Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness


This isn’t as unadulterated a review as you can get but it’s close.  The only Star Trek thing I had seen going into this one was Wrath of Khan.  I haven’t watched any of the other movies or any of the TV shows (except for some famous bits like Kirk battling that alien in the dessert).  I didn’t read any reviews before or after watching Into Darkness either, so without any influence and very little frame of reference here are some thoughts on this sucker.

Let’s break shit down into three main areas: characters, story and production.

First, characters (only some of the mains because there’s a big cast here).  Kirk is kind of a dick in this movie.  Now remember I’m basing this off of limited Star Trek knowledge so I don’t know if that’s just his character.  But this guy doesn’t really listen to anyone, lies on official reports, goes into situations with either no plan or with one that hasn’t been thought out and puts other crew members in unnecessary danger.  In the beginning Bruce Greenwood (Exotica) strips Kirk of his ship and demotes him for some of the shit I listed above and I agreed with him.  Kirk seems like a pretty reckless dude and the opening scene is a good example of this.  The folks aboard the Enterprise were supposed to just observe this primitive civilization on some planet but Kirk ends up stealing their sacred scroll.  Of course the indigenous people chase after him throwing spears trying to kill him.  Why Kirk did that I have no idea.  He put himself and his crew at risk for no apparent reason.  I mean there’s a volcano that’s going to erupt threatening to decimate the planet but I don’t get what one has to do with the other. 

And throughout the whole film it seems like Kirk doesn’t really know what he’s doing.  Any bad situation he gets in he needs to be rescued by someone else (with the exception of the Starfleet Command attack scene) and that doesn’t seem quite right.  I get that Star Trek is about teamwork but this guy bumbles his way through shit and should’ve died a couple of times like the scene where he shoots himself from one spaceship to another or when he meets up with some Klingons.  This character kind of aggravated me.  I didn’t get the sense that he earned his captainship.  It was more like he’s supposed to be the captain because that’s just how the movie goes.  Wasn’t in love with Chris Pine’s performance either. 

By now the secret’s out that Khan is the bad guy so I don’t think there’s the need to put a spoiler alert up.  He’s nowhere near as fun as the original or as memorable.  This Khan is really somber and fairly broody.  The thing is he’s kinda hard to take seriously because he looks so young.  Actually with all of the characters being so young I couldn’t help but think of Muppet Babies or Tiny Toons where even the bad guys are scaled down to a smaller version.  And the major problem with that (especially with villains) is they end up losing all their presence and you don’t respect them very much because they’re a reduced form of what you know this character can and will grow up to be.  In an attempt to compensate for that the filmmakers made Khan a super human.  He can withstand blows, stun shots, spaceship crashes and oxygen free environments.  I don’t remember the original Khan being like this.  Did they totally change this character?  Anyway the guy that plays him, Benedict Cumberbatch (helluva name), is one foul looking motherfucker.  Is it just me or does anyone else think he has a bad looking CGI face?  I know this isn’t a nice thing to harp on but I found Cumberbatch so ugly that it was distracting.

The brightest spot in the cast however is Zachery Quinto as Spock.  He nailed the character.  And from what I was told Spock plays a bigger role in this picture than the last one which is good.  The filmmakers must’ve realized that Quinto is the best they got so it was only natural to give him more screen time. 

There were a couple of other notables like Karl Urban (Dredd) as Bones (Urban does more of a caricature by gritting his teeth all the time and being upset over every decision that everyone else makes), Simon Pegg as Scotty (who surprisingly wasn’t annoying at all and gives one of the better performances) and, even though I mentioned him already, Bruce Greenwood does fine here too.  Lastly I’ll give a brief nod to Peter Weller as Marcus (RoboCop, Dragon Eyes) who also did pretty well in this.  You know, I think I liked him second best after Quinto.

