The Kurgan would thoroughly enjoy this one.
Why did Sam Raimi do this to us? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Spider Man movies (even the third one, which is crapped on constantly, though it is my least favorite), but if Raimi could’ve been making movies like this for that last eight years then I would have much rather had someone like Brett Ratner taking over Spider Man so Raimi could embrace his roots. Drag Me to Hell is an example of what Sam Raimi does best: a freaky, goofy horror film that is as fun as anything I’ve seen in the last five years.
Let me get into the story before I explain the whole “fun” statement. The story is about loan officer Christine (Alison Lohman), who forecloses a creepy gypsy lady’s house to prove that she’s worthy for a promotion. Obviously the creepy gypsy lady is not pleased, so she curses Christine with a demon that will torment her for a few days, then…drag her to hell. Along for the ride is her devoted boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) and a psychic (Dileep Rao, who does a very good job). That’s the short and skinny of it, now let’s get to why this is enjoyable.
First off, if you see this in the theater, then the audience is key. I saw it in a packed theater with tons of girls screaming at every scary part (of which there are many). Now, this was kind of annoying at first, but it really amplified the experience of the movie. I’m usually not one to jump at a cheap scare, but Raimi piles so many of them into each scene it’s hard not to be tricked by him once in a while. And the screams from audience members around you add to the jump factor. The point is: this movie is an experience with an audience.
But it’s not all cheap scares. If you’ve seen Raimi’s earlier works, such as the Evil Dead series, then you know what’s coming. You get the rattling doors, the screeching demons, and the comedic scares. Any fan of the Evil Dead series will be all smiles during a séance sequence featuring voice work reminiscent of Raimi’s earlier films. The comedy doesn’t cheapen the horror quality, though. It simply adds to the overall enjoyment of the film.
This is a movie willing to do things that other movies would only imply. There are plot elements that would normally have you thinking: there’s no way they are actually going to do that. But as soon as you think that, they follow through with it. I would love to give examples of this, but I don’t want to spoil it. But for those who have seen it, here’s the main SPOILER that I’m talking about: I was not expecting Christine to sacrifice the cat at all. I just thought it was a funny scene when she considered it. When it cut to her burying the cat, I could hardly contain my laughter.
Let’s not get out of hand here, though. This movie is not a masterpiece or anything. It’s just an example of what Sam Raimi is capable of (and a damn good example at that). There are some very goofy things that happen in this movie, like talking animals, spraying blood, over the top gross out elements, etc. The ridiculous factor is way up for this, but would you expect anything else from the man who blessed us with Army of Darkness? I got exactly what I wanted from this. The only thing I want now is more of the same.
Fanboys - Directed by Kyle Newman, starring Sam Huntington, Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, Dan Fogler, and Kristen Bell - Rated PG-13
Breaking the rules here a bit since this is not a perfect film, but I can't pass up the chance to award a Vader to a Star Wars fanboy movie.
Fanboys is a movie for Star Wars fans, plain and simple. I believe there could some enjoyment from a regular audience, but only Star Wars fans will really get into this one.
The story takes place in 1998, a year before The Phantom Menace is released. Four friends, one of whom has cancer, decide to go to Skywalker Ranch (home base of George Lucas) to watch the rough cut of the movie before it's released and before their friend dies. This might sound like a bit of a downer of a story (a factor which pushed back the release date of this film about a hundred times), but it really adds emotion to an otherwise outright comedy.
This is basically a road movie filled with Star Wars references. Hutch (Dan Fogler) drives a van filled with memorabilia (complete with an R2-D2 replica sticking out of the top) featuring sound effects comparable to the Millenium Falcon at times, not to mention the Chewbacca roar for a horn. The references, along with the cameos (Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Kevin Smith, William Shatner) make this an extremely enjoyable experience for the fans. Oh, and for those of you who don't care for Episode I (I like it, myself) or Jar Jar Binks in particular (not a fan, really, but I don't hate the character or anything), there some great jokes dealing with the expectations of that movie compared to subsequent critical beat down the movie took upon release.
