Star Trek: Into Darkness

Star Trek: Into Darkness is very aptly titled. The title makes you wonder: is this flick going to be grim and challenging? Are difficult things going to test the mettle of our heroes? Or maybe the villain leads the entire universe into darkness.

Is it going to be as grim as The Dark Knight Rises?

The title might also be referring to the final scene as the crew set forth on a historical journey.

What is so splendid about Star Trek: Into Darkness is that it is very intelligently made, and the multi-layered title is simply a symptom of the delightful disease we call ‘smart and polished film-making.’

I loved this movie. You will too.

Here’s a trailer (as if you haven’t already seen every trailer for this flick):

The deets:

Released May 16, 2013

Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof. Based on the original TV show by Gene Roddenberry

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Starring Zoe Saldana, Alice Eve, Nazneen Contractor, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, Noel Clarke, and Benedict Cumberbatch

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Kirk (Pine) and his crew on the Enterprise, Starfleet’s flagship vessel, have been out on missions for some time since the last time we caught up with him. Into Darkness opens with Kirk fleeing some natives of a distant planet, accompanied by Bones (Urban). They are trying to lure the natives out of the kill zone of an exploding volcano, but at the same time they must not violate the Prime Directive, which is to remain unseen and not alter the course of a society’s evolution.

Meanwhile, Spock (Quinto) is going to descend into the volcano with a high-tech fusion device that will stop the volcano from erupting. Piloting his shuttle is Sulu (Cho) and helping him prepare is his love interest, Uhura (Saldana).

They succeed, of course, in their mission, which it turns out was totally in violation of rules. Now Kirk is demoted and becomes first officer to his mentor, Pike (Greenwood). But there’s a bad guy named John Harrison (Cumberbatch) who seems to have it in for Starfleet, and Admiral Marcus (Weller) specifically. After Harrison commits some dastardly deeds, Kirk and his crew are sent to deal out retribution. But things are complicated, and Scotty (Pegg) finds he has to take a stand against some questionable technology– whereupon he resigns his post on the Enterprise, and Chekhov (Yelchin) must take his place.

As the quest to get Harrison begins, a new science officer shows up without being asked for. She is Carol (Eve) and she might know more about the questionable technology and John Harrison than she should.

A series of events take place, through which Kirk becomes uncertain of himself and where his loyalty really ought to be. Uhura has to face down some Klingons, and the crew of the Enterprise becomes stuck between two massively powerful enemies and they have to somehow stop the bad guys while saving lives.

And that’s all I can say without spoilers. But believe me when I say this is an intricate plot that surprises and delights.

Critique 

Star Trek: Into Darkness is not as fresh as the first one in this rebooted franchise. It’s not an origin story, but is instead a story about a bunch of people who have to reassess who they are and come to a greater understanding of what is important to them. It also handily positions the Enterprise and her crew for the next film in which they hopefully are doing actual exploration– as is their mission.

The script is nearly flawless, with the exception of two problems, both of which center on Carol. First is the idiotic underwear scene. Alice Eve is a beautiful woman and this scene is dumb. Second is her British accent, which is totally unexplained by the script. For a professionally trained linguist, this is irritating.

Other than those issues, the script takes the time to set up conflict, try-fail cycles, character development, and solid resolutions that satisfy. It’s an intricate plot that Kirk and his crew have to uncover and stop, but it all makes sense at the end.

One interesting tidbit is that some people will take issue with a Spock who is not quite as alien and dispassionate as he was played by Nimoy. This is true, but this is a different Spock in a different timeline who lost his ENTIRE PLANET. Get a grip, people.

The acting is great, with more being asked of Pine than to be a rogue and a brash hero. His scene after the devastating attack on the Starfleet Council is just excellent. Cumberbatch is wonderfully larger than life and is truly awesome in his iconic role. Simon Pegg gets to do a lot in this film as well, with his truly excellent Scotty being an unsung hero throughout the story. Karl Urban, again, is a surprisingly good Bones. Saldana adds some very nice, tough layers to Uhura that we only started seeing toward the end of the original Star Trek TV show’s run. Quinto is also a very good Spock.

