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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Paul

Paul gets a few things right, a few things wrong, and is overall somewhat enjoyable because it knows how to mine a single joke for all of its humor.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released March 18, 2011

Written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

Directed by Greg Mottola

Starring Kristen Wiig, Sigourney Weaver, Mia Stallard, Jane Lynch, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, David Koechner, Jesse Plemons, Jeffrey Tambor, and Seth Rogen’s voice

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Paul opens with a scene of a girl (Stallard) with her dog having a close encounter. Then we fast forward many years and find Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) on tour in America. They’re British bachelors who love science fiction and they have attended a great conference in Las Vegas and are now driving a rented RV around the west, visiting all the important sites involved in alien visitations.

Graeme and Clive encounter some bullies (Koechner and Plemons), and then encounter Paul (Rogen), an alien who has escaped from the government after some 50 years of custody. Paul knows more about American culture than do these Britons and he has assimilated into American culture and language well, despite being obviously an alien.

So Graeme and Clive go on the run with Paul, and are chased by Zoil (Bateman), who appears to be a stone-cold killer and his underlings Haggard (Hader) and O’Reilly (Truglio). But that’s not all. Graeme and Clive meet a born again religionist named Ruth (Wiig), who is blind in one eye and whose religious doctrine precludes any chance at extra-terrestrial life.

Now all are on the madcap, sometimes droll, sometimes actually entertaining journey of their lives.

Critique

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost know how to set up a joke and deliver multiple punchlines for it. There is plenty of that going on, although some of the jokes strain the audience’s tolerance, particularly in the area of Ruth, whose extreme ‘Christianity’ is made fun of at length. This particularly line of jokes is intermittently funny, but too often the humor feels like commentary of some sort, and the jokes are going after easy, lame targets.

The twist with Paul’s character is that while he is an alien, he is crass, has a healthy libido, and is totally irreverent– and is thus not very ‘alien.’ This results in quite a few funny moments, but also gets a little old, until the movie starts allowing Paul to have an arc along with arc his new chauffeurs/companions experience.

One of the major winners for this movie is the pacing and the presence of a wide array of fun characters. Hader is particularly a joy as Haggard, the underling with ambition and who might just end up being too smart for anyone’s good– especially his.

We get treated to Sigourney Weaver’s voice, as she is the boss running Zoil’s efforts to track down Paul. We also get treated to David Koechner’s great comedic timing, as well as Wiig’s remarkable fearlessness.

So, setting aside some of the too-easy targets for humor and a bit too much crass humor, Paul mostly delivers a good time. Pegg and Frost have great chemistry and the effects are totally non-distracting. It’s a pretty good movie, but it won’t appeal to a very wide audience. To enjoy it, you’d have to be a fan of Pegg and Frost, as well as a bit of a science fiction geek.

Content warnings: Lots of very salty language, some sexual references and the like.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4          Overall: 3.5

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Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

After nearly a month hiatus from going to movies and reviewing them, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was the right movie to see upon my return. As a side note, it would appear that 2011 was the year of the colon in movie titles.

That said, the fourth installment in Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible franchise is all kinds of fun. With homages to the TV show, really nicely done characters, and a killer pace, it is well worth your time and money. Here’s a preview:


The deets:

Released December 21, 2011

Written by Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec, and Bruce Geller (he wrote the television series)

Directed by Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, creative team on Up and Toy Story 3)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, and Jeremy Renner

*    *    *    *    *

JJ Abrams hasn’t put his foot wrong in a long while. His reboot of Star Trek  was outstanding. He directed etc. last year’s best film, Super 8. He did Lost, which I have never seen but have heard good things about. He’s the producer of Fringe, one of the best sci-fi shows ever to grace TV. He did Cloverfield, which I adored.

He produces this film. He wrote the third MI film. He even wrote Forever Young and Armageddon.

There is very little this fellow has done that I don’t like.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is further evidence that JJ Abrams knows his stuff and knows very well how to tell a story. What’s more, Brad Bird makes the jump to live action in a masterful fashion, proving that story crafting abilities transfer just fine, thank you very much.

There is so much of good in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. First off, it pays homage better than any of the previous three installments to the original series. I loved the opening fuse. I loved the malfunctioning tech. When a story is so in touch with its roots, it can’t help but have an extra portion of heart.

Story

This installment of the Mission Impossible franchise begins with a chiseled, skilled spy evading capture as well as he can. He leaps from a building, turns in the air, fires at his pursuers while falling, and lands on a personal air mattress. This isn’t Tom Cruise.

But it DOES set the tone of the movie: it’s not going to be all about Ethan Hunt, unlike the last film, which was that last film’s only drawback. We only find out why we care about this other agent a little while later in the movie. In the meantime, Ethan Hunt is in a Russian prison and needs to be broken out.

Why is he in prison? We later find out that he’s in there because he killed 6 Ukrainian bad guys after they killed his wife. Sad. But watch the entire movie. This is a deftly plotted film, with reveals coming in the very last few minutes.

The breakout is a wonderful sequence of action, acting, gadgets and really, really well timed humor. In fact, this is the funniest of the four movies in the franchise. Of course, the three previous ones were actually very intense and were in almost no way funny. But life isn’t like that, and people aren’t perfect, and plans don’t always go as hoped, and these moments add humor to life. And these moments add genuinely excellent humor to this movie.

Before long, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is working with a team of operatives consisting of Benji (Pegg), Jane (Patton), and Brandt (Renner). They have to stop a fanatic from beginning a nuclear war. They race around the world, dangle from the tallest building in the world, run through sandstorms, and do all kinds of other craziness.

Critique

The reasons this movie is so good are these:

*The humor is real and natural.

*The characters are human, not caricatures or superheroes. They get frustrated, sad, and hurt. This is a new thing for these movies.

*The pace is such that even as the movie goes quite long, you think, “Wow, this is so freaking cool.” The action is hard on these newly human characters.

*The acting is Ace. So good. Pegg does a nice job with the humor in that it isn’t comedic relief, but is real to his character. Renner nails the mysterious and troubled agent– his motivation is strongly emoted. Cruise shows his timing and human acting abilities again. But Paula Patton kills it, hits it out of the park, and all around steals her scenes. Everything she does is informed by the turmoil in her soul. Loved her so much.

*The story is timely and very, very deftly told.

*The gadgets blow your mind.

*The gadgets stop working and the characters have to find answers inside them, rather then in a certain toy.

*Prices are paid. Each ‘good guy’ pays a price for her/his values.

I really loved this movie. It’s easily in the top ten for 2011. Well worth the time and money. Exciting, breathless, really funny at times, and deeply felt. Brad Bird should get an award of some kind of his work here.

Content warning: It deserves the PG-13. Lots of fighting, some blood, plenty of death, some language. Only a bit of sensuality.

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

Don’t believe me? See if my review matches those on Rotten Tomatoes.

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