Saturday, June 22, 2013

Fast & Furious 6

   After the game changing Fast Five, everyone had sky high expectations for Fast & Furious Six. There was a whole new audience wanting to see it too. I'm very happy to say it didn't disappoint. It's an ever evolving movie franchise that has finally thrown itself in a single direction. People still complain that "this franchise used to be about car racing." I can understand how a die-hard car racing enthusiast might be upset. However, the rest of us are happy that these movies have been refocused. Instead of the kitschy and dated neon cars and candy colored racing streaks, we now have an action movie juggernaut full of car chases and explosions.

  What better movies to showcase intense car chases than movies built on car racing? No matter what happens in these movies cars are still a very central and integral part of them. Our protagonists, are all racers. Regardless of what their function is. Fighter, hacker, gadget man, et cetera. They're all racers. So inevitably car stunts and chases will ensue. This time agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) recruits fugitive Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew to catch a dangerous team of thieves and killers who are just as proficient behind the wheel as they are. It's a bit thin to be honest, I mean, it hearkens back to 2 Fast 2 Furious. In that one, cops recruited ex-agent Bryan O'Connor and his old friend to infiltrate the criminal underworld and catch a fearsome drug lord. Why was O'Connor recruited? Because he's amazing in a car race. Same here in a way. I still have issues believing any actual police force of some kind would do this.

  Which leads me to my next point. These movies have grown out of one kind of immaturity, and landed firmly in another. Only I'm not sure it's a bad thing this time. The movie fully embraces it's preposterous story throwing insane and often impossible stunts at us at speeds nobody wants to calculate. It has the spirit of a bygone era of action movies like Commando or Rambo: First Blood Pt.II. Nobody cares why Schwarzenegger never has to reload his gun at the end. We're too busy rooting for him as he rescues his daughter. Furious 6 has that kind of attitude. Nobody cares how you can get launched off of a movie vehicle, fly through the air, catch another person flying through the air, land on a moving car, PERFECTLY and walk away with hardly a scratch. That's not a spoiler folks. Even the trailers gave you that one.

  My point is, there are movies that are so much fun, and are so well made, that we can turn a blind eye to how preposterous they really are because... well, we're having too much fun to care. Furious 6 is one of those movies. The stunts are often literally impossible, or physically improbable, yet it's all in good fun so to speak. The movie embraces it's preposterous nature. Criminals don't team up like The Avengers and have vehicular warfare with another criminal team on open highways, generating enough carnage and destruction to make Michael Bay blush. Yet in the movies, they totally do. It's part of the fun if you ask me. Each action scene in these movies from Fast & Furious (#4) onward seem to eclipse the last in scale and intensity. Not to mention each movie does this to the previous one. Furious 6's action scenes are among the most over-the-top and insane in the franchise. It takes the collected energy of franchise highlights such as 2 Fast and Fast Five, and merges them together with some actual emotional heft.

  Through good movies and bad, these characters have been a team. A family unit. That dynamic is paying off in ways other movies couldn't even hope to dream of. Their chemistry shines through some occasional shoddy acting or stiffness. It's infectious. These characters have incredible chemistry and an irreplaceable dynamic. Just as the (original) crew of the Enterprise in the Star Trek movies could carry an entire movie on the strength of their dynamic alone (See: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), Dominic Toretto's crew can too. Not that they have to rely solely on their chemistry to carry this movie. It's a thrill a minute roller coaster that doesn't stop for things like "physics". Pfft. What's that anymore? These guys pulled that bank job in Rio. They laugh in the face of physics. I... don't even think that's an exaggeration. I'm pretty sure that amidst the burning rubber, gunfire, explosions, and general chaos that logic itself is pretty much passed up as well as physics. Not that anyone could hold it against the movie! The movie does such a good job of endearing these characters and their motivation to us, that we'd sooner cheer for them than point out why such and such car stunt is literally impossible.

  This is the strength of a good and well made action movie. The ability to let the whole shine through it's preposterous bits. Something that movies like... Transporter 2, Gamer, M:I:2 and others never could do. Those movies are hollow and they are incapable of producing the kind of applause I heard in the theater at the end of Furious 6. To boot, Furious 6 isn't just good enough that we accept it's preposterous bits, it's good enough that we too, embrace them. It's all in good fun, and it's really good fun indeed. I don't know yet if I like this one better than Fast Five, but it's every bit as good. Pound for pound it's just awesome. They're back! They're as awesome as ever too. Sign me up for the next one. My tires are ready.

Man of Steel

  Upon returning from my viewing of Man of Steel, I came fully prepared to dive into writing my review, when my friend pointed out that there's legitimate hate for this movie out there. I am more baffled by the hate for this movie than I will be baffled about any other baffling thing ever.  People are calling it "hollow" and "emotionless" when this is one of the first Superman movies ever that feels alive and passionate. The story is moving and in the way it's told, is very brilliant. The movie avoids the pitfall of trying to one-up or out-do the Richard Donner movies, it obviously isn't looking to be anything like them either. From the core design scheme of Krypton to the alterations to Superman's backstory... everything is unique and functional. More than that, it has every ounce of potential needed to become fully iconic.

  I feel that this is perhaps the truest representation of Superman ever to be filmed. What he is, what he stands for and represents. There was a whole fiasco about Superman being "American" for a while. Yet in the movie, one of the most brilliant things (semi spoiler) was when he's asked by a US Army general if he'd ever turn on the humans and use his powers against them, he replies: "I grew up in Kansas general... I'm as American as it gets." The line alone is brilliant, the delivery is spot-on. It generates a smile, because we all know it's true. The movie is indeed an origin story, but out of six Superman movies (counting this one) it's only the second time we've seen his origins portrayed. It's quite spectacular too.

