REVIEW: Star Trek

1 11 2016

Is there a 101 class in film schools yet on franchise filmmaking or reboots? Because if so, I sincerely hope that J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” is assigned viewing. With the exception of perhaps Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy, there is no movie that has better relaunched a dormant (or, at the very least, stagnant) series. In one fail swoop, Abrams as well as writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman find ample reason to excite long-time fans and create new acolytes, all while providing motivation for revival beyond just profit margins.

In the seven years since this new “Star Trek” hit theaters, there have been no shortage of brand extensions and series relaunches – most of which struggle to take off due to paying excessive fan service with nostalgic callbacks. Sure, Abrams gives plenty here. The trademark pings of the intergalactic communication, the strategic peripheral views of the starship and the reappearance of a favorite character played by the same beloved actor are all enough to sate the casual fans of the classic television or film series.

“Star Trek” takes flight, however, because Abrams uses the show’s legacy as a kickstart into a bold new future, not an albatross to keep trotting in previously grazed circles. Utilizing an ingenious narrative gambit that sidesteps the original show’s chronology without erasing or ignoring it, the series gained the ability to boldly go wherever themes could lead it. The standard passion-reason dialectic between Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock is introduced from the get-go, and they don’t waste a second exploring its consequences.

But it doesn’t take a mechanical analysis of how Abrams guides decades of mythology to work in his favor to show “Star Trek” works. The proof is in the pudding; the film succeeds because it is just plain well-made. The characters are fun and fully developed. The action is coherent and engaging. The story flows effortlessly while also requiring some of our brainpower. The stakes are high, giving appropriate weight to a topic like genocide. (That may seem like a no-brainer, but plenty of movies have made light of it.) And, perhaps most importantly, this “Star Trek” recreates that first introduction to this universe of diplomacy and conflict.  A4stars

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REVIEW: Gone Girl

17 11 2014

The gender politic has never been so fun or fierce to observe as it manifests in “Gone Girl,” David Fincher’s wickedly delectable adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel.  His eye for detail and intuition for the dark impulses that drive human behavior is a fitting, if not immediately obvious, match for her understanding of the roles available for men and women to assume or subvert in society today.

Together, they perform quite an incisive autopsy of the modern marriage which is every bit as confrontational as it is challenging.  The devilish duo might only be topped ingenuity by Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), the crazy couple they breathe into cinematic existence.  In their own distinct ways, they will lie, manipulate, and forge as necessary to get what they want out of the other.

Games that couples play have traditionally been a rich territory to mine for drama, but perhaps only “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” has dared to look this deep into the dark heart of nuptial discontent.  With their marriage plainly turned acrid, Nick finds himself at the center of suspicion when his wife mysteriously and rather suspiciously disappears.  The fact that Amy’s parents turned her life into inspiration for a best-selling children’s book series brings in a mob of overeager television personalities – led by a not-so-thinly veiled Nancy Grace surrogate (Missy Pyle) – going for his jugular.  It’s a trial by media, held in a writer’s room rather than a jury’s deliberation room.

Fincher does slightly overplay his hand in the first act of the film, all too clearly elucidating the unspoken implications and bringing to the forefront Flynn’s undertones of regional differences between Nick’s midwest community and Amy’s elite northeast upbringing.  Through Patrick Fugit’s assisting police officer on the case, whose face Fincher often cuts to after a plot development, the intended feelings for the audience get telegraphed a little too obviously.

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REVIEW: For Colored Girls

22 07 2014

For Colored GirlsIf anyone thinks Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables” was a feckless and bumbling adaptation of a theatrical show, let me direct you to Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls” to see a real failure.  Granted, it’s a bird of a different color as Perry sets out to adapt Ntozake Shange’s “choreopoem” with the mouthful of a title “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf.”  But Shange’s bold and experimental work is transmuted into a set of clichés by Perry’s uninspired writing and direction.

To start, who thought Perry was a good choice to take on this work?  What qualifies the director of crude comedies like “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” to take on an iconoclastic work of theatre?  For all those who would argue that the quintessential Tyler Perry films have elements of drama, I raise the point that those sections are by far the weakest sections of his movies.  Perry’s movies play well with audiences because of the outrageous humor of Madea and his characters, not because of anything serious.

I am not familiar with the play, but there has to be some reason it has stuck around for decades.  I can only imagine Shange as a colored woman brought a certain amount of authenticity and urgency to the struggles of black women.  If what I suspect is true, Perry has turned the play’s strengths into unwatchable melodramatic mishmash.  The faux and unearned sympathy the movie tries to evoke fails on just about every level, and the two hours of “For Colored Girls” are thus miserable and interminable.

