•May 17, 2013 • 1 Comment
Contrarians may disagree, but I find Abrams’ first Star Trek to be as strong a “reboot” as we’ve seen in cinematic history. A terrific young cast, a fast-paced origin, and an epic scale led me to believe Star Trek would be a strong contender for the best summer blockbuster franchise moving forward. Abrams’ sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, certainly lives up to the blockbuster status: it’s big, it’s fun, and it’s jam-packed with tense action designed to make you squeeze the cupholder on your armrest until it shatters. However, you can’t help but feel a slight letdown from the first. Nothing sniffs the first ten minutes of its predecessor for majesty and emotion, as this one is bogged down to some degree by a massive plot. Abrams also inserts one too many “references” for Trekkies that make no sense: an extraneous character here, a forced line there. The first entry felt fresh and light, whereas Star Trek Into Darkness strains under the burden of trying to please both non-Trekkies and Trekkies alike, potentially fully satisfying neither in the process. It’s hard to complain about a film that is still an extremely enjoyable diversion in the theater: the actors shine, the set-pieces impress, the effects sparkle. It’s just noticeable that Abrams is trying to include too much plot, too many references, too much that gives the sequel a clutter that its predecessor didn’t have. Dammit, JJ, you’re a director, not a magician.
Continue reading ‘Star Trek Into Darkness: Abrams’ Wrath Is Convoluted But Consistently Fun’
•May 13, 2013 • Leave a Comment
The Great Gatsby:
To steal phrases from its author, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is about careless people who smash up things and creatures and retreat back into their money or their vast carelessness… and about one desperate and lonely fool hellbent on climbing the societal ladder to finally *belong* to something. Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is about spectacular parties, star-crossed lovers, and one romantic fool hellbent on getting back the girl he loves. At times it’s an oversimplification, at others a blatant misinterpretation. I’m all for straying from the source material in order to adapt one work to a new medium, but Baz makes an even stranger choice than straying: he sticks to the source material, but he cherrypicks scenes to back up his romantic misinterpretation, and, most bizarre of all, occasionally cites quotes from the book while giving them a completely different context. DiCaprio is great (teehee) as Gatsby, Elizabeth Debicki shines as Jordan in what few of her moments Baz leaves in the film, and the occasional rare scene strikes just the right tone, such as Gatsby’s late night visit to Nick to see if Nick will agree to invite Daisy to tea. Still, the overall film is a mess tonally, with on-the-nose song cues, horrifically weird racial imagery, and so much frantic editing and shiny imagery that it’s stunning the film is as boring as it is. When this project was announced, I wondered why filmmakers were still trying to make a Gatsby film that works. Now that I’ve seen it, I still wonder.
Continue reading ‘Mini-Reviews: The Great Gatsby, Peeples, Pain & Gain’
•May 13, 2013 • 1 Comment
Few young filmmakers excite me like Jeff Nichols. His newest feature, Mud, is an earnest and immensely likable coming-of-age tale set in the South. Two young teenagers (Tye Sheridan from Tree of Life as the lead) find a boat in a tree on an abandoned island… only to find out the island isn’t so abandoned. A mysterious man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) is squatting in their boat, biding his time until he can be reunited with his love (Reese Witherspoon). Nichols is an outstanding world-builder: much like how Take Shelter expertly crafted the rural Midwest, here you can smell the catfish in the air. Nichols is taking on the basic human instinct to idealize love, its joys and downfalls. At first the depiction of the female characters felt too fickle, but then it becomes clear that the women aren’t poorly drawn– they’re merely human, with emotions that wax and wane, and if a man expects perfection out of love, he’s the fool for clinging to unrealistic expectations. McConaughey has absolutely never been better, Sam Shepard is a welcome presence, and Sheridan anchors the lead nicely. The ending feels a bit too tidy, but perhaps the letdown I feel at the end was inevitable after the first 110 minutes were so masterfully handled. Mud is delightful, a great family film with maturity, heart, and top-drawer craftsmanship.