Moving on to the story, I couldn’t follow it.  I don’t know if it’s me and my lack of Star Trek familiarity but nothing was really explained well or at all.  How did Marcus come across Khan?  Why is Khan super human?  Why does Khan want to kill everyone?  What’s the deal with Marcus?  How is Marcus’ daughter involved in all of this?  And there are a million other questions I could ask.  All I got was that Khan is the villain and that Kirk and his crew are the good guys.  Other than that I don’t fuckin’ know what’s going on.

The other thing with the story is that folks were constantly making shit up as they went along.  Is that a Star Trek thing?  I thought the Star Trek universe was supposed to be grounded in rules and logic ‘n’ shit.  But here whenever there’s a problem there’s always some bullshit way out of it or it’s the opposite where someone will pull an obstacle out of their ass that our heroes suddenly need to overcome.  It was a little frustrating.

But setting all of the shit aside that I’ve talked about already, the thing that probably bothered me the most was how this film was shot.  The camera is constantly moving, lights are being shined into the camera in at least half the shots, everything is so bright, glowy and shiny, and almost every shot had some sort of CGI effect in it.  Ok fine that last one is a little nitpicky considering everything has CGI in it these days.  But the rest of that shit was so fucking irritating to sit through.  J.J., buddy you gotta put the goddamn camera down for a minute and cut way back on the lens flare.  It’s like the movie was shot through a filter of the sun.  If there was more restraint shown in the cinematography I really think I would’ve enjoyed this more.  It’s difficult to accept a picture when it’s physically demanding on the eyes.


Here’s some other miscellaneous shit I noticed:     
  • There’s a lot of Earth in this.  Like a lot of scenes take place on Earth.  I thought Star Trek was supposed to be set almost entirely in outer space.

  • Did anyone else think it was funny when Bruce Greenwood sits down in the bar decked out in his futuristic Starfleet uniform while everything else in that scene looks like it’s regular modern day including Kirk dressed in his bad boy leather jacket?

  • It seemed out of character when Spock loses it at the end and wails on Khan.  The rest of the movie he’s thoughtful and reserved.  Maybe the filmmakers thought it would be cool to see Spock go crazy for a minute?  Well it felt out of place to me.

  • (Semi-spoiler on this last bullet point) The main idea of Into Darkness is that it’s supposed to rhyme with Wrath of Khan.  Once I picked up on that I didn’t think they were going to go as far as having Kirk yell the famous “Khaaaaan!” line.  And they didn’t.  They had Spock do it instead.  Was I the only person that laughed out loud when that happened?

Alright, that’s enough of this shit.  To plainly and briefly sum up I thought this was pretty awful.  I had heard good things about the prebootquel so I didn’t go in looking for excuses to dislike Into Darkness.  In fact it was the opposite.  For a long while I was looking for shit to get invested in or to at least think was cool in some way or another.  But from the get go everything is kind of annoying and doesn’t make a lot of sense.  The plot is messy and shoehorned so it can line up with Wrath of Khan, Kirk doesn’t come off all that heroic and the camera moves relentlessly into and out of lights that are being shined directly in your face.  But Spock was cool.

One last addendum: as an outsider looking in this is not getting me on board with Star Trek.  Maybe this was made more for the diehard fans (actually, I’m pretty sure those are the only kind).  I know that The Next Generation TV show is supposed to be the best Star Trek shit out there and from what I gather it’s very unlike Into Darkness which is a schlocky big budget summer blockbuster action flick.  So it’ll be interesting to see what kind of reaction this one gets.   

Ok the absolute last addendum, I promise: not that I was terribly excited for the new Star Wars movie to begin with but now I have no faith that Abrams will craft something even halfway decent.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Searching for Sugar Man


Not sure where to begin with this one.  I’ve been meaning to check out Sugar Man since it came out and then when it won best doc at the Oscars I made it a higher priority.  Turns out it’s just ok.

So the film focuses on this 70’s singer songwriter from Detroit called Rodriguez.  He made a couple of records but they went completely unnoticed in the States.  In South Africa though he caught on like wildfire selling half a million.  The thing is Rodriguez never knew about this until almost thirty years later.

