Star Trek Into Darkness Review

I’ve never been a Trekkie in any sense of the word. I can’t bring myself to revisit the past movies of Shatner and Nimoy. But with Into Darkness it may have convinced me to give it a go. Star Trek

Directed by JJ Abrams, now a nerd god as Lucas was in the 70s and 80s, the second of the rebooted Star Trek franchise is an elaborate mystery box that slowly reveals itself over its just over 2 hour span. Having claimed the Enterprise as his own, James T Kirk (Chris Pine) and his number 2, Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the crew are under a rouge threat (Benedict Cumberbatch). Kirk struggles with the balance of his natural instincts that repeatedly puts his crew in danger and the logical problem solving that toes the line of the Federation. That’s about all the exposition the marketing gives, so that’ll suffice.

Every actor is on point; they all know who their characters are and there is nothing that they could have done more to portray their grounded personalities. It’s a perfect ensemble which isn’t easily achievable. But there are two definite stand-0uts. Chris Pine as Kirk has a few moments where the real emotion of his attempt to do the best for his crew members are done so subtly but so effectively. His resolve but vulnerability is exact. The other is Benedict Cumberbatch. Every line he delivers is enthralling of emotion and confidence. Just like Heath Ledger’s Joker, you want to see more of him and he keeps you guessing about what his next move will be. He’s excellent.

There are clear call backs for Trekkies; fan service if you will. I appreciated this because even though this is an alternate timeline, they’re still the same characters so their actions would align with their other selves. If that makes sense. The action is clean, well coordinated and readable. The plot keeps raising the stakes putting the characters into situations that test them personally and intellectually. If this is an indication of how the next phase of the Star Wars franchise will turn out so smart with Abrams at the helm, I think all nerds will be pleased.

Clearly a step up from the first and possibly my favorite film of the year so far. With every scene and sequence, I couldn’t help but tell myself repeatedly, “This is sooo goood!” I honestly can’t find any critical faults with any of the essentials that make a great picture. It kept me guessing, kept me engaged, it was funny in the perfect places and serious where it needed to be. Straight up popcorn munching gold!

What did you think? Am I praising it too much? What

The Great Gatsby Review

On my most anticipated list I made a week ago, The Great Gatsby came in at #6; a pretty high number in the context of a stellar looking summer. Did it measure up to my anticipation? Yes! and No. Let me explain.

Great GatsbyBased on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic book that every high schooler was (supposed) to read is the source material of this lavish look of the Roaring Twenties and one tragic mythical figure who symbolized the flapper decade. The title’s namesake (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a mysterious millionaire who throws these extraordinary parties, but remains like Oz behind the curtains as an observer. No one knows or questions his intents of this party, they just care to have a good time. Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves in next to Gatsby, becomes entrenched in the rambunctious lifestyle of New York. He’s taken the interest of Gatsby and is used by him to get to the girl across the water, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), the wife of the rich Tom Buchanan and has a short past with Gatsby. From there the conflict is set: Gatsby is  desperate to take Daisy just as he had before.

Now, I don’t know the source material so I can’t compare to what it was supposed to be, all I know what it is. Director Baz Lurhmann is infamous for his stylized flair, and I’m a fan of it. Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge are favorites of mine for their style and stories. It seemed like he restrained himself of his natural tendencies rather than going fully overboard. This helped and didn’t help it. There are some moments of style, but none that were too over-the-top. The cinematography had shine to it and everyone seemed dressed and make-upped perfectly. But it seemed that the setting was forced, artificial and lacked authenticity; it was merely backdrop for the characters to live in.

As for the performances and how they meshed with the world Lurhmann creates. The characters were unlikable as they should have been because of their choices that we might not have made as an audience. But the way they were portrayed were as fake as the backdrop, except for Gatsby, I feel. Their performances didn’t rise above ones you might find in a theater (where the performances have to be exaggerated) or a daytime soap opera melodrama. On the other hand, DiCaprio had these different sides of his character that he portrayed perfectly. When he was nervous, he was believably nervous. When he was angry, he was believably angry. Bravo.

Lurhmann’s forte is forbidden love, which Gatsby fits in well with the his former efforts. But if you’re familiar with those, you will notice those carbon copies that come off as self rip-offs. But hey, if he’s good at it, why not?

