Star Trek Into Darkness can be summed up in one word: predictable. For a suspense driven movie that can spell disaster. There are an abundance of allusions to the original Star Trek series, which are great until they give away the major reveal of the film and cause the reveal scene to become awkward and flat. When the resolution of every instance of peril that the crew of the Enterprise face throughout the film is obvious, the lead up to the resolution becomes boring because the circumstance no longer has any stakes. And when a film becomes boring the audience has time to think about the gaping holes in logic that arise over the course of the film.
Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman return, this time around joined by Damon Lindelof. Into Darkness follows the crew of the Enterprise as they hunt down ‘John Harrison’ (Benedict Cumberbatch), a fugitive who has made direct attacks on Starfleet. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) leads his crew into Klingon space at the request of Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to track the villain. There are betrayals, fights, malfunctioning equipment, and other turns that are all predictable in their resolution. Furthermore, the film fails in its depiction of women as anything more than plot points, Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is used in an attempt to humanize Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Carol (Alice Eve) is used as a way to stall another character’s actions.
As in the previous Star Trek film, the acting is mostly mediocre. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin and John Cho all stumble through most of their scenes and the majority of their interactions feel forced and insincere. Karl Urban is a one man, one-liner machine lacking any character moments. Simon Pegg is good as Scotty, but is only used as comic relief and is absent for a large portion of the film. Newcomers Alice Eve and Peter Weller are reduced to plot points leaving much to be desired. Benedict Cumberbatch is mostly outstanding, but he overpowers everyone that he shares a scene with making every scene that he is absent from feel hollow.
But most audiences don’t expect great acting from a JJ Abrams Star Trek film, they expect a visual spectacle and Into Darkness delivers that. The film is beautiful as it blends practical effects and visual effects seamlessly. Like its predecessor the film is loaded with lens flares and tremendous shots of the Enterprise. Also like its predecessor, the score by Composer Michael Giacchino is astounding as it injects most of the emotional impact into the film.
Star Trek Into Darkness is unable to do anything that Star Trek didn’t do 4 years ago, but shouldn’t a sequel do more than its predecessor? The visuals of Into Darkness are amazing, as is the score for the film. But a largely under-performing cast and an uninspired and predictable story prevents Into Darkness from taking the step forward that a sequel should.
I don’t usually say that someone should just walk away from Hollywood.
If you look at the recent history of Lindelof: the disastrous conclusion of Lost, Cowboys & Aliens and Prometheus tanking, Star Trek Into Darkness is under-performing, and World War Z by all reports is going to bomb, it’s clear that he is tracking downward.
I respect that Lindelof has not shied away from the criticism, but it feels like he isn’t listening to any of it.
I hope that Tomorrowland doesn’t follow this trend, but recent evidence would point to the contrary.
Shane Carruth returns nine years after his first film Primer, which won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. For Primer, Carruth had a budget of roughly $7,000 and because of the cost of film he was only able to shoot 80 minutes worth of footage. The final cut of the film was 78 minutes. Although the budget hasn’t been released for Upstream Color, it’s clear that Carruth had more to work with. However, it should be noted that because of how much Carruth took on with this project (director, writer, producer, composer, cinematographer, editor, and camera operator) his budget was likely infinitesimal compared to most films released this year. This is the price that he has to pay to have complete creative control over his work.
Upstream Color is a contradiction of a film. It’s ambitious, yet grounded. It’s intimate, but ostentatious. It’s focused and vagrant.
The onset of the film is disconnected and jittery as the audience is left to try and make sense of multiple characters, most of whom they won’t see for some time. The narrative of the film picks up and is centered around Kris (Amy Seimetz), who is a successful photo editor, maybe, it’s never made clear what her job is at the beginning of the story and it really doesn’t matter. While at a bar she is kidnapped and forced to consume some sort of maggot which allows her captor to control her mind. Her kidnapper keeps her busy with bizarre tasks while he executes a plan to have her cash out the mortgage on her house.