What’s disappointing is that there isn’t a whole lot to the story.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a sweet tale of getting due credit and recognition.  And Rodriguez himself seems like a real nice and humble guy.  It’s just that there isn’t a lot of meat on the bone.  The guy put out some albums, they went nowhere, but today they’re hailed as forgotten masterpieces and that’s pretty much it.  No real twists and turns.  And Rodriguez is just a regular dude, not an eccentric or flamboyant character.

I thought the whole movie was going to be about trying to find this guy but that manhunt wrapped in the late 90’s when one of his daughters told folks where he was (still living in Detroit).  So this is all a recap doc and not an investigative one.  It seemed like things were going to get interesting when the filmmakers confronted the owner of the label Rodriguez was on.  Rodriguez saw very little, if any, royalties so I thought this was going to be a scandal and there was going to be a lot more to this story but the royalties angle goes nowhere.  I mean the searching part of Searching for Sugar Man is actually a fairly small portion of the whole picture.  It feels like more time is spent on his comeback and first visit to South Africa.

Now I want to make it clear that I’m not belittling Rodriguez or his fame in any part of the world.  It’s a cool story; it’s just not a very interesting cool story.  It doesn’t leave you thinking about it afterwards. 

What’s really strange is that this won an Oscar for best doc.  The other films it was going up against were about real serious shit like rape in the military, AIDS, Israeli counterterrorism and the West Bank.  I know the Academy is all politics but I wonder what the thought behind giving this category to Sugar Man was.  It kinda bugs me that The Central Park Five wasn’t even nominated and it’s a more well-crafted doc as well as a more important story to tell than Sugar Man

If you’re into late 60’s/early 70’s folk rock then you might enjoy this more than I did.  There are a lot of breaks where you’re just listening to Rodriguez’s music in here.  And the music has a lot to do with how you’ll view this picture.  I thought the songs were just ok and nothing particularly special so I didn’t care that much that this artist got lost in the shuffle.  If you’re like the folks in the film that absolutely love the tracks (they suck his dick really hard, calling him better than Dylan and say shit like he’s the best/most memorable artist they’ve ever encountered, etc.) then you’ll probably be into the mythology of Rodriguez and the poetic, philosophical lyrics he sings.           

You know, I wonder if the Sugar Man is really Bob Sugar from the Jerry Maguire movie.  They should make a sequel all about that guy.  I would see it, Jerry Maguire II: Sugarland.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bug


Billy Friedkin directs this really wild and beautiful looking film.  When things start to escalate about half way through shit gets very out of hand.  Eventually we end up in an aluminum foil covered room with the only light source being bug zappers and our main characters are rambling incoherently about who the fuck knows what.

It can be a little goofy at times but always fun.  I think the less said the better.  Very cool and pretty out there.  Check it out.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Killer Joe


Chris (Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild)) owes money to a gangster dude and decides to raise the dough by bumping off his mother and collecting the insurance.  The problem is he doesn’t want to do the deed himself so he hires Dallas detective, and part time hitman, Joe (Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike)).  There’s a snag though, Joe requires his money up front and of course Chris doesn’t have any.  Joe ends up taking Chris’ sister, Dottie (Juno Temple (The Dark Knight Rises)), as a retainer until the job is completed.

The set up didn’t sound very intriguing to me but I wanted to check this picture out because William Friedkin (To Live and Die in L.A., Jade) directed it and he doesn’t do a lot of that these days.  At first I was disappointed.  Nothing particularly interesting happens for a long time and the film is shot pretty plainly.  But then in the last twenty minutes or so the whole thing goes off the fucking rails.  Joe gets very upset when he learns the folks that hired him are trying to scam him out of his pay.  The ending kinda comes out of nowhere too.  It didn’t feel like the movie was building towards anything so crazy or violent.  But I guess it works because of that very point?  I’m not sure.

