Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

I want to begin by saying that I am not a Trekkie. I've seen a handful of episodes from the original series, the 2009 movie, and this one. That's the background I come from as I write this review.

In Star Trek Into Darkness, the crew of the Enterprise searches for a terrorist named John Harrison, who is responsible for blowing up an archive building and assassinating several important Starfleet officers. I don't think I can say more about the plot without giving away too much.

The relationship between Kirk and Spock is interesting and often insightful. They are polarized by their respective beliefs in chaos and order, but they are best friends. This relationship provides many of the philosophical dilemmas of the film as well as most of the witty humor. The struggle between chaos and order was also a major theme in director J. J. Abrams' show Lost.

Evil villains are often stock characters. Common motivations include revenge, insanity, and power. This doesn't happen in Star Trek Into Darkness. The villain is morally ambiguous. I found myself hoping he would win certain fights. Benedict Cumberbatch is so good at being evil that it makes me question his motives as Sherlock in the BBC show of the same name.

It's easy to abuse CGI technology, but I don't think that happens in this movie. The ships, buildings, and planets have a balance of whimsy and realism that makes them beautiful and believable at the same time.

I think this is an excellent science fiction movie for anybody. It requires hardly any prior knowledge of the franchise to enjoy. I hope Star Trek Into Darkness appeals to dedicated Trekkies as well.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Iron Man 3

2008 gave us Iron Man and The Dark Knight, the first in a line of really great superhero movies. They were game changers. So was last year's The Avengers, directed by the magnificent Joss Whedon. It was the first team superhero movie and, amazingly, it didn't feel like it was spread too thin. Iron Man 3 is another solid superhero movie, but it's not going to change the industry.

In Tony Stark's latest adventure, he fights a global terrorist from his past who possesses the technology to rewrite genetic code, giving people the ability to regenerate (and sometimes shoot fire from their mouths!).

The greatest part about this movie is that it contains the secret to all Marvel characters: a human flaw. Iron Man's weakness isn't a space rock or fire; it's anxiety attacks. How awesomely human is that? He's so worried about protecting his girlfriend that it causes him physical pain and often puts him in danger.

Robert Downey Jr. really was born to play this role. I can't imagine anyone else as Tony Stark.

I can promise you that Iron Man 3 has everything you want in an Iron Man movie. Freaking cool suits? Yes. Snappy one-liners? Yes. Epic villains? Way yes. If you like superhero movies at all, you'll probably like Iron Man 3, but don't expect it to change your life.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Great Gatsby

Much has been written about The Great Gatsby, which many consider to be "the great American novel." It's a fantastic book and that is why I'm not going to speak much about the film's story: it's already been covered by everyone else.

The most recent adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, The Great Gatsby, contains all of the novel's major themes. It is a faithful adaptation except for the context in which Nick Carraway narrates it. In the novel, he is merely telling the story to tell the story. In this movie, he is in a sanitarium telling the story to his doctor. Apparently he becomes an alcoholic after the events of the novel. This major detail shifted unnecessary focus onto Nick and could easily have been left out.

Leonardo DiCaprio is superb as Gatsby, especially during the high-tension scene in the rented parlor room. Tobey Maguire's performance could have been better, but it's not distracting.

The greatest thing about this film is that it brings the novel into a new generation. Gatsby's parties are not only extravagant and fancy, but youthfully wild and chaotic. The car chases are amped up with a bit of CGI that adds some excitement to a rather dialogue heavy story. These details make the film more appealing to a younger audience and will hopefully introduce them to one of the greatest pieces of American literature.

The soundtrack, which is modern and not period, is surprisingly appropriate and makes the parties feel cool and dangerous. It will undoubtedly become known as one of the best soundtracks of 2013.

Besides the added details about Nick, I don't have any problems with this movie. If I'm not excited, it's because it's just not the novel.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Warm Bodies

Producer 1: Man, teenagers really love these vampire romance movies.
Producer 2: I know. Know what else they love? Zombies.
Producer 1: Yeah. What about a zombie romance?
Producer 2: I like it!

And so, with a little money from BMW and Corona Extra, Warm Bodies was created. Two young lovers are forbidden from being together ala Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. And if that wasn't obvious enough for the audience, their names are R and Julie, and there's a balcony scene.

I don't think zombie movies need excessive gore to be good, but I'd like to see a little flesh. Colored contacts and mascara do not a zombie make. And what about all those scars on their faces? They must have had those before they got infected, because wounds don't heal on dead people. When the zombies first experience love, their hearts glow. I'm not a doctor, but I'm pretty sure the human heart is not located directly in the center of one's chest.

In this film's universe, I can accept the fact that a zombie learns simple words from spending time with this girl. But that doesn't explain how his zombie-friend, who's hasn't met the girl, learns complete English phrases. At one point, a soldier being stalked by a zombie suddenly forgets how to operate his weapon. No matter how hard I try, I can't think of a plausible way in which these scenarios make sense.

If you're going to make a teen romance with a supernatural creature of any kind, don't hire a lead actress who looks just like Kristen Stewart of Twilight. If you're going to make a movie marketed for teens, don't have them casually drink beer. If you're going to make a comedy, make sure it's actually funny. And if you're going to make a zombie movie, let us see a little blood.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Argo

When a film begins with the words 'based on a true story,' we're  drawn even more into the drama that unfolds. Argo is the true story of six Americans trapped in Iran during the 1980 hostage crisis.  The CIA plans to get them home by giving them fake identities as filmmakers scouting locations for a science-fiction film.