In all, it was a worthwhile movie; it looked great and DiCaprio made it worthy for a watch. It didn’t blow me away, but it didn’t piss me off either. It didn’t evoke the emotion it wanted to, but didn’t leave me feeling hallow when I left the theater either. It’s a middle of the road movie, could have been better and worse at the same time.

Community Finale Rant

Have you ever had a chronic pain like a headache or a soreness that you don’t bother complaining about because 1) no one would really care, 2) it won’t do anything and 3) it might even make it work bringing attention to it? That’s how I’ve felt for the past year or so with the mishandling of the (probably very) last season of my favorite sitcom Community. Now that the season/series is officially over I feel that now I can break my silence and let some frustration out.

Community castI love Community from the first season even until now. It started like any other oddball single camera prime time  show but over the seasons it gained its own distinct voice and personality. The assemble cast was spot-on. Every character had their trademark that made them unique and lovable in their own way. It became meta, self-aware and as creator Dan Harmon says, “had its head up its own ass.” It appealed to the film geek and television nerd. It was a higher and smarter comedy.

Now, I knew that dark days were ahead with the ratings war was going on last season. It was getting crushed by the heavy hitters of The Big Bang Theory over at CBS. And that’s all that matters to networks; ratings are what appeals to advertisers. Without good ratings, there is no show because there will be no funding. So what is NBC’s solution? Cut it in half to save money. Okay… I think the writers can work with half the time, they’re smart. No. There goes the creator, the main brain behind the writing. Dan Harmon is removed from his position and made a “creative consultant.” And if things can’t get any worse, it gets pushed to mid-season. Great. We’ll have Christmas and Thanksgiving episodes in the spring. Perfect. Mishandling on no one’s but the network’s. Pitiful.

It all translated to the quality of the show. It was easy to see. This past season wasn’t the same. How it was before was an interaction between very different characters where everyone was correct in their own right. But now, the dialogue turned to the traditional set-up/punchline rinse and repeat bull that all other sitcoms were great at doing. No. Not Community it’s not like that. It’s not those shows.

Let’s go back to what should have happened in season 4. The set-up of the last episode of season 3 was flawless. The darkest timeline was destroyed. Jeff made the decision to contact his dad; an shadow that hung over him for the entire show. Chang was setting up to take over Greendale for City College. Britta was apparently moving in with Troy, Abed, and Annie (at least that was my impression.) These three things weren’t capitalized on. Jeff’s dad was supposed to be a conman. How great would it have been to have that kind of psychological battle that Jeff wages with himself? It would have made an incredible episode! The whole over-arching season should have had the infiltration of Chang and City College. No. They had to mess around with the idiot “Changnesia” and waste Ken Jeong’s talent on a horrible version of the most maniacal professor/student/officer. Lastly, there could have been another “bottle episode” of the four in the apartment and the differences with guys and girls in their living habits. Would’ve made a simple but brilliant episode.

But I try to critique what a product IS and not what I hoped it could have been. What it is is horrible. Sorry. I had high hopes…maybe they were too high? I don’t know, but the idea of an Inspector Spacetime convention was riveting to me. Had great potential. Squashed by an incompetent writing staff. The puppet episode would have been great to explain why Pierce was cut from the cast (except he showed up in the last episode or two) but I guess the creators couldn’t be inventive.

I don’t know the specifics and logistics behind making a TV show, I’m just a writer, but I’ve seen more clever things coming from this staff before. Anyway, this was just my rant. I’m sorry that Community had to go down in such ugly fashion. At least we’ll have season 1-3 to watch for forever.

The last episodes were passable, I’ll give them that.

#SixSeasonsandaMovie

Iron Man 3 Review

Iron Man 3 falling“I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one.” Not the case in the capstone of the Iron Man trilogy. Tony Stark has always been left to his own devices, but those devices happened to be outstanding technology encased in an indestructible man-shaped casing. In Iron Man 3 his technology is practically stripped away from Stark to answer Capt. America’s question of, “Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?” We are shown who the man behind the suit is, at least a glimpse at the beginning.