The fact that these films have focused on the relationships, particularly the legendary friendship between Kirk and Spock is wonderful, and the actors have a great chemistry. This is an ensemble film and you might be surprised at how much is asked of characters who are not Kirk and Spock.

Now. There are a lot of explosions. Lots and lots. There’s a lot of physical conflict in this film. These explosions and this conflict are appropriate for a film that is about war and terrorism. This stuff isn’t glorified; it’s shown as ugly and devastating. Listen for the screams and confusion.

That said, the punches sound like thunderclaps, which will never stop irritating me.

You will laugh, cheer, and possibly even cry as you watch Star Trek: Into Darkness. It’s one of the best movies of 2013 and is a fitting sequel to the first one.

Content warnings: Some salty language and a bit of skin and sensuality. Plenty of scifi violence.

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

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Unstoppable

Unstoppable is, interestingly, a lot like the runaway train that the film centers on. It feels like it gets a slow start, but as it picks up speed, you can’t tear your eyes away from some great pacing and acting and by the end you are clutching your armrest.

It’s a mighty fine entertainment from Tony Scott.

Here’s a trailer:

Here are the deets:

Released November 12, 2010

Written by Mark Bomback (based on true events)

Directed by Tony Scott

Starring Rosario Dawson, Jessy Schram, Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Kevin Corrigan, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Dunn, and Lew Temple. Oh, and a really big train.

Rated PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The story of Unstoppable is simple: a train hauling tons of toxic chemicals gets away from its rather careless conductor and picks up speed as it heads toward some seriously populated areas. It’s going to kill a lot of people unless two men can find their courage and stop the thing while bucking the orders of the train company’s head honcho and working for a no-nonsense supervisor.

The film opens with Will (Pine) starting his day. He apparently is on the outs with his lady, Darcy (Schram) and is in something of a funk. He appears to be related to a bigwig in the train company for which he works as a conductor. He is slated to work with rail veteran Frank (Washington), who has two grown daughters and is pretty philosophical about life. Will and Frank’s day goes just fine until they find out that they’re on a crash course with an out of control train.

Dewey (Suplee) is the nimrod that allowed the train to get out of control. Connie (Dawson) is the tough, no-nonsense, but desperate supervisor who has to figure out how to keep the train from killing people. She has to deal with railroad execs who are far more focused on the dollar (of course) than on practicalities and people. She also has to try to keep Will and Frank alive as they decide to do more than just avoid the train.

Solutions are come up with, tried out, discarded, and all leads to Frank and Will being faced with a decision that will test their grit and courage. The final twenty minutes are some of the tensest moments you will experience in a movie.

Critique

Tony Scott discards some of his usual tools, such as overly dramatic lighting and at times too-frenetic camera work. He still uses interesting angles and helps the viewer get into the movie from fascinating perspectives, but none of these are done for the purpose of art. They are done to enhance the tension of the film.

Unstoppable works so well because the two main characters are written with an eye to the tension that exists between a rookie and a veteran, where the rookie is somewhat entitled and too big for his britches. It also works well because it does not flag in its pace, it focuses on what people are doing about this train and the personal sacrifices involved, and it explores courage very effectively.

Despite some predictability and a few overly dramatized scenes, this is a good movie.

Be careful. Like The Fighter, this movie packs a totally unseen punch– unseen that is until you get hit. Unstoppable is a great date movie because it engages and delivers an emotional wallop that will leave any two people on a date with plenty to appreciate and talk about.

Content warnings: some language and some very tense situations and painful events.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 5          Overall: 4.5

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This Means War

This Means War is the kind of movie that I really like, probably because I am the target audience. I’m a male and relatively young (at heart…), so it’s my kind of fare, right? Like Tango and Cash?