  His origin's have been tweaked a bit, I won't say how, except that it's not the ridiculous rumor that Krypton doesn't explode and that it enhances his character in a really neat and unexpected way. Against all odds, Zack Snyder and those responsible, have actually added to Superman, and made it better. They didn't change any fundamentals. The core of his story is the same. What they did was, they took it, deconstructed it logically, and put it back together in a way that would make sense to a modern audience. It's far more of a serious science fiction adventure than it is the light hearted romance fantasy movie Richard Donner made. I think that's what people wanted more of. People probably wanted a movie to recapture the magic and feelings that the Richard Donner movie generated about Superman. Sorry folks. Your hearts are in the wrong era.

  It's hard to boldly tell an audience that their opinion is just... wrong. Yet, in this instance, it's true. They are wrong. The Richard Donner Superman was a product of it's era. It was the best Superman they could have made then. This is now. Superman is due for an upgrade. It's wrong to hate on a movie because it doesn't cater to your desire for nostalgia. Even if they won't call it that, one reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes said: "where's the fun? Where's the romance?" This movie doesn't cater to the saccharine-sweet memories people have of Superman movies, because that's all they are anymore. Their memories of Superman. Nobody said that's how Superman should always be. I reiterate, that was then and this is now. To harshly judge this movie because it doesn't match your ideas of fuzzy warm, feel good fun, and romance that Superman should have, is unfair. Totally out of line if you ask me. It's bias. Which is the worst thing a critic or reviewer could possibly be.

  Superman is faced with an eminent threat in this movie, a squad of Kryptonian war mongers who once tried to take over Krypton and control it's future. They've come to Earth after a long and desolate exile in search of a piece of technology that Jor El sent with Kal. This device would allow they to do the unthinkable. Little do they know... it's not where they think it is. Fighting against his own people to save his adopted planet, Superman has never been more compelling on-screen. It's intense and gripping. The plot and story were far better and more developed than I expected. General Zod, the villain, has much better motivation this time around as opposed to the Zod from Superman II. A simple and threadbare god complex and a desire to rule was what motivated the original Zod. Yet, in Man of Steel, this Zod is a patriot to his race and wants only to restore Krypton at any and all costs. Even genocide. This makes him a compelling villain, and a pitch perfect antagonist for this story.

  Superman's physicality here is spot on as well. He's unleashed in fight scenes, generating carnage and destruction in his battles with the kryptonians on levels only comic books could dream up. (-and possibly Michael Bay. Just sayin.) One won't be complaining about a lack of action here that's for sure. His new suit works wonderfully too. A cleverly designed cross between something heroic and royal looking, and a battle ready weave of chainmail. The genius design doesn't stop there. Krypton and everything Kryptonian is also impeccably and creatively designed. In a retelling such as this, a whole alien society runs the imminent risk of looking generic. In an age where every other blockbuster is depicting futuristic stuff and alien civilizations it can be hard to look unique. Yet, this movie looks incredibly unique. It fires the imagination and looks wonderful. I hope it becomes downright iconic. Simply great.

  The movie boils everything in the plot down to what makes sense. Every character has clear cut motivation and goals. Nothing happens just because it can. Like turning back time by reversing the planet's spin. Nu uh. Everything in this movie makes sense and has a logic to it. It's massive in scope and contemporizes Superman without sacrificing the old fashioned sense of duty and heroism that makes the character so wonderful. On the contrary, in fact, it embraces it. They could've messed this up so easily, yet I'm so happy they completely stuck the landing on it. It's perfect. It's not "darker" like you might think. In fact, that word has been thrown around too much. If you look at it, the old Tim Burton Batman movie was literally darker than any of the Nolan Batman films. So when people say Man of Steel is "darker" like The Dark Knight, I call bullshit. Films that take themselves seriously and stop treating the character with fantasy gloves aren't fucking "darker". They just treat the films with a modicum of realism. There's also NOTHING wrong with that. More people should catch on.

  The cast is wonderful. With little screentime to make an impact both Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Pa and Ma Kent, respectively, knock it out of the park. Emotions run high as they raise Clark and watch him grow into the man he's quite literally always been destined to be. I loved both actors in these roles, they did excellent. Henry Cavill as Superman was also a stroke of genius. The best since Christopher Reeves, and quite possibly the best, period. He embodies Superman physically, and emotionally. We feel his struggle, see his pain, and can't help but cheer when he becomes the hero we all know he is. Amy Adams as Lois is also great. She's fiesty, bold, and most importantly smart. I won't say much except, it would've been an insult to think a simple pair of glasses would fool an investigative reporter like her. Thank goodness they didn't roll with that. Laurence Fishburne is all potential as Perry White. Unfortunately... he's given no memorable scenes and negligible screentime. We all know he's already nailed the character. He just wasn't given time to show it.

  Also, it'd be a crime to not mention the wonderfully villainous Michael Shannon as Zod. He played the part with such fiery gusto and enthusiasm, I can't imagine anyone else playing it better. Or even anywhere near as good. He was one of the most memorable things in the movie. I loved his performance here, eclipsing even that of the classic Terrance Stamp. Accompanying all these heroics and villainry is an amazing music score by Hans Zimmer. One of his best I think. Avoiding the trailer stock brand of percussion in favor of a more sweeping and emotional brand of music, he made the right choice. Superman had big shoes to fill in the department of music. I'm thrilled to say, they have been properly and adequately filled.