The performances in this thing are really goddamn good.  Gina Gershon (Showgirls, Face/Off) is the best I’ve seen her as a white trash big mouthed broad.  Like, I saw the character and not her for once.  Thomas Haden Church (Spider-Man 3) is real good as Gina’s dim witted husband.  He seems to play dumb yet very likeable guys well (you know, Sideways ‘n’ shit) and this is one more under his belt.  Emile Hirsch does fine but not as well as Juno Temple.  Dottie is a teenager (I think) but has the mental capacity of someone who’s twelve and what I like about Temple’s performance is that she doesn’t go too far with the childish shit.  She’s very believable in the role.  She’s slow with some things but knows exactly what’s going on with this contract killer thing.  It would’ve been so easy (and wrong) to have this character be completely clueless and miscalculate her mental operating level.  Plus Temple does a damn good southern fried accent.  I had no idea she was British until after the fact.

McConaughey is the star here though.  For the first three quarters of the movie he’s his usual bland self, much more reserved and plotting but still nothing noteworthy.  It’s that last twenty minutes where he turns it on and shows what this character (as well as he) is really made of.  I haven’t seen the guy in much but this has got to be up there for him as one of his best performances, if not his best.  I never forgot it was Matthew McConaughey but I certainly got into what he was doing.  It was more like, holy shit Matt’s fuckin’ flipped; did he just choke a bitch?  The attitude is well balanced though.  He’s wild enough that you take him seriously but he doesn’t lose too much of that laid back delivery that it feels forced.

If you’ve heard anything about this picture it’s the infamous fried chicken leg blowjob scene.  It’s also the best.  Everything is almost at its peak, the actors, the story, the tension, etc.  And because you’re still building some steam and waiting for the top to blow it makes this scene even more potent.  If this were the climax of the film it would be really strange but also a bit of a letdown because you don’t want to believe that Gina Gershon is sucking that leg for nothing.  You want something to come out of the incident which, thankfully, does happen.

This was based on a play of the same name and I can see the idea working better in that context.  Friedkin tried to make it as screen friendly as he could by changing locations frequently and rotating characters in and out often.  The problem is he forces it sometimes.  Like in the beginning when Hirsch and Church are talking about hiring Joe they start out in a trailer, then go to multiple locations in a strip club and finally end in a car.  It didn’t really seem necessary to keep switching locations for this one conversation.  However, I do appreciate that Friedkin was trying to prevent the audience from being bored. 

The more I think about this one the more I like it.  It’s a slow burn, which frustrates me most of the time when I come across it, but there’s a lot to like here.  The performances are top notch, the story is engaging enough, it’s shot competently and rather excellently towards the end, the twists don’t gouge you in the ribs like most of these types of pictures and I really like that they leave you with a cliffhanger.  And it’s not like the filmmakers just forgot to resolve shit or they hint at a sequel or something.  This is full blown where things are at their craziest and they’re about to have some sort of conclusion when the credits roll.  Now I don’t know if it’s because it’s hard to pull off or just no one does it but you don’t see that very often.  This is a Pusher (any of ‘em) worthy ending that had me sit up in my chair and say to the TV “What the fuck?  I can’t believe you’re stopping now.”  Alright Friedkin you got me.  You played me like a fuckin’ fiddle.  Goddammit, that one last monkey wrench you threw in there before you decided to call it quits was really effective.  If we ever meet lunch is on me, K Fry C. 

There’s also another reason why I’m still thinking about this movie.  I’m kinda fascinated by the sudden eruption of badassness at the end.  It shouldn’t work.  It should feel tacked on and out of place but somehow it seems fitting.  I was totally on board with this rapid change of tone and style that would normally irritate me and I can’t quite figure out why.

So I guess I recommend it.  This is not for everyone though.  You need to have patience and a tolerance for the zany ending.  But if you decide to check it out I think you’ll dig it when it’s all said and done.