Saga of the Jasonite

The continuing adventures of that eternal man of mystery…


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My review and rant regarding Star Trek: Into Darkness

They do make good movie posters

They do make good movie posters

*WARNING* MASSIVE SPOILERS CONTAINED IN THIS REVIEW. DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN THE MOVIE OR DO NOT CARE ABOUT KNOWING KEY PLOT POINTS

Well….crap.

I’ll explain that previous sentence in a minute. First let me say that I’m a big Star Trek fan. I was never a huge original series buff, but I respected it and when the first of a new wave of Star Trek movies came out back in 2009 with a new cast I frankly expected not to like it at all. I saw it in the theater though, because it’s Star Trek and because I got free tickets, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was happily surprised to find a film that showed respect to the original cast and series while laying the groundwork for perhaps a new series of movies. The film wasn’t loved by everyone, some of the old Trek fans didn’t like the idea of what amounted to an “alternate timeline” Star Trek universe, but I was fine with it. It was fun and funny, it had drama, action, and great takes on all of the familiar characters. When Into Darkness was released I was excited. Please, if you do watch Into Darkness go rent the first movie and watch it before seeing this one. Vital information is there, and you’ll have a richer movie experience. Of course if you’re reading this review, odds are you’ve already seen Into Darkness anyway.

Into Darkness does a lot of things right, let me start there. The characters are still well written, and almost all of them are well-used. Sulu is the only one who doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but everyone else is here the way you remember them from the previous feature. The villain is portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch (I just love that name), who may not be well known to American audiences, but I know him and loved him for portraying the eponymous character in the BBC’s Sherlock series. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out, it’s just terrific. The acting in here is essentially first class, even by Alice Eve playing the character of Carol Marcus (careful Star Trek viewers should know that name). Her main function seems to be taking her clothes off and looking hot, but she does serve a purpose later on.  The special effects are, as you would expect, excellent and flawless. The action is great, particularly when you meet Benedict’s character for the first time, the dude is just a badass. Most everything in this film works.

The problem here is the plot. This sets in about halfway to two-thirds of the way through the film, when we learn Benedict’s character’s name:  Khan. Yep, Khan. THAT Khan! For those of you who haven’t seen Star Trek II or have no history at all with the original cast, you will probably go along and enjoy the movie just fine, because you don’t know any better. Have fun. Those of us over the age of 25, however, or who have seen the previous films are likely going to be less enthusiastic. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m referring to the fact that this film recycles the plot of perhaps the most revered Star Trek movie of all.

There are two big reasons J.J. Abrams should NOT have made this the plot of his new Star Trek film. First, you’re always going to be compared to the original film, and when the original was great you are going to suffer by comparison, plain and simple. That is taking a big risk, and honestly I can respect taking a risk. The second reason is a doozy. The emotional impact of this film, when Kirk dies, is barely even felt. This scene is what the entire film is working up to, the emotional centerpiece, and it doesn’t quite work. This is for several reasons. The original film was with characters who had already had lots of years together, lots of adventures; they were a family and there were close emotional bonds that the audience resonated with. When Spock died in Star Trek II it was devastating. The entire audience was in a state of shock, and then they were in tears when Kirk gave his eulogy; the movie just wrung you out emotionally. There is no close emotional bond between this Kirk and this Spock. They’ve had a total of one adventure. One. They don’t even know if they like each other and they barely trust each other, they are just at the beginning of their relationship. There isn’t a rich history between this cast for the audience to connect to, so you don’t feel the punch during the finale, even if you *haven’t* seen any of the original films or series. Another reason is that the rest of us have already seen it. And seen it done better! Also you know Kirk will not stay dead, and lo and behold he’s revived before the film is over. This is because Abrams had no choice in the matter, he’d painted himself into a corner. If Kirk stays dead everyone knows what the third film will be about, a similar recycled-style plot along the lines of “The Search for Kirk.” Then you’ve got audiences thinking all these new Star Trek movies will just be remaking the old ones. Can’t have that. If Kirk comes back to life then why should we be that upset that he dies? Any experienced movie-goer has seen that a dozen times before.

So at this point we know what to expect. At some point someone will yell “KHAN!!!” Sure enough, it’s Spock, because Kirk did it in the original. The problem is this Spock doesn’t love Kirk enough to be that emotionally wrecked by his death, they don’t have a history that supports it. In fact not much has really changed between them from the beginning of the film–where we are told in no uncertain terms Spock would have left Kirk to die if their positions were reversed. Spock goes nuts anyway and everything devolves into a stock fist fight between Spock and Khan. Spock gets the hell beaten out of him, Uhura phaser-stuns him a bunch of times, Spock then gets the upper hand but they can’t kill him because they need his blood to save Kirk. The villain doesn’t even die (why not, because in the original he did?), robbing us of any satisfaction of his defeat. The original had the finale on their respective starships, in space, with Kirk and Spock out-thinking their nemesis. Star Trek should be about the triumph of the mind, not resolving the entire plot line by punching people out.