And I think Perry doesn’t even understand what the story is about in the first place.  He does less empowering of black women than he does evisceration of black men.  “For Colored Girls” should have been a celebration of the tenacity of African-American females and the community they always form during hardship.  Instead, it’s an opportunity for some of the best black actresses working in Hollywood to chew scenery in disconnected vignettes that Perry can’t make click.  D1star





Oscar Moment: “For Colored Girls”

26 10 2010

Tyler Perry has been finding great success making comedies for the past five years, yet with “For Colored Girls,” he tries something totally different.  It’s a project more similar to “Precious” than “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” dark, dramatic, and depressing in tone.  Based on an award-winning play and featuring an ensemble cast of eight headlining African-American women, this seems like a great awards contender on paper.

Yet it won’t be able to follow in the footsteps of “Precious.”  As Guy Lodge of In Contention put it back in August, “‘Precious’ entered the race on a wave of festival-acquired respectability; it’s doubtful whether voters would have sought it out without the prior approval of Sundance, Cannes and Toronto. ‘For Colored Girls’ will have no such advantage.”  It will surely get a crowd from Perry’s die-hard fan base that will see anything he makes; however, how many of them will flock to see a drama is fairly suspect.

For a Best Picture play, it needs the critics since it didn’t have the opportunity to garner buzz on the festival circuit.  Knowing the stakes, Perry decided to screen the movie in advance for critics despite a bad experience with pre-screening of “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” that convinced him not to show his eight subsequent films.

And apparently, Perry should have stuck with his instincts because “For Colored Girls” is getting trashed out of the gate.  I’ll give you a sample of what the critics are saying.  BEWARE, it’s actually quite humorous.

Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter:

“For once, Tyler Perry doesn’t put his name above the title, but perhaps he should with ‘For Colored Girls’ to distinguish this train wreck of a movie from the stunning theater piece of 36 years ago by Ntozake Shange … All Perry does is force conventional plots and characters — utter cliches without lives or souls — into the fabric of Shange’s literary work. The hackneyed melodramas get him from one poem to the next but run roughshod over the collective sense of who these women are.”

Peter DeBruge, Variety:

“While Perry’s craft has slowly but surely improved with each successive film, this latest project seems to fall beyond his reach. Just as the director was finding the organic quality that eluded him in ‘Diary’ and other early efforts, he’s confronted with a conceptual piece that calls for an entirely different approach. Yet he can’t resist turning ‘For Colored Girls’ into a Tyler Perry Movie, which means imposing diva worship where nuance is called for and a pleasure-punishing Christian worldview where a certain moral ambiguity might have been more appropriate.”

The last Tyler Perry movie to get an Oscar nomination was — oh wait, none of his movies have ever received an Oscar nomination!  If it comes off as melodramatic to audiences, word of mouth could be toxic and all chances for the movie could be sunk.  There’s only one hope I see for the movie in the big category: the fact that it is the only movie about minorities in the hunt.  The Los Angeles Times made this observation: “For the first time since the 73rd Oscars 10 years ago, there will be no black nominees in any of the acting categories in the February ceremony.”  The same goes for Best Picture which, at the moment, looks to be about as white as bleach.

Sasha Stone of Awards Daily suggests that the movie could take “The Blind Side” slot, but I think it has too narrow appeal and too depressing subject matter to be that movie.  In my mind, the best chance “For Colored Girls” has is in the acting categories.  With so many actresses, there are so many possibilities.  The question, though, is how to pick which one?  Or two?  Unless there is a clear standout, the actresses will cancel each other out.

Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere quotes an Academy source who says there are three levels of performances offered in the movie: Janet Jackson and Loretta Devine are good; Phylicia Rashad and Thandie Newton are great; Kimberly Elise and Macy Gray are masterful.  Interestingly, the two mentioned as being the best are probably the least well-known of the group.  Apparently Elise came up short in 1998 for a critically acclaimed turn in “Beloved,” so maybe this nomination could be redemption.  Gray, however, has shown up in few movies, but her work here as a back-door abortionist could be shocking and gripping.

Katey Rich of Cinema Blend offers another candidate for consideration, Anika Noni Rose.  She says of Rose, “she has one of the film’s strongest monologues, plays a character who undergoes significant changes over the course of the film, and never oversells it.”  She also brings up the fact that Rose has been solid in other awards movies like “Dreamgirls.”

For me, the only certain thing about “For Colored Girls” is that nothing is certain.  The success (or lack thereof) of the movie itself makes it a risky call for Best Picture, and the fact that no female has emerged as the movie’s dominant force makes it difficult to get much buzz going for Best Supporting Actress.  Even though it’s a weak field and the movie may have a strong showing, one or two women need broad support if the movie hopes to get a nomination.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actress (Rose, Elise)

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Gray, Jackson, Newton)





What To Look Forward to in … September 2009

17 08 2009

I guess this sort of serves as a “fall movie preview.” With this, I want to present what I’m looking forward to in September, what other might be looking forward to, and hopefully introduce you to some movies that you might not have heard of yet.