Sort of.

Here’s a preview:

The deets:

Released February 17, 2012

Written by Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg, and Marcus Gautesen

Directed by McG

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Angela Bassett, Rosemary Harris, and Til Schweiger

Rated PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

This Means War looks promising. It stars the lovely Reese Witherspoon who hasn’t played a part like this before, the very sincere Tom Hardy, and a pretty funny Chris Pine. The conceit that two top-notch spies fall for the same girl, while having to deal with a nasty baddy, is pretty nifty. But it doesn’t quite deliver.

Story

FDR Foster (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are best friends and are two of the best CIA agents in the business. Supposedly. It’s easy to question this assumption when they flub the one mission we see them on, killing one of their targets, letting the other get away, and only barely acquiring a certain device– all while making a huge mess of what was supposed to be a covert operation.

In any case, they are grounded to sit behind desks for a time as penance. We find out here that Tuck is divorced with a kid and that he is very much out of the game. A game which FDR happily and skillfully plays. Tuck puts a profile up on a dating website.

Next we meet Lauren Scott (Witherspoon), a consumer advocate who tests products. She has a foul-mouthed and mostly useless friend called Trish (Handler). Trish places a profile for Lauren on the dating website too, although she makes quite a bit up. Despite the idiocy of this approach, Lauren and Tuck connect and meet up, getting along very well. In fact, they have actual chemistry.

Unfortunately, Lauren meets FDR on the same night and they start seeing each other too. So now you have two spies dating the same woman, or rather, one woman who has decided it’s okay to date two men. She gets to the point where she commits to deciding between the two men, but only after sleeping with both of them. All of this happens as she is egged on by apparently ad-libbed, foul lines from Trish.

Add to this triangle the vengeful brother of the man the two spies killed at the beginning of the film, and we really ought to have a decent action comedy that unfolds as hijinks ensue from the two spies using their training and technology to spy on each other and play pranks to cool down each other’s romance.

Critique

The problem is that the spies are basically irritating caricatures who don’t really resemble anyone we know or want to accept as real. One is the ladies’ man. One is the down-to-earth   divorced dad. But there’s really no difference between them of any significance, because they both resort to terrible things, including spying on this girl they are supposedly falling for.

Then there’s Lauren. Sure, Witherspoon is charming and she has excellent timing and she does what she can with this lady, but this woman chooses to two-time these gents. There’s no moral consequence for this, so we’re left wondering about who this person really is.

Next up we have Trish, the foul-mouthed and grating and irritating and totally unfunny Chelsea Handler. What is the allure of this woman? She’s a sardonic, profane woman. That’s why people love her so much? She goes for the cheap laugh based on coarse humor, base human nature, and crassness- both in the movie and on her show. She’s painful to watch.

Finally, there are the two tech teams that Tuck and FDR recruit to help them run their covert ops on each other. This is the best part of the movie. These two groups essentially adopt their leader in the same way Steelers and Ravens fans adopt their teams. There’s no moral high ground for either man, but the tech guys are unfailingly loyal.

So This Means War has three perfectly fine actors playing perfectly charming caricatures and it has perfectly fine jokes that elicit perfectly fine laughs. But it’s pretty vapid, despite some clever scenes, because there’s no real human center to it all. Lauren freely two-times while the spies freely break numerous privacy laws– and they get away with it all.

Granted, everybody who deserves payback gets it, so that’s nice. But the fact that Lauren picks who she picks is all kinds of random, leaving the viewer, yet again, with no real sense of reality or humanity.

If you like high-tech schtick and charming actors doing their best to get past a sad script, worse directing, and totally useless musical scoring, go see This Means War. Otherwise, you’re better off with Spies Like Us.

Content warnings: a few scenes of sensuality, some pretty heavy violence with gunfire and explosions, some profanity.

Writing: 1.5          Acting: 4          Overall: 2 (terrible directing is the wild card here)

Just you go and see if Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t agree with me on this.

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