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.
We’re back after an extra week off with a look at Disney’s “John Carter,” which opens March 9. It was one of the movies we said we were looking forward to in 2012… but one we were also a little worried about, given how ridiculous the trailers were. But with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ sci-fi classic as a guide, and with Andrew Stanton at the helm, we were still on board. Add the handsome Taylor Kitsch on screen and the talented Michael Giacchino behind the score, and we simply couldn’t miss it.
Is “John Carter” going to be the disaster the trade press is predicting? Or is it the big, fun sci-fi adventure that’s worthy of the great names attached to it?
For every good movie, a sequel is soon to follow. (For every bad movie, too, it seems.) So we revisit one of our favorite “Wildcard Wednesday” topics from last year. It’s another “Flickchart Faceoff,” in which we turn to everyone’s favorite dangerously addictive movie site (made in Florida!) to set us up with a series of movie matchups. We then judge which is more worthy, likely revealing more of our ignorance and bad taste in the process. But that’s okay. The best part is hearing from you exactly why we picked the wrong ones!
We shift gears and go a little art house this week as we check out a pair of films that took the film festival circuit by storm. First, “Meek’s Cutoff,” a sparse exploration of trust and survival off the Oregon Trail in the 1800s, based on a true story. Then, “Certified Copy,” a day in the life of a man and a woman who may or may not have a history together.
For Wildcard Wednesday, we survey the year ahead, and share our most-anticipated movies of 2012. Ryan and Jen both share their top five picks, plus a few runners up. They include “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Cloud Atlas,” “The Hobbit” and “The Master” for Ryan, and “Magic Mike,” “Dark Shadows,” “Looper,” “The Hunger Games” and “Django Unchained” for Jen.
We go back to the multiplex to check out a recent release for Movie Monday. Jen wanted to see the new Daniel Radcliffe film, but Ryan’s a big chicken, so we went to see “Chronicle” instead. We didn’t know anything going in, but coming out, we were thoroughly entertained.
“Chronicle” comes from the relatively new team of director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis (son of director John Landis) and stars Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, and Alex Russell as a group of Seattle teens who suddenly find themselves with special powers, and the problems that come with them.
This British sci-fi flick charmed nearly everyone who saw it. Alas, too few people saw it. “Attack the Block” came out last May, but apart from making a small splash at SXSW in Austin and getting a very limited North American release, it has relied on word of mouth and DVD/Blu-Ray rentals and sales to find an audience. Thanks to Matt and other Popspotting listeners, you can count us among its fans as well. Written and directed by Joe Cornish, “Attack the Block” stars John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard and Nick Frost.
It’s not a new film, but it’s one we missed and really wanted to see. “Midnight In Paris” is Woody Allen’s 41st film, and by some accounts, one of his best. Even Quentin Tarantino picked it as his favorite film of 2011. It stars Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams, along with Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, and Michael Sheen.
We also got to see the re-release of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” in 3-D, which includes a new animated short, “Tangled Ever After.” More than 20 years later, does the animated classic hold up? And does 3-D add anything to the experience?