Once the kidnapper has the money he leaves and Kris wonders and eventually finds The Sampler who takes the maggot that has grown incredibly long and transfers it to a pig. From this the pig is now psychically connected to Kris. Without the parasite, Kris awakens from the mind control to a ruined life. She is fired from her job and kicked out of her house. After some period of time she meets Jeff (Shane Carruth), who has had a questionable past as well and they connect. Kris and Jeff start to confuse their memories and together try to solve the mystery of what has really happened. Upstream Color introduces a lot of ideas and bits of story, however fails to connect most of them.
The story is psychotic at times, but the relationship between Kris and Jeff is so interesting that it’s difficult not to be intrigued. Seimetz is incredible as Kris as she navigates a range of emotions wonderfully. Carruth is solid as Jeff, however he is consistently overshadowed by Seimetz.
Carruth does a great job as cinematographer. The film is beautiful even in the most horrid scenes.
Upstream Color plays with a lot of big ideas, but the strength of the story is the connection of Kris and Jeff. Carruth has taken an enormous step forward from Primer to Upstream Color and it will be interesting to see where he goes next. Hopefully fans won’t have to wait 8 more years.
The Place Beyond the Pines is Director Derek Cianfrance’s follow up to 2010’s Blue Valentine, which gained acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival. The Place Beyond the Pines follows the impact of one man’s actions as they influence multiple lives over the course of many years.
The film starts by introducing Luke (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stunt driver who, as part of a traveling carnival, has returned after a year away to Schenectady, New York. On the day before his departure he discovers that he has a son from a short lived romance with Romina (Eva Mendes). Luke decides to stay in order to be part of his sons life, even though Romina has moved on and is now in a relationship someone new. Because of his limited skill set Luke is only able to find a job as a mechanic working for Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). Luke soon realizes that the limited amount of money that he is making will not be enough for him to provide for his son. Robin suggests that he should rob a bank, then use his skills as a gifted driver to avoid the police. To avoid any spoilers Luke’s life eventually intersects with Avery (Bradley Cooper), a rookie police officer. The actions of the remainder of the film are consequences of what happens between Luke and Avery, as well as how it eventually affects their sons Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen), respectively.
Cianfrance handles the transitions between central characters masterfully as he uses the overlapping sequences to transition from one central character to the next as he focuses on four different characters throughout the film. Cianfrance wrote the film along with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder. While the first act of the film (Luke’s story) is exceptional the subsequent story arcs never meet the quality of the first. The film is on a steady decline over the course of time spent with Avery and becomes nearly unwatchable while following AJ. The final act of the film is centered around Jason, while it attempts to convey a poetic notion, it feels rushed and misses the intimacy and impact that elevated the first act.
Gosling is outstanding as Luke, the tattooed motorcyclist trying to provide for his son. Every moment with Luke feels authentic as Gosling can harness his emotions exceptionally well. Cooper is fine as Avery, although Avery is a much less interesting character than Luke. Mendelsohn is great as Robin who acts as a catalyst influencing two of central characters lives. Dane DeHaan is great a Jason, however his minimal screen time prevents the character’s actions from having the impact of other characters. Emory Cohen as AJ is odd because Cohen gives a good performance, but the character AJ is so unlikable that it often feels insincere. Some of the supporting actors like Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Bruce Greenwood and Ray Liotta are sufficient.
Fortunately, despite the script the film is absolutely beautiful throughout. Cianfrance along with Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (Hunger, Shame) capture each moment of the story allowing the audience to fully immerse into the lives of these characters.
The first act of The Place Beyond the Pines is exceptional. Director Derek Cianfrance maneuvers through the majority of a cumbersome story with precision, however some of the weaker characters and a rushed conclusion prevent The Place Beyond the Pines from becoming a remarkable film.
When the news that Jon Favreau wouldn’t be returning to direct Iron Man 3 surfaced, the curiosity of what other directors vision of Iron Man would be was intriguing. Soon enough Marvel announced that Shane Black would take over as director, as well as co-writer. Black had only directed one film previously, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and has been predominantly a writer throughout his career. Black’s writing credits include the films Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Long Kiss Goodnight and the Lethal Weapon tetralogy. Looking at these films, it’s clear that Black is comfortable within a specific genre, action-mysteries with an R rating for violence and language. The question then became can Shane Black, with the help of co-writer Drew Pearce, write a story based on comic book property that will appeal to a wide audience?
