Star Trek Review

I had only just gotten out of my seat, not even to the aisle, before I already wanted to see the sequel.

This evening, my dormmates and I went to a late 11:00 showing of “Star Trek.” Having watched the trailers, I got the gist of the movie. We were going to rewind all the way to young Kirk and Spock where they would fight some great Romulan threat. And as soon as the movie begins, you can see the massive Romulan ship as it destroys the Federation starship from where Mrs. Kirk escapes while giving birth. Having just seen “Wolverine” last week, I was in the mindset to immediately jump into the action, and it felt good to get the rush in a legitimate way. Sometimes, it’s good enough just for the action to look amazing. But it works out much better when it’s actually well done as well.

Watching the movie, it’s clear that it’s not your traditional Trek. Indeed, the cast including Sylar, Harold from “Harold & Kumar,” Hot Fuzz, the oracle from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” an assassin from “The Bourne Supremacy,” and some guy from “Princess Diaries 2” doesn’t sound like it’ll work. Obviously no one in the world can be Captain Kirk like William Shatner, yet it absolutely works better that Chris Pine doesn’t try. Instead of the vaguely cheesy style of classic Trek, he actually plays a believable character faithful to the cockiness and humor of Kirk, without the halting speech. Karl Urban does just as good a job pulling off a McCoy accent and maintaining his cantankerous nature. The best acting, however, came from Zachary Quinto as Spock, who’s inner conflict as half-human and half-Vulcan comes off in a truly believable way.

Another major tip-off that they weren’t going to stick to classic Trek aspects is the completely re-designed look of the ship and bridge. From the clips in the preview, you can see that the crew is no longer working on boxy, black-and-white displays, but actually have something that looks sharper than an iPhone. Even so, the general layout of the bridge remains the same with the captain’s chair in the middle, viewscreen straight ahead, and the crew in a circle around that. Combined with flawless special effects integration, and the visuals won’t disappoint.

More importantly, I think the movie works because of how it decides to maintain the Star Trek feel. It would’ve been very easy for the producers to just re-hash Star Trek in all its glory one more time. Find the old props and throw them in. Keep the transporter effect. Use the same costumes. Tell the same jokes in the same ways. But instead, they amazingly tastefully discarded just about anything unnecessary from Star Trek and kept only the spirit to appease the trekkies.

So the pace of the movie is remarkably unlike that of any Star Trek to date. It’s hip, it’s sexy, it’s dramatic, it takes itself seriously. Not to say it doesn’t stick to a couple good laughs for old time’s sake. But when Scotty yells, “I’m giving her all she’s got!”, he actually means it. The token gestures to classic Trek lines might or might not be familiar to you, though if not, I’d bet that the only reason why’d you know is the trekkie snickering in the corner at a seemingly random time.

The verdict is that this movie is fantastic. Screw the fact that it’s Star Trek; it’s a damn good movie on its own merits. Argue whether the Star Trek universe actually has the merit to pull something like this off; I don’t care. It’ll run the full gamut of amazement, humor, action, and empathy that you want a movie to make you feel. My vote’s in; cross-referenced with my “favorite movies” on Facebook, it’s the best movie I’ve seen

And I’m so glad for it, because for the first time in human history, it’s cool to be a trekkie.

Wolverine Review

Many of you probably haven’t seen the movie yet, but promise me, you’ve seen this movie before. Though perhaps not quite so shamelessly.

It was fun. I can promise that. My dorm organized a trip to see “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” this evening, mostly because of the trailer. Like any good action trailer, it flashes a series of clips of epic fight scenes and makes you want to see the entire scene play out. And given that the movie is only about about an hour and 45 mins, you can imagine that there’s not a lot else happening in the movie.

The movie follows Wolverine’s life before the events of the X-Men trilogy movies. If you remember from those movies, he has flashbacks about getting the adamantium metal bound to his skeleton, and Jean Grey comments that his accelerated healing means his age is indeterminate. This movie starts to fill in the holes in his history, going back to his relationship with Stryker and Sabretooth. The revenge theme and plot twists end up being somewhat predictable for the movie. Several different battles show off the superpowers of many well-loved superheroes, but they as well appear as token action elements, and no one other than Wolverine is significantly developed throughout the movie.

