My husband was a big ol’ Trekkie. Sitting right now in a cabinet in our home is a collection of commemorative Star Trek plates. He had a Starfleet uniform and drew schematics of his very own hypothetical Starfleet ship. He even recently made me watch Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan and its prequel of sorts, the episode entitled “Space Seed,” the twenty-second episode of the first season.
As a total Trek neophyte, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the episode of the series, but I enjoyed Wrath of Khan. I equally enjoyed the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot. There were great performances; Karl Urban as Leonard “Bones” McCoy and Zachary Quinto as Spock stood out. I was even quite excited when Star Trek: Into Darkness was announced.
My brief encounter with the original series and the films served me well, as it turned out. Star Trek: Into Darkness is a throwback, in much the same way that last year’s Skyfall was an homage to the Bond films of yore. Abrams uses establishes subtle (and not so subtle) ties to the TV series. There is much in this movie for a hardcore Trekkie to love, but it’s easy for a newbie like me to get caught up in the story and the characters.
Quinto and Urban continue to be the most interesting actors in Abrams’ ensemble. Urban is hilarious, cranky, and charming as Bones. James T. Kirk, as played by Chris Pine, is a vapid pretty boy, but a serviceable actor. Zoe Saldana’s Uhura has very little to do. But the chemistry between them all elevates all of their performances into something special.
I am an Abrams fangirl. I will see anything he does (see the lamentable Cloverfield). However, I would like to have a word or two with him about the lens flare schtick. It’s become cliche to gripe about the lens flare in reviews, but sometimes cliches are cliches for good reason. Maybe anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
Abrams’ musical collaborator Michael Giacchino provides the score. Giacchino’s music for LOST is still my favorite work of his, for its wide range and eclectic style. There are some LOST-like moments of greatness in his score for Into Darkness.
The baddie-du-jour is John Harrison, played by Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch. He really is the highlight of the movie. Harrison is an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in an overcoat. He’s a scary dude, but he’s pursuing his own twisted version of justice. Maybe I’m weird, but I actually was cheering for Harrison for a few minutes. Cumberbatch’s performance is captivating and chilling.
The first two-thirds of the film is wall-to-wall action and chaos. There is a point in the film when I realized that the story could almost go anywhere. Unfortunately, the loose ends are all tied up a little too neatly and the last ten minutes are rushed.
Abrams has so many irons in the fire recently, with a possible third film in the Star Trek franchise and the upcoming Star Wars sequels. I remain a fan.
Jen’s preview of”Cloud Atlas,” starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Huge Grant, directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, in theaters Oct. 26, 2012.
I read the 2004 novel “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell in four days. Spurred on by Ryan, who was reading with me, I devoured the book like I had no other title before it. We wanted to finish it before the screening of the feature film at the Hawaii International Film Festival.
I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. Sure, it was gimmicky, but it was also fascinating. Cloud Atlas is a collection of six short stories with common themes, all tied together. The narrators of the stories are from all over the world, in both the past and the future. Mitchell was able to deftly create six different, distinct voices.
I realized that a film adaptation of this novel would be very, very tricky to pull off. I had high hopes, though. The film is written and directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix Trilogy). I was somewhat confident in their collective ability to translate the novel into a coherent film.
They did pull it off. Mostly.
The writing team cut a few corners and made a few changes that made me scratch my head. They completely discarded the structure of the novel. I was able to follow along with the characters, but I can imagine how someone not familiar with the novel could be very confused. Some of the novel’s loose ends are tied up a little too neatly, and the filmmakers’ choice to use only a few actors for so many roles was maybe not a good one.
The film stars Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince), and Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe), among others. Halle Berry is Halle Berry, but I have to say, I am impressed with Tom Hanks. I never saw him as a serious actor before and considered him very overrated, especially in Forrest Gump, a role which still earns him praise. He sheds his movie star skin in this film and truly inhabits his characters. Hugo Weaving, of The Matrix Trilogy and the Lord of the Rings franchise, appears in drag in one story and is frightening every minute he is onscreen.
The team struggles, I think, with tone. There are quite a few genuinely funny moments in the novel that just aren’t funny onscreen. One act involves a senior citizen (Broadbent) who is accidentally imprisoned in a retirement home and enlists some of his fellow residents in his escape. This part of the novel is quite funny, but feels dark and surreal onscreen. Another act takes place in the 1970’s, and feels much too modern. A little more attention to how the original stories feel could have made this film seem more than just an exercise in dress-up.
