Film Review: Star Trek (2009)

Also known as: Star Trek XI, Star Trek Zero, Corporate Headquarters, The Ernest Castelhun Chronicles, Untitled Walter Lace Project, Star Trek: The Future Begins (working titles), Star Trek: The Beginning (South Korea),
Release Date: April 6th, 2009 (Austin premiere)
Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Written by: Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast:  Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Greenwood, Eric Bana, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, Chris Hemsworth, Clifton Collins Jr., Rachel Nichols, Deep Roy, Tyler Perry, Victor Garber (scene cut), Brad William Henke (scenes cut)

Spyglass Entertainment, Bad Robot Productions, Paramount Pictures, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t pander to me, kid. One tiny crack in the hull and our blood boils in thirteen seconds. Solar flare might crop up, cook us in our seats. And wait’ll you’re sitting pretty with a case of Andorian shingles, see if you’re still so relaxed when your eyeballs are bleeding. Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.” – Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy

I’ve loved the Star Trek franchise as long as I can remember. However, nothing has really resonated with me since the end of Enterprise in 2005. This film was an attempt at rebooting the franchise and altering the timeline so that it wasn’t forced into having to work within the framework of already established canon. I wouldn’t call that the best idea, as Star Trek has such a rich mythos that it doesn’t need to be rebooted, there are unlimited ways to tell stories within a franchise this large. But a reboot is what we got because Hollywood is gonna Hollywood.

That being said, for what this is, Star Trek isn’t a bad motion picture. It’s an unnecessary one but I did want to give it a shot because if this was all the Trek I was going to get, I wanted to try to make the best of it.

This could have been better though. They hired the wrong guy to direct, as he just wanted to make Star Wars movies, which he would later do, and wasn’t a fan of Star Trek and didn’t really understand what it needed to be in contrast to what Star Wars is.

The director, J. J. Abrams, also made some strange stylistic choices in how he made the Enterprise look and how he went absolutely ape shit with the use of lens flares and lighting. The film is almost headache inducing at times.

As far as the story goes, the altering of the timeline really seems moot, as there are things that are different before the moment of that alteration. I’m specifically talking about the time Enterprise was already in space before Kirk showed up, as well as Spock’s previous service on the ship and Captain Pike’s role in everything.

Additionally, the story really seems to be a rehash of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, which Abrams would also heavily borrow from for his first Star Wars movie, Episode VII – The Force Awakens. But this is the same guy who also borrowed heavily from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for his picture Super 8. It all kind of makes me wonder what his next Star Wars film will heavily borrow from.

In the realm of Star Trek movies, this is better than the worst films that came before it but it doesn’t come close to the greatness of Wrath of KhanThe Voyage HomeThe Undiscovered Country or First Contact. As its own film, separate from the series, it is a fun, space action movie. I will give it that. It is a good adventure and a better than average popcorn movie but we’ve seen this all before and done much better.

In retrospect, I’m pretty happy with most of the casting. I never liked the idea of anyone else ever playing the original crew but that bad idea is salvaged fairly well with most of the cast choices. I like Pine as Kirk, Quinto as Spock and Urban as Bones. However, I just don’t see how they will ever have the chemistry that Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley had. But since this series was cancelled after the third film, I guess we’ll never see what develops between the three men over the long haul.

But this film also diminishes McCoy’s importance, as the relationship they focus on is just between Kirk and Spock and not the trinity we all came to love on the original television show and the movies of the ’80s. And that’s a shame, really, as I love Karl Urban’s commitment to the McCoy character. He just nails it so well. I think he actually understands the role much more than Abrams, the man behind the camera.

I’m probably coming off as harsh but I’m just calling it like I see it. I did enjoy revisiting this, as it was a quick paced, exciting film. It did have some heart in the moments where Leonard Nimoy, as the older Spock, came into the story. But it did lack the right sort of emotion to make me feel for these characters.

do like this for the most part but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t just a framework for something that could have been richer and more intimate. A lot of the pieces to this puzzle were good and while some connected, it’s as if the filmmakers gave up about halfway through and just threw all the pieces back into the box.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Kelvin timeline Star Trek films: Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond.

Documentary Review: Jack Kirby: Story Teller (2007)

Release Date: June 5th, 2007
Cast: Neal Adams, Jim Lee, Stan Lee, Jeph Loeb, John Romita Sr., Alex Ross, Tim Sale, Walter Simonson, Bruce Timm, Len Wein, Barry Windsor-Smith, Marv Wolfman

Marvel Studios, Sparkhill Production, 20th Century Fox, 64 Minutes

Review:

I’ve been watching through a lot of comic book documentaries on YouTube, lately. I came across this one that discusses the work and legacy of Jack Kirby.