Adding to the fan service is a subplot about the battle between fanboys and trekkies. The absurdity of the idea of Star Wars and Star Trek fans engaging in physical combat is quite hilarious, and it helps that the trekkies are led by a nerded out Seth Rogen (one of three roles for him in this film).
Now about the delay for the release of this film. I can remember seeing previews for this almost three years ago. What happened was that there was a positive buzz going for this film, so the Weinsteins decided to throw some money at it and re-shoot some scenes to make it friendlier for mass audiences. At one point a new director was even brought in to change the scenes dealing with the cancer plot (apparently mainstream audiences would have refused to watch this movie if the word cancer was involved). Some of the footage that director (Steven Brill, Without a Paddle) shot is still in the finished film actually, but I only know that from doing a little research, so it didn't ruin the film or anything. If you're wondering, the scene I'm talking about is when Danny McBride is interrogating the group. So the battle over the cancer plot waged on, with the original story remaining intact. But by then, the studio didn't want to put much support behind it, so it was released in a handful of theaters and finally released on DVD a couple weeks ago. So that's the behind the scenes story about the movie made for Star Wars fans. It's ridiculous that it took this long to release this film, but thankfully the long wait is over because this is a very entertaining comedy.
Valkyrie - Directed by Bryan Singer, starring Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, and Kenneth Branagh - Rated PG-13
The Kurgan knew how it was going to end, but he was still pulled in by the suspense.
This will be my one-paragraph review for this week. This movie, about a failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler, had an uphill battle. First off, it's about a failed assassination attempt on a very famous historical figure, so everyone watching knows that it isn't going to work, which means everyone already knows the ending. Secondly, it has Tom Cruise in it. I am a Tom Cruise fan and I could care less about his religion as long as he doesn't start forcing aspects of into his movies. So far, he hasn't done that and I've enjoyed his recent work. Other people, however, are dead set against him from the start based on his personality. I can look past that and if other viewers can as well, then they'll find that his performance here is very good. Cruise is backed up admirably by his British co-stars and the script actually creates suspense even though the outcome is already known. I would sometimes forget that all the planning and strategy would end up being almost pointless. But the real point of the movie is that people tried to stop Hitler, I suppose. Either way, it's entertaining to see all the stages of a well laid plan and watch as things go wrong and characters are forced to adapt. Just try to forget that you know what's going to happen and enjoy.
Next: I'm going to skip the article this Wednesday and write a few reviews instead. I'll also have a new Crappy Classic for Wednesday as well.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I’ll be brief with Night, since it’s been analyzed so many times before. And, honestly, I respect it more than enjoy it. It began one of my favorite genres, but it shows its age and lack of budget these days. I know many people enjoy it outright, but I’m a much bigger fan of Dawn and Day.
Dawn of the Dead, the masterpiece zombie movie set in a shopping mall, has also been analyzed quite a bit. It’s a statement about the material society we live since a shopping mall offers refuge. And who really represents humanity, the living or the dead? I’m not big on looking for representations in a zombie movie. You know why I think it takes place in a mall? Because the setting supplied the characters with everything they needed. It also allowed some humor. Parallels can be drawn between society and zombie movies quite easily (they are usually pretty blatant in their ideas about humanity), but I find more enjoyment from them when I stay with what’s onscreen and leave it at that. So I don’t watch Dawn and question my materialistic nature, I watch it for that helicopter/decapitation scene. I watch it for that exploding head near the beginning. I watch it for Tom Savini’s cameo. I watch it because, like in every Romero zombie flick, it shows, rather than implies, that some people can end up behaving worse than zombies when faced with extinction. That is the philosophy and deeper meaning that I find most important and it’s also one of the most obvious points Romero likes to make.
