Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

  Star Trek Into Darkness is a fun movie. There's absolutely no denying that. It's a big summer blockbuster as loud and action packed as they come. If the 2009 reboot was reaching out to a new audience, this one is making sure they're still paying attention. How does it go about this? By flooding it's screen time with action scene after action scene. It's almost unbelievable that the movie is actually 132 minutes. That's over 2 hours folks. I know you know that, but I'm still shocked.  The movie doesn't feel over an hour and a half to be honest. That's because of the breakneck pacing. Now, some may say this is a good thing. I don't think it is. Granted, it's 132 minutes of well constructed action scenes, thrilling set pieces, and witty banter... but it's lacking something. Room to breath. From the opening gambit, to the non-stop roller coaster ride of the rest of the movie- Star Trek Into Darkness sacrifices suspense for action.

  There's so much action, that we feel carted around from one phaser fight to the next. There's a build-up, but even that is developed so quickly, that the build-up feels like it needs a build-up. I may be seeming vague, but... the plot develops like it's trying to catch up with the rest of the movie. Revelations and twists are discovered and revealed in between the moments when the protagonists are reloading so to speak. Every scene is nipping on the heels of the next like a rabid animal. The plot is racing to a finish line, and before we know it... the whole starship Enterprise is shot towards the planet Cronos like a bullet, ready to execute a war criminal by the name of John Harrison. This is a very tense set up. Not suspenseful, just tense. It seems unethical to everyone but Kirk, who's hellbent on revenge. Of course, all these conversations about morals and ethics, are had as people jog down corridors and pile into shuttlecrafts. Nobody ever takes a moment to catch their breath and let the music settle as well. The movie zips along at maximum warp. Your problem if you can't keep up. Characters are revealed and then shoved to the sidelines just as fast and I'm left wondering if I blinked and missed something somewhere...

  It's easy to sound overly harsh on the movie. Maybe I'm just old fashioned. Maybe there's no room in J.J. Abrams' Trek reboot universe for old dogs like me. (Even though I'm actually quite young, this movie makes me feel ancient as someone who's been acquainted with all things Trek from the time I was able to speak.) That should be a problem though. It feels like a problem. Star Trek was never about phaser fights and such- even a recent revisit of the Original Series cast that stigma aside.  The movies always spent more time developing their stories, themes, and plots, and then penciled in action scenes where necessary. Into Darkness however seems to revolve entirely around it's action scenes.

  The movie's story is kinda bad. In fact, as a riff on The Wrath of Khan, trying to hit the same beats as the 1982 classic, it does nothing original. There's nothing entirely wrong with a breakneck pace, it just doesn't seem to fit Star Trek quite right. I had a blast watching Kirk and Spock punch their way through each little skirmish and each epic dogfight. The action scenes are crafted with style and filmed with flair. There are chase scenes, fist fights, shootouts, crashes, and just about every other kind of set piece a sci-fi action movie could possibly have. Make no mistake, while my critic brain is taking notes about everything that sorta bothered me, I was deeply conflicted, trying to convince myself I was still having a good time.

  Not enough sci-fi action movies are anywhere near this fun anymore, but at what cost does Into Darkness entertain? The movie can't go five minutes without insulting your intelligence, to say nothing of how it treats long time Trek fans. This isn't Science Fiction anymore, it's Science Nonsense. The Star Wars formula has been carelessly applied to the Trek franchise and it doesn't fit goddammit. This is NOT how Star Trek is supposed to be. Sure, seeing these characters return to their roles is wonderful, and having brushed up on The Original Series the very night before, I can say with absolute energetic enthusiasm- these actors, playing classic roles, they got it.

   They really nailed it. Without seeming like carbon copies, from the 2009 reboot to this one, I have utter and complete confidence in these actors to continue playing these characters. In fact, I'd love to see more with them. So bring on a third, and a fourth. I'm down.

  There's a scene towards the end, in the middle of the climax that any self-respecting Trek fan will see coming from miles away. I saw it coming myself. However, I didn't expect how emotional it would be regardless. I can't say they put a great deal of thought into it, in retrospect, but the actors sell it so hard and the atmosphere at that point was just right... that it had me a little more misty eyed than I'd like to admit. But it's perfectly emblematic of why this movie doesn't work. It veers far off course from what you'd want a Trek movie to be, and never manages to emerge from the murky cloud of plot holes and haphazard writing it's generated for itself. The movie uses transporters like a magic wand, and there's all kinds of bullshit surrounding Kha- I mean... John Harrison... of course, and the movie is all the worse for wear in the end.

   This is arguably one of the worst Trek movies ever. It stoops to embarassing lows and fails to understand thing 1 about the franchise. Of course it's no surprise since J.J. Abrams himself actually admitted that he never liked Star Trek to begin with. This is the man Paramount surrendered it's franchise to. Wonderful. Because... you know... that's always worked out well before. Maybe stop handing the franchise off to people who don't even like it? Abrams didn't like how philosophical and introspective Trek was, so he did away with it. He turned it into a mindless action movies, with logic gaps so big, you could fly the Enterprise itself right through em. So come on. Let's get someone else for #3.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Thriller: A Cruel Picture

   Thriller: A Cruel Picture manages to be one of the most intense and undoubtedly, one of the best of it's own genre. It's about a mute girl who's kidnapped and hooked on heroin, forced to become a prostitute to feed her drug addiction. Well, it goes without saying that she obviously uses her day off, once a week, to become a full fledged badass.