But that doesn’t really matter, especially when Deadpool cuts a fired bullet in half to kill the two people behind him. Certainly, don’t go to see it if you want to see a good movie. If you’re looking to get a couple absurdly overdone action sequences just for the rush, it should be exciting.

Expectations

Yesterday morning, I IMed George during the day about potentially going to see “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” that evening. We had mentioned it previously, but even I, attendee of opening day Star Wars three times (including one midnight), didn’t feel the obligation to go. I’m not sure many people knew about it, but yes, LucasFilms did release one more Star Wars movie, but without the advertising and hoopla of the other movies. Critics slammed the CG animation. And in the only midnight showing at that theater, the mostly empty theater seemed to reflect a similar enthusiasm. Which I’m kind of confused about. Of the intrepid quintet who at 11:19 decided to go, none didn’t enjoy it.

This movie is not the next Star Wars movie. It’s a movie that happens to be set in the Star Wars universe with a familiar cast. Roger Ebert comments (perhaps complains) that it’s “basically just a 98-minute trailer for the autumn launch of a new series on the Cartoon Network.” Which may be true, but isn’t really a problem when considering the quality of the movie. Feel free to debate whether it was worth the 10.50 for admission, but it entertained.

In the movie, Anakin and Obi-Wan are assigned a mission to rescue Jabba the Hutt’s son who was abducted by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee’s character) and Asajj Ventress (a Sith apprentice) in an attempt to manipulate the Hutts. The plot doesn’t delve deeply into the meaning of fate, or demonstrate the consequences of hubris, but Star Wars, to me, was never about plot. Star Wars presents spectacle, from massive space battles with advanced technology to fantastic abilities of telekinesis and foresight. And to that end, I don’t think the CG animation is a problem; if I’m willing to suspend disbelief for sound in space, I can imagine the Thundercats-like people to be just as real as reality.

Those expecting a Star Wars movie like those before will be disappointed. The series is more similar to the hand-drawn “Star Wars: Clone Wars” cartoons aired on Cartoon Network a few years back. This particular movie actually reminded me even more of “Jackie Chan Adventures.” Just like the new movie (soon to be a TV series), the source material comes from live action movies, yet the new format allows them to do more than reality permits. An addition to the main cast is the movie is Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s new padawan learner. Just like Jade from “Jackie Chan Adventures,” she provides a teenage liveliness that fits so well with the energy of the animation. Besides, the Anakin and Obi-Wan relationship only has so much depth.

I enjoyed the movie because I enjoyed the cartoon before it, yet I feel like some of that also comes from elements that made the live-action movies great (well, at least they made the original trilogy great). Taking a step back from years of extended lore in books, I watched the original trilogy again this past year and was amazed by how ridiculous these movies are. Just like “Indiana Jones,” the action is carefully spliced with humor that borders on outrageousness. Mindless banter between battle droids? A enemy leader who sounds like Sean Connery? Some might say that the inconsistencies ruin the canon of Star Wars. Others might say that George Lucas is continuing the decline of the Star Wars franchise. Who cares? It’s fun.

Indiana Jones Review

Of course, warning; I don’t intend to put spoilers in here, but I can’t promise you that I’ll catch everything. And I feel like it’s better to watch and develop an opinion, then discuss. But I won’t stop you if you haven’t seen it.

So last night, I went with several of my dormmates to the midnight premiere of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I was glad to be in a large, comfortable movie seat after riding with 5 people in the back of a sedan, and very much ready to watch for being very tired.

The premise of the movie is that Indiana Jones, almost 20 years after the events of the last movie, is caught in another hunt for archaeological treasures with mythical powers. This time, however, he has Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) to back him up against not the Nazis, but the Russians.

I enjoyed the movie immensely. As a single movie, it was an incomplete cinematic experience, but I really enjoyed it. I’ve wavered a lot on what I need to enjoy a movie, and I think I’ve managed to appreciate the pure joy of an adventure, regardless of whether the plot makes me think or not, whether I really have to soak up the movie after watching it. As for this movie, it got a solid smile.

