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Movie Review Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

May 17, 2013 2 comments
Star Trek Into Darkness Movie Poster

Into Darkness brings several shades of shady into the Light.

Movie Review Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

A sequel that boldly goes where we’ve gone before.

When director J.J. Abrams took the reins of a long-beloved franchise and breathed new life into a series that gave us some of our favorite sci-fi concepts…a few…um…fans were rather displeased. No, let’s call it like it is: diehards were very upset. Not Trekkies or Trekkers, but die-hard Trekkerds. See, there’s camaraderie in isolation. There’s something cool about being uncool- especially when there’s enough of you(s) to make an army. Star Wars, fortunately or unfortunately doesn’t have as many levels of fandom. What? Let me explain. Both franchises have catch phrases. Both have attire to cosplay in. Both have obscure side-characters and small moments with big implications and impact, BUT Star Trek has episodes. Lots and lots of material to pull from. And that’s where the problems start for the Trekkerds.

If you want, Star Trek is about the peaceful exploration of new worlds, scientific discovery and a human statement- all wrapped in the futuristic fabric of a space adventure. But that’s not every episode. If you remember the original T.V. series (across 3 seasons from 1966-1968) you’ll find that many episodes were action-orientated with hand-to-hand combat, shoot outs and ship to ship (or alien thingie) warfare. There are also episodes that… well, were kind of boring and goofy. If you want to show the depth of your devotion, don’t tell me a back-story about the Storm Troopers genetic disposition to bumping their heads on low doorways. Don’t waste you time making obscure references to the Force or drop clever movie quotes in every conversation. Simply say your favorite Trek episode is one of the terrible ones and demand they use its plot for a summer blockbuster.

J.J. Abrams violated a major unspoken rule and made the somewhat obscure totally accessible. Star Trek became cool for EVERYBODY. Yep, people that did not previously watch ANY Star Trek title- loved the 2009 movie. That’s their Star Trek…and it stinks that they got a good one. There’s a happy-sad moment in the new Star Wars movies being a disappointment. Those that were there can claim we had the right Star Wars movies. So where to? Helmsmen, take us out.

Star Trek Into Darkness image

We capture the essence of villainy

The writers behind Star Trek (2009), Robert Orci and Alex Kutzman did an outstanding job bringing back well-defined characters and giving a fresh coat of paint to a sagging franchise. There was something in it for everyone and you could get in at your own level of familiarity. They even took the time to fix some of the glaring plot holes in both the original series and in the motion pictures. [No, you didn’t find it strange that Uhura, the Communications Officer can’t speak the language of our sworn enemies for over two decades in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country?] This time around, they’ve added Damon Lindelof (writer for T.V. show Lost) and a writing credit for Star Trek series creator Gene Roddenberry. That seems highly appropriate because Into Darkness places us at the proper beginning of the science and exploration mission of the original series. We now have an alternate-reality-prequel, if you will. The recent Star Trek tried to treat your memories as gently as possible by leaving your version of Star trek alone and adding a new timeline so no Prime Directive was violated. Well, that’s the first thing that happens here.

I won’t spend any time convincing you to see this movie or not. You will all see it no matter what. Some to love and some to hate. A minor issue I had with the 2009 Trek was some of the characterizations- it was a gross generalization- especially for our Captain, James Tiberius Kirk. It was as if someone just wrote down what happens in [almost] every episode (Kirk fights and Kirk mates) and summarized that as his entire being. That sits at direct odds with Kirk at his best, which is a man who takes his responsibilities seriously and loves his ship and crew. For many, including me, that is the essence of Star Trek. I fully understand that you don’t have 79 episodes (like the original series) to flesh out characters and build relationships. I accept that movies are expected to have much more happening in a shorter amount of time. I don’t want a T.V. series made for the big screen like Star Trek: The New Generation movies were becoming. I expect something big and a lot of changes while it all stays the same. This new Star Trek is that.