That point is made to perfection in Day of the Dead. I might be in the minority here, but Day is my favorite zombie movie. The acting is over the top and the dialogue is goofy as hell, but I love every minute of it. It is a zombie movie after all; shouldn’t everyone be talking and acting in exaggerated ways? I know I would be in those circumstances. The setting is perfect. Day takes place in an underground bunker in which a power struggle between a group of scientists and their military protectors is about to boil over. The scientific aspect is what leads to a thought-provoking aspect in the zombie world. A doctor is trying to domesticate a captured zombie and is slightly successful. The implication of this is that zombies are practically the next stage of human evolution. They already have the numbers, and now we see that they are capable of human instincts and even slight thought. That is more terrifying than a splatter of gore.
But speaking of gore, Day does not disappoint. There is some truly disturbing and disgusting stuff going on in this one. People are ripped apart and feasted on and it’s all quite messy and noisy. It’s not all fake blood and pig intestines, though. There is some real wizardry at work with some of the set pieces in the laboratory. For example, there is a very realistic body with a completely exposed brain instead of a complete head that moves around convincingly. There is also an impressive effect late in the movie in which the top half of a zombie’s head is cut off with a shovel and the eyes keep moving.
All of this is set to an amazing musical score that accents the ideas of the film well. I don’t know how to put it, exactly. At first, the music may sound dated and cheesy, but it just fits perfectly. In a scene in which the characters discuss possible reasons for the zombie outbreak, the music serves the conversation with a hopeful quality that is always welcome in a zombie film.
The conversation raises some great questions as to why a zombie outbreak might occur. Once again, these are not implied ideas, but ideas blatantly spoken between characters. The chief idea is that humans have become “too big for their britches” and God is telling us that it is time to get back to the basics, away from all the science and technology. It might not be a groundbreaking thought (it seems every natural disaster get’s compared to God’s wrath these days and it was the first response by almost every early culture to think that a god was punishing them when things went bad), but that’s the point. It doesn’t have to necessarily be original. It just needs to be presented in an interesting setting, and what setting is better than a zombie film?
Now back to that whole idea of humans being worse than the zombies. This will get into SPOILER territory for Day of the Dead. In this film, a zombie actually becomes a protagonist. Those military guys I mentioned above go a bit crazy and start to take over. And when the commander (who has the best death scene in zombie movie history as he yells “Choke on ‘em!” as the zombies rip out his insides and begin to feast) kills the main scientist, the trained zombie breaks free and looks for revenge. You know humanity is in bad shape when you’re rooting for a zombie to kill one of the last survivors of the human race. Oh, and any movie that has a line like “I’m running this monkey farm now, Frankenstein, and I want to know what the **** you’re doing with my time!” is awesome in my book.
Before I wrap this up, I want to acknowledge the other two Romero films: Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead. I am actually a fan of Land, since it expands on the whole evolution storyline and because it contains some funny zombie moments. It just didn’t have the mood and style that I grew to love in Dawn and Day. Still, a very enjoyable film. Now Diary, on the other hand, was awful. Romero tried going back to his low budget roots with this one but took about two steps too far back. The man used CG blood in a zombie movie! That is unforgivable. He wanted to go low budget, yet computerized blood was somehow cheaper than corn syrup and red dye. I have other issues with the film, but it’s really not worth getting into.
Zombie films are a special breed of film that allows deep thought and obvious fun. It just doesn’t get better than that. Whenever the enjoyment of a film can come from multiple interpretations while there is visceral action and comedy onscreen, then something awesome is at work.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Terminator: Salvation - Directed by McG, starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, and Moon Bloodgood - Rated PG-13
Remember, this Kurgan worthy movie is just an action film.
Terminator: Salvation, the fourth film in the series, is quite different from the first three movies. The first three involve one or two terminators trying to kill John Connor, the future savior of mankind. The first three movies were also about preventing the end of the world in the first place, but in Terminator 3 (which I actually enjoyed) the machines won and the world as we know it came to an end. Fifteen years later John Connor (Christian Bale) has shed his punk image (T2) and drug habit (T3) and is now a hardened, almost emotionless (aside from extreme anger) soldier.
