Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Case for Dark Stars

As Off-Black put it, Star Trek: Into Darkness is Star Trek 2.2.

Not that this is a bad thing.  There are lots of nods to things that happen in that camp classic (large torpedoes, threats to Galactic peace, a Marcus romance), but the story is quite different and the whole tone is less sit and talk and more action.

This is not a surprise considering J J Abrahms last Star Trek outing.  That was all running and leaping and lens flares:

And Star Trek: Into Darkness is pretty much the same thing, eschewing sense (Trans-galactic transporters?  When travelling at warp, how far away is Earth from the Klingon homeworld again?  And what Klingon fleet threatens the Federation, considering there are apparently no battlecruisers in or near Empire space at all?) for a chance to have things explode and people beat each other to a pulp.

It helps to have a great cast distracting the audience from the nonsense to concentrate on the spectacle.  Chris Pine is still fine as Kirk, but as the film progresses, it becomes Zachary Quinto’s Spock’s show, and that is not a bad thing at all.  The secondary characters get given a little more than the original Uhura, Sulu and Checkov would have had, and Karl Urban continues his amazing DeForest Kelly impression as McCoy, though Simon Pegg’s comic relief Scotty is the real winner as his role is bumped up dramatically.  

Joining the cast is Benedict Cumberbatch, all steely cold blue eyes and menacing angular features as the main villain, Peter Weller as the badest cop in the Starfleet Admiralty, and the incredible curves of Alice Eve as a young weapons specialist who of course has to get her blue miniskirt off to saunter around in minimal black underwear for reasons entirely critical to the plot (I think).

Also back is the Enterprise, all retro chrome 1960s American car on the outside, and looking for the most part like a very sterile TARDIS (where do they fit all those big empty spaces in that little hull?) with terrible lighting (the flares, the flares!) within.  It gets hammered a lot in this film, with pieces blowing up left right and centre though magically avoiding the bridge area, though it could just be that there was damage and I just couldn’t see it due to the poor illumination.  

A brief plot summary then: a terrorist blows up a few Federation facilities, flees to Klingon space (for no rational reason, from his perspective anyway), is captured by Kirk and his crew – and then the plot thickens and lots of things go boom, or get blown out into space.  There seemed to be a few moments inspired from Blade Runner tossed in amongst the mix of “new spin” plot and some scenes that are played almost word for word from the original Trek timeline.  And through it all, the pace doesn’t let up, nor does the action, and nor do the lens flares.

It’s hard to be too picky with this Star Trek as it is just so much fun.  In my head, I have managed to separate this version from the original timeline, seeing it more as a fan fiction Trek and a very accessible one at that.  Not “real” Trek as such, just an interesting and amusing attempt to sexy things up a bit – and judging by the way people are going to this film, it appears to be working.

So it’s a big, no brain actioner film, with barely a moment to pause for breath.  It seems a little sad when Kirk is quietly shunted aside for Spock (Pine is a good boyish Kirk, but I wasn’t convinced by his attempts at depth), but it also seems quite logical too.  Not logical is quite why, as the film nears resolution, one person’s blood becomes so critical when there are over 70 other specimens with similar blood that are much more easily accessible, but the needs of the many (the audience) outweigh the needs of the few (critical thinkers).  And the many, I think, will like this film.

Verdict: Star Trek: Into Darkness is just like the first rebooted Star Trek movie, but more so.  The cast are all around likeable (even Scotty, this time around) and the fact none of it makes any real sense doesn’t get in the way (too much) of the film being a rip roaring good time.  I couldn’t watch it as “real Trek” and be satisfied, but from an action space adventure, it pushes all the right buttons.  8.5 lens flares out of 10.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Case for a Third Iron

Any Iron Man film will have to be awesome if it contains one important thing: Robert Downey Junior.

Iron Man 2 might have been a bit flatter than the first outing, but it was still pretty good.  However, the third Iron Man film is a bounce back to the awesome form of the first, with a decent story backing up Downey’s incredible super powers.