  So all in all, this is the Superman modern audiences need to see, and this is the movie we've deserved for so long. I can't imagine a better onscreen representation of Superman. This was fantastic. Go see it, show your support. With the overwhelming wave of misplaced negativity from the critics, this shining example of pitch perfect "Superman" certainly needs all the support it can get.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

After Earth

  You won't find M.Night Shayamalan's name plastered all over the trailers or on the opening credits or anything like that. In fact, your average moviegoer might not even know this is from the guy who made The Sixth Sense, then unceremoniously shat all over his career with movies like The Last Airbender. He didn't just stop with one bad movie, he kept making really bad movies. So obviously it was smart that he didn't plaster his name all over this. He couldn't chance it obviously. This was his supposed comeback. Which is regrettable because it's only just okay.

  I enjoyed it, but I have a metal checklist of stuff that I notice in a movie. Even my non-critic buddies were noticing this shit, that's when I realized this movie was in trouble. Overall it isn't outright bad. It's not laughably horrible, it's not even kinda bad. It's alright.  I feel like the expectations on this movie to be a second wind for M.Night were just too much. I can see what they were aiming for, but there is alot of wasted potential here.

  They spent so much time touting the evolved danger of Earth and we see... practically none of it. Sure we see some great looking scenery, it's all very impressive yet... underwhelming. The most promising stuff is in the first twenty minutes or so. Once you get to Earth you keep expecting something... tremendous. However, the wildlife Kitai (Jaden Smith) encounters isn't all that incredible. A poisonous leech, some baboons, a couple tigers, and a big buzzard of sorts. I wanted this place to be like Monster Island from King Kong. Giant insects, giant animals, etc etc. We get glimpses of that, yet largely? The potential is wasted.

  That aside, the acting is great. Jaden Smith can act, I really don't see how you can say otherwise. He isn't bad here. Will Smith does great as well. Though his character, Cypher Raige, has no logical right to be alive. At the halfway point it shows (spoilers?) that he's bleeding profusely... yet hangs on to be rescued til the end. Which was about 45 minutes away. Like... wut? At least a solid day in the movie's chronology. This whole thing happens over three days. I have no idea how this works- logically. I guess it just doesn't. Bullshit aside, you do get the feeling that there's a real sense of danger lurking behind every corner here, and Kitai's mission to retrieve an S.O.S. beacon from the tail section of their crashed ship is simple and accessible.

  The father/son dynamic works really well, probably due in no small part to the fact the two actors actually are father/son. So as much as it can, that carries the movie pretty well to a certain extent. The universe this movie takes place in, has the feeling that it's full of better stories to tell, full of adventure and danger. The backstory told to us in the beginning is more exciting than anything that comes after. I wanted badly to see more of that. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie plays like the guys at National Geographic tried to make a Sci-Fi movie. It's really not horrible. Yet... it's lacking in alot of ways that would make it good or recommendable. Having said that, I pat Shayamalan on the back, he's trying, stepping out of the box, and he made a serious effort here. Maybe he has lost a step - for good - or maybe he's just finding his footing again. I don't know if the guy will ever make a great movie again. This is a step in the right direction after shit like The Last Airbender, and yet he still has a long way to go.

  It's a decent set up for an adventure, and you know what? It's a decent adventure. It's not bad. It's not quite good. It's watchable. I didn't hate it, I didn't love it. I liked it. There were some great scenes here, some great lines of dialog, yet they're highlights in a sea of mundane stuff. The plot is so much like a video game that I kept thinking the whole movie might have actually made a better game. I still maintain that regardless. I'd like this alot more as a video game. But as it is... it needs about another half hour of footage, full of creatures and mind blowing stuff to make this worth a repeat viewing in the face of much better theatrical prospects. If you're truly curious, I say wait for DVD. Go see something else instead.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Jack Reacher

  It's not like I cared much to see this anyways. It didn't jump out at me, not from the trailers, not from the lukewarm reception or anything. But someone rented it, and I sat down with them and watched it. It's better than I expected actually. Due in no small part... to the story. Which isn't saying much since, (spoilers) the bad guys are just real estate moguls. Yeah.

  The best part about this movie is the mystery. Five innocent people get shot by a sniper in public, and the movie does a great job of selling this to us and getting us invested in finding out the why and the who of it.
A suspect is caught early on, but one thing leads to another and the movie's title character gets involved. Make no mistake people, this is a murder mystery movie. It's not a slam bang action flick. It personally disappointed everyone I watched it with. While it didn't necessarily disappoint me, I wasn't impressed either. I've come to expect more from Tom Cruise. The entire movie sells him as this force of natural badassery to be reckoned with... but aside from a few Bourne-esque fights, Reacher himself isn't anything new.

  Of course all this isn't to say that Cruise can't play a total badass, he sells it just as well as ever. It's the story itself that is at odds with him and his character. He belongs in a Die Hard sort of movie, free to kick ass from start to finish. Yet, instead of being unleashed onto the bad guys, he's trapped up in legal bullshit and lawyer stuffs. While that may not sound like a very educated complaint, I wasn't expected a very educated movie. It's story is good, and kept me interested til the end. Yet I should point out that in one instance Rosamund Pike's cleavage steals the scene. A very important and pivotal scene no less. It speaks volumes about the movie that the plot itself is so easily upstaged by a low neckline and some well defined cleavage.