This movie is at its best when the action is going on and that’s how we are introduced to this new Connor. An amazing sequence (cut to look like one long take) follows Connor out of a pit, into a helicopter, the crash landing of said helicopter, and an intense one on one fight with an injured terminator. It’s a great way to kick off this new type of terminator movie. Connor isn’t going to have to run away from a single machine for two hours; he’s going to have to wage war with all of them. I, for one, welcome this change.
I didn’t need another Terminator with the protagonists constantly on the run. I wanted to see them attack, and that’s exactly what I got. Others might be disappointed, however. Aside from a few callbacks to the original three (a song, a couple of trademark lines that come off a bit cheesy, but are good for a laugh), this is more of a war film, than a survival film. For instance, we see the resistance, but we do not get the usual expository scenes that explain how they get food or weapons or even how they have bases that are “safe” after fifteen years.
Instead, we get a bleak, gray future where life is survival. I found the surroundings to be as much of a character as Connor because they create a real mood and style for the film. But it might be too bleak for some.
The acting doesn’t really help out with the depressing mood of this film, either. Bale does little more than scream angrily throughout, which may remind people of his curse-laden tirade that was released from the set of this film a few months back. Sometimes his yelling just didn’t fit with the scene. Sam Worthington (as Marcus Wright, an interesting new character with mysterious connections to the machines) on the other hand, adds some charisma to the cast. And even though Bale is featured heavily in the previews, this is as much Worthington’s film as it is Bale’s. That might turn some people away, as well. People expecting Christian Bale in every scene will be disappointed. But I found Worthington interesting enough that I didn’t mind when Bale wasn’t onscreen.
Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, and Bryce Dallas Howard round out the cast, but Yelchin (Chekov in the recent Star Trek) is the only one worth mentioning. That is only because he is playing the younger version of Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn in the original), who is actually Connor’s father, due to the time travelling element from the first three films. It’s cool to see the young Reese and see how resourceful he is and how that resourcefulness will eventually come in handy for the character.
If it seems like I have mentioned the story much, it’s because I didn’t find it that important and all a viewer really needs to know is that there is a war going on between man and machine. Some have complained that this movie is dumber than its predecessors and that the story isn’t nearly as profound. I think that people are sugarcoating their memories of the first two films a bit, though. Let’s face it, the first movies rely on the idea that robots travel back in time and that John Connor sent his own father back in time. That’s more ridiculous than profound. So I didn’t miss all those great “ideas” about humanity that were apparently featured in the original films. I viewed this one like I did the others: as an action film. Is it better than T1 or T2? No, but it’s better than T3 and the action holds up in comparison to all of them.
*Now for the weekly SPOILER section: The main thing I want to mention here is the appearance of Arnold Schwarzenegger was awesome. They did some great work making it look like 1984 Arnold was actually onscreen. To me, that scene alone makes this movie completely worth it. Just to see that classic, slow head turn after being punched put a smile on my face.
About the PG-13 rating: I've talked to a few people wondering if that hurts the movie at all. Honestly, I didn't notice any edits for content. No weird dubbing over cussing and no strangely cut action. These days, violence doesn't get you an R rating unless it's just ridiculously gory. And when you're dealing with robot violence, it's easy to be brutal without gore. The absence of the f-word isn't a big deal, either. Christian Bale is intense enough without strong language, so you get his drift without the vulgarity (but if you want the vulgarity, just listen to his rant).
Oh, and McG needs to use his actual name from here on out. "Directed by Joseph McGinty Nichol" would look much better onscreen. Even if he turns out to be a consistently good director, I will always laugh and/or cringe when I see the words: Directed by McG.
Taken - Directed by Pierre Morel, starring Liam Neeson - Rated PG-13
I'm going to keep this one short. Taken is a very entertaining movie about a devoted father who is willing to do anything to save his daughter. Are some parts of it stupid? You bet. The daughter is a bit unrealistic, jumping up and down and running to her father every time she sees him (one time might be okay, but when she sees him at a lunch that she set up, she should not run to him like it's some kind of surprise). Other than that, this is a fun movie just for the fact that some surprising things happen. There might be gunshot here or there that you wouldn't expect, which was refreshing since the movie plays on your expectations. And it's great to see Liam Neeson in action mode. I was just happy to see the guy get a starring role in what turned out to be a very profitable film. Oh, and a PG-13 rating may not have affected Terminator, but it messed a few scenes up in this film for me. When someone gets shot in the face, their should probably be blood, but not in this movie. I'm not expecting a brain splatter against the wall or anything. I'm expecting the filmmaker to cut away and imply the gore if he's not able to flat out show it. Not a huge problem, but it did take away from what could have been an extremely brutal movie.