I’m not sure if this was made as a special feature on a DVD, as it was produced by Marvel and 20th Century Fox. Maybe it was included on one of the Fantastic Four DVD releases a decade ago.

Anyway, if you appreciate and admire the great work of Jack Kirby, this is a really engaging documentary.

It is rather short, considering the long career of the man but it does cover a lot of ground. It also interviews a lot of other comic book greats that worked with Kirby or were inspired by him.

This feels like a quickly thrown together low budget fluff piece and if I’m being honest, Jack Kirby deserves a proper documentary or a real biopic. As much as this does talk about how much Jack did, I still don’t feel like it captures the real importance and scale of it all.

But this is still a worthwhile watch because there really isn’t anything better… yet.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other comic book industry biographical documentaries.

Documentary Review: The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics (2009)

Release Date: July 21st, 2009
Directed by: Eric Matthies
Cast: Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Zack Snyder, Gerard Way, Dave Gibbons, Len Wein

Eric Matthies Productions, Warner Bros., 29 Minutes

Review:

I believe that this was originally included on the DVD release of Watchmen back in 2009 but I never owned the original DVD so I’m not sure.

This documentary is very tied to the movie, however, as most of the interviews are with the actors from the film, as well as its director, Zack Snyder. But we also get to hear from some comic book personalities, such as Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, as well as Len Wein and Gerard Way.

Cast aside, this is not a documentary about the film adaptation, it is about the original comic book, which many consider to be one of the all-time masterpieces in comic book history. Carla Gugino even refers to this as the Citizen Kane of the comic book medium. She might not be wrong there and frankly, I’ve found few people that weren’t moved by Watchmen in some way.

This is a shorter documentary than it should be, as this great work deserves to be explored for more than 29 minutes. But still, it is informative and really gets into the messages within it, its philosophy, its style, the art and its cultural impact.

I’m not sure if there is a longer and more comprehensive documentary on the Watchmen comic but this is fairly satisfactory until one eventually gets made. Maybe HBO will do it, as they are now coming out with a Watchmen TV show.

If you love the comic, which you should, this is definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the 2009 Watchmen movie and other recent comic book documentaries.

Film Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Release Date: December 1st, 2003 (Wellington, New Zealand premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, David Wenham, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee (Extended Edition only), Brad Dourif (Extended Edition only), Bruce Spence (Extended Edition only), Sean Bean (Extended Edition only)

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 201 Minutes, 254 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 263 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 192 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!” – Aragorn

Having taken a break from seeing this for several years helped me look at this film, and the two before it, much more objectively. I loved this film when it came out and I watched the Extended Editions of all three films almost monthly for a few years. But I actually haven’t seen this now since before the first Hobbit movie came out in 2012.

My biggest takeaway from seeing it now is that this is a perfect film, at least in the form of the Extended Edition. There’s nothing I would change, add or take away from it. It is a great adaptation that took a few liberties but all those liberties worked and made this a richer story in a cinematic sense.

The acting is superb and everyone in this film was at the top of their game. But really, there are two actors who carried this film, Viggo Mortensen and Sean Astin. Mortensen was the perfect choice for Aragorn and if you aren’t willing to follow him into battle after watching this movie, you might be dead inside.

However, Sean Astin is the real star of this chapter in the franchise. As Samwise Gamgee, he is the true hero that sees things through. When Frodo, the one chosen to bear the burden of the ring is emotionally and physically drained, it is Sam who carries on, getting Frodo to the finish line by literally carrying him on his back up a flaming volcano. It’s one of the most badass and touching moments in motion picture history and really, all the credit has to go to Astin for just how damn good he was in this film. Where the hell was the Oscar nomination? I know that this was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won all eleven but it was short one for Astin’s performance.

I also can’t deny the greatness that was Ian McKellen’s Gandalf in this chapter.

The special effects are still top notch and at the time that this came out, this film had the best effects of all-time. Everything was great over the course of all three movies but the grandiose scale of this epic picture called for a massive amount of effects work. Everything was executed masterfully and it’s almost unbelievable to think that these movies came out just a year apart from each other.

This is a story about friendship, honor and loyalty and it’s hard to think of a better example of these things in any other film. The Return of the King knocks it out of the park in that regard and is pretty inspirational because of it. It taps into the best qualities of human nature, overcomes immense adversity and sees hope and goodness succeed in the face of enormous and seemingly unconquerable darkness.

Again, The Return of the King is a pillar of perfection. It’s so good that I wish I could give it an 11 out of 10 rating.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Lord of the Rings films, as well as The Hobbit trilogy.

