The Hunger Games Review
Director – Gary Ross
Cast – Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Amandla Stenberg
Based on the best-selling young adult novel by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is set in a slightly dystopian future, where all twelve “districts” of a future nation (implied to be America) are required to sacrifice two “tributes” each year to fight in a televised fight-to-the-death. The tributes are to be between the ages of 12 and 18. The winner’s district apparently receives extra food, though I was a bit blurry on this point. Tributes are lauded and celebrated as celebrities, the survivor more so. They are built up in the public eye through media events, they seek sponsors, and train for a brief period of time before set loose in a large forest. The forest’s edges are cordoned off, and a laser-like dome/grid covers the whole area, as the Game Master monitors (and occasionally interferes with) the game. The main characters, Katniss (female) and Peta (male), are from a poor district. While Katniss is an excellent shot with a bow and has good survival skills, Peta is without a doubt in over his head. It was good to see that reversal of the usual gender dynamics.
I must admit that the tributes age took me aback a little, once they, you know, started slicing at each other with swords. Even within the group, it was a little bit disturbing to see a large, muscular 18-year-old hacking away at a young nerdy looking kid. Nothing was explicit, to be sure, but perhaps that makes it worse. It was very effective, which was good… I guess. It would have been easier if I could accept the premise that a society would both permit and even flock to such a gruesome spectacle. The vague explanation about “keeping the border districts in line” just didn’t really fly with me… I think as a younger person it would have gone down easier, they would accept the premise quicker. Seeing people your own age get cut down has a different effect. That’s something of a youthful fantasy as well, finding yourself alone against the odds, fighting to the death. Those questions didn’t quite leave the back of my mind, but the movie is not really aimed at me. It is targeted at teens who have read the Hunger Games trilogy. They will get more from it.
All this is not to say that the movie is not solid. It is very well made, and even has some sly little things to say about celebrity, pop culture, and reality TV. The beginning is especially engrossing, but once we reach the capital city to be prepped for the games, the movies start to drag slightly.
The final third of the movie consists of the game itself, and drags a bit as well. When action scenes do happen though, they are brutal and merciless, if a bit too “shaky-cam”. These kids mean to kill, and they are as brutal as the society that forces them to. I just wish that perhaps the movie had been as brutal with the targets of its satire. I love it when reality TV gets a little poke!
The Hunger Games is a solid and respectful film. It is a bit too long, but is impressive when it counts, and is anchored by excellent performances, both from the younger ones (like Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson) and the veterans (Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland, etc.). Tucci looks like he is having a ball here, and I have yet to see Woody Harrelson give a bad performance. He’s a joy to watch.
So, while readers of the books may get a bit more out of it, this is a solid movie that is rightfully managing to attract a large audience. Certainly worth your time, but don’t be expecting anything revolutionary. Just sit back and enjoy.
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John Carter Review
Review # 146
Director – Andrew Stanton
Cast – Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Cirian Hinds, Thomas Haden Church, Dominic West, James Purefoy
After Brad Bird’s excellent Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the bar was set for Andrew Stanton. Another prominent Pixar director who was making the switch to live action, Stanton had found success with his Finding Nemo and Wall-E, two little films you just may have heard of. His entry to the live action realm is John Carter, an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic sci-fi book A Princess of Mars. Featuring a Civil War veteran mysteriously transported to Mars, the book is a widely loved and admired piece of work. It is a pity that the movie is set to be anything but. Critics have been lukewarm at best towards it, and it has been savaged by the industry for its alleged massive budget. I doesn’t look to be gaining much of it back, either. Even comparisons to Ishtar have been made. Ouch.
Maybe the whole situation was just made worse by Bird’s excellent film preceding this by mere months. It built up expectations that in the end just couldn’t pay off. While Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was witty, fast, and delivered exactly what it promised, John Carter is dry, derivative, and dull. Very, very dull.
