Star Trek Into Darkness

May 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

In 2009, we were treated to another incarnation of the original “Star Trek” cast. After all, after “Nemesis” it was evident that there was no more room for the “Next Generation” cast as it seemed their film arc was all washed up. I still don’t know how that happened as they were a bright, fun cast with an introspective and classy captain. I chalk it up to unimaginative writing and stagnant directing by Jonathan Frakes, who played also played Riker.

The series was rebooted and at the helm was “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams who had done a nice job taking an ensemble cast in that show and putting them in interesting situations while growing them as characters (for the first few seasons, anyway). Abrams was hired as director for the “Star Trek” reboot even though he was admittedly not a big fan of the show. That’s not always a kiss of death, however. In some ways it can help because there’s no fanboy bias that you have to worry about. The result, too, was a smashing success, putting together a great cast of young actors to reinvigorate the roles of the original star ship Enterprise. Although the villain was a bit cartoonish and weak, the main story of Kirk and Spock becoming friends was extremely well done.

Now, four years later, we say hello again to the same cast, and it’s a real pleasure seeing them again. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto have mastered the roles of Kirk and Spock respectively; though they are friendlier, there are still some kinks to work out. When we are first introduced to them this time around, the Enterprise is on an observational mission on a small planet of natives who are about to be wiped out by a volcano. Acting against their Prime Directive, they are seen by the natives and Kirk saves Spock’s life while he is in the active volcano, trying to save the race from extinction. Though it was a noble effort, Kirk is reprimanded by not only his superiors, but also by Spock because saving his life was “illogical”. Kirk is relieved of his captain status, and Spock is reassigned to another Federation ship.

But don’t think that means we’re not going to see them work together. A bomb explodes on Earth wiping out a department in Starfleet, and the culprit is a former officer known as John Harrison who, for unexplained reasons, has gone rogue. Kirk is given First Officer status on the Enterprise and is assigned to accompany Admiral Pike (reprised by Bruce Greenwood). Before their mission is underway, however, they are attacked at Starfleet Command, and Pike is killed by Harrison. Kirk finds out at this point that this terrorist plot is related to a secret that Starfleet is keeping, one that offers a bit of a twist on John Harrison that I won’t reveal–but you will be very familiar with it if you’ve followed any of the “Star Trek” films in your life.

With Pike dead, Kirk resumes his position as captain and reinstates Spock as First Officer. Their mission is also a secret one: to take out John Harrison on the Klingon planet Kronos, in an uninhabited city. The order is given by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), and the Enterprise is sent into Kronos. Once on the planet, however, Kirk decides to spare Harrison’s life and capture him rather than kill him. They are greeted unexpectedly by Marcus in another Federation ship, the USS Vengeance, and Marcus insists again that Harrison be killed. Marcus’ daughter, Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) is on board the Enterprise, and when she learns that Marcus intends to destroy the Enterprise if needbe, she tries to intervene. But all Marcus does is beam her aboard, and Kirk is left in a very precarious situation.

There is a lot more going on in this film than the previous one, obviously. That should always be the case when it comes to sequels. Raise the stakes, make it more interesting, give the characters something more to work with. Abrams and Co. do this as best they can but they are somewhat hampered in this sophomore effort by a sophomoric script, co-written by former “Lost” buddy Damon Lindelof. As in “Prometheus”, Lindelof shows that he cannot seem to handle complexities in character and narrative arc, and some situations are handled more like a Sunday morning comic rather than a feature film. So expect some Deus Ex Machinas, and suspend your disbelief a little bit more than you’re used to, even in a science fiction action film like this.

It especially works against them in the character of Harrison, who is a very convincing villain played exquisitely by Benedict Cumberbatch. There is an open ending which begs for his return and I hope it does happen, because his character felt a bit rushed at times when this character deserves patient and deliberate writing to be a worthy foe for Kirk and the Enterprise.

But it is nice to see the cast again, and actors Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, and John Cho are appealing supporting actors rounding out the splendid Enterprise crew. The only one that seems to still just “impersonate” his counterpart is Karl Urban who plays Dr. “Bones” McCoy. Every time he speaks he is trying too hard to “sound like” Bones rather than just be Bones. Other than that, the cast works perfectly.

The film delivers big laughs as well as big thrills, and although there are a few too many climaxes in third act that wears you down a bit, the ending is satisfying and it made me want to see where these characters will boldly go next.

I just hope the next script provides an equally interesting story that isn’t littered with plot holes and convenient resolutions.