  Eventually I suppose, it's easy to get caught up in the goings-on of Jack Reacher. Twists and turns come by the minute in the latter half. I'll admit, it did get rather tense and suspenseful. However you never feeling like you're watching a great movie, just somewhat good. Passable really. Just passable. I can't say I'd like to see it again, and I'm usually a fan of Tom Cruise movies. Yet there's not much to love here. It's painfully standard. It's not the worst way to kill an hour and a half, but with all the better movies out there... it's practically a crime to invest time in Jack Reacher. You'll realize it's nothing special. I didn't regret seeing it, and it was alright, it certainly isn't outright bad. It falls into that sort of purgatory that movies fall into when they're not good enough to recommend and not bad enough to hate. So, it's up to you I suppose. Cruise fans might like him here. I suggest re-watching Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Much better Tom Cruise vehicle.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

  After the disappointing mess of The Final Frontier, there needed to be one last really good adventure for the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. They needed a final hurrah. One last get together to go out with a bang. Fortunately, they brought back Nicholas Meyer (director of The Wrath of Khan) to deliver just that. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, is one of the better movies of the original six. With the right amount of wit, gusto, and adventure to be a great fun time. To boot, there's a fantastic story that impacts Star Trek canon most prominently and permanently

  The movie's plot and story are far superior to probably... all the others. The Final Frontier was a bust, The Voyage Home was simplistic (yet enjoyable, just saying), The Search for Spock was not just simple, but rather a sort of strategy to bring back Spock. Little else. The Wrath of Khan was a simple revenge story, and The Motion Picture was honestly... threadbare. In The Undiscovered Country, Captain Kirk and crew are "volunteered" to escort a Klingon chancellor and his entourage to peace talks in the hopes of avoiding an all out war between the two galactic powers. With the Klingon homeworld on the verge of being uninhabitable, peace is necessary to aquire federation assistance, however... the chancellor is assassinated, and Kirk and crew are framed for it. Out to expose the true culprits, save the peace, and avoid a galactic war, we find our much beloved characters once again in a race against time to save the day.

  It's good to see them in a fantastic set up like this. It's not only a fitting end, but a triumphant return. The Undiscovered Country is a well written adventure, with sharp dialog, some truly thrilling set pieces, and some decent plot twists, there's much to love. Much also hangs in the balance. Watching Kirk's struggle with having to aid the Klingons, long time adversaries of the Federation, progress and develop is as one would say "fascinating". The movie speaks volumes about setting aside the past, along with preconceptions of a person or race, and making room for equality and peace. It's very deftly handled and never comes off as heavy handed or pretentious. Even though this one was well received, you never hear about it in the same breath as say The Wrath of Khan, and to be honest... it's perhaps just as good. Admittedly not as iconic, but not a second rate outing either. This is top tier material folks.

  Some scenes are exceptionally engaging, such as the assassination of the Klingon chancellor and crew. The whole scene takes place in zero gravity, and with a harsh red lighting palate. It's visually stunning. Globs of pink Klingon blood float about as the assassins phaser their way through the ship, making for a striking and almost surreal scene. Next is the fantastic ship-to-ship battles here. They haven't been this good looking and thrilling since Wrath, which stands as the pinnacle of the series, action-wise. The movie takes it's time, getting to the explosions and shootouts, which is wise. Because it has much more of a climatic impact when all the blasting and exploding gets underway. It's exciting. The climatic space battle at the end is wonderful. Things blow up real well and it caps off a very intense and engaging adventure.

  I have no serious gripes with Star Trek VI. I'm glad this one was good. I'm glad the humor flowed naturally, and I'm glad the crew once again had their trademark chemistry polished up and shining proudly. These characters are such a joy to watch, regardless. Though it's best when they're in a grade A movie like this one. With a poetic sense of drama and melodrama, characters in The Undiscovered Country are disposed to quoting ancient historical figures and texts to punctuate the mood. As a whole generation comes to a close, it's aging warriors duke it out amongst the stars, armed with as many destructive quotes as possible.

"To be... or not to be?

       To be."

Classic words in any context, yet downright chilling in this movie. Props to everyone involved. VI is quite the all-star adventure, and one I look forward to revisiting sometime. Perhaps now, the crew can rest easy now, and take a deep breath. Watching the Enterprise sail off into the distance has never felt so satisfying or resolute. Great movie, and a great Star Trek movie as well. Easily one of the best. I've made my way through all six original movies in the Blu Ray box set. It's been a true blast, and I can definitely recommend the franchise as a whole. Top shelf entertainment for ages. I'll take a break to write up some other reviews then pick up with the second Star Trek movie box set. I'm always ready to boldly go... again.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

  I can say for certain this is the weakest link of the original movies. Though nowhere near as bad as people say it is, at least The Final Frontier reaches out for something. All but The Motion Picture itself were inert films. Not to say they were bad, but there was no sense of exploration, no wonder of the unknown. They were contained and borderline claustrophobic in scope. Yet, it's truly sad that when Star Trek finally reaches out to the unknown... with big philosophical questions... it stumbles so badly.  I think lots blame this on director and star William Shatner, and I can see why, yet I believe it is not entirely his fault. The budget seems obviously reduced, and it doesn't feel like anyone had a good bead on the story to begin with. Thus, Paramount offers up this rushed and haphazard adventure into the far reaches of space, where for once... the crew actually goes... where no man has gone before.