The key issue is the writing, frankly. It’s expositional, stiff, and all about plot. We can’t get good characterization if every line is “We must get over there!”, or “The good guys have the blue flag, the bad guys the red!”. Several different Mars factions are shown, from humanoids to 9-feet tall four armed aliens. None of their motivations are extremely clear. Mark Strong heads one group, so they must be the bad guys. Poor Mark Strong, you do something well and that’s all they’ll hire you to do…
It doesn’t help that Taylor Kitcsh is miscast as the titular character, and growls out every line as if imitating Christian Bale’s Batman voice. “I am JOHN CARTER!” The strange voices aren’t limited to him though; Lilly Collins has an affected British accent that comes and goes with every other line. James Purefoy and Dominic West come out unscathed, as do the special effects team. In fact the special effects are excellent. The production design and the effects are without a doubt the best thing in the movie. The 3D is pointless though. Even Stanton has said he didn’t really want it or like it.
John Carter is dull, muddled, and at least half an hour too long. Characterization is flat and uninteresting, and while it does have a couple laughs and half way interesting moments (the sequence near the beginning where John is repeatedly arrested is a sign of where the movie could have gone), the rest of the movie is dry as dust. Not recommended for any but sci-fi addicts.
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Review # 142
Director – Josh Trank
Cast – Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw
Chronicle has in its story the embodiment of all our teenage desires. Who as a teen did not dream of being able to fly, or of wowing their classmates with telekinetic abilities? Come on, you know you did.
The three high schoolers of Chronicle contract their powers after investigating a mysterious hole in the middle of the woods. At the bottom is a glowing blue something; we never find out what exactly it is (and don’t need to frankly), but the next thing our trio knows is that, using their minds, they can manipulate Lego blocks in mid-air, move cars around in parking lots, and throw wicked curveballs. It starts off as innocently as that. These are teens after all, normal teens, with all the annoying traits you would associate with them. They are uncertain of their place in the world, and they are emotional. They just happen to have the ability to do move objects with their minds, and they react accordingly.
The main character of the three, Andrew, is a quiet loner who likes playing with cameras. It is mainly through his camera that we see the events of Chronicle unfold. His father is a drunk who beats him, and his mother is dying. He is not a happy child. The second, Matt, is his cousin. He is a bit more “normal”, and in a neat switch, ends up being the protagonist in the third act. The last one in the group is “the popular guy”, Steve, a nice kid who can be a bit of an arrogant jock. These kids would not normally be friends, this is made clear to us. But experience can bond people together, and these three soon find themselves spending most of their time together. Who else would you hang out with but the only two other people on Earth who can fly? Who else could you throw a football around with at 5,000 feet?
The strength of the movie (and it’s point really) is its demonstration of the old adage, “Power corrupts”. It does this fairly well, although its way of showing one of the characters “go bad” can be too on-the-nose. Some lines seem ripped out of all those movies where the bad guy says something along the lines of “Humans are an inferior species. You wouldn’t worry about killing a bug, would you?” Don’t all super villains use that line? And I will never forgive the use of the line “I am the apex predator!”
In the end Chronicle’s story is not that new (hell, add a light saber and it is the Star Wars prequel trilogy squished down to 90 minutes), but the point is the way the story is told. It is the writing that is the star here, it is truly fantastic. The characters are all fully realized and fleshed out, and the teens act like teens. They don’t spout one-liners or incessantly quote pop culture. This is not the O.C., and we can thank God for that.
The found footage style can be very immersive, and has worked excellently in movies like Cloverfield and REC. It is used to good effect here in general, but I must say the concept feels forced at times. The problem with found footage is that there must be a good reason for there to be a camera present. This is stretched to the limit a couple of times, mainly with the character of Matt’s girlfriend. We can accept a loner like Andrew always carrying a camera around with him. There is even a nice speculative line near the beginning that the reason for the camera is that it keeps him at a distance from events. But to add another character, a good-looking sociable girl, who also randomly tapes everything “for her blog” feels forced. It doesn’t ruin the movie, but it is dangerous.