Iron Man 3 begins with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) suffering from panic attacks, insomnia, and lack of direction. The events of The Avengers has him in somewhat of a PTSD condition. He’s brought from a place of immortality to one of vulnerability, and he can’t shake it.  When the untraceable and intimidating Mandarin(Ben Kingsley) strikes Stark’s body guard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau)  forces Stark into a position of responsibility to find and kill the villain.

Stop! Now, this is a movie. From here it would put Stark’s brain to the test since these Mandarin strikes cause a mystery that he would need to solve. But this isn’t what Iron Man 3 was truly interested in. Yes, there is some mystery, even though it isn’t too hard to figure out yourself, it becomes wrapped up into back stories and a larger plot than one presented. And I’ll leave it at that to avoid any spoilers. And the surprises are pretty good, if I do say so myself.

My one main “gripe” of the movie is that it gets too caught up in the over-arching plot and not enough in the personal struggles of Stark. Action is good and comedy lightens that mood in the right places. I felt a hole where the drama should have been, and it could have made a more fulfilling emotional experience. They lined up the pieces perfectly in the first act, but didn’t capitalize on it. Too bad.

We’re treated to what we expect from a superhero movie and an Iron Man movie. There is wit beyond measure coming from all sides of conversation, side characters included to liven up the interaction and to keep the audience entertained between the massive action pieces. Speaking of the action sequences, they take the new mechanics of the Iron suits and make them more compelling than ever before.

Downey has Tony Stark down pat by now, and he fills the frame with the charm and sometimes drama of the character. Guy Pearce, who’s a new tech rival,  Aldrich Killian, is devilishly charismatic  in all sense of the word. And again, Ben Kingsley steals every scene he’s in one way or the other. Except for maybe a side character or two, all actors brought their best to the screen.

To sum up, Iron Man 3 is a great way to begin the summer season. A tasteful action appetizer with enough familiar but enough unexpected to keep you engaged throughout the whole 2 hours and some change.

Most Anticipated Summer Movies

As far as I’m concerned, the summer movie season starts NOW! Summer is easily my favorite time of the year for movies because they’re usually huge blockbusters that have massive appeal so talking with others about them is easy. There’s just so much to look forward to this year I had to make a list. But while coming up with a list I couldn’t restrict it to just a top 5 or 10 or even 15. This summer is going to be one to remember. A lot of money for tickets, popcorn and pop will go toward these blockbusters. But I think that we’ll get our bang for our buck because these movies are either sequels that step up from their predecessors, re-envisionings, strong adaptations, or  original ideas that will take us to new and exciting places. Let’s start!

Kick-Ass 21) Kick-Ass 2- August 16

I have been following this movie ever since the release of the original. I’ve bought and read the comics and wishing and watching for the sequel to be announced. Kick-Ass brought a touch of realism, violence and over-the-top fun which sets up the sequel to go above what the first set up. With the addition of comic genius Jim Carey, who is returning to his great character work, it’s sure to entertain and thrill.

2) Man of Steel- June 14

The DC Universe is taking a page out of Batman’s book and approaching Superman with the dark and serious tone that made The Dark Knight trilogy such a cinematic wonder. Which is no surprise since patron saint of comic nerds Christopher Nolan is producing. The draw back is the direction of Zach Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) who has a tendency to go over the top with visuals. Hopefully Nolan’s rein will set this re-envisioning of Superman to the right tone.

3) Only God Forgives- July 19

I think the only way to express why I’m excited for this movie is to watch the trailer. Only God Forgives is director Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow-up to 2011’s Drive with Ryan Gosling starring. The mise-en-scene (meaning the camera angles, colors, tones) is truly what gets me excited to witness this on the big screen.

4) Iron Man 3- May 3 Iron Man 3

Begins tonight and we already have our tickets for tomorrow! Iron Man 3 is the first follow up to The Avengers and is the one to kick off the summer season this weekend. From the look and feel of the marketing, the franchise is going to take a deep dip in tone and seriousness, putting our hero, Tony Stark, into serious danger of a foreign terrorist. It’ll be fast, thrilling, dark, but hopefully funny.

5) Star Trek Into Darkness- May 15

I’ve never been a Trekkie in any sense of the word. But J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot made me a fan of at least the new direction the franchise is taking. The mystery behind the villain, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and plot has me intrigued. No set up needed, just straight to action, adventure and drama. Should be great fun.