  It's not a terrible movie. It starts off very well. It captured my attention immediately, it had a great opening. Even the crew's shore leave scenes weren't awful. Kirk climbing a mountain and so on. Yet, despite how promising the first parts are, you get a sense that something is off. The humor is where I lay my blame. Some of it seems shoehorned in. Some scenes are outright laughably bad. This is not a comedy. The Voyage Home pulled it off because it's story, setting, and dynamic all were able to embrace a comedic tone. Even then it was more tongue in cheek than anything. The humor seems jammed in every five minutes or so, and it's pretty unnatural when it is. Not to say the casts chemistry isn't here, it just seems tampered with.  Sulu and Chekov are largely wasted, not to say they ever got the lions share of the best lines or scenes, but they seriously feel short changed here. A relationship is inferred between Uhura and Scotty, which feels weird... and uncomfortable. The list goes on...

  The plot itself is easily summed up, but hard to follow. A mysterious Vulcan named Sybok, on a planet where apparently, no starships have been to in ages, rallies together some desert soldiers to help him take some dignitaries hostage so that spaceships will come to rescue them. Upon which they will hijack a starship so they can fly it to the middle of the galaxy and find god. Well... I take back what I said about easy. The back of the DVD case made it look easy. Alas, this makes no sense. Why does he need these soldiers? Why not just commander a ship? Or buy one? It's never explained why he mind controls people, or how exactly. Sulu and Uhura fall prey to it so easily, yet Bones and Spock are able to resist? Sybok is a weak character, who's made out to be (spoilers?) Spock's half brother. Which... was lazy writing. Nothing comes of this to be honest, and nothing comes from him even being Vulcan. His plan makes zero sense, and he acts like a prophet to the stars. Oh I don't understand this shit. It makes no sense once you look at it too hard.

  You'd be surprised how hard "too hard" really is. Here's a tip: not hard at all. If you just go along for the ride, I suppose it's okay. Bad guy hijacks a starship to take it to a mysterious planet where supposedly a god resides. The part with that planet isn't awful actually. It's one of the highlights of the movie. It'd be even better if the effects weren't so horrible and cheesy looking. The movie has a sense of gravitas. Yet one that's undercut by the hundreds of plot holes, and the odd slapstick humor. I don't it... I just don't.

  "I know this ship better than the back of my hand!" Proclaims Scotty, right before he walks into a bulkhead and knocks himself out cold. This is one of the movie's cringe worthy moments, yet on the flipside, there are some great moments too. Kirk's rescue from "God" at the end. How that ties into a scene much earlier on. There are little things in here that are fantastic. Little bits of dialog, little scenes. Great stuff. Unfortunately they're laid out amongst a mess of lazy writing, plot holes, horrible humor, and a story that zig zags so much, it succeeds only in confusing you. Or boring you. Yet I can't bring myself to absolutely trash it. There are glimpses of greatness, of serious potential. There was an inspired concept under all this, and some scenes really show that.  Unfortunately, strong ambitious concepts can't carry a movie by themself, nor can the odd chemistry of the crew this time around.

  The cast seems tired, with phoned in performances, the only moments where they truly shine is when the story isn't wrestling their dialog away from them and using it as an exposition device or as a slapstick tool.  At it's best, The Final Frontier feels like a bunch of old war buddies getting back together for one last kick, unfortunately, we caught them all on a bad day. Maybe next time guys. This wasn't your best. I will say though, it's not my least favorite Trek movie ever. However, we'll get to that later on. Much later on. There's about four more movies between this one, and that one.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

  After the semi-cliffhanger of The Search For Spock, there was enough gold left to mine in the Star Trek name to get people in the seats. Paramount rallied the cast and crew of the previous outing to once again, boldly go where no man has gone before... In this case? 1983. That's right. This is a time travel movie. Obviously saving them lots of money setting 90% of the movie in the then-present, the special effects that are on display, look nigh impeccable, leaving plenty of canvas for the intrepid crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise to do their thing. They still do it so well too, the movie rests on the shoulders of their chemistry and dynamic, as usual, but even moreso this time. There are no flashy space battles or snarling villains swearing vengeance upon them. This time? There a probe... and some whales. Humpback whales.

  That's right folks. This movie could have easily been called Star Trek IV: Save the Whales and it wouldn't have made a lick of difference. An alien probe travels across the galaxy to Earth to find out why it no longer hears whale-song. The problem? The energy it's emitting, or whatever, is disabling every electronic thing in it's path. Which is wreaking havoc on starships and entire planets. People are dying in space, all because of this douchebag probe and it's hard-on for whales. Regardless, Kirk and crew in their hijacked Klingon vessel, the H.M.S. Bounty, on their return voyage home to "face the music", as it were, for breaking every rule in the book, and stealing the Enterprise to rescue Spock... discover this probe as it lingers above Earth. The probe is now going even farther, and evaporating all water in the oceans on Earth to find those damn whales.
Problem? Mankind hunted them to extinction in the 21st century.

  Solution? Kirk obviously surmises they must time-warp to the past and... of course, bring two whales with them into the future. Obviously. If that sounds ludicrous to you, don't worry, you're not alone. Even the movie's own characters think its nuts. "Well, that's crazy!" proclaims Doctor McCoy. Of course, when asked if he has a better idea... he doesn't. Neither do we in the face of such an absurd problem. So with time running out, they time warp to the past in search of humpback whales. I won't give away anything else about the plot, but just enough so you know what kind of movie it is. It's a far cry from the dark and growling fare of the past two entries. It's for all intents and purposes... a comedy. A sci-fi comedy. It's lighthearted and fun, but it's biggest strength is the humor. It's actually laugh out loud funny. Of course it helps if you're well versed in Star Trek, but it's a fish out of water story that actually works.

