A few more quickies from movies seen this week. There may be (mild) spoilers in these reviews ….
Star Trek Into Darkness. I’m what you’d call a mid level Trekkie, I guess. I watched the original series when it originally aired. (I had to go down to a neighbor’s apartment in order to watch it in color and I think that’s what finally got my dad to buy a color TV.) An old friend of mine wrote The Trouble With Tribbles (among many other things). I’ve probably watched all those episodes a dozen times each and I’ve watched all the movies too. But I never got hooked on any of the other TV series – and that includes TNG. On the other hand, J.J. Abrams admitted last week on The Daily Show that he used to hate Star Trek, but that he loves it now. (duh)
I like what he’s done here in bringing back the spirit of the original series, the discussion of morals and obligations – because the original series was basically a fancied-up western with lots of pop philosophy. So Abrams pays proper respect here. Thumbs up. And Benedict Cumberbatch makes a great villain – though I would have preferred more time watching him talk instead of watching CGI versions of him doing CGI stunts.
But frankly speaking, once I realized that the whole film was essentially a homage (or rip-off, depending on who you ask) to Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, I started getting numb. Does Abrams stand it on its head? Is it a deconstruction, much like a chef doing molecular cuisine deconstructs a popular dish so that it’s barely recognizable while tasting the same? Is it sacrilege? One thing it is is hopelessly predictable in the second half, which is a letdown considering how it kept me guessing in the first half. Also, the 3D is so unnecessary here that I found myself removing my 3D glasses for long stretches and not missing anything aside from the Chinese subtitles being blurry.
Overall, I suppose it’s a strong enough entry in the series. My gf, who doesn’t remember Wrath of Khan (I’m pretty sure I made her sit through it at some point) completely loved it, even though all the bits that referred back to that movie went right past her.
Side Effects. Speaking of movies that start out as one film and end as a completely different film, there’s this from Steven Soderbergh. He claims it’s his last film (not including his Liberace film, which will air on cable instead of theatrically). If that’s really the case, he’s going out on a high note, quitting at the top of his game.
Soderbergh has always zig zagged between different genres and as this one proceeds, you think it’s going to be an expose of the pharmaceutical industry from the man whose films include Traffic, Contagion and Erin Brockovich. But midway through, it switches gears to become film noir. The plot is complicated and doesn’t entirely make sense, but firm direction, excellent pacing, and a strong cast led by Rooney Mara (who truly establishes herself here), Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones means this is an enjoyable ride.
Jack Reacher. It’s difficult to remember now, but back in the 90s, Tom Cruise turned in one solid performance after another and it always looked as if he was just one film away from finally getting an Oscar. But it seems that in the last decade or so, he’s given up that quest and become a boring action star who can only open a film that has the words Mission and Impossible in the title. I think Oblivion (an expensive live action/CGI remake of Wall-E apparently) tanked.
But I didn’t watch this because of Cruise. I watched it because it was written (adapted from a popular detective series) and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. He wrote The Usual Suspects and wrote and directed The Way of the Gun, a very nasty little film that I truly love. Based on Jack Reacher, it would seem that McQuarrie has also given up.
They try to position Jack Reacher as some sort of mystical all powerful anti-hero when in fact he’s a sad loner who is good at solving crimes but has no human relationships and spends much of the film blabbing on and on about how that’s a good thing.
Because it’s A Tom Cruise Film, at least he can bring in a good supporting cast – and in this case the uber-villain is played by none other than Werner Herzog! Robert Duvall is in it too and Rosamund Pike looks quite nice. But in the end, Jack Reacher is eminently forgettable.
Parker. Since 1998′s Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Jason Statham has turned into the most consistently entertaining B movie action star in western cinema – by that I mean that I don’t recall ever seeing his films open at #1 (or even #5) in the US but I’m sure they’re consistent money earners in home video. Parker seems to be an attempt at moving him to some sort of A list status but it falls short.
Most obviously, it attempts to do this by upping the game on co-stars. Jennifer Lopez gets to remind us that she was quite a decent actress before she turned her thin voice to singing. Nick Nolte, Patti LuPone, Bobby Cannavale and Michael Chiklis also show up – the latter two sadly given roles they could have done in their sleep.
Also along for the ride is director Taylor Hackford. If you don’t recognize the name, he’s the man behind 80s hits An Officer and a Gentleman and Against All Odds. His last good film was the biopic of Ray Charles. This is of a somewhat lesser nature.
It’s really disappointing almost from the start, when in the midst of a robbery Statham starts spouting his philosophy and it’s nothing we haven’t heard in 100 other movies. Why does Hackford allow the film to crawl to a halt for a speech that’s so utterly banal? Meanwhile Lopez is not the love interest in the film, despite what you might think or what the poster might suggest. She’s a rather pathetic loser with very tight abs for a woman of her age – apparently she’s not going to get fully in character if it contrasts with her public image.
Oh well, it’s still entertaining, definitely better than anything Stallone or Willis is churning out these days. But he can do better.
Oh, when we went to see Star Trek at the Shatin UA last night, I saw this poster:
It would be nice to think that HK films are trying to get back to the wild and wacky comedies that were in such great abundance in the 80s and 90s. But I’m not overly optimistic.