Sunday, July 7, 2013

My Summer Movies So Far....

Star Trek Into Darkness


B -

Yes a B minus, which means it's good buuut.  When my friend asked me what I thought of the movie right after the lights went up I almost said I hated it.  So derivative!  All that time, all that money, all the star power and the CGI expense and we get a rehash of a movie that came out in 1982!  And believe me the Wrath of Khan was a lot better.

Seriously I was pretty angry.  I know how JJ Abrams likes to "flip" his characters.  I watched his TV show Fringe throughout its entire run.  We were given doppelgangers from a parallel universe and when that wasn't good enough he took the original characters and deleted their memories, save one.  All to see how they would react when circumstances changed dramatically or just to experiment with them.  It was clever for a while but if you think back on the series, JJ also tested characters existentially by making them near human such as the shape shifters.  It never ended.

Now JJ has the Star Trek Universe to play with and if this last movie is any measure of his work then I think it is time he moved on to the Star Wars franchise and ruin that one for its fans.

See how angry I can get about this movie!

Like I said, I found it woefully derivative.  Just changing what happens to who doesn't make for an original movie or even a clever retelling.  Let's take the dynamic between Khan and Kirk.  The entire original movie was based on the stakes built from the original TV episode, "Space Seed".  What were the stakes between Kirk and Khan for "Into Darkness"?

None.

You may say the death of Admiral Pike.  I say no.  Did Pike die in Kirk's arms?  Was Kirk even there when Pike died?  No.  Spock was.  If Kirk had been there it would have been an ideal time for Kirk to yell out, "Khaaaan!"  Alas, an opportunity missed.  Or better yet bungled.

Let's examine Khan himself.  In the original TV episode and the movie he was the lead villain.

Unmistakeably.

Was he the lead villain for "Into Darkness"?  No he was a puppet.  Marcus was the lead villain (played by Fringe alum, Peter Weller).  Again, the stakes that made the original movie so powerful were completely undercut here.

So why did I give it a B - and not an F?  I'm trying to say positive here!

The cast was great and they do a wonderful job.  The CGI was great and everything looked real.  (Although this movie was not served well by having it in 3D.)  I'm sure everyone worked very hard on this movie.  Wait a minute, didn't Damon Lindelof get a writing credit for this movie?  Lindelof, the man we blame for the end of "Lost" and that mess called "Prometheus".  Maybe we can lay everything at his feet.  No, I'm sticking with JJ.  He's the one that likes to flip his characters.

No doubt when he films the next Star Wars movie he'll have Mark Hamill in full Darth Vader regalia.

So clever!

Man of Steel

B+

A B+ means its good annnnd.   I really liked "Man of Steel".  My wife didn't.  Far too violent for her.  She's a Richard Donner Superman fan.  While fun, that series was pretty tame compared to this.  There was a lot of destruction.  I found it "real world" however.  If multiple indestructible beings are going to war with each other, then damage will be done.  Of course all this damage has a purpose.  It's a set up for the next movie.  If you noticed all the "Lexcorp" or Luthercorp" logos and signage then you'll know this was a low level introduction to Lex Luthor being in the next movie.  One of Luthor's arguments against Superman and or superheroes is they attract as much mayhem as they defend against.  They are a magnet for chaos.

DC comics since its recent reboot has also explored if the world would be a lot better off without superheroes because all they do is attract super villains.  Not a bad argument.

As for Henry Cavil's Superman I thought him quite excellent.  A very human Superman.  And he should be.  He grew up in a world of humans so it only goes to show that he is a victim of his own foibles much as we are.  He's anguished, but not dark.  Pained but not brooding.  (That's Batman's job.)  His romance with Lois Lane feels natural not forced or silly.  She knows his secret and that clears a large hurdle between them.  Their relationship can be built on trust.  Amy Adams excels in this role.  She's smart and confident without being loopy or constantly getting into trouble.

The villains were excellent also.  Michael Shannon's Zod had just the right temperament.  Which is to say, this short of crazy.  If you want to see Shannon's intensity as a primer see, "Take Shelter".  He is that movie.  Antje Traue's Faora has a quiet  homicidal calm about her.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty good reintroduction to Superman.  I did cringe at some of the destruction near the end.  I'd like to think Superman would show restraint and better judgement.  Surely there had to be a better way.  But since this was his first day on the job I guess we can expect little else.

I've spoiled a lot so far but I won't spoil the ending.  It was a human solution.  Judge for yourselves whether that is a good or bad thing.


World War Z


A -

An A minus means this is a pretty excellent movie, just not perfect.  Close though!  This movie succeeded in ratcheting up the tension where Star Trek Into Darkness failed.  You have to have your quiet moments in order to make the big bang moments work.  WWZ was very good at this while JJ's Trek was frenetic and breathless.  

I've heard this movie has nothing to do with the book.  Well, they share the same title and the book was the inspiration for the movie, other than that they don't have too much in common.  Word is that was going to be a big problem for the movie.  Rewrites, cost overruns and re-shoots bedeviled the production.

Maybe they should try that approach more often.

Brad Pitt had a hand in much of the aforementioned and to his credit it didn't damage the movie at all.  Also to his credit was his performance.  Like the Superman character in "Man of Steel", Pitt play a very human protagonist.  He's just a family man trying to get along like the rest of us.  Fortunately for him he has a very special skill set.  He's an organizer/troubleshooter!

In this role Pitt doesn't have to overact.  He doesn't have to rely on his looks or thrust out his jaw in a manly fashion or even twinkle his eyes to get the ladies.  He just has to stay calm, be confident and do his best so he can get back to his family.

I'm thinking Pitt should select more roles like this.  He reminds of Kevin Costner's "Pa Kent" in the Man of Steel movie.  Subdued yet courageous.  Hollywood on the other hand has different plans for Pitt.  Of that I have no doubt.

There is quite of bit of globe trotting in this movie and works to its advantage also.  Desperately racing against a zombie pandemic while hopping around the globe keeps things lively.  Some of the locations are just sets but others like Jerusalem are rich in history and culture, to see them overrun by the zombie infestation is striking in its emotional impact.  You really get a sense this is the end and man's greatest treasures are headed for the dustbin.

But you never get a sense that anyone is giving up and that is good storytelling.  World War Z won't be everyone's cup of tea.  It is a zombie movie after all.  But the violence is just off camera or seen at a distance.  Yes, there is death and destruction but it it isn't a bloody movie.  Certainly not in the sense of "The Walking Dead" let's say.  That show can be down right grisly.  You won't find that in World War Z

The approach here is more mental terror than physical revulsion and in that I can heartily recommend this movie.