I give Benedict full credit for doing everything he could to make Khan great. He did as well as one could expect from any actor, and as I said I was already predisposed to like the guy. He just had the weight of history working against him. I don’t think the characterization went as far as it could with Kirk, because this film was supposed to be his coming of age. He gets kicked off the Enterprise because he “doesn’t respect the chair” and by the end of the movie you are supposed to believe he has learned what it means to be captain through hard experience. I didn’t feel that. Not because those events wouldn’t have been enough, but because I didn’t see it in his performance.

Instead of getting a great new original story like the previous film, we get this. It’s a shame, because these movies were building a new generation of Star Trek fans. Maybe I’m being over-dramatic. After all, if you haven’t seen the originals this will be an enjoyable movie. Not a great one, but a good one. It will still be entertaining. But it could have been so much more.

Well…crap.


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My (concise) review of Tangled

TangledTo get to the point. What worked: the look. This film is gorgeous, particularly on Blu-Ray! The villain: Mother Gothel is the most manipulative of any Disney or Pixar character, awesome. You WANT to see her go down and it’s satisfying when she does. The female empowerment stuff: Rapunzel is definitely the hero of this film, and only rarely is she annoying. The ending: excellent, surprisingly emotionally affecting.

What didn’t work: the songs. A grand total of only two songs were firing on all cylinders, the best of which is the reprise of “Rapunzel Knows Best” about 58 minutes in. Almost none of them came together that well, a real disappointment in an integral part of any animated Disney movie. The humor: intermittent at best. You’ll chuckle, but don’t expect consistent laughter if you’re an adult viewer. The plot: incredibly simplistic, don’t worry about having to use your brain at any point. The sidekick: that stupid, pointless gecko. You can always rely on Disney’s dogged determination for every protagonist to have a sidekick. He gets kicked at one point by the villain, and it made me so happy! Tangled also tries to be a bit too modern, particularly with the dialogue–it can pull you out of the fairy tale. Overall this film is certainly entertaining, but doesn’t have the magic to be a classic like the early Pixar films or the Disney films we know and love. Definitely worth a watch, you’ll absolutely love it if you’re a teen or younger; adult viewers will not be quite as enchanted. 3.5 of 5 stars.


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My review of Lockout

Lockout

Lockout

I’ll cut to the end:  this is just a fun movie to watch. I don’t love it because it’s a good movie (it’s really not), I don’t love it because of the hot chick (there’s a million of ’em), because it’s original (it’s not even close ) or because it’s a sci-fi (though it is my favorite genre of film). I love this movie for one reason, and it’s the same reason that this movie is watchable at all:  Guy Pearce.

For those unfamiliar with him, you need to see Memento. Rent it, buy it, steal it, do whatever you have to but watch that film, it’s fantastic, and virtually flawless. The movie is really good, but Pearce’s performance impresses you just as much. Maybe I’ll do a review of that movie someday, who knows. You may also have seen him without knowing it when he was in LA Confidential even earlier, another utterly excellent film from back in ’97. The problem is he wasn’t in much that was good after those movies, and he kind of slipped off the face of the earth. The Time Machine was a train wreck, The Count of Monte Cristo was okay at best, and he was really off the grid until appearing in the first several minutes of Hurt Locker, another great movie, and Best Picture winner of 2008. He’s been flirting around with stardom for a while, and in my opinion he’s one of the more underrated actors in Hollywood today. He’s the primary reason this movie is anything more than forgettable, and I hope to explain why in this review.

The film is directed by Stephen Saint Leger and James Mather. Two directors isn’t a great idea to begin with, but have you ever heard of either one? Not surprised, as this is the first film either one has *ever* directed. Luc Besson wrote the screenplay though, which should hopefully ring some bells. Besson’s a big-time French director, who makes by far the most American-style films of all the French directors I know. He’s done stuff like the original La Femme NikitaThe Professional, The Fifth Element, he wrote the Transporter movies, Taken, a lot of stuff. When you think Luc Besson think Steven Spielberg, or more accurately Michael Bay. He’s not directing here, but I strongly suspect he’s the one pulling most of the strings.

My boy!

My boy!

Lockout takes place in 2079, and is about the kidnapping of the President’s daughter in an orbiting maximum security space prison. Pearce plays Snow, an ex-CIA operative who’s given the option of going in solo to rescue her to avoid a pretty unpleasant prison experience himself for a crime that–you guessed it–he didn’t commit. That’s really all you need to know. This movie isn’t big on plot and I’m usually a stickler for stuff like that, but in this case I don’t mind.