The story of Iron Man 3 feels more intimate than either of its predecessors. Black’s sense of storytelling is evident as the story is more of a mystery than a large scale action saga. If the mystery was more intriguing, this would have been a welcome reprieve from the systematic story arcs that have come to define the comic book film genre. However, the film devolves quickly and follows the same story arcs that have come to define comic book films (the hero falls, then must find an inner strength in order to defeat the latest villain). The story also has a myriad of plot holes and a lackluster conclusion that prevents it from becoming anything more than what it is: a fun, mindless summer blockbuster.
While many of the central characters are well presented, there are a few that fall flat. Robert Downey Jr. is once again great as Tony Stark, who is still trying to recover from the events from The Avengers while at the same time trying to uncover the identity of a new threat. Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle both deliver sufficient performances in returning roles as Pepper Potts and James Rhodes, respectively. Newcomers to the franchise Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian and Sir Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin are a welcome addition. Without spoiling anything, Kingsley’s performance is unexpected at times, but always exceptional. Unfortunately, Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen, aside from one line (“No, thirteen years old,”), Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, and James Badge Dale as Savin are all underdeveloped.
Visually the film keeps in line with the Marvel look and doesn’t do anything extraordinary. The visual effects are great at times, particularly the Air Force One scene, however some of the ‘extremis’ effects are lacking. The final battle scene could have expanded to show more specifically what is going on rather than feeling overwhelming and disconnected.
While Shane Black brings his unique vision to the Iron Man franchise, some major flaws prevent the film from becoming more than an above average comic book movie. Iron Man 3 is full of action and at times laugh-out-loud comedy, but fails to do anything that hasn’t been done before.
To the Wonder is like watching a series of memories. Specifically, the memories of Writer/Director Terrence Malick, as the story is based on his life. In typical Malick style very little dialog is spoken, but rather the characters thoughts are conveyed via voice-overs. To the Wonder centers around the turbulent relationship between Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko). The first act is set in Paris, where Neil and Marina fall for one another leading Neil to ask Marina and her daughter to live with him in Texas.
In Texas the relationship picks up where it left off in Paris, but slowly starts to strain. Marina begins to seek the council of Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who is struggling with his own diminishing faith. Marina’s visa expires and Neil’s inability to commit forces her to return to Paris. While Marina is in Paris, Neil reconnects with Jane (Rachel McAdams), an old flame. Neil must decide if he can commit to either of these women and if they can commit to him.
Each of the leads give a solid and unique performance. Due to the lack of spoken dialog they each must convey their emotions physically. The standout of the cast is Kurylenko who conveys a spectrum of emotions as the film progresses. The emotion of the film is visceral and abundant.
Watching this film it is impossible not to draw connections to Malick’s previous film Tree of Life. Malick once again uses booming classical music to great effect. The cinematography is complementary as well, as Malick reenlists Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Like Tree of Life, To the Wonder is photographed exceptionally. It captures the beauty of Paris and rural Texas alike. The constant, fluid movement of the camera gives the film a unique, dream-like aesthetic.
To the Wonder asks many questions about life, love, and faith, but delivers little or no answers. Maybe that’s the point that Malick was attempting to make: never stop asking questions even if there isn’t an answer. Or maybe he found the closure he was seeking by making this film. Because of the reclusive nature of Malick, audiences may never know the answers. All that’s left is to appreciate the singular vision of a director who is willing to share a brief, beautiful memory.
Interstellar poster by MoviesTheTop10
As is her character Maya in Zero Dark Thirty, Jessica Chastain is the best at what she does.
So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.
That sums this up.
- The Bridge on the River Kwai
- Star Wars
- Kind Hearts and Coronets
- The Man in the White Suit
- The Ladykillers
- The Lavender Hill Mob
- Oliver Twist
- Great Expectations
- Lawrence of Arabia
- Doctor Zhivago