The Great Gatsby6) The Great Gatsby- May 10

This movie is this high on my list no thanks to the high school reading assignment because I never did it. But what has me this interested is the director and the star. Baz Lurhmann directed my guilty pleasures Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet. What made those movies great in my eyes was the look, pace and acting that elevated the tone of the movie to a whole other level. The other factor is Leonardo DiCaprio who, in my opinion, is one of the greatest actors of our time. Hopefully this gets him the Oscar attention he deserves.

7) Elysium- August 9

I’ve been hearing about this movie through the grapevine but the trailer is what really won me over. District 9’s director, Neill Blomkamp, is teaming up with Matt Damon and Jodie Foster to deliver this sci-fi epic of class warfare through an action set piece. The big screen is just the right format for such content.

8) After Earth- May 31

I’m an M. Night Shyamalan apologist. I think his self-written movies have compelling premises and suspenseful directing and editing techniques. I just think the public got tired of his plot twists and made a joke out of him because of it. But After Earth, a post-apocalyptic father-son tale, will change his reputation. Starring and partly produced by Will Smith, also starring his son Jaden, gives me faith that it won’t be a rehash of Shyamalan’s formula.

9) The Bling Ring- June 14

Written and directed by Sofia Coppola (Marie Antoinette, Lost in Translation) and starring Emma Watson has me already in my seat. A group of teens obsessed with the Beverly Hills  life go on a robbing spree of celebrity’s houses to live vicariously through them. Sounds good to me!

10) Much Ado About Nothing- June 7

I haven’t seen a trailer or screenshot of this at all. All I know is that it is directed by Joss Wheadon (The Avengers), filmed in 12 days, and takes straight from Shakspeare’s play. Yes please.

Pacific Rim11) Pacific Rim- July 12

Ever since the premise and director was released, the hype was everywhere. Directed by Guillermo del Toro (Hell Boy, Pan’s Labyrinth) Pacific Rim follows the efforts against underwater monster invaders by using giant Robot Jock-like robots to defend all of mankind. In another other director’s hand it would look hokey and like any other action set piece. But del Toro’s monster and robot design and action choreography looks like a fun ride.

12) The World’s End- August 23

The last in Edgar Wright’s “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy,” preceded by Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz is about friends attempting an epic “pub crawl” in an apocalyptic setting. That’s all all I know, but I’m willing to watch.

13) World War Z- June 21

Loosely adapted from the cult hit novel of the same name, World War Z is a zombie movie that takes the genre to the next level. Fans of the source material are skeptical about how close it will be to the novel. Through various reshoots and rewrites, it’s been a long and windy road, but having Brad Pitt on board to star may be the saving grace.

14) The Wolverine- July 26

I’m one of the few fans of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but I know its flaws; especially those amateur CG claws Wolverine has. This new chapter will put our buff and clawed hero back on the right track as he travels to Japan to go under some training. That’s pretty much all I know of the plot and that’s all I need.

Lone Ranger15) The Lone Ranger- July 3

From the same team of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (I don’t count the train wreck that is On Stranger Tides), brings us Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer, who was incredible as both Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, brings us the re-imaginary of The Lone Ranger. I like director Gore Verbinski style and cinematography choice; it makes for a cinematic thrill. The action set pieces and comedy that Depp can bring to the screen should be a sight to behold.

16) Monsters University- June 21

My favorite of all Pixar movies has to be Monsters Inc. It’s charm, humor and concept was the great combination to make a lasting impression. And that’s the only reason I’m remotely excited to see the prequel. Does anyone really know what this movie is about yet? With the exception of the Toy Story movies, Pixar really needs to get off the sequel/prequel trend and make original content once again.

17) Now You See Me- May 31

Robin Hood magicians. If that’s not enough to put you in your seat it’s starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. Cool concept with good actors. Let’s see if it pays off.

18) This is the End- June 12

Okay, I was really excited about the concept of this movie when I first heard of it. Famous actors playing themselves in an apocalyptic episode got me laughing before I heard anything else. Then… the trailer hit the web and my excitement want down. The vulgarity and raw humor put a damper on my enthusiasm. I could pass on this one but I don’t think I will.

And that’s it. After this summer has passed we will have big talking points for the movie industry.

What are you excited for this summer season? Did I miss one?  Let me know in the comments.