Crappy Classic: Gravyard Shift - Directed by Ralph S. Singleton, starring David Andrews, Brad Dourif, and Stephen Macht - Rated R
Stephen King movies are wildy hit or miss. This film, about a giant rat/bat creature that terrorizes a textile mill in New England, would probably be considered a miss for most people, but a strangely entertaining performance and the general feel of the movie make it a hit (not financially, of course) to me.
Stephen Macht carries this film. His completely over the top New England accent is hilarious. Lines like: "The show's o-VAH!" make me laugh to this day. Every scene he is in is entertaining due to his performance which makes it a damn good performance in my eyes. People forget sometimes that actors know what they're doing at times. I truly believe that Macht was aware of how fun his performance was. He knew he was in a low rate Stephen King flick (in the early nineties no less, when they were churning out King movies every other week it seemed) and he decided to try something different. And his performance makes this movie stand out.
Aside from Macht, the rest of the movie is quite plain. But the filmmakers did an excellent job of creating a rundown factory. I've worked in an older factory before and I can tell you that this movie captures the essence of a place like that. It's loud, dirty, and looks as if it's been closed down for years, but is somehow still kicking. It's nothing groundbreaking, but it helps make this movie interesting. So enjoy the mood of the film, and laugh with (not at) Stephen Macht and his strangely hilarious performance.
Oh, and Dourif is in there to lend this some horror movie cred. His character is not really necessary, but I didn't mind it because when Dourif gets to cut loose it's always fun to watch.
For Wednesday: Another article, haven't decided on what it will be yet.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Also, IMDb listed They Live! as an upcoming remake as well, but you have to have IMDb Pro to see anything about it. So I don’t know how serious that one is. But I still wanted to put up this link to this amazingly long and funny fight sequence from the film, which is about a regular guy (Roddy Piper) who finds a pair of special sunglasses that allows him to see that there are aliens disguised as humans throughout the world. Is it goofy? Absolutely, but you’ll have a good time watching it. The video for this contains strong language and is also quite violent, but more comedic than disturbing.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
What doesn’t work, however, is the score. There are times when the music is so loud and overbearing that it becomes a distraction. The score is used to try to create suspense when it is simply not there. It almost seems like the actors can hear the music themselves at times because they will be calm about something, but when the music is cued, they start running and yelling. Music can add suspense, but it cannot create it. The only thing the music did for me was make me appreciate the few scenes not accompanied by a score. The most suspenseful scene in the film (it features someone being locked in) has no music. If Howard would have realized that an audience doesn’t have to be told how to feel through music, then this film wouldn’t have seemed so messy and rushed.
Angels & Demons might work as a novel, but it’s far too loud and hectic as a film. So if you want a suspenseful story about science and religion, read the book. If you want to hear blaring suspense music set to a weak plot, watch the movie.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Am I the only one sick and tired of the George Lucas bashing these days? I read, watch, and listen to a lot of movie news/reviews and people seem to rip on Lucas out of nowhere. He may deserve to be poked fun at here and there, but people need to come up with a better way to bash something rather than say something like, “At least George Lucas didn’t direct it.”
I’ll start by acknowledging Lucas’ faults. Was Jar Jar Binks annoying? You bet. Was some of the CG necessary? No, absolutely not. Was the monkey/rope swinging scene from the latest Indiana Jones stupid? Yeah, pretty much. And was that extended music sequence at Jabba’s Palace in the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi ridiculously goofy and unfunny? Oh yeah. Lucas has made mistakes (as every director/writer/producer has) and he may say the wrong thing at times, like the quote to Scorsese (on the set of Gangs of New York) that big sets are a thing of the past because a computer can do everything now. I’m not even sure he said that, by the way, but it’s certainly reported enough on websites and it sounds like something he would say anyway, so I’ll go with it.