And the makeup required to turn some of the Caucasian actors into Asian characters is truly awful. Watching these actors in their makeup made me forget about the story entirely.
I appreciate what the filmmakers were going for. I truly do. The idea of the novel is that throughout one’s lives, he meets the same people over and over again, throughout history. Seeing the same small cast appear as different characters underscores that idea, but it’s not necessarily successful.
The film does succeed, though, in its epic scope and especially it’s brain-twisty-ness. It’s dense and confusing, in the best way possible. The lack of a structure allows the audience to make connections that they might not make with the novel. Scenes blend into each other, lines of dialogue highlight themes. It is an achievement in filmmaking.
“Looper” is so heavy; so violent; but still, so surprising and unique that a day after we saw it, I’m still not sure how I feel about it.
It stars Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an older and younger version, respectively, of the same character, an assassin in the midwest of the future.
One might wonder how the two actors approached this. I wondered when I first read about the film if Gordon-Levitt would be playing Bruce Willis, or the other way around, or if the two found some middle ground. Bruce Willis is playing the character he always plays, and it’s up to Gordon-Levitt to do an impersonation of Willis, which he does, very skillfully. I could have believed that Gordon-Levitt was the same person, simply through his acting.
Unfortunately, someone involved didn’t think that would be adequate and through the magic of prosthetics, attempted to transform him into Willis. Even with Gordon-Levitt’s ridiculous makeup, they look nothing alike, and indeed, he looks like a waxy robot.
A lot of small moments throughout this film felt so familiar. I felt as if I’d seen something before with a similar premise, or similar scenes, or something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. There were characters dressed like Neo; the time-travel element of the film recalled for me “Twelve Monkeys,” and we see a glimpse of Butch Coolidge, Willis’ character in “Pulp Fiction.” I felt like I was watching a Christopher Nolan film at times and Johnson seems to love lens flare as much as J.J. Abrams. This film is many pieces of cinema cobbled together into something that’s big and loud enough to bring in mainstream audiences.
My favorite performance in this film might be that of a child. He is so good, in fact, that I was convinced he was some sort of CG creation. He reminded me of the child actress in the film “The Fall.” The young boy’s story slowly, stealthily, becomes the focus of the story late in the film. The introduction of this storyline is a radical departure in tone from what I was expecting. In fact, it almost cut the film into two separate movies, in my view.
The score for the film was composed by Nathan Johnson. It’s effective, meaning that it’s noticeable at just the right times and never too loud or melodramatic. The cue that plays just before the credits roll is lovely and frames the ending of the film in a pleasantly unexpected way.
New Orleans and its suburbs stand in for Kansas, and I don’t know why it’s important that we believe the film takes place in Kansas. It just seems like a strange choice. The plot doesn’t hinge on us thinking we’re in Kansas. There is a certain suspension of disbelief necessary in watching sci-fi films. Isn’t it easier for the filmmaker to just suggest we’re in some unnamed Other Place, where time travel/aliens/spaceships are possible?
I will certainly benefit from a second viewing. “Looper” is a multi-layered, intelligent film that I think will spark discussion for some time to come.
Maggie Mack (@ilea02) is a long-time podcasting friend and Thanksgiving Popspotting guest from Northern Virginia. In this Listener Edition, she shares another podcast worth checking out: PodQuiz. PodQuiz is a weekly trivia quiz podcast. Each week there are twenty questions, some music as an interlude, followed by the answers.
Jen has been a fan of PodQuiz for years, and even shared it as a “Pith of Pop” pick back in 2006! It’s good to see he’s still going strong.
Updated to correct link! Two podcasters from the golden age of “LOST” come together to share five post-”LOST” picks in a new Popspotting Listener Edition. Anna (@echobase77) and Wendy (@bunnieslrnow) recommend:
- The Booth at the End (on Hulu)
- Castaway on the Moon (on Netflix)
- Twin Peaks (on Netflix)
- Bone by Jeff Smith (on Amazon)
- Five Year Mission
We’re honored to have been a small part of the reasons Wendy and Anna got into podcasting. And this great contribution, as with all Listener Edition contributions, is absolutely an inspiration and cherished treat for us. As we navigate through this craziest of years, with your support, we are confident that a return to Popspotting lies ahead!