The film's story is fantastically absurd, tense, and genuine. Like fellow Best Picture nominee, Zero Dark Thirty, the protagonist is one of this country's unsung heroes. And honestly, it's not super-patriotic. The hero, Tony Mendez, is not motivated by his love of America or his hatred of Iran. He just wants to get six innocent people home safely.

The acting and casting is perfect. During the credits, photos of the actors and the people they portrayed are viewed side-by-side. The resemblances are uncanny. Alan Arkin and John Goodman, who portray Hollywood players, are hilarious together and break some of the film's tension.

I enjoyed this film because it was about the power of words. My favorite scene was when an American diplomat (pretending to be a filmmaker) tells a group of young Iranian guards the plot of his fake sci-fi movie. The film isn't even real, but he tells the story like he believes in it. Because, really, that's what film is: believing strongly in something that you know isn't real.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Every once in awhile there comes an independent film that is completely stunning. They remind people that good movies can be made without stars. Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of those films. It is set in a place called The Bathtub, south of the levee in Louisiana. The residents of The Bathtub are poor, happy, and strong.

Hushpuppy, a young girl who lives with her father, is an incredibly strong character played by the prodigal Quvenzhan√© Wallis. As her home is lost, she ponders the universe and fights to keep her father and herself safe. Her father, played by Dwight Henry, is aggressive, but does everything to insure Hushpuppy's safety.

This film is filled with images of beautiful destruction. Even covered with detritus, the Louisiana landscape is still beautiful. Not pretty, but beautiful.

This film is inspirational on a few levels. Hushpuppy inspires me to do whatever it takes to protect the things that matter. Quvenzhan√© Wallis is inspiring as a young actress that is more believable than some Hollywood stars (please, God, don't let show business ruin her life). The film itself is an inspiration to all amateur filmmakers.

This film is about what it takes to survive in this world. As humans, that's something we all must do, and that makes Beasts of the Southern Wild universally appealing.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Life of Pi

Life of Pi is another film nominated for Best Picture at this year's Oscars. It tells the story of a young Indian boy whose ship sinks on his way to Canada. It's a survival story unlike any I've seen before. Most survival movies emphasize how a desperate situation can change a person. In Life of Pi, the protagonist is determined to survive without sacrificing his personal values.

Ultimately, this movie is about faith. What better analogy is there for faith than being lost at sea? You're helpless, your fate is uncertain, and you place your trust in what you can't see. The truly beautiful thing about Ang Lee's film is that it's not about a specific religion. As a young boy, Pi tries out several religions and never chooses just one. He is Hindu, Christian, and Muslim all at once. Pi does not see these beliefs as conflicting. "Thank you, Vishnu, for leading me to Christ," he prays.

The casting in this film was particularly spectacular. All three actors that play Pi are believably the same person. The editing is quite inventive, and the computer-generated animals are stunning.

This is one of those films that is so beautiful you could enjoy it without audio. Although it does have strong themes of faith, I'd recommend Life of Pi to people of all beliefs. Even if you don't believe in a higher power, everyone can appreciate a well-told survival story.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I wouldn't call myself a Tolkien aficionado, but I do enjoy The Lord of the Rings. When I first heard about the Hobbit movies, I was skeptical. "Really? Three parts? It's a 300 page children's book!" I can't really say if Peter Jackson made the right decision regarding the overall length of the film trilogy, but I can say that I very much enjoyed An Unexpected Journey.

After his success with The Lord of the Rings, Jackson appears to be using the same strategy for The Hobbit. The New Zealand scenery is beautiful, the costumes are fantastic, and the action is epic.

The Hobbit has so many great themes in it to begin with. There's Bilbo, the reluctant everyday hero, who gives up the safety and comfort of his home for a dangerous, but noble adventure. Everyone must make sacrifices in order to achieve anything. And it's Bilbo, not Gandalf, that the story is really about. The little guy (in both height and importance) becomes the hero.

Although some might find flaws in this film's loyalty to the book, I thought it was an excellent fantasy that maintained the important themes embedded in the book's plot. I'm sure most geeks have already seen this, but I'd recommend it to non-geeks as well. This film in particular is a great introduction to the entire Lord of the Rings series.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

I went to go see Silver Linings Playbook because it's nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture. I had only seen one other film on that list, Django Unchained, and I'm trying to see as many as I can before the Oscars. I'm amazed that more people aren't talking about this movie's cast, cinematography, and script.

This film is about a man being released from a psychiatric hospital after having a violent bi-polar episode. After eight months of rehabilitation, Pat's only goal is to make himself a better person for his wife, whom he hasn't seen since he caught her cheating on him. His ambition is inspiring which only makes his mistakes more tragic.

I would consider this film to be a dark comedy. Many moments had me laughing hysterically, but minutes later I'd be amazed at the intense drama unfolding on screen. The beautiful thing about dark comedies is that, like the protagonist, the high points make the lows even lower.

Every member of the all-star cast delivers a great performance. Bradley Cooper (known for The Hangover) became his character in a way that I never imagined he could. Jennifer Lawrence is stunning and crazy in the best way possible. Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, and Chris Tucker are also believable.

The cinematography is inventive without being distracting. The soundtrack is great and always appropriate for the scene.

I would recommend this film to anyone. It contains some elements of a predictable drama, but it's something different.