Lucas certainly loves his CG. I can think of a few scenes in the prequel trilogy that could have benefited from some practical effects (he didn’t really need CG to create floating fruit in the dinner scene from Attack of the Clones), but I can tell you that those movies could not have been made at all without CG. Of course, some might argue that we would all be better off if he wouldn’t have made the prequels or “fixed” the original trilogy. But before I get into that, let’s just realize that without Lucas’ involvement Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) wouldn’t have been able to create such realistic and amazing CG for countless films today.
Now let’s get down to the meat of the Lucas hate: the prequels. I, obviously, love the prequel trilogy (PT) and I consider Episode III to be the second best Star Wars film (behind Empire). I accept that people don’t care for the new movies, but I don’t necessarily understand it. There might be too much CG in them, but did people really want him to break out the ping pong tables and start gluing legos to them? Remember, Lucas was using the most advanced special effects available when he made the original trilogy (OT). It stands to reason that he would use the best special effects available for the new films. And some of it just doesn’t work and looks cartoonish, but when you have so much more going on, like amazing lightsaber battles, full on Jedi war, complex space fights, etc., then you tend to look past that one minor character that looks completely out of place next to a human actor.
I realize that the problems with the PT don’t end with the use of CG. People have trashed the movies for their acting (mainly directed at Hayden Christensen’s whiny performance in Episode II) and the plots. The whole galactic politics aspect of the trilogy left some people bored and/or scratching their head. While I admit that I didn’t go into Episode I expecting a subplot about trade routes and political power moves, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film. But the plot details are all an opinion issue. Point being, I’m not out to convince people that the prequels are as good as the beloved OT. I’m trying to convince people that Lucas isn’t completely to blame here.
Has anyone stopped and considered that maybe the prequels weren’t as magical to you as the originals were because you’ve aged? When you get older you become disillusioned and you also start to look back at the past with fonder memories than you used to. Was everything really better years ago? Or was it that Lucas had created something special back then that no one was expecting? I think it’s a combination of those two problems. The anticipation was so high for Episode I that there was no way everyone would be pleased by it. This isn’t Lucas’ fault. Sure, he could’ve made these movies just like the originals, but how boring is that?
I want to move onto another classic series that some people have claimed Lucas has “ruined” lately. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; I agree that the title is kind of stupid, but this movie was thoroughly enjoyable, despite its flaws. What angers me about this film is that everyone who hates it makes statements along the lines of “Spielberg tried to make a good movie, but Lucas forced in all this alien crap and stupid CG stuff and ruined it.” So Spielberg was making this perfect Indiana Jones movie while Lucas was whispering in his ear the whole time, saying “More aliens and CG, Steve! Let’s get stupid with this one!” No one thinks that maybe some of the beloved scenes from the older Indiana Jones movies came from Lucas. How about giving credit to both Spielberg and Lucas for the good and the bad? I guess it’s easier to like Spielberg and blame it all on Lucas. He’s been the whipping boy for a decade now and I think it’s time for a break.
This has become longer than I anticipated, so I’ll finish up with this: Maybe George Lucas has indeed ruined a classic series for you, be it Star Wars or Indiana Jones, but please remember that those series’ wouldn’t have even existed without Lucas. And, you have to admit, having a something ruined is better than never having it at all. You hated Episode I? Imagine if Episodes IV, V, and VI never existed. You can thank George Lucas for those films and the great memories that come with them.