My rating: :-)

Flight

November 12, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

I’m pretty sure if you gave me a few lines of cocaine, an all night binge of drinking and casual sex, I don’t think I could land a malfunctioning plane the very next morning. Of course, I don’t know that I’d function at all the next day. But that’s just the scenario commercial airline pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) has put himself into–and he lands the plane, inverted, and saves 96 out of 102 people on board.

That’s the set up of Rob Zemekis’s new film, and his first live action film since “Cast Away” in 2000. That film, too, had an airpline crisis that wound up leaving Tom Hanks stranded on a deserted island. Here, though, all is well, and the plane…lands.

But that’s not the whole story. After the crash/land, Whitaker sustains a few injuries, as well as his co-pilot (recovering from a coma), and his casual sex partner who happened to be one of the flight attendants, is one of the dead. He’s obviously shaken by this event, and after being offered some pick-me-ups from his dealer (played jovially by John Goodman, who always puts a smile on your face whatever he does), decides he wants to stay clean. That’s a good idea for him, as he’s battled addiction before and lost his marriage and custody of his son over it. Whip is considered a hero to the media and to the people he saved–but the NTSB (a federal investigation bureau assigned to the crash landing) has produced a toxicology report that, if brought to light, could put Whip in jail, possibly for the rest of his life. The positive results of alcohol and cocaine being in his system at the time of the flight and landing mean that the 6 who were killed would be charged as manslaughter against him.

Someone from the pilot union is on Whip’s side, Charlie (played well by the always reliable Bruce Greenwood), and an attourney, Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), agrees to help Whip and thinks he can have the toxicology report thrown out.

All of this works out well for Whip, who could walk away clean. On top of this, while in the hospital, he meets another recovering addict (of heroin), Nicole (Kelly Reilly). The two of them go off to his father’s old crop dusting ranch, retreating from the media and secluding themselves from outside conflicts. But it’s the inner conflicts that begin to haunt Whip, as he delves back into alcoholism and drives Nicole away. Meanwhile, he tries in vain to reconnect with his ex-wife and son, who kicks him out in one of the film’s most dramatic scenes.

The film is full of dramatic scenes, all of them involving Denzel, delivering his best and most complete performance in years. But while the film has its heart in the right place, and is highly likeable, something is just a little off.

In the first place, I never really bought the NTSB investigation. The media hype alone would have staved off any kind of investigation because it would have been a PR nightmare. This was due to airplane malfunction, not pilot error. The toxicology report would’ve been shredded immediately. Sure, it’s the government and they have a responsibility. And we all know how honorable and trustworthy government agencies are in this great nation, right? …?

Then, there’s a real missed opportunity with the theme of “hero worship” in general. Whip saved 96 lives on a plane that was doomed to kill all on board. Yes, he tries to escape the media. But what if he actually tried to embrace it, like so many do? Book deals, interviews, 60 minutes, talk shows? What if that related to the alcohol abuse, or gave him more of a reason to use again? There’s not a lot of backstory on how much Whip was a user while flying. Did he do these things because that’s the only way he could fly? That’s never really explored.

In fact, the film gets tunnel vision right around the time that Whip and Nicole hide out together. Nicole is completely heroin-free, something else that’s a bit hard to believe since withdrawal from that drug can actually cause death because it’s so intense to get off of.

Then, there’s the religious angle. There are scenes where the film tries to hint at the question of whether God was involved in saving that plane. There’s some symbolism, and there’s one very confused and uncomfortable scene where the co-pilot has awoken from his coma, and he and his wife (who can only speak in “Praise Jesus” words, literally), go from berating him and judging him…to praying with him and telling him everything will be OK. It’s very awkward, and doesn’t do anything to raise the stakes for Whip. Because there’s no direct agenda on what the film’s trying to say about whether God exists or not, it just comes off as flimsy.

While there are stakes in the background for Whip, in the foreground it just doesn’t come across dramatically. I never felt that the investigation was going to find Whip guilty of manslaughter. There is a “courtroom” scene that’s well done, in which Whip finally has to force himself to take responsibility.

But all of this is done in a somewhat muddled way–it’s uncharacteristically unfocused for Zemekis, who is usually in command behind the camera. The film’s title is an obvious double meaning, similar in the way “Cast Away” was. But while it is a wonderful character study of addiction, and Denzel Washington does an incredible job of bringing that to the screen with brutal honesty, the film itself…does not…take…

OK, I’ll spare you the pun. It just doesn’t come together for me in the end. There were some things the film did well, but I think it was missing out on something even bigger. If a guy lands a plane and saves lives but was on drugs, it raises great moral questions

I think there were other questions this film could’ve pondered, too, and it would’ve made it a stronger film.