Continue reading ‘Mini-Reviews: Mud, To The Wonder, Like Someone in Love’
•May 3, 2013 • 3 Comments
The worst thing that can be said about Iron Man 3, the newest cinematic entry into the Marvel Universe, is that it’s almost *too* funny. Shane Black, famed screenwriter and Hollywood go-to for ironic snark, wrote and directed this sequel as if the Christopher Nolan Batman universe had never existed. The trailers seemed to indicate a turn toward grit and darkness, from its foreboding terrorism imagery to its logo complete with light symbolically flickering out. While certain sequences are laced with menace, don’t expect to watch Tony Stark sulking in a corner or coming to grips with his emotions. The cascade of one-liners is never-ending, from heroes, villains, men, women, and children alike. These laughs don’t ever compromise the character development or the chemistry, but if you’re looking for Nolanesque gravitas, you’re destined for disappointment. This is escapist entertainment at its finest: big, bright and exciting, full of gags and twists, aimed with precision directly at those who loved The Avengers.
Continue reading ‘Iron Man 3: Putting the Comic in Comic Book Cinema’
•April 30, 2013 • 1 Comment
“Oblivion is familiar territory, both for Cruise and for the science fiction genre. It unquestionably remains devoted first and foremost to delivering stylish visuals and gorgeous imagery, yet unlike Tron: Legacy’s emptiness, second-time feature director Joseph Kosinski laces the world he’s built with ideas. Granted, we’ve seen these ideas elsewhere, but in an era so hellbent on catering an absence of actual philosophy in its biggest budget studio fare, I found myself grateful that Oblivion didn’t merely find inspiration in plot points from better sci-fi stories, but also in their themes. While many moments will likely provide deja vu, I didn’t find the film derivative in a negative sense, but in a literal sense: the word derive comes from the Latin derivare, to draw off, as if from a stream. Oblivion draws its samples from the best sources available– in a film whose first frame is a memory, it uses its familiarity to us to its advantage. It’s like making a sandwich the way your mom used to make them, achieving sense memory of past pleasures. For a film set in the future and chock to the brim with special effects, it’s surprisingly old-fashioned.”
Continue reading ‘Mini-Reviews: Oblivion, The Company You Keep, GI Joe: Retaliation’
•April 30, 2013 • 1 Comment
Olympus Has Fallen verifies a number of facts about the action genre.
1. Your hero cannot just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There must be something personal for your hero to fight for. The best action films give their hero personal stakes, a fall from grace, to allow him or her to triumphantly rise from the ashes. The opening sequence of Olympus Has Fallen establishes the relationships and the hero’s personal stakes beautifully.
2. Gerard Butler has been wasting his time doing anything other than smart-aleck action heroes. This is the genre in which he belongs. Whenever you watch a terrible Gerard Butler romcom, you wonder why this guy ever gets cast in anything. This is why.
3. Mike Banning is a terrific action hero name.
Continue reading ‘Olympus Has Fallen: Fifteen Facts About The Action Genre’
•April 30, 2013 • 1 Comment
Prediction: Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers will be the best Great Gatsby we see in theaters this year. It’s as if The Great Gatsby, Scarface, and MTV Real World had a baby, and the birth was shot by Terence Malick using Nicolas Winding Refn’s color palate. We watch four bored small-town college girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine) long to escape and get to Spring Break, where everything is perfect. The film opens with a Spring Break montage, phallic beer bottles, giant bare breasts, and shaking asses, all set to pounding dubstep. Their American Dream is a world of excess, an escape from the chains of responsibility, work, or law. While the early parts of the film are enjoyable, especially a chicken shack robbery, Spring Breakers kicks into overdrive when they meet a thug rapper named Alien (James Franco), who proceeds to introduce them to the shady underbelly of what it takes to live and maintain this lifestyle they initially craved. It’s a hypnotic dream of a film, gorgeously shot, daringly structured, that doesn’t fear plunging into surrealism. The girls all do great work, but the real star here is Franco, who gives potentially a career-best performance. Alien plays host to the contradictions of both the American Dream and the hyper-macho male. His “Look at my shit” rant is an instant classic, hilarious and thought-provoking. Here’s the rare film that pleases both my arthouse side and my trashy side. Its balancing act is formidable, and it will likely end up on my list as one of the year’s best films.
Continue reading ‘Mini-Reviews: Spring Breakers and Upstream Color’