New Popspotting podcasts are still a few months away, but thanks to a Spotify subscription, I’ve been hearing a lot of new music that I want to share.
I consider Spotify some kind of minor miracle. For a long time, I’ve been the cranky old lady who doesn’t listen to anything made in this decade. Still, there are a few contemporary artists who excite me and make me want to listen to more artists like them.
I’ve caught up with artists I’ve enjoyed before as well, like Glen Hansard.
“Rhythm and Repose” [Spotify, Amazon] is the debut solo album from the Frames frontman. Hansard went on to star in the indie musical “Once” and perform on the movie soundtrack, which contains original songs as well as covers of a few Frames’ songs. Hansard is also half of the duo The Swell Season.
Hansard is a master of melody. He manages to infuse his songs, which are largely quiet, somber ballads, with a groove. The track “Sleeping” from the Swell Season’s debut album lodges itself in my head quicker than anything on the radio lately. A few tracks on the “Once” soundtrack also achieve earworm status.
In “Rhythm and Repose,” it seems Hansard is flirting with classical structure. The instruments are lush; the melodies more complex. As a consequence, there are fewer of the hooks that keep me going back to the Once soundtrack. The lovely “Maybe Not Tonight” has the highest earworm potential. It reminds me of a country duet from the 70’s. The jazzy “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting” is also groovy and reminiscent of Van Morrison.
I fell in love with the “Once” soundtrack instantly. I enjoy “Rhythm” a lot, but it’ll take me a few listens to fully appreciate it, I think. I believe that this is an intensely personal album. Its lyrics, like those in “Races”, seem to describe a period of contemplation and pain. The chorus of Races states “You never loved me”. I feel as if I’m peeking into someone’s diary.
Frank Ocean’s “channel ORANGE” [Spotify, Amazon] debuted at Number 2 this week. Ocean came out earlier this month. His announcement grabbed headlines and possibly piqued a lot of curiosity. Indeed, I was curious, because very little R&B from the past decade has interested me, and all of the reviews I’d read raved about “channel ORANGE,” praising its fresh, unique sound.
I love this album. Ocean is doing something different here, but he’s framing it in a familiar sound that I love. The track “Pyramids” is delightfully weird; almost nerdy, but contains irresistible hooks. It’s a throwback in the best possible way. Ocean clearly loves 70’s R&B even more than I do, but he loves contemporary R&B too and has a way to marry them seamlessly.
Ocean namechecks Forrest Gump in a track that features a subtle but infectious guitar lick. It sounds so different from “Pyramids,” which sounds nothing like “Bad Religion,” which reminds me of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” with its organ-heavy opening.
This album has really made me reevaluate my listening habits. I’m wondering what R&B gems I’ve missed these past few years.
- “Settle Down” by No Doubt. Love it. It’s surprisingly complex, insanely catchy, and fun. Maybe my favorite song of theirs.
- “Runaways” by The Killers. Not as edgy as previous efforts. Sounds like Gaslight Anthem. Still, pretty good. Some people might accuse The Killers of selling out, but it sounds like a natural evolution to me.
Today, two good friends join forces to bring you yet another episode of “Popspotting Listener Edition.” Listen in as Heath Solo (@HeathActor) of “The Film List” and musician Matt Murdick (@musicalconcepts) of the “Musical Concepts Podcast” discuss Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series “The Newsroom” and the BBC reboot of “Sherlock Holmes.”
Pete in Rockford, Illinois is a long-time contributing member of our podcasting family, and this week he steps forward along with his wife Laurie to contribute a special Popspotting Listener Edition. Today they chime in with their take on board games (Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, and Ticket to Ride), a book series, and a summer blockbuster movie.
We’re thrilled to have another Popspotting Listener Edition come in from overseas. Today, Josva in Norway recommendations three beloved European films. His picks are “District B13,” “troubledWATER,” and “Troll Hunter.” They should be available for American listeners through Amazon.com.
Josva is 24 years old, and is studying to be a priest in the church of Norway. You can follow him on Twitter @josva, but when he tweets, he tweets in Norwegian.