Of course, there is a pretty great cast involved in side kick roles.  Gwenyth Paltrow brings her braid and a-grade steel abdominals and gets a bit more action this time around as Tony Stark’s feisty EA turned girlfriend Pepper Potts, while the baddie boots are filled by the incredible talents of Ben Kingsley (not channelling Gandhi as the menacing Mandarin) and in the big business baddie corner is Guy Pearce, covered in tattoos once again and ready to get his hands dirty.

Back to the story though: Stark is a bit frazzled after his experience with the Avengers (in the awesome Avengers movie, and it’s great that they reference that several times, bringing quite a human perspective to some of the more godlike beings and events that transpired in that film) and so has taken to tinkering, leaving Potts to run the business. 

Soon enough though, a bad guy (the Mandarin) comes to the fore, taking credit for explosions across the US, including one that injures Stark’s ex-bodyguard (Jon Favreau).  This brings Stark out of his shell to try and deal with the threat, bringing him head to head with the Mandarin’s forces while continuing to battle his own internal demons.  

There’s humour and depth and an annoying kid (really, did he have to be that annoying?) and the destruction of a collector’s edition Dora the Explorer watch that never gets replaced (honestly!) and lots of things explode and go bang, including people.  Through it all, Downey is the hypnotic centre, keeping the interest up through thrills, spills and the quiet times in between.

The final fight does border on the ridiculous, and unfortunately it is on the ridiculous side of that border.  I was totally confused as to what level or act of violence could actually kill the enemies, as some seemed to go down relatively simply whilst others seemed to shrug off extremely large explosions.  

However, despite that pugilistic preposterousness, the ending is unbelievably satisfying, moving the story and characters forward, though quite what it means for the next Avengers film I am not entirely sure.  Even the “after the credits” scene, which few of the audience in my screening waited to see, didn’t really give anything away about what Avengers 2 might be about, or the role of Iron Man in it.  It was really funny though and I thought worth the five minute wait through the credits.

Verdict: Iron Man 3 is another great film in the series, Robert Downey Junior making the egotistical super genius Tony Stark incredibly likeable, with lashes of humour and a pinch of vulnerability under the armour.  Supported by a great cast as friends and enemies, and with lots of mostly great effects (by Weta, unsurprisingly), the film is all around fun and totally worth seeing on the big screen.  8.5 Iron Fists out of 10.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Case for Painful Gain

Seeing a Dwayne Johnson / Rock film is always a guilty pleasure.  There is no guarantee that the film will be particularly good, but it will contain a bit of action and some comedy that may or may not be intentional.  Seeing a Mark Wahlberg film is the same kind of deal.

So seeing Pain and Gain, featuring both of these men pumped up to the max as gym junkies, was a completely unknown quantity, assisted by previews that made the film look like an action flick, a comedy film and something a bit serious.

And this may have something to do with the subject matter, as the story itself is based on true life events, but some of the goings on are so extraordinary that one can't help but laugh at them.  It's just a shame that the film doesn't really know how to portray the drama and the comedy as a coherent whole.

Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a personal trainer with big dreams who spots a fast way to riches and enlists the aid of fellow trainer Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and seriously huge and ultra religious and none too bright Paul Doyle (Johnson).  Its easy to see why these characters appealed to the actors - they get the chance to get ripped and have a comedic storyline, but as mentioned, the directing kind of lets the whole idea down with very slow pacing and an uneven tone, with some comedy thrown into some scenes where things are meant to be serious and vice versa.  The characters themselves also don't seem terribly well thought out, with Doyle's religious bent played up incredibly at some stages but kind of ignored when there is no comedic value.

Overall though, the film is okay, saved in part by some fantastic supporting performances from Rebel Wilson (now, she knows comic timing!), Tony Shalhoub and Ed Harris.  Meanwhile, the main guys go through the motions and seem to have an absolute ball, working out and playing in expensive toys and joking around, but only a part of that fun translates to chemistry on screen, no matter how many performance enhancing drugs the characters might be taking.

Verdict:  Pain and Gain is a film that must have been a blast to make, but is less exciting to watch,  Still, it has a mix of comedy and reality that makes the film interesting, and all the actors make a good go of it, but something in the editing or directing just lets it down a little, making it less than the some of its parts.  6 repetitions out of 10.