For the complete cinematic experience aspect, it didn’t get at overarching themes that make me re-evaluate life, and I wasn’t impressed by revolutionary effects. Instead, the movie continued on the same outlandish action as the previous movies. The difference, however, seemed to me the same as that between Pirates of the Caribbean 1 and 2: the latter just got a lot more ridiculous. The original trilogy was never serious, yet the action had a body of realism that highlighted the exaggeration. As a parody of action sequences, they really embodied all aspects of the movie and could make the audience respond. I felt like this movie missed that in several important scenes. When I should’ve been sucked into the action then teased out of it, I instead watched as Shia LaBeouf found inspiration from monkeys to rejoin the fight. But I can appreciate the ridiculousness; it’s the inspiration for a lot of what I do.

Looking at the whole movie, the plot also seemed lacking. George Lucas claimed that the reason why this movie was in development hell was the inability to find a good macguffin (the plot device that drives a story). The crystal skull begins as an interesting driving force, but the flow of the plot seems to happen too quickly. Like the others, the movie follows Jones as he makes subsequent archaeological discoveries on his adventure. While the audience isn’t necessarily supposed to be a backseat detective or look back to make sense of the events, they are expected to follow and engage with his discoveries. Unfortunately, it feels like the movie ultimately ends up with a conclusion far removed from the more grounded beginning of the movie, if only because momentum required that the tempo remain high in the movie.

The acting was a mixed bag, with Harrison Ford doing a convincing job of the current state of Indiana Jones and Karen Allen doing another great performance of Marion Ravenwood. Cate Blanchett’s Russian accent comes and goes, but I was never as convinced of her character’s drive as I should have been.

The effects were a good mix for setting. Spielberg used both old-fashioned tumbling and advanced CGI to create an epic, yet grounded, sense of scale. And John Williams did a great job building the music into the story and setting, far beyond just the catchy (but good) theme that people remember.

It happens to be in an interesting situation with audiences. For those who haven’t seen the previous movies, it might seem a little disappointing because they might not appreciate the style of it, while those who have might be disappointed because it doesn’t match the craft of the originals. But overall, I recommend it, even if it isn’t everything it could’ve been. Just because it’s still enough.

Order of the Phoenix Review

I got the most unusual call from a little Indian boy yesterday asking if I wanted to go see Harry Potter at the midnight release. I’m not really a Potter fan; I got the books from the library and watched the movies, but never really got into it. And I’ve managed to forget most of the details hours after reading the books. It seems that nothing of any importance happens until the last fifty pages of the book, filled with other anecdotes in a verbose style.

The movie was entertaining. I sat through it and enjoyed watching it. The two movies I had seen previously were “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” and “Spiderman 3”, so I had lowered my expectations going into this movie. The dialogue wasn’t cheesy, and the acting felt authentic, mostly. I empathized with the soulless administration of Hogwarts and most of Harry’s troubles.

I wasn’t truly engrossed in it, though. I blame my companion for some of that, but I was never entirely transported to the movie’s magical realm. The Harry-Cho plot-line felt contrived. The writers did a great job of condensing a much longer book into a normal length film, but the romance didn’t feel right at all. It wasn’t important to the story, didn’t develop the characters, wasn’t itself fully developed, and wasn’t performed particularly well. It felt like it was added simply because it was in the book—which I already mentioned was scattered—and would make a great addition to the trailer to sucker people in.

Being at the premiere wasn’t as cool as I was hoping either. I didn’t see anyone dressed up, and it wasn’t as chaotic as I was hoping. Other than having a difficult time getting a seat, it wasn’t as exciting as Return of the Sith. Oh well; there are another 2 to go if I want to see that.

There are some movies that leave me sitting there, still, in awe, trying to comprehend the magnitude of the work. Then there are others, like FF2, that get a laugh. OotP was somewhere in the middle. It certainly wasn’t life-changing, though I did enjoy it. The credits started rolling, and I stood up, ready to go.