The movie opens up and our romance with Guy Pearce begins. He’s being interrogated and his answers are full of snark, delivered with an attitude that makes one not be able to do anything but smile and like him. He’s tied up and getting the piss beat out of him but he’s still having a good time. It’s the kind of scene that you’ve watched a dozen times, but Pearce makes it seem like you’ve never seen it before. Get used to the feel of a sci-fi movie that retreads stuff you’ve seen before though, it’ll keep happening for just about the entire 95 minutes.

This is Hydell. How can you not trust that face?

This is Hydell. How can you not trust that face?

Maggie Grace plays the President’s daughter, Emilie, and she’s going to visit MS1 (the orbital prison) to make sure the inmates are being treated humanely. It doesn’t take long for things to go south, and in an as unlikely yet predictable way as you’d suppose. Joe Gilgun plays Hydell, one of the convicts, and is the other highlight of this flick. He’s in a fairly large portion of the film and was well cast. His performance is psychotic, over-the-top, but while he is sadistic he doesn’t actually come across as truly evil for some reason. He’s just a little kid who’s having fun! I hope he gets more work, he’s eminently watchable. Maggie on the other hand seems to be insufficient to the role she’s given. You might recognize her from her role on Lost.

Even though Snow is condemned as a prisoner to go to MS1, the CIA convinces the President to send him in by himself to get the President’s own daughter out via an escape pod hidden on MS1. It makes about as much sense as it sounds like it makes, but hey it’s an action movie right? If it sounds vaguely familiar that’s because it’s essentially the same plot as Escape from New York.

There is a subplot here, and it becomes increasingly important as the movie progresses. Snow’s partner was killed because he discovered evidence of a CIA agent who was selling secrets of their space program. It’s also the murder that Snow is framed for. There’s a guy named Mace that Snow was able to sneak a briefcase to before Snow was captured, and we learn that Mace was captured and is on MS1 too. Ah. Additional incentive. Snow’s inserted into the prison and the rest of the first half of the movie switches back and forth between his search for Emilie and her plight as one of the hostages of the released prisoners. They don’t know who she is, but that can’t last forever can it? Vincent Regan plays Alex, the head honcho of the prisoners, and Regan does do a decent job in his role. There’s a couple of obligatory scenes where we see how tough and smart he is, but while he’s ruthless he doesn’t kill Hydell, who screws him up a couple of times. You find out why a bit later, and by then you’ve probably figured it out anyway. Heck you probably figured it out just by reading about it here.

Snow is on MS1 for a total of about 60 seconds before running into Emilie as she and a secret service agent are making an escape. He gets bonked on the head and then has to go rescue her from her escape because her brilliant bodyguard sealed the two of them in a room without thinking that there might be a problem with limited oxygen. Snow has several fights, some special effects and a series of one-liners that aren’t that good but he does the best any actor could do with them until he finally gets to Emilie.

We can do this the easy way or the hard way

This is to stop the bleeding, and hopefully the talking

The second half of the movie is Snow and Emilie on the run, trying to escape a ton of prisoners on MS1 while Snow is also trying to track down Mace. Not really a ton, the movie fails to capitalize on the scope of the prison like it could have. The action does become more interesting, which is good, but with Pearce and Grace on the screen at the same time it becomes evident that she just isn’t good enough to challenge him as an actor. Don’t get me wrong, Grace is the caliber of actor that B-movies like this usually get, so she’d fit in fine if she had a similarly-talented male actor to play off of, but Pearce is just too good. He plays Snow as a world-weary guy who really couldn’t care less about Emilie, he’s there to stay out of prison and to get to Mace. He doesn’t care about the rest of the hostages, and he certainly doesn’t care about what she wants, which is to rescue them. He overwhelms her, and while the dialogue is intended to make her driven, strong-minded and formidable enough to influence someone as jaded as Snow, you can tell that she isn’t. It’s the kind of acting dynamic that reminds me somewhat of the pairing of Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall in The Shining.

Snow patches her up, gives her the map to the escape pod and a shotgun then promptly abandons her to go find Mace, which I just love! It doesn’t last long, of course; Alex, the uber-convict, figures out who Emilie is. The dialogue is still occasionally painful, but there are some gems. Snow has to disguise her to sneak her past a bunch of murdering, horny inmates so he has her dress like one. She spots him mixing something.

Emilie:  What is that?

Snow:  Uh, engine oil, coffee, some water I just got out of the toilet.

Emilie:  And just what do you plan on doing with it?

Snow:  I plan on putting it in your hair.

Lockout-MovieI don’t know how it comes across in text form, but in the movie it never fails to crack me up, and it’s almost entirely due to Pearce’s delivery. Then to help complete her disguise he punches her in the face. I’m telling you, it’s gold! They take off to find Mace and when they do he’s kind of not all there. Whoops. The prisoners are after them and the tension and action are pretty good from here on out. Our directors feel the need to crank up the tension more by making the prison start to fall out of orbit, and Hydell gets more and more out of control. Then our government sends a bunch of planes to shoot the prison while it’s falling out of orbit. I’ll just cut ahead and say they get off the station, the mystery of who was selling information is uncovered, and the barely existent chemistry between Pearce and Grace is relied upon to provide the capstone of the denouement.