Star trek Into Darkness Dreadnaught

My Ship is bigger than yours

See this Abrams Into Darkness because it does well again what it did previously: add on to the lore, fix a few issues, build relationships and thrill us while setting a course for future bold adventures. This is a part two that makes part one better. There are tons of spoilers in this movie- many surprises and treats for those that know the series well. I would suggest you see the previous new Trek again/first as this sequel does lean heavily on the previous stage. You won’t ever be lost, but some of the clever writing and motifs might slip by.

I mention Star Wars a lot in this review and it’s fitting as news of J.J Abrams directing the new series of Star Wars movies. If he can bring the same energy and respect he has for Trek to Star Wars, I expect to have a phaser in one hand and a saber in the other. I’m not a movie critique; I’m just critiquing a movie.

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Movie Review Oblivion (2013)

Movie Review Oblivion (2013)

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 Oblivion Movie Poster

The obliteration of your memories may lead to the obliteration of your species. Know who you are and not just what you are meant to do.

I’ve told a few people about the difference between Tom Cruise being in a movie and a ‘Tom Cruise Movie’. There is a weird thing that happens when an actor takes over a movie, like he’s the only point for watching. When an actor stars in a movie, you forget who’s in it and just watch what happens. Although Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman BOTH have this quality, Oblivion was able to stand on its own and would have been a good movie no matter who was in it.

The trailer teases us about a conquered earth and the journey of one man to discover the truth. We are shown cool vehicles whizzing across the screen and firefights. I didn’t have high hopes for Oblivion because I’ve seen this teaser before. You see something cool for a few seconds and you don’t know how much of the film follows that look or if that sequence has true meaning by being written into an engaging story. Cloud Atlas [Reviewed Here] showed us the hoverbike and Total Recall [2012] showed us the hovercar. Both movies had their sci-fi hardware on point, but neither vehicle is truly memorable beyond that action sequence. The ‘copter’ in Oblivion is different. As a matter of fact, Oblivion is different overall. Yes, it has a lot of sci-fi tropes and clichés and yes, it has actors building on their previous work, but Oblivion works because it tells us a complete story. It’s one that works because it made sense to tell it in the exact way it was told. When I saw the trailer I felt like I knew the whole story and really didn’t need to rush out and see it. Thankfully, there are enough turns and twists and ‘things that should happen’ to make this movie a must see for sci-fi buffs.

Plot Device and devices

 

Here is a brief idea of what unfolds as the initial plot. Jack [Tom Cruise] is a maintenance shepherd who works at repairing the numerous unmanned defense drones in his sector. Earth has been left devastated by aliens and is in the final stages of humanity’s plan to migrate to the stars. A few aliens still reside underground on earth and it’s up to Jack and his drones to keep them in check until his duty cycle ends and he is free to leave the earth. This is a movie worth seeing, renting and owning. I’m not a movie critic; I am simply critiquing a movie. [Movie Review Ends]

SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE THAT HAVE SEEN THE MOVIE AND ARE CONFUSED BY THE STORY.

Do not read further because it will spoil many of the surprises in the film.

 

Oblivion screensaver

The end of it all starts with the beginning of remembering

YOU WERE WARNED!

Okay so, one of the things that I loved about Oblivion is that they we got the whole story by the end and they didn’t roll those credits as early as they could have and leave us to assume what happened (before) and what happens (next).

Last Spoiler Alert!

Jack’s original mission was to make first contact with the Tet or alien spaceship. The alien was hostile and captured his shuttle. The alien intelligence used our own images and data to create the army it would use to fight the war and destroy the earth (we actually lost). The alien recorded the life essence and knowledge of Jack and Victoria and used them to make clones. An army of Jacks, which is what Morgan Freeman as Beech meant when he said ‘thousands of you’ stepping off the alien ship. That is why the alien uses the captain Jack and co-pilot Victoria as an effective team– seeing that is how they were working together during first contact.

During his first contact capture, Jack ejects the crew quarter’s part of the shuttle and it returns to orbit around earth. That is where his wife remained in suspended animation for the ~60 years. Jack’s memory was wiped, but remnants of his previous self came back to him in visions and dreams. The image of his ‘boss’ or central communications is the alien interpretation of his NASA feed from earth. The alien is approximating/recreating the unclear transmission to create a ‘human’ face for Jack and Victoria to relate to.

