Saturday, May 25, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (Theatrical Review)

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, 132 minutes
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin and Benedict Cumberbatch

I'm old enough to remember the original Star Trek series, and I have a deep affection for it despite its obvious flaws. I was ready to despise this latest reboot when Star Trek was released in 2009, but some terrific choices were made and I left the theater grinning. I was delighted with the casting choices four years ago, and how this new version of Star Trek gave enough nods to the original without going over the top.

So, I have been anticipating the release of Star Trek Into Darkness ever since the credits rolled on the last entry. I was not disappointed.

What do you want from a Star Trek movie? The world has changed over the past 45 years, and action is an essential element of any science fiction movie. Special effects rule, and the budget can be enormous for proven franchises that simply can't fail at the box office. There is certainly no lack of action in this movie, and it doesn't waste any time in surfacing. Kirk and some of the crew are shown fleeing the inhabitants of a primitive planet, after trying to prevent a volcano from destroying it. The fast cuts look like something out of a Bourne movie, and provide the first adrenaline rush. There are no shortage of similar moments over the remaining two hours.

While I loved Star Trek (2009), it was pretty light on story. It served as a vehicle to introduce the new crew, and did so splendidly, but the actual story wasn't particularly memorable. That's not to say that it wasn't tremendously enjoyable. What Into Darkness does is develop on that strong foundation. We learn more about the characters, and what binds them together, but this time we're also given a story with more depth.

The story is built around the hunt for John Harrison, who is a man that seems out to destroy the Federation. Who is he? What are his motivations? Needless to say, Kirk is given the task of tracking him with the Enterprise and her crew. Expect chase scenes, fights, battles, and all the special effects you could possibly desire. It's what you won't expect that will make you smile most of all. The theme of family is used in various forms, as well as revenge and the lust for power.

The great thing about this reboot is that, thanks to a plot device in the previous movie, anything can happen to the characters we know and love. Part of the fun is recognizing events and people that you know from other versions of the franchise, and seeing where their story deviates from the one you expect. Into Darkness introduces a couple of characters that you'll know, if you remember your Star Trek history. I wouldn't dream of ruining that surprise for you, so I'll leave it at that. You'll also an encounter an alien race that you might be familiar with.

I've mentioned that the movie is action-packed. Its budget also means that the effects are superb. But don't make the mistake of thinking that Into Darkness is all action and no substance. There are several exchanges of dialogue which create genuine emotion. This cast can act. One example takes place in a bar between Pike and Kirk, and it's an excellent example of key characters forming a bond.

My only disappointment with the 2009 movie is that Simon Pegg didn't seem like the best choice to play Scotty, but he won me over this time. My only criticism of the movie is that some of the key characters don't get enough screen time, but I am sure they will all have their moments to shine in future entries in the series. As with the original series, the relationships between Kirk, Spock and McCoy are vital, and I think all three actors do a great job portraying them. However, it's also wonderful to see characters like Uhura with more significant roles.

There's really no way to explain the plot without giving away too much. If you enjoyed the first reboot, and like these actors, there's a strong chance that you will love Star Trek Into Darkness. It seemed to last about an hour, but had enough content for four hours. That's meant as a compliment. You won't see anyone washing dishes for 20 minutes in this movie.

Where will the franchise go next? I hope that it is a long and glorious journey. I would happily watch another five movies with this crew, and can only hope that there won't be a four-year gap between them.

Go and see this movie if you care about Star Trek in any way, because you'll have a lot of fun. Oh, and be prepared to see more lens flares. They are apparently here to stay.

Overall score 4.5/5

This is the first movie I have seen in theaters since Roger Ebert's passing. Normally I would head over to his site to see whether his opinion was close to mine. It seems very strange not having that option. 

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Some of my favorite movie clips - Episode 2

Favorite Movie Clips - Part 2

I've compiled several favorite movie lists, and the 100 movies series, outlining notable titles and why I think they are worth watching. But I have never picked my favorite clips. There may be some overlap, and you'll see some of my favorite movies on both lists, but there are other titles which have outstanding scenes without being quite good enough to make a Top 100 or a Top 10 of the year.

I'm also aware that a lot of people prefer visuals to pages of text.

This is Part 2 in the series.

Moneyball - It's a Metaphor

Moneyball is loaded with good scenes, and it was hard to choose just one. I was unable to find a full version of the "trade deadline" clip, so I chose this scene near the end of the film. It puts the previous two hours in perspective. I've seen Moneyball about ten times since picking up the Blu-ray 16 months ago. It makes me want to write my own screenplay. If you have never seen the movie, don't dismiss it because you think it's just about sports. Moneyball is about new ways to look at something, and how original thought can produce the desired result. The acting matches the quality of the writing, and I think it will be remembered as one of the best movies featuring sports of any kind.

Reservoir Dogs - The Tipping Scene

Tarantino, Buscemi, and a logical argument against tipping. It's funny, but it also says a lot about Mr. Pink's character. Tarantino's writing is among the best in the business. He can make his characters talk nonsense, but in an intelligent and realistic way. His sense of humor makes regular comedies appear incredibly weak by comparison.

Mulholland Dr. - The Cowboy

Mulholland Dr. contains more bizarre scenes than logical ones, but it makes a strange kind of sense in the end. The movie will never have mass appeal, but those who do appreciate it often mention it as one of the best pieces of cinema they have ever seen. The scene I have chosen may look pointless and out of place if you haven't seen the movie, but it works perfectly in the context of the whole story. If you are the kind of person that enjoys analysis over mulitple viewings, Mulholland Dr. might be something you will learn to love.

Rounders - What's the Limit?