  The problem with The Voyage Home is that it's not much of a Star Trek movie. It's one half comedy, and one half environmental message. It's so blatantly 'save the whales' that it's heavy handed. The entire plot is a 'save the whales' message. It feels beyond preachy, it feels almost silly. Star Trek has always infused some humorous camaraderie into it's outings, but an all out comedy feels natural on one hand, yet awkward on the other.  The upside to this is, it doesn't try to mask it's environmental attitude, in fact it embraces it, which is smart. At it's worst, it's preachy, and I'm thankful it never gets pretentious. Other than that, it's full of little flaws and shit that doesn't make sense at all. For example, in one scene Scotty uses a Macintosh Plus, to compute an equation to create "transparent aluminium"... in about five seconds. Please. Gimme a break.
Not to mention, with the idea of hiding their spaceship in mind... Kirk and co. land it in the middle of central park. Cloaked sure, but you'd think someone would bump into the HUGE friggin spaceship. Yet aside from a single main character, and a duo of late night sanitation workers... nobody does. I'm sure there's a deleted scene somewhere of Mr.Spock point out the illogical nature of it. Tsk.

  If you can take the peripheral bullshit in stride, this is a very very fun movie. It's hollow as all can be really, not saying anything about friendship, or revenge, or mortality, or getting old... just... 'save the whales'. In that respect... it feels like a let down. This movie doesn't have a moving message, or an emotional focal point to it. It's a sci-fi comedy at face value. If you find it fun seeing the crew's banter, wit, and humorous moments, I have no doubt at all that you'll thoroughly enjoy this movie. That's it main strength. This little adventure is undoubtedly fun, but it's very simple, and very two dimensional. If you're okay with that, accepting it on it's own terms, it's even good. It's an enjoyable reunion of much loved characters who are once again tasked with saving the world.

  "We're going to need to transport some Humpbacks, Mr.Scott."

  "Humpbacked... people, Sir?"

  That's the tone and beat of the movie in a nutshell. If that made you laugh, then the movie has more in store for you. I personally find myself readily enjoying this one over and over. It's watchability is incredible.
Yet it's far from the top tier of Trek adventures. Just one of the most fun, if you meet it on it's own terms.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

  After the controversial ending of Star Trek II, and it's immense financial success a sequel was inevitable, but one without Mister Spock? Blasphemy. Obviously, Paramount pulled out all the stops to get Leonard Nimoy to revisit the famous character, including an offer to direct. Nimoy accepted the terms and got back on board to direct which is basically... an excuse to revive Spock. Yet it also manages to somehow be one of the better Star Trek movies. The whole odd numbered curse (google it) is pretty much bullshit. This and the reboot prove that. While The Search for Spock is probably one of the most blatant examples of fan service ever, that doesn't stop it from being more than fun, but outright moving. It's basically about a group of friends rushing across the galaxy fighting off vicious adversaries, and braving a planet about to explode... just to save the life of a friend. Damn good popcorn entertainment in my book.

  It's better to invest creative energy and production values into a resurrection like this than just retconning the amazing Wrath of Khan and having him show up in a sequel with no explanation. Spock is a Star Trek mainstay. He's undoubtedly the most famous character, and the face of Trek as a whole. He had to come back. Nimoy eventually embraced this, returning to helm this entry into the franchise. It's directed with gusto and flair, due in no small part to returning cast. Their energetic chemistry, banter, and wit carry the movie over it's shortcomings, and land it firmly in the 'fun' section. It's impossible not to love these characters in anything they do. Just to see them return is enough to get me to sign up, and then to watch them brave impossible odds to save Spock? Classic.

  Because of it's inherent cop-out nature, many dismiss Star Trek III as a lame and silly entry, and I wonder if any of them have seen it. The movie dives deep into the meaning of friendship, albeit in a schmaltzy and happy go lucky way, but it does. Once the crew gets to the planet where Spock's body resides, things take a dark twist as the Klingons show up. With insane on screen gravitas, Christopher Lloyd plays the Klingon commander. He does so with incredible energy and manages to establish a brutal and evil villain for this movie. He's undeniably memorable and irresistibly fun. Not to mention, with the inclusion of some serious antagonists, the story unfolds in a way that effects Star Trek canon forever.

  The low points of the movie are pretty apparent. Nimoy's direction, while lively and competent is somewhat lacking. Or, rather lazy I should say. In one scene, Kirk is reviewing footage from an event that happened in the previous movie, and the exact footage from the movie is shown. Impossible camera angles and all. Dramatic close-up's and everything. It's silly and sticks out like a sore thumb. And while it's harder to blame Nimoy specifically for this one, at one point, we find ourselves in a future bar that looks like a carbon copy of the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars. It's impossible to think about anything else during that scene and it felt rather more like a knock-off than anything. Yet, these are the movie's shortcomings, little things like this. On the whole it's a rather solid entry.