At the very end, 3 years later, it is a clone of Jack that arrives at his habitat to be with his wife Julia. That clone is the same ‘Jack’ that the awakened Jack subdued and tied up during the clone encounter at outpost 52. Obviously that Jack had an adventure and awakening after fighting himself and it took that long to find the habitat he imagined in his own visions and dreams. Oh and I left one or two more twists out just in case.

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Oblivion movie review, tom cruise, Morgan freeman, science fiction movie,

Movie Review The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

The Place Beyond The Pines Movie Poster

Like Father, like Son. Like Thief like Hero. Once lost, never found.

Movie Review The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

Their history comes back to haunt the future.

I’m not so sure about the described plot for this movie. It suggests a story about a criminal stunt rider going up against an ambitions cop. I could see that synopsis, but I feel like the underlying thread is about the idea(s) of fatherhood [and its suggested responsibilities] when it comes to impacting the destiny of a child. We have Ryan Gosling [The Ides of March, Blue Valentine] playing Luke, a carnival stunt rider pushed to extremes when he attempts to assume the provider role in his son’s life- with disastrous results.
Director Derek Cianfrance must have sat down with the actors and told them to channel their previous roles for the characters in this movie. This film could have taken place hours before or after Ryan Gosling portrayed the scorpion in Drive [read that review here] or parallel to the slick politician Avery [played by Bradley Cooper] becoming the chemically enhanced  ambition-beast in Limitless [2011]. We have Ray Liotta (with too little screen time) playing a cross between GoodFellas, his FBI Director in Hannibal and Smokin’ Aces…and whatever other darkness he is known for.

Overall, I love the tension and suspense. The only issue I have is the movie being split in two. There is an obvious moment where you will ask yourself “How can this movie go beyond this point?” and that is where the second act begins. Derek Cianfrace is also credited as writer along with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder. It’s as if they picked a pivotal transition point between lives and made that the middle of this movie. We have the story of a biker bandit and a conscientious cop. Either one would have made a great movie on its own. That’s right; start either story one hour of screen life-time earlier and you have two separate movies really worth watching. Edit them together and you have one okay movie with some really good parts. Ignore the grit, drama, action and tension and you have social commentary of what it might mean to a child if he is left without a strong image of his father to help guide him. Or you can just sit back and watch a few solid actors do a little more of what they’ve already done great.

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The Place Beyond The Pines movie review, Ryan Gosling, Ray Liotta, Bradley Cooper

Movie Review Cloud Atlas (2012)

It’s the power of a song weaving its way through time.

Movie Review Cloud Atlas (2012)

 

“An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.”

 

Cloud Atlas Movie Poster

What you do today will impact what the next you will do in the future.

This formula usually combines several, unrelated characters and joins them together in one crossing point or singular event that impacts every story arc. Cloud Atlas uses a twist from the idea(s) of reincarnation and lets us wonder about how the decisions we make in any one lifetime impacts the fate and fortunes of our future-selves. This is a risky venture. What if you don’t care about certain characters or story lines? What if the tones in any story are too similar or too different? What if the audience disengages, becomes impatient or simply gets lost in the plot or misses the main point?

 

Cloud Atlas does an admirable job in setting up this chain of destiny in a quest for freedom, but stumbles a bit over its own narrative vehicle. We have a tale in the time of slavery, a creative ode to the passions of a composer, the humorous summary of second chances, a corporate whistleblower and a lost tribe from a future regressed. We have the subtext of a universal, profit powered machine that drives man towards a caged existence. It’s slavery, both mental and physical. It’s the loss of your personal freedom to decide, or better yet to discover who and what you really are.

 

Directors Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski channel some of their previous work [Most notable are the Matrix-like scenes that pulled us all in from the trailers] and bring us several versions of an unfolding theme. The problem here, is that many of the sections don’t quite sit right together. We have six separate mini movies [that already have a few moments pulled from other period piece films] and characters playing different versions of themselves across time. Honesty, the bumps in continuity stem more from the [trying a little too hard] makeup than from the actor’s performances. In then end I found myself comparing the motivations and actions of each individual character and making sense of that instead of wondering about any grand message or theme. I felt Could Atlas was worthy of watching, but fell short of my expectations. I’m not a movie critic; I’m just critiquing a movie.