Chronicle is an involving movie with extraordinary writing. The characters are fully formed, and while the story may not be that new, the style feels so new that we don’t mind. Max Landis, who wrote the movie and is Blues Brothers director John Landis’ son, is a great new talent to keep an eye on. Easily recommended.
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The Fifth Element Review
Director – Luc Besson
Cast – Milla Jovavich, Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Charlie Creed-Miles, Brion James, Tom Lister
To call The Fifth Element a roller coaster ride would be like calling Albert Einstein a math nerd; true, but a bit of an under statement. Directed and co-written by French action director Luc Besson, it is a reckless and bold movie that, while it may not hit all the heights it wants to, comes damn close. It is energetic and vibrant, and just whips by.
The titular element is personified in Jovavich’s character, Leloo, an orange haired, seemingly childish “supreme being”. Leloo could have easily been a generic action chick character, but Jovavich gives her a wonderful sense of immaturity,innocence, and novelty; a feat she has yet to accomplish with her current roles, it seems.
Leloo is the key to an ultimate weapon, needed to defeat a strange glowing energy orb-thing that has materialized out of nowhere in the middle of space. One of the movie’s failings is that it’s a bit vague about all this… but by the time you have thought of this you are whisked away somewhere else, and have no time to dwell on it. She finds herself in the strange world of the 23rd century, and runs into cab driver, played by Willis, who helps her, well, defeat the bad guys. It’s that simple really. Simplicity is fine here, even welcomed, because while the story structure is bare bones, the world design here is fantastic. If ever a movie begged for a sequel, this is it; I’d love to see this world opened up more. Not that The Fifth Element fails to satisfy us, or that it confuses us with its myriad details and oddities, not at all. It just left me wanting more, and in a good way. This is a hell of a universe.
It is a joy watching the cast here. They are all having fun, and never over think anything. And what a cast! Ian Holms as a befuddled and over-anxious priest, Bruce Willis as a tough cab driver (maybe not a big stretch for him here), Jovavich bring wonderful life to a potentially dry character, and Gary Oldman as a Texan/space weirdo/industrialist. Oh, Gary Oldman… I had seen pictures of his character before, and wrote it off immediately as just being too weird, but Oldman had me in stitches throughout the whole thing. It’s a gorgeous bit of acting.
And then there’s Chris Tucker… Mr. Tucker features as a none-more-flamboyant radio DJ, who tags along with Willis in the second half, narrating the action filled events live to his listeners. I still don’t know if I despise this character or if I can put up with him… It will take a few re-viewings to decide I think. But I don’t think I blame people for putting him on “Top 10 Annoying Sidekick” lists. You can’t really argue with that.
The Fifth Element is brash, energy filled, and psychedelic. The cast has just the right amount of fun, and the art direction and even the CGI is wonderful. The third act may turn a bit generic, but we barely have time to notice. This movie is fun, to put it curtly. Pure fun.
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Source Code Review
Director – Duncan Jones
Cast – Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Fermiga, Michelle Monaghan, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden, Russel Peters
Source Code is the second film from Moon director (and son of David Bowie), Duncan Jones. The idea at the core of the movie is that Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) must repeatedly relive the eight minutes prior to a train bombing in order to deduce the culprit.
It’s a great idea, but I never felt it living up to its premise, and while it may be a bit unfair to judge a movie on the heights it fails to hit, we can’t help but think of how much better the movie could have been.
The movie is really a murder mystery at heart. The victims are the train passengers, the train is the island or snowbound inn of countless armchair mysteries, and the murderer must be one of the people on the train. Colter of course, is our Poroit. Agatha Christie would be proud. But what is the main rule of a murder mystery? It seems to me that is that you solve the crime at the end of the story. Source Code solves the crime far too soon, not too long after the half way point, and then moves on to a far less involving plot. This just plain doesn’t work.