  The Search for Spock is not a bad movie. It is a wholly solid and good movie. Also, with how it affects Star Trek canon, and finds a serviceable way to bring back one of the most beloved fictional characters of all time without feeling like a total rip-off... I'd say it's more than adequate, it's essential. It's also a load of fun. While best viewed as a companion piece to Wrath, there's nothing stopping anyone from enjoying it on it's own merits. It's one of the better Star Trek movies, and needs to get the appreciation it deserves. It's the second shining part of a big sprawling adventure that is undoubtedly the timeless and undisputed highlight of a much beloved and endlessly entertaining franchise.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

  With the financial success of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Paramount was ready to once to boldly go where Star Trek had only been once before: the silver screen. I can't imagine expectations were sky high after the quite divisive previous movie, yet Trekkers everywhere were in for a treat with this one.  As a sequel, The Wrath of Khan is nothing like it's predecessor. It's much more of an action-adventure movie. Yet, one that deals with age, and mortality. Like any good Trek picture should, in the midst of all it's swashbuckling adventure, it grasps high concept ideas. Perhaps the existence of gods, or the meaning of life were out of it's reach this time... but the movie doesn't fall short of being a smart and emotional thrill ride.

  Straight from the annals of the original series, a notorious villain returns to torment the crew of the Enterprise and settle a personal score of revenge with the now-Admiral James T. Kirk. This villain of course is the eponymous and much loved Khan Noonien Singh. Before this movie, he was just a villain of a random episode of Star Trek. It wasn't the most fantastic episode, and is really only supremely memorable because of Montalban's performance and because it led to this movie. Otherwise it's average Trek fare. Yet... here we are. Khan has become probably THE most memorable Trek villain ever. People who don't even like Star Trek can appreciate this one movie. Khan's gravitas as a villain and as an opponent to Kirk is mind-blowing and devastatingly effective.

  The movie is really about him and his super soldiers hijacking the U.S.S. Reliant, and squaring off against Kirk and the Enterprise. In the midst of all this is something called the Genesis missile. If detonated on a moon or barren planet, it has the capacity to turn said lifeless rock into a lush thriving planet with rain forests, oceans and entire ecosystems. If used on an already inhabited world however... the effects would be apocalyptic. So between this revenge play between Kirk and Khan, the Genesis missile is Khan's endgame. He wants it and it's power, the power to simultaneously create and destroy. So alot more hangs in the balance than the fate of both crews. Khan is power mad enough to use the missile on a populated world and remake the aftermath as he sees fit. It's a neat way to raise the stakes and certainly invokes a sense of danger and importance.

  This movie is probably one of the most accessible to new audiences, unfamiliar to Star Trek. It has an ideal blend of humor, wit, and adventure to satisfy any movie goer. Also, Wrath is darker. One of the darkest Trek movies. People die by the handfuls, Khan is ruthless and insane. The movie pulls off a fantastic balance of lightheartedness and adventure, with lots of grim material. The movie still holds up well today with only the simplest of effects looking dated or unconvincing. For extremely well versed trekkies, there is a glaring continuity error in this movie. Concerning the fact that Chekov was not in the first season of Star Trek on TV. Thus his character would never have met Khan, who's debut was in the season one episode, Space Seed, yet Khan claims to "...never forget a face."

  Regardless, this little issue aside, the story and the movie itself is surprisingly great. Maybe not the paragon of perfect sci-fi lots of fans claim it to be, it's a simple action movie. One that excels at what it does, but it was to it's era, what Into Darkness is to ours. Granted, Into Darkness has far more plot holes and has the sad disadvantage of being unoriginal, yet still. In concept, and in tone, the movies are very similar. They both aim to excite. They both do so with ship-to-ship phaser fights, fist fights, shootouts, explosions, and melodramatic actors shouting and growling their lines at each other with promises of revenge and lots of death. The difference is that The Wrath of Khan does so in a smart and theatrical manner. A lot of thought and care obviously went into this one. From the story, to the execution, The Wrath of Khan is a shining example of Star Trek at it's most exciting.

  The problem with this one is that, it's hardly an ideal Star Trek movie. It's possibly the best, but not an ideal one. The wealth of the movie is the back and forth battle between Khan and Kirk. Phaser fights and old vendettas are not what makes Star Trek... Star Trek. By itself, and on it's own merits, this is a great movie. Simply awesome. It's a classic space-faring adventure with plenty of well made and thoroughly exciting set pieces. The cast and the characters have a chemistry and a dynamic that has been fostered to perfection over decades. These guys work so well together, they're simply an irresistible joy to watch. They dash around the movie with gusto and heart, from exploding starship bridges to majestic underground caverns. Space adventure movies are rarely this well made or this exciting. Rivaling only that of the original Star Wars, The Wrath of Khan is timelessly fun.

  Yet... there is a lack of awe. Except when the results of the Genesis missile are revealed to us. There is no real exploration, no... boldly going anywhere. The Trek mandate is to seek out new life and new civilizations - to boldly go where no man has gone before. This is quoted at the end of almost every movie and in the opening of the original show. Yet, Wrath feels slightly stagnate in this regard. Most of the movie takes place in a very singular vicinity. Thus, the movie feels rather claustrophobic in scope. Yet this complain can only be leveled at the movie in comparison to the other movies, and the show. On it's own, it's a damn fun movie with amazing watchability. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

  I do consider myself a Trekker. Though since I have no problem being called a Trekkie, nor have I ever been to a convention I have a feeling some would argue with me. Though, I've seen and own every Star Trek movie thus far (This year's Into Darkness being the obvious exclusion for the time being.) and I've seen most all of the shows. Several of them in their entirety... several times. So I can safely say I am as well versed in Trek as one can be. So I do believe I am thoroughly qualified to review this from both a Trekker standpoint, and from that of a casual moviegoer.