**For those of you who share my viewpoint and/or my love of Star Wars, I recommend you check the Forcecast podcast from www.theforce.net (also available on iTunes). The lengthy weekly show contains all the information you could hope for from the Star Wars world, along with some very funny segments (my personal favorite is the always hilarious “Billy Dee Williams Quote of the Week”). The best part of the show, though, is the fact that the differences between the OT and the PT come up often and the hosts (Jason and Jimmy) are willing to admit that there are parts they don’t care for from each trilogy. They even poke fun at Lucas himself at times (Jason does a great Lucas impression). These are not blind fan boys. Lately, they’ve acknowledged the rivalry between Star Wars and Star Trek and this has led to some great discussions. I say discussions rather than rants because the hosts are actually Star Trek fans, so it’s more about the comparison of the two series’ rather than a childish “Star Wars is the best!” argument. Though Star Wars is favored over Trek, of course, and rightfully so.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Star Trek - Directed by J. J. Abrams, starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban - Rated PG - 13
A solid Chigurh for this thoroughly entertaining summer movie.
The previews for the new Star Trek film claim that this “is not your father’s Star Trek” and I have to agree, slightly. But that doesn’t mean that old fans should avoid this immensely entertaining film. It is technically a reboot of the series, but there are enough little jokes and throwbacks to appease the older fans while embracing the new. Maybe the hardcore fans will denounce it, but people like me (who have only a slight interest in the series) will love the comedy and constant action.
That joke continues as each crew member is introduced. We know that “Bones” McCoy (played to perfection by Karl Urban) is a grizzled doctor who speaks his mind, so when he states his trademark line (“Damn it, man, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!”) we are waiting for it. Then you add Simon Pegg as Scotty (a perfect choice) and the comedy is amped up to a level not usually associated with Star Trek. Should a Star Trek movie have multiple comedic moments? Some might shudder at the idea, but I thought the comedic aspect referenced the old movies aptly. It’s natural for Kirk, an arrogant ladies man, and Spock, a logical unemotional Vulcan, to clash in funny ways. Star Trek may be known for its lofty and even philosophical ideas, but it has really been a big, expensive summer movie waiting to happen all along.
Summer movies may be known for comedic relief, but they are also known for action, and this film does not disappoint. While the action might seem forced at times (you rarely get a chance to take a breath before another action set piece begins) it is always impressive. This film finds the balance between awesome visuals and entertaining action. You’ll see a shot of a planet with spaceships movin slowly one minute, then a sword fight atop a futuristic drill the next. The pace might be frantic for some, but you’ll be entertained. And if you forget what just happened for a minute, you don’t have time to dwell on it because an impressive new scene has already started. This movie is excellent at keeping you occupied long enough to embrace the fun moments while you forget the scenes that might not make sense.
But all of this couldn’t work without the acting skills of the two leads. Chris Pine (Kirk) is a relative unknown who will quickly make a name for himself because he played the part of Kirk as if it was a brand new role. This is no William Shatner impression. Zachary Quinto (Spock) is in the same boat, though he had to follow more rules than Pine. Spock is a character that is required to act a certain way. Quinto does an admirable job as the emotionally troubled Vulcan. We don’t get the sage from the older movies; we get a character that will eventually become that sage, which is much more interesting in my opinion. It also helps that these two actors work well together in a plot that takes the audience’s preconceptions (like the idea that Spock and Kirk are friends) and turns them upside down.
Finally, the style of the film should be addressed. J.J. Abrams, the director, has created a sci-fi look that may remind some of “2001” and “Star Wars,” but still stands on its own legs. Some have complained that lens flares (when the camera seems to be pointed directly at a light source) are present in nearly every scene. That didn’t bother me. In fact, that added to this movie’s style. I will say that the constantly moving camera became annoying at times, but that is the only minor complaint I can think of for this visually arresting film.
Is this your father’s Star Trek? No. It’s everybody’s.
*Once again, my summer reviews might end up in the Perry County News, so I want to add a bit to the site review.
I want to talk about the cast a bit more. Anton Yelchin (Charlie Bartlett) does a servicable job as Chekov, but it is important that people know about the character of Chekov before they see the movie, otherwise his performance could come off as silly. Those of us that have heard Chekov ask about the "nuclear wessels" will get a kick out of Yelchin's performance. Newbies might scratch their heads. Zoe Saldana as Uhura is probably the least interesting of the cast, but it's not from a lack of acting, but rather from a lack of character development. But when you're dealing with a movie that is meant to introduce so many characters, one or two have to take a backseat and maybe get some attention in a sequel. The same goes for John Cho as Sulu, though he has a few more interesting moments than Uhura.