Now, Stevens must try to stop the bomb exploding in the first place, despite the fact that he is repeatedly told that the mechanism which allows him to relive these events is essentially just a simulation that has no effect on real life. He insists on trying anyway, and with the illicit help of Vera Farmiga’s military character, he goes back in to save the life of all the passengers of the train. Especially the life of the hot brunette who sat across the aisle, who he apparently he has fallen in love with. The brunette with whom he has no past, no relationship, and has exchanged maybe 50 words with. Structured this way, the movie comes across as two episodes of a TV show just glued together. And the second half is nowhere near as good as the first.
Which brings us to the ending… an absolute cop-out of an ending that leaves us wanting more (in a bad way). Worse than just being a cop-out, it seems to break the rules already established previously. It just casually smashes them, and treats it like a plot twist. But a plot twist must come out of the rules already established. To go back to the murder mystery reference again, we must have been able to, if we are smart enough, figure out the ending with all the information provided; but here we had already been told (well, essentially) that the ending we get was impossible. It just felt like cheating to me.
Well, enough of the bad stuff. It cannot be argued that the actors here are all excellent, with Gyllenhaal demonstrating great leading man chops, and Farmiga once again showing us what an under valued actress she is. The true standout though is Jeffrey Wright. To those who have only really seen him in the Bond series (including me, unfortunately), his great performance as somewhat of a mad scientist will come as a shock, he really is wonderful.
Source Code is frustratingly uneven; frustrating because the first half is really good. The central idea is so strong, and filled with such promise, that it strikes me as strange that the plot line should be solved just after the half way point, to be followed by a series of much weaker events. Slack characterization and development mean we don’t care about the ensuing romantic side plot, leaving the ending lackluster and anti-climactic. The first half is great though, so that leaves the movie with a half score, 2.5 out of 5.
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Director – Terry Gilliam
Cast – Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Robert de Niro, Katherine Helmond, Bob Hoskins, Ian Holms, Jim Broadbent
I had always heard of Brazil as one of Terry Gilliam’s better films and a definite cult movie. I love dystopian sci-fi like Children of Men and 1984, and while I didn’t know Gilliam very well, I recently purchased a box set of his movies and I look forward to exploring even more of this divisive film-makers work. Brazil was, I think, my first Gilliam movie to watch all the way through, and boy was I off to a good start.
Brazil is a dystopian movie, but it has a wonderful dose of charm and quirk that I understand is Gilliam’s trademark. While it is dark and gloomy from a visual standpoint, it clips along at a lovely pace, and has a great set piece or two sprinkled in there as well, interspersed with some wonderful acting from Jonathan Pryce, the ever reliable Ian Holms, and specifically Michael Palin.
We follow Sam Lowry, played by Jonathan Pryce (a great actor who also appears in movies as varied Evita, Tomorrow Never Dies, and the Pirates of the Caribbean series) as he maneuvers his way through life in a dystopian future. He dreams often of a specific girl, and he finally finds her only to realize she may be associated with a terrorist group. The movie mainly concerns itself with Lowry’s journey towards and with this fantasy woman, as he fights the ridiculous, suppressive, and ineffective bureaucracy that turns its citizens into soulless machines.
Having since watched a few of his other movies, I think I have found that Gilliam often has a problem with keeping a story coherent and focused, and frankly there is a bit of that here. However it is not as prominent in, say, The Brothers Grimm or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. And really there is a lot of charm (damn I’m overusing that word, sorry) in Gilliam’s helter skelter method. It comes across much like your grandfather when he rambles on and on with some story. Except, how cool would it be to have your grandpa talk about dystopian societies with vivid dream sequences and on-the-nose social satire? Brazil cool, that’s how cool.
Brazil is Gilliam at his best. The satire of the movie is great, and the imagination on display greatly rewards repeat viewings. This is the kind of movie that isn’t for everyone, but should be. Highly recommended. Oh! And this movie is where that Wall-E music comes from!