September 4

The movie that I’m most excited for opening this week is “Extract,” the latest comedy from Mike Judge, creator of “Office Space” and TV’s “King of the Hill.”  The movie stars Jason Bateman, who has been in nearly every comedy and yet I still have not tired of him, as the owner of an extract factory who is a bit down on his luck.  Also featuring a great supporting cast which includes J.K. Simmons (“Spider-Man,” “Juno”), Mila Kunis (TV’s “That ’70s Show”), Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), and Ben Affleck, the movie looks to be truly hilarious entertainment.

Other releases this week include “All About Steve,” a comedy with Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), and “Gamer,” a non-stop action film with Gerard Butler (“The Ugly Truth”).

September 9 & 11

Opening on 9/9/09, “9” uses a clever marketing ploy to hopefully drive audiences its way.  But I’m not sold.  The ever creepy and quirky Tim Burton is behind it, and I have never really been into his type of movies.  The story revolves around nine CGI animated rag dolls living in a post-apocalyptic world.  Maybe this will be some sort of a breakout hit, but until I hear buzz from friends or other bloggers I trust, I’m not throwing my money at it.

“9” is the big attraction of the week.  Also opening is Tyler Perry’s latest movie “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” starring Taraji P. Henson of “Benjamin Button” fame, the thriller “Whiteout” starring the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale, and the horror flick “Sorority Row.”

September 18

There are several movies to get excited about that open this weekend.  First and foremost is “The Informant,” starring Matt Damon.  It takes your usual FBI rat story and flips it on its head, turning it into a comedy.  I have always thought Damon has a great knack for subtle comedy, perfectly illustrated in the “Ocean’s” movies.  The director is Steven Soderbergh, Oscar winner for “Traffic,” but has also helmed “Erin Brockovich” and all three “Ocean’s” films.  And the good news is that this is only Matt Damon’s first role of the year with Oscar potential (see the December preview later).

Also opening is “Jennifer’s Body,” which is the first film written by Diablo Cody since winning the Oscar for “Juno.”  It stars Hollywood’s beauty queen Megan Fox as a vampire who eats guys at her high school.  Her presence alone will drive every young guy in America to this movie.  It also features Amanda Seyfried, one of the bright spots in the otherwise disastrous film adaptation of “Mamma Mia!”  I love the quick-witted humor of “Juno,” and although this doesn’t appear to offer similar antics, curiosity (and Megan Fox) will probably get me.

In limited release, “Bright Star” opens, a movie consider by many to be a major Oscar player.  It isn’t the kind of movie that excites me just from watching the trailer, but the buzz surrounding it coming out of the Cannes Film Festival can’t be discarded.  The movie follows the life of the poet John Keats in the early 1800s.  It is directed by Jane Campion, writer/director of “The Piano,” and features a cast of nearly no recognizable names.  I feel obliged to tell you about it because many are sure that you will be hearing about it during awards season and also because so many people love movies set in the beautiful English country with tons of beautiful costumes and people.

Also opening is “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” an animated adaptation of one of my favorite books growing up. Unfortunately, their idea of adapting it is taking the basic premise of food raining from the sky and destroying the rest of the original story. Maybe I will check it out for old time’s sake, but I’m not expecting anything special. The week also puts forth a romantic drama “Love Happens” starring Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”) and Jennifer Aniston. And technically, the writer/director of “Babel,” Guillermo Ariaga, releases his latest movie, “The Burning Plain,” to theaters this weekend, but you can watch it on demand starting August 21 if you are that curious.

September 25

Being a musical theater junkie, I feel that it is my duty to push “Fame.”  The movie is a musical that follows a group of talented artists throughout their four years in high school in New York.  At a time in their lives where they don’t know if they have what it takes it to make it big, all the emotions appear to run high.  The movie features no stars. so hopefully this will launch some very promising careers.

For action fans, Bruce Willis is at it again in a high concept sci-fi called “Surrogates,” in which everyone in the world controls a robotic version of themselves from home called a surrogate. Willis plays a detective who investigates the possibility of the surrogates killing the user who operates it.  For sci-fi fans, a screamfest called “Pandorum” with Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster (“3:10 To Yuma”) looks to deliver.  For all those craving a raunchy comedy, a little studio will try to pack you into “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell,” adapted from the tales of drinking and its consequences in the book of the same name.  In limited release, those who like the costumes of “Bright Star” get “Coco Before Chanel,” the story of the legendary fashion designer.  (NOTE: “The Invention of Lying” was pushed back to October 2.)

So, readers, what is your most anticipated in September?  Anything I left off?  Take the poll and let me know.

Until the next reel,
Marshall