 

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Cloud Atlas movie review, tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Andy Wachowski, hugo weaving

Movie Review Chuck Norris Silent Rage (1982)

“Science created him. Now Chuck Norris must destroy him.”

Movie Review Chuck Norris Silent Rage (1982)

Silent Rage Movie Poster

The Hero and the ‘Silent’ Terror

I remember the older kids arguing who would win in a fight, Chuck Norris or Bruce Lee. The debate would slide back and forth between movie fantasy and real life confrontations. See, Lee movies had some crazy sequences and choreography while Chuck’s were rougher, stiffer but appeared more realistic. And that, to me, is what sets Silent Rage apart from all the other Chuck Norris movies. He’s played a Navy Seal [The Delta Force], a super cop [An Eye for an Eye], a Vietnam P.O.W. [Missing in Action] and a few other tough guys that kick much ass.

He has channeled his Lone Wolf McQuade [1983] into the highly successful television series Walker Texas Ranger that ran from 1993-all the way to 2001 with 196 episodes. I like to think that some of Chuck Norris’ success is based on his persona of bigness while playing regular Joes placed in extraordinary circumstances. It makes sense to follow then -that my favorite Chuck Norris movie is one where he portrays a small town sheriff going up against a chemically-altered, invincible bad guy.

Raging in Silence

 

Michael Miller directs a modern-day [1982] Frankenstein story with a Martial Arts foundation. Several scientists have created a wonder drug that speeds up the healing process and may lead us to the ultimate cure for all sickness and disease. The only problem, beyond the ethical and moral, is that their test subject is the mentally deranged John Kirby [nicely played by Brian Libby]. This movie is what happens when you pit an unstoppable psycho up against, well…Chuck Norris.

Although this movie contains many clichés, tropes and stereo-types, it works for me because the action formula is done well and the fighting sequences are somewhat believable. Silent Rage is a repeating theme throughout this movie, the most obvious reference is the fact that the main villain John Kirby can’t speak. Chuck Norris also plays the ‘silent type’ and says very little throughout the movie. It’s a nice move to have a primarily action-orientated actor, ahem, have few lines while the supporting cast carries the acting load and moves the plot forward or establishes the emotional context. [Remember Conan the Barbarian with Arnold Schwarzenegger for a prime example of this system at work]. We also have long stretches of suspense-building silence while some of our favorite characters are being stalked and hunted. The atmosphere of dread is real and the knot in your stomach is earned from solid writing that builds a scary atmosphere.

Action Scripts

Silent Rage was written by Joseph Fraley and he does a wonderful job in creating a script with some intelligence. Each character is given a chance to define themselves and add a layer of interest. And it’s pretty solid work for an action flick. We have Ron Silver as Dr. Tom Halman (for once- not playing a bad guy) as a scientist with a conscience, Steven Keats as Dr. Phillip “Frankenstein” Spires, the lovely Toni Kalem as the love interest and Stephen Furst as the bumbling sidekick Deputy Charlie. I mention them because they are the glue that holds this movie together. So often with martial arts movies, you have a hard time sitting through the non-fighting scenes. I’m not saying we have GREAT acting moments, but I am saying that each exchange serves a purpose, develops relationships and sets up the next turn.

Silent Rage is taking a tried and true formula and executing it well. The [less fluid and more realistic] Martial Arts style of Chuck Norris is on display in a few different action stages, the directing has a few creative moments where the camera work becomes an additional character…and the small moments of humor are actually funny. What else do you want in an action flick? In an awesome change, the great theme song “Silent Rage” by Peter Bernstein and Mark Goldenberg cues up during the Columbia Logo at the very start of the film and drops in at some key moments to great effect. I love that touch. Norris doesn’t make martial arts movies; he makes action flicks and plays characters that know martial arts. This one has a sci-horror bend and I think it works. Overall, Silent Rage is my favorite Chuck Norris movie. I’m not a movie critic; I’m just critiquing a movie.