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Director – James Cameron
Cast – Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Lance Henrikson, William Hope, Paul Reiser
– follows Alien
– followed by Alien 3
Ridley Scott’s Alien is regarded (rightly so, in my opinion), as one of the greatest science fiction and horror films. With a mix of suspense and scares, it successfully blended genres in a way not always succesful in other films. James Cameron, fresh off of the success of The Terminator, directed the sequel, Aliens, and he came up with quite a movie indeed.
While Alien went with the suspense angle, Aliens tells a similar story except in a more action/thriller vein. The “space truckers” from the first movie are here replaced with Marines, and where Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) in the first movie was forced to use her wits and whatever tools at hand to defeat a “zenomorph” alien, here she has a squad of men armed with flamethrowers, machine guns, and futuristic vehicles to fight a whole hive of them. Hijinks ensue.
Aliens is well paced, with each scene having a distinct purpose. It ticks along like clockwork, scarcely missing a beat. In fact, if I was to have any complaint, it is that it is, in fact too “clock-worky”. There isn’t as much time given for suspense as I would have liked, but this criticism treads dangerously close to the fallacy of comparing two films who were essentially of two different genres.
The main character of Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, is one tough cookie, and is often credited as pretty much the first female action hero. In fact Weaver herself referred to Ripley in this film as “Rambolina”. But Cameron takes care not to just whitewash her as another McClane or Rambo. She is given a heart and a personality. Note the way she reacts to being told her child is dead, the way she dislikes the gung-ho idiots among the Marines, the way she becomes a sort of surrogate mother to an abandoned child. We are fully convinced of her personality, which makes the “Get your hands off her, you bitch!” moments all the more thrilling to see.
It would be amiss to not mention the way Cameron treats the military in this movie though, and really, in all his movies. They are all either harsh and butch, or cocky and whiny, and either way they’re annoying as hell. It got to the point where I almost wanted to fast-forward through scenes where they were talking etc. From Aliens to The Abyss to Avatar, he may as well have copy and pasted his military characters. It is essentially a pre-teens fantasy of gun-toting he-men. I would have liked a more professional, grounded look at the men, but I guess I mustn’t quibble.
Aliens is an excellent action movie, that combines scares and thrills in a great way. The characters are well fleshed out (saving the army dudes), and Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is iconic. The movie will carry you on a ride which you won’t mind going on again and again. Highly recommended.
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Planet of the Apes REVIEW
Director – Franklin J. Schaffner
Cast – Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, Linda Harrison, James Daly, Robert Gunner, Jeff Burton
– followed by Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Planet of the Apes is based on a book by Pierre Boulle, who is also famous for writing The Bridge Over the River Kwai. It is about an astronaut in the future who crash-lands with two comrades on a planet where apes are the dominant species. Here, humans are stunted and stupid, and can easily be hunted by the apes.
Charlton Heston as Taylor (the lead role) is quite cocky, even arrogant as the movie opens. His companions, Landon and Dodge, are more reserved. I would have liked to see a bit more of them in the movie, but we see enough of them that when certain developments occur we feel the necessary impact.
Taylor’s character arc through the movie really propels it along marvelously. When he is captured by Apes he is really defeated, but when he realizes a couple of Apes do not “tow the party line” (that humans are inferior and are to be treated as such), he grasps onto this straw and attempts to convince an Ape court that he is from a distant solar system, and that he is intelligent. This is not easy, especially as his throat is damaged when he is captured, and he can not talk.
Conflict then comes from the Apes High Court, who hold a kangaroo court to condemn both Taylor as inferior and the friendly apes as heretics. Taylor eventually breaks out of prison and tries to journey to the Forbidden Zone, where he believes there is a secret which the Apes superiors are trying to hide. This leads to a climactic confrontation and battle of wills at an archaeological dig, where there is possible evidence of humans having lived on this planet about 2,000 years before. After escaping the Apes, Taylor and Nova, a human he has befriended/fallen in love with, ride away from the area, expecting to find a lush jungle on the other side of the Forbidden Zone. Instead, what he finds shows the whole movie in a different light. I won’t reveal the ending here, just in case anyone reading this doesn’t know it, but let me say it does indeed come as a brutal sucker punch, but in a good way.