Why do we find poker so fascinating? Why are the top players considered superstars? There's a mystery and appeal about the game that creates mass appeal. Maybe we think that we can do what they do and change our lives in the process? Rounders manages to capture that mystery and turn it into a compelling story. This scene shows why you should never play cards with strangers, unless you're the one with the hidden ability.

The Secret World of Arrietty - First Borrowing

If you read my blog regularly, you'll know that I worship Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Arrietty was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, with Miyazaki adapting Mary Norton's book for the screenplay. This early sequence shows how imaginative the story is, and gives you a good idea of what to expect. Like all Ghibli titles, Arrietty features characters that you will care about.

That's enough for now. I hope that some of you check out one or two of these titles if you haven't already. I'll revisit this idea when I have five more clips to share.

What are some of your own favorites?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Some of my favorite movie clips - Episode 1

Favorite Movie Clips - Part 1

I've compiled several favorite movie lists, and the 100 movies series, outlining notable titles and why I think they are worth watching. But I have never picked my favorite clips. There may be some overlap, and you'll see some of my favorite movies on both lists, but there are other titles which have outstanding scenes without being quite good enough to make a Top 100 or a Top 10 of the year.

I'm also aware that a lot of people prefer visuals to pages of text.

These clips aren't in any particular order. I'll continue this series from time to time as I uncover more examples. Here are the first few which spring to mind:

Margin Call - The Bridge Discussion

Margin Call is a very good story, with a number of strong performances. Eric Dale is the character who sets the events in motion, but he remains something of a mystery for most of the movie. I chose this scene because it illustrates how such a man might have realized that the company was on the verge of ruin. Years of working in the financial world would enable him to rattle off statistics without much trouble, and Stanley Tucci is utterly convincing. It's also a profound piece of thinking to put the lifespan of a bridge into terms that we can all understand. Building it and saving commuters 1,531 years of their lives is a significant achievement. What have you done lately?

As Good as It Gets - The Compliment

Two of my favorite actors appear here in a serious moment from one of the best comedy dramas I own. Nicholson is superb as Melvin Udall, and Helen Hunt was at the top of her game in this 1997 movie. It will make you laugh, cry, and care about the characters. What a fine piece of writing.

Falling Down - I Want Breakfast

This scene works because we all feel something like this on occasion, but most of us have a filter which prevents us from making our views heard. Michael Douglas plays a character that could be almost any of us, so we empathize with his situation until he takes things a step too far.

Up in the Air - How Much?

I love this scene because J. K. Simmons plays his role perfectly, and Clooney's character comes up with such a convincing argument, even though it's insincere. It's such a believable exchange. The movie is full of great scenes, so I urge you to see it if you haven't already.

12 Angry Men - Dealing with Prejudice

One of the best movies ever made is 90 minutes of pure dialogue and takes place in one room for the most part. Here's one of the best scenes. If you have something against old films, or you only watch things in color, this might just change your mind.

That's enough for now. I hope that some of you check out one or two of these titles if you haven't already. I'll revisit this idea when I have five more clips to share.

What are some of your own favorites?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Firefly: The Complete Series

Firefly (2002-3)
Adventure, Drama, Sci-fi
Created by Josh Whedon
Starring Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau and Ron Glass

I spent most of this week watching the 14 episodes of Firefly for the second time in my life, and I think I appreciated it even more this time around. The TV show was cancelled before all of the Season 1 episodes were shown, although they ultimately aired on The Science Channel.

The series failed for a number of reasons; the main one being that the episodes were not shown in the correct order, which was a stupid decision because the feature-length opening episode introduces all of the characters.

So why do I like it?

Firefly is a mix of action, drama, romance, and adventure. Although it's science fiction, the characters often talk like cowboys. Josh Whedon (Buffy, The Avengers) created the series, as well as directing three episodes and being involved as a writer.

The characters have real depth, but the development isn't rushed. The origin of the relationships and character traits are explained gradually as the series progresses. Many of the characters are mysterious, and will make you question their true motivations. But, through it all, each character always seems real. You'll meet a married couple, war veterans, a preacher, a doctor, a psychologically damaged girl, a genius engineer, an apparently dumb mercenary, and a high-class prostitute. It's fascinating to see the existing bonds between some of the characters, and the development of new bonds.

Episodes often show the crew taking on a task of some kind to earn their living. These assignments are often illegal, but can also become somewhat noble. If you are a fan of Whedon, you'll know that he uses humor regularly, and it's often present in Firefly. It can be pretty campy at times, but the writing is strong and it never comes across as stupid. Jaynestown is probably the funniest episode, and you'll understand why if you watch the episodes in the correct sequence.

I would have to say that I like every character, and that's rare for me with a cast of this size. The biggest mystery in the series surrounds River (Summer Glau), who plays the sister of the ship's doctor, Simon (Sean Maher). Their relationship is arguably the strongest within the group, and there's always a sense that River's story drives the entire series.

The Blu-ray includes all of the episodes, and the picture quality is good for the most part. Some of the darker images have lower quality, but the series is so good that you won't sit there criticizing the image. The special features include plenty of commentaries, as well as a making of feature, deleted scenes, and other assorted goodies.

If you do become hooked on the series, you'll need to watch Serenity (2005), which was a two-hour movie wrapping up the main story. That's a fantastic science fiction movie, but you'll appreciate it more if you know the characters well. Firefly runs for almost 11 hours, and you'll end up wishing for more. The movie gives the show a proper ending, and won't leave you hanging.

At the time of writing, it's available on for less than $20. Buy it if you like Whedon, science fiction, or well-written characters. Incidentally, the set is housed in a regular Blu-ray case with room for the three discs, so it won't look out of place on your shelf.

Overall score 4/5

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