For Wednesday - A write-up/rant about the critical treatment of George Lucas these days.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Directed by David Fincher, starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, and Jared Harris - Rated PG-13
I reviewed this a while back when I was still writing my reviews through a Facebook application, so I figured I should give this one a full review here.
When I first saw this I thought it would be a lock for best picture. Then the Slumdog Millionaire craze took hold and everybody seemed to forget about this movie. Instead of calling it magical or whatever, they were saying how it had no heart and was an unofficial sequel/remake of Forrest Gump. I can see the Gump comparisons, but that didn't bother me because I like Gump and it's the same writer, and let's face it, everything's a copy of everything if you look deep enough. What I cannot understand is the claim that this film lacks emotion, or heart. That blows my mind. One more response to a complaint: one critic (well, it was from a slightly popular movie site, but it's still a critique) commented that if the whole backwards aging thing was taken out of the story, then there wouldn't be much there. Seriously? Okay, let's apply that to every film out there. Take the idea of the Force from Star Wars and it's kind of boring. Take the powers away from (insert comic book character here) and it's really a basic story. The point of the film is the struggle of life if you age backwards, so of course the movie would be empty without that aspect! I just had to rant a bit there because it angered me that this movie turned into the film to pick apart once Slumdog fever took hold.
Anyway, this film, if you didn't already know, is about Benjamin Button, a man who ages backwards. He doesn't just age throughout the movie, though. Benjamin has a life and it's interesting and a bit depressing. Left at an nursing home by his father, Benjamin grows up around death and is told he is likely to die soon, himself. The whole idea of death looming at all times finally gets Benjamin going. If he might die soon, better to die while actually experiencing life. So he strikes off on a Forrest Gump-like journey in which he tries to figure out where he fits into it all. Of course he has a love interest or two along the way, the main one involving Daisy (Blanchett), which show how timing can be everything in a lifetime.
Now on to the acting. Many critics have said that the aging effects outshine Brad Pitt's performance in this. I disagree completely. In fact, after my first viewing, I was impressed with how Pitt was able to transcend the CG-work and actually give a performance. The CG is great, but look at Pitt's eyes in the early scenes. I have always felt that great acting is done through the eyes (a little glance or twitch here and there goes a long way in my book). Pitt adds humanity to the role through his eyes and his voice is heartbreaking at times. Blanchett does a fine job herself, though I had trouble understanding her lines in her old age segments. Jared Harris adds a lot of fun to the film as the drunken sea captain (yes, I know, Gump, Gump, Gump) and Jason Flemyng makes the father character a bit more interesting than he may have been in a lesser actor's hands. And, of course, Taraji P. Henson anchors the first half of the movie as Benjamin's adoptive mother.
The CG effects and the acting are impressive throughout this film, but the style David Fincher creates is what makes this film great. There is a storybook quality to this movie that's hard to completely explain. The story itself, the use of colors, the blurring effects, the narration, the quirky side characters (like the guy who was struck by lightning seven times), and just the way the story is told in general all create an effect that you don't get out of movies very often. And while this movie may run a bit long, it's that storybook quality that makes it all worth it.
I need to say more on David Fincher himself. This is the same guy who made Se7en, Fight Club, and Zodiac; hardly storybook-type films to say the least. But they are stylish films and this movie is further evidence that Fincher is one of the best directors working today. If he keeps this up, it won't be long until he has an Oscar or two.
So be sure to check out this film and don't get hung up on the Forrest Gump comparisons and certainly don't watch it wondering if it would be any good if the aging gimmick was removed (in fact, don't look at any movie's main feature and imagine what it would be like without it). Just let yourself fall into the story as I did and you'll find yourself wondering how anyone could think Slumdog Millionaire is a better film.
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