This movie is an allegory for two things in general. The main attack of this movie is focused against man’s treatment of his world and other species on it. Man doesn’t want to be treated as animals, yet we treat other species in an inexcusable manner. The apes are shown doing this, and it is obvious what we are being told. Some of the language used by the Ape court (talk of heresy, etc) is deliberately that of religion, but the other point of contention which this movie has is not with religion but with closed-minded thinking in general. The Ape court is reasoned with by Taylor, and yet they refuse to listen to what is brutally obvious. It is said that the screenwriters added this bit as a reference to the McCarthy Hearings of the 1950’s. If that is the case, that would certainly be a good example of the film’s message.
An important thing to note is that despite the movie’s philosophical bend, Planet of the Apesis a fast-moving adventure story at heart. Its subtle and yet well stated way of dealing with fairly serious issues is icing on the cake, not the cake itself.
Planet of the Apes is a great science fiction in the classic mold. The story has real resonance, and it is shot beautifully. Granted, some of the indoors sets look a little like the sets from the 60’s Star Trek show, flimsy and painted, but the outdoor scenes are wonderful, and all things considered this is a great example of this particular era in movie making. With a good message, special effects that (while not quite holding up today) were great for their time, and a strong story and characters, this is a movie that really should be seen.
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Director – Christopher Nolan
Cast – Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine, Dileep Rao, Pete Postelthwaite, Lukas Haas
Inception, Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to his mega-successful The Dark Knight is a large and convoluted film, stuffed full of plot twists, flashbacks, and back peddling. It’s ideas are refreshingly original, and the usual Nolan trademarks are trotted forward. Many have hailed it as a masterpiece, but I have to say that I think it is overrated. It is a good film certainly, but there is always danger in giving in to hype. To do so works the film up in the prospective viewers mind, inevitably leading to a feeling of being let down.
Inception tells the story of Cobb, who deals with stealing ideas and knowledge from people’s minds. However he is hired to implant an idea in the mind of a young CEO, played by Cillian Murphy. This process is called inception, and is very hard to do, and is largely theoretical. Cobb and a few of his nefarious friends attempt to do this, fighting shaky dream structure and hostile “subconscious security.”
The movie is too tangled for its own good, but many of the ideas that we are presented with are very cool. There is the concept of setting up dreams within dreams within dreams, time going slower in each level, the whole idea of setting someone up to think they thought of an idea themselves through dreams… these were all wonderful to watch unfold. It did, however, take a while to get to the unfolding, I must say. The first roughly 45 minutes of the film were very disjointed. This resolved itself by the end of the first act, but then towards the climax of the movie, set within one of the myriad dream worlds being traversed by Leo and Co., it started to get tangled again.
As for the infamous final shot… Well, let me just say we are presented with two possibilities. The camera cuts to black before either happens, and we are left to guess which option occurs. We are given a hint as to what might have happened, but nothing definitive is shown. If one thing happened (what was hinted at) then the movie ended wonderfully, perfectly complementing the optimistic ending. However, if the second thing happened… well it changed the entire movie, or at least the last half, and will require several trips online hunting through forums to understand what it could mean. This is extremely frustrating, and could easily have been solved if Nolan had shown what would happen. The way he did it was lazy, cheap, and felt thrown in as a possible final twist.
The action is (with the exception of a couple of astounding sequences) fairly average. Nolan has never had a flair for action, and what we get here is decent, but nothing more. When we go to a Nolan movie, we go for the new ideas, the twists on genres long considered stagnant, the fresh thoughts. We don’t get enough of that here, and what it is replaced with is really vague exposition and complexity disguised as sophistication.
A quick word on the casting, which is excellent. Leonardo DiCaprio is perhaps getting a bit typecast as an anguished career man, but he does well. Joseph Gordon-Levitt more than holds his own against Leo, and Marion Cotillard does what she can with an underwritten part. The standout for me though was Tom Hardy as a loose, smart, and sarcastic man who doesn’t get along with Gordon-Levitt. His humor was dry and funny, and he is convincing as a gun-toting action hero. I found the roles underwritten in general, but the actors are of such good quality that they carry it along.