Overall this film is a bit of a mess. More of the dialogue and the one-liners miss than hit, and it’s pretty obvious a lot of the violence was toned down to give this movie a PG-13 rating, even though it pretty clearly would be happier if it was R. There are space fighter jets and futuristic looking motorcycles in this movie but honestly it doesn’t need them, and they feel unnecessary. The critics only had positive things to say about Pearce’s performance, and as I’ve indicated again and again, it’s the only real reason to see this movie at all. This flick would probably have been loads better if Besson would have directed it himself, but he didn’t. It’s extremely derivative, you can literally count how many times the heroes should have died, etc etc, so why am I taking the time to review it? Because I still like it! I’d give this movie 2 out of 5 stars (or 4/10) but for its intended audience it’s still fun to watch. Will this movie develop a cult following like Escape from New York? Nope. I, however, suspended the crap out of my disbelief from the first scene and let it take me on its ride. I can still watch that opening interrogation scene again and again. This movie is for fans of action/sci-fi flicks, Guy Pearce fans, or for watching together with a bunch of guys. If you’ve got free time and nothing especially great is available to rent that night give this a shot, it’s pretty fun. In fact, as a reward for reading this review all the way through, here’s a clip of the first five minutes from YouTube.


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Moneyball… good, but not great

I’ve been wanting to see Moneyball since it was in the theater. Of course I rarely see films in the theater anymore, as I’m not always prepared to sell off internal organs to pay to see one. So Moneyball tells the story of Billy Beane and how he and a rather unattractive overweight fellow changed how baseball is managed and played. I liked this movie about as much as I figured I would, which is to stay I liked it quite a bit. There is some unflashy but excellent acting, the directing is confident and it also seems to be a well-edited movie as well. I really enjoyed it. It was also nominated for 6 academy awards.

Should it have been nominated for Best Picture? Nope. And you know, the criteria for the most important category on Oscar night seems to be slipping. The Oscars have expanded how many films can be nominated, ostensibly to accommodate other high quality films, but all it seems to be doing is allowing films who normally wouldn’t be good enough to win a chance for more spotlight. My criteria for a movie being nominated for Best Picture: it’s good enough to someday be considered a film classic, standing the test of time so it will still hold up 30 or 40 years down the road. Will anyone care about Moneyball by this time next year? I doubt it. Now I understand you can only nominate the best films that come out, and not every year will a film be released that is destined to be a classic, but while I enjoyed this film c’mon, it’s not going to be a classic.

Best Actor? Nope. Brad Pitt does a good job, but you never actually forget you are watching Brad Pitt and only see Billy Beane. For some actors, like Jack Nicholson, this isn’t always a bad thing. However, even though you never forget you’re watching Jack he does eventually overpower you by the character he’s playing, whether he’s a killer in the Shining, a complete lunatic in Batman, a hard-as-nails colonel in A Few Good Men or a monumental ass that we come to love anyway in As Good As It Gets. Typically the goal is for the audience to see the character more than that actor. In Moneyball you just see Brad Pitt doing a baseball movie. If you want to see someone truly inhabit a character, watch Philip Seymour Hoffman play the A’s manager. He’s barely in 20 minutes of the movie yet he is so incredibly authentic you’d think he was born to play a baseball coach; when you watch him, you can see everything he’s thinking when he’s not saying a word, and you see it through the lens of his character. That is great acting in my book.

Best Supporting Actor? Jonah Hill does do a great job, but frankly I would’ve nominated Philip Seymour Hoffman if he would’ve been in more of the movie. As for the plot, when you watch the film you’re interested in what Beane is doing, as well as how he deals with the unrelenting resistance he gets from pretty much everyone in baseball. The recurring theme is “you’re destroying the game of baseball…it’s about people, not just stats…you won’t be successful.” An unintended effect was I found myself generally agreeing with these sentiments. I’m struggling with how I want to say this:  I did find myself shocked to find the management side of a team deciding who they want to sign based on how a guy looks in front of the camera, instead of how he plays. That does seem inherently wrong, it should be based on playing ability, and I did my part as the audience in wanting to see change there. However I also found Beane’s new approach somewhat off-putting as well. I won’t go into his new approach in depth, but I found myself thinking that this is taking the heart out of baseball to a degree. I dunno.

Overall it’s a good movie and well-worth watching, with good performances and a very engaging plot, which in this case is a true story. Is it a great film though? I don’t think so. I use a five-star system to rate movies; in this case I give Moneyball 3.5 of 5 stars, or a 7/10.