  She learns karate, guerrilla fighting, how to shoot guns like a boss and how to drive like a getaway driver. So it stands to reason that the last half of the movie is nothing but her kicking ass. All the ass. She does too. It's violent, well paced and bloody as fuck. You can't beat this movie at it's own game. Pound for pound it's everything you could want from an exploitation flick. You can't fault it for the hardcore sex, extreme gore, and unbridled violence, that's exactly what it's here to deliver.

  The odd thing about this movie is that it could be more than just an exploitation flick. It could be a damn good flick in it's own right. There's a certain kind of weighty gravitas to the movie. It's not shoddily acted, alot of it has real artistic design. There's a beautifully staged fight towards the end that's simply gorgeous. It's more than just exploitation. It transcends it's own genre with glimpses of some intense and moving drama. However, it's always apparent that first and foremost this movie is indeed a grindhouse gem.

  Eyes are gouged with scalpels (apparently a real eye too, as the filmmakers used a cadaver for the scene, in order to lend utmost realism to the effect), the leading heroine is repeated forced into sex in explicit pornographic detail, and gunshots spray blood across the screen with a vengeance. Which actually brings me to my big gripe with the movie, the explicit sex? It's clearly just porno cut into the movie. I remember reading that they had some actual reason for this, but I don't remember it being a good one, nor can I recall exactly what it was.

  Regardless, not only is it... kinda tasteless, but there's no point honestly. In a rape/revenge flick, I can understand, and while this is essentially a rape/revenge flick, it plays to a prostitution angle rather than a one time brutal event. We don't need to see this poor girl having sex with all these people- multiple times. I get showing it once, but even that... Graphic penetration? As far as I'm concerned, if you wanted to show that stuff, let it be in a context that isn't so awful. Cause it's unnecessary I think. Then again, maybe I'm missing the point here. If there even is one. The movie would've been just as gritty and graphic without the porno.

  Just saying. Though whenever there was one of those horribly uncomfortable sex scenes, this terrible siren-like sound would screech. I thought this was a very neat touch. It heightens the sheer tension, making it hard to watch, let alone listen to. It's a very effective way of getting across how completely nerve wracking it is for her, how unbearably awful it is. So there is that. I won't even mention how cars in this movie tend to spontaneously combust simply because they're in the vicinity of a chase.

  Being that it's a grindhouse flick, it does what it does really damn well. It has a hell of a third act that's intense and exciting, and the ending manages to be just as fantastic and fundamentally creative. I loved the last half of this movie. It's all payoff. The setup however uncomfortable it may be, is grindhouse bread and butter, as well as necessary to the story. No setup, no payoff. So you gotta take it for what it is. You might just like it. I know I did. It's an iconic piece of uber violent 70's exploitation cinema. Fuck yeah.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Raid: Redemption

  While this is probably my fourth time seeing The Raid, I do believe it's only my second review. I don't do second reviews for many movies as my thoughts the first time around should prove the most faithful. However, with a movie like this, one can't help but become impressed and awed all over again. I think this warrants another write-up.

  Welsh director Gareth Evans wroth and directed this Pandora's box of blood soaked martial arts and I've yet to see any movie top it. It's not a pillar of great storytelling, although it is efficient, it may leave more than some viewers wanting more to the overall meat of the plot.  However The Raid refuses to let you think for one second that it's here to do anything except kick ass. All the ass. The pace is utterly relentless and the amount of brutality it throws at you is absolutely jaw-dropping.

  Star Iko Uwais navigates the horrific hallways of this run-down tenement building, dodging machete wielding maniacs and hoards of fierce thugs in order to escape from the living hell, and bring the bad guys to justice. Which really means just stabbing and cutting them open with a knife. Five at a time obviously. If any of this sounds like an insane horror movie, you're not far off. It's a claustrophobic experience, full of wall to wall gore. Martial arts savvy opponents face off with ferocious intensity, letting the bodycount skyrocket.

  It's a dizzying experience that simply doesn't let up. It's also a very basic movie. It has the bare necessities, but only just. It has a couple protagonists, stuck behind enemy lines, and hundreds of enemies for them to dispatch with consistently bloody results. From guns, to knives, axes, grenades, and raw, brutal, fighting- nobody is safe in this movie. You immediately know that it's a war zone for all intents and purposes, and about as bloody as any war movie you've ever seen.

  From the opening scenes to the final showdown, there's no doubt that The Raid is a great movie. It's great because it doesn't dilute itself. There's no ridiculous pauses for comedy, and it doesn't try to shoehorn forced exposition in there. It sticks to what it does best. Action. Everything is engineered to enhance the action scenes, the fantastic music score by Mike Shinoda, the camera movements (and no, not shaky cam. Thank god.) and even the setting. It's in your face, and raw in the most visceral ways possible.

  By the time the final shots roll around, they're electrifying. It's probably the first breath of relief you've taken the entire time. It's the first break in the tension and suspense. It plays out in slow motion as our protagonist continue down the paths they've laid out for themselves. It's such an amazing scene, and quite possibly my favorite in the movie. The music, the slow motion, all of it is perfect. It's a perfect bookend to an hour and a half of sheer merciless violence. You truly feel like you've been through a war with these characters, and they certainly look like it too.

  I can't stress enough how fitting and amazing this final shot is, but it's amazing because everything that came before it was too. It's an intense battlefield of a movie, erupting in a chaotic explosion of fists, knives, and gallons of blood that's ultimately second to none. See the movie if you haven't already. It's been on Blu Ray for a while and I strongly consider it a must own if any bit of this sounded exciting. The Raid is no joke. It delivers.