Inception‘s unique vision and intriguing premise is threatened by its over-complicated plotting and overdone emotionality. However the acting is good and the material is compelling. It certainly is not a masterpiece, but it is a pretty solid movie. Nolan’s best movie remains The Prestige, but this will do for Nolan fans, and even to the general public, as long as they’re willing to have to think about it a bit.
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Star Trek: First Contact REVIEW
Director – Jonathan Frakes
Cast – Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, James Cromwell, Alice Krige
– follows Star Trek: Generations
– followed by Star Trek: Insurrection
Star Trek: First Contact is the eighth Star Trek movie, and the second to feature the cast of the Next Generation. It is directed by Jonathan Frakes, who plays Commander Riker, which makes it the fourth to be directed by a cast member, (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home were directed by Leanord Nimoy, who played Spock, and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was directed by William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk.) The plot is set in motion when Captain Picard and Co. are sucked into a time warp with evil Borgs, who are intent on stopping a historic space flight which initiated first contact between humans and the Vulcans.
There is a myth which every Trekkie knows, that every even-numbered Star Trek movie will be good, and every odd-numbered one is destined to be bad. This certainly would seem to apply, given Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, all of which were great, while the ones in between are mediocre to awful.
Now I will admit that most people would have included Star Trek: First Contact in that list as an example of an excellent Trek movie. I however, always remember not being as fond of this film as others are. Having recently re-watched it I have no choice but to say that my memory has served me right. The film is certainly quickly paced, and features an interesting side character in James Cromwell, but the whole thing to me felt a little trite and uninteresting.
I am usually fairly skeptical about time travel plots in movies, and this one is one of the worst uses of it I have ever seen. Time travel opens up so many problems that it should be dealt with carefully, especially in a franchise. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ran into this problem as well. The biggest problem raised with time travel is as follows: if you can go in time, why not go back and kill the villains before the events of the story? Why don’t Picard and his crew go back before the Borg arrive, and ambush them? Why not go back to the big ol’ battle and join forces with their “past selves” and help defeat the Borg? Hell, why don’t the Borg do that? etc etc. Instead of the seriousness with which this should be treated (it was done half decently in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), we essentially have the characters (after having been “stuck in the past” for days,) suddenly saying “Well, that was fun! Now lets head back home, put in the time travel coordinates!” and off they go! Weeeeeeee, time travel sure is fun and full of absolutely no consequences, eh Picard! Excuse me while I take a dump on any resemblance of dramatic urgency. Weeeeeeee!
All of this could have been excused if, as in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the movie was entertaining or made us feel for the characters. Instead, this felt like one long TV episode. The characters come across as dull and uninteresting, and we never feel that the characters or the Enterprise ship are ever in danger. The plot comes in half hour bursts, reinforcing the feeling that we are watching TV.
A subplot features Data, the android of the ship, being taunted by the movie’s “villain” (if she can be said to be so), a Borg queen. She knows he desires to be human, and gives him a skin graft on his arm. This could have been an interesting topic, that of a machine wishing to be human, but here we are treated to one cliché after another. These scenes were boring as heck.
Some aspects of the film are solid, granted. The special effects, despite seeing them almost fifteen years later, still hold up. James Cromwell is a welcome little splash of colour as the drunk, misunderstood pilot of the spaceship which initiates first contact. His character has some degree of dimension, and is quite funny to boot. Watching him try to welcome the calm and serene Vulcans to Earth with booze and rock music was hilarious and yet touching in a strange sort of way…
Star Trek: First Contact is well produced, but its story is sadly lacking, with no feeling of risk to the characters, and with too many discrepancies. James Cromwell is fun, and the rest of the cast do what they can. But the writing here is lazy at best. Trekkies may enjoy it (in fact, most of them do). Personally, I can’t really recommend it.
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