  This movie is undoubtedly an oddity of historic proportions. It's truer to the spirit of what Star Trek is and stands for, yet it's the furthest possible thing from the established formula of what came before it. Namely, the original TV show. Which, upon recent review is not entirely the two-fisted, psychedelic, retro romp that so many remember. Episodes were most often focused more on the story and less on the phaser fights. Conflict was sparingly resolved with a punch and roll, and more often settled using diplomacy and negotiation tactics.
Kirk and crew sought to out-think adversaries and make peace whenever possible. It was not a constant fist fight like some people think.

  I feel it was important to point that out and make it clear. Star Trek was always an adventure show, but not always an action show. It's spirit was always about exploration and peace; discovery and the unknown. Yet, what makes The Motion Picture such an oddity is that it strips the formula of adventure/exploration down to such fundamental elements, that it feels much different than anyone could've possibly expected. In short? It's slow. Very slow, almost painfully slow. The opening few minutes are thrilling, but for the next hour, the movie takes it's sweet time showing off it's sets, the new Enterprise, and rallying up the crew.

  For anyone not slavishly devoted to Star Trek, this could be grating beyond belief. It's obviously been constructed with such a grand fondness for the characters and the world of the original series, but seems to have turned a blind eye to it's formula. While the show wasn't always about the fights and shoot outs, it was always a quick paced and intense drama-play. Whereas The Motion Picture plods along at such a tediously slow pace, the sense of adventure is sapped from the proceedings. It maintains no suspense for the first hour, feeling more like a family reunion and less like the high-concept sci-fi drama it wants so badly to prove it is.

  However, it does get underway. Mostly. Even after all the pleasantries are done with, and the Enterprise warps into action, it's a slow and tedious task at best. Even the most basic of dramatic moments, like getting caught in a worm hole, or fixing the warp engines, are slow and glacially paced moments. Yet... there's something captivating under all of it. If you can surrender your attention and time to the story and the characters, and get yourself invested, you'll find that there is an amazing movie under all this.  This movie succeeds in landing the high concept science fiction themes it grasps at. Which would feel more at home in an Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris, Stalker) movie, or as a kissing cousin to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  The movie marries these concepts with some of the most elaborate and breathtaking images of space things imaginable. Things so fundamentally alien, one can't help but feel the gargantuan sense of irony by the time the twist is revealed. There is no clear cut protagonist in this G-rated outing. There is a threat though, but one obviously not able to be combated with phasers and the like. It must be studied and examined, and stopped if possible. A mind-blowingly massive sentient space-cloud with devastating destructive abilities makes it's way towards Earth. Kirk and crew must stop it.

  Once we get to the cloud, the visuals alone should carry your attention. Though they take up nearly half an hour of screen time. This can easily be seen as inane overkill. As the Enterprise is drawn into the space cloud, 15 minutes, give or take of nothing but alien visuals, and shots of the crew's reaction. If you're invested by this point, you'll feel the growing sense of awe and danger. If not? This is about as entertaining as watching paint dry. The pacing is about the same. I feel like it's impossible to favorable to this movie without tearing it apart as well. The problem with it is that it is a Star Trek movie. Thus there are established expectations for what it should be like. A slow paced, high-concept, sci-drama was not something Trek fans expected. Much less wanted.

  If this were it's own beast, free of Star Trek, it may have gotten more respect and notice. Or it may have been dwarfed into obscurity by the hulking shadow of 2001. A movie which is frequently referred to when discussing The Motion Picture.  Thus it falls into a strange place. It's notable because it's a Star Trek movie, the first Trek movie, it revolutionized Star Trek- yet it feels like a far cry from anything else one can be familiar with about Star Trek. It's more akin to an art-house sci-fi flick than a big matinee space adventure. It's a stunning movie in it's own right, but it requires patience. Without patience and dedication, you'll be bored and yawning before the first hour.

  A thorough knowledge and appreciation for Star Trek is almost required to sit through the first hour, yet it's that same familiarity which can alienate you to the whole of the movie itself. The last act however, inside the alien space-cloud is a virtuoso piece of science fiction. It evokes a grand and sweeping sense of awe if you're with it so far. The visuals can blow your mind, the mystery can draw you in, there is a payoff. There are fantastic scenes of raw science fiction, and the energy of it alone is great. The story and the visuals compliment each other perfectly, both invoking a cosmic sense of grandeur, but unfortunately, rarely one of excitement and adventure. "Fascinating" to coin a phrase, but sadly... rarely engaging. It's intriguing, and interesting, and artful. However, it is not an adventure in the conventional sense of the word. There is little actual excitement to be had since the movie works against itself so badly.

  All in all, if you, as a viewer can strike the right balance with watching this movie as part Trekker, part cinema lover... it's possible to even love this movie. Because there IS so much to love. It's simply lost within itself. Abandon all expectations at the door, make sure you're ready to surrender your patience, and try to enjoy this sprawling space drama. Spaceships and special effects have got to be something you like seeing on screen. Even when they're not blowing up. Star fields and space-clouds are this movie's bread and butter. There are no chases, no phaser fights, no fisticuffs, just raw... high-concept science fiction. With amazing visuals. If that sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to give it a look. This movie needs more fans. I count myself one of them.

Also, if at all possible, see it on a massive hi-definition TV on Blu-Ray. The crisp picture and fantastic sound go a long way towards making this slow journey, an impressive one.