Film Review: Superman Returns (2006)

Also known as: Superman V, Superman Reborn (working titles), Red Sun (fake working title)
Release Date: June 21st, 2006 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, Bryan Singer
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: John Ottman, John Williams (original themes)
Cast: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Eva Marie Saint, Parker Posey, Kal Penn, Sam Huntington, Kevin Spacey, Marlon Brando (archive footage), Richard Branson (cameo)

Legendary Pictures, DC Comics, Peters Entertainment, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Warner Bros., 154 Minutes

Review:

“You can print money, manufacture diamonds, and people are a dime a dozen, but they’ll always need land. It’s the one thing they’re not making any more of.” – Lex Luthor

I haven’t seen this film since it first came out. There were things I liked about it but I never had much urge to revisit it. Seeing it again, twelve years later, I was reminded why.

To start, this is a motion picture that had it’s heart in the right place. It was an homage to the style and tone of the first two Christopher Reeve Superman films. In fact, this is a loose sequel to those; it ignores SupermanIII and IV.

But while this does have its heart in the right place, it was lacking a soul. It tried quite hard to pull off the magic that existed in the first two Reeve films but it lacked its spirit and its charm.

That being said, I did like Brandon Routh as Superman and I thought his Clark Kent was good. But if I have to compare him to Reeve, he is short on personality. I don’t think that’s his fault though, as he is pretty damn charming in a lot of other films and television shows he’s been in. He’s one of the shining stars of Legends of Tomorrow. But I feel like he was sort of forced to give an understated performance here. And maybe the studio was too afraid to make him too Reeve-like but if he is playing the Reeve version of Superman, there should be some consistency.

I wasn’t crazy about most of the cast, despite the fact that most of them are talented. Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane also seemed to lack the energy and spirit she needed. She didn’t have the spunk of Margot Kidder and felt less like that version of Lois than Routh felt like the Reeve version of Superman.

Kevin Spacey was okay as Lex Luthor but he also didn’t feel like the Gene Hackman version.

So are you starting to see the problem here?

This film exists as a new Superman III but the new cast doesn’t quite fill the shoes of the first two movies. I think that this comes down to the script, as none of the characters are written in the same way as they were in those Richard Donner directed classics from 1978 and 1980.

Another big issue I have with this is that the story is boring and Lex’s evil scheme is mundane. Maybe this was all done to setup something bigger in the future but since this didn’t get any of the planned sequels, all we got was a lot of drama and Superman throwing a continent into space. Hell, the scheme in the real Superman III was much better than what they came up with here.

As far as positives, I did like the score and the inclusion of the original John Williams themes. Honestly, the Williams theme immediately gets you pumped up during the credits and it actually makes this film better. Ultimately, as I said, the heart was there and the tone felt right. But then again, the tone sort of loses its essence. As the film rolls on, it doesn’t seem to go anywhere and we’re given a threat that doesn’t create any sort of exciting battle or action.

Most of the action in the film is vehicle action: a runaway car, a seaplane in danger, an out of control airplane hauling a space shuttle and Lex’s helicopter escape.

This film came out in a time when digital effects could do anything but all Superman really did was lift a large land mass. They could have had him fight Darkseid, Brainiac, Metallo, Mongul, Doomsday or any other great villain from his large rogues gallery.

I wish that this would have been a great film. I wish it would have birthed a new series of films. It just didn’t resonate with me, most critics and or the audience.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the first two Christopher Reeve starring Superman films and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy.

Film Review: The Spirit (2008)

Also known as: Will Eisner’s The Spirit (poster title)
Release Date: December 25th, 2018
Directed by: Frank Miller
Written by: Frank Miller
Based on: The Spirit by Will Eisner
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Dan Lauria, Paz Vega, Jaime King, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson

OddLot Entertainment, Lionsgate, 103 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna kill you all kinds of dead.” – The Spirit

I really wanted to like this. I really did. But alas, it was as bad as everyone has said. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad but even the positives couldn’t save it. I’ll explain.

To start, I really liked the visuals for the most part. It’s very similar in style to Sin City. In fact, it feels like a spinoff of it, even though it has no real connection to it, other than the visual style and the director, Frank Miller, who directed some of the scenes in Sin City. However, in the previous film, Miller also played third fiddle behind all-stars Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

The opening to this movie was really strong. The scenes of The Spirit running from rooftop to rooftop during the credits was fantastic. Initially, I also liked the score. It did, however, sound like it was trying really hard to channel the feel of Danny Elfman’s work on the 1989 Batman score.

That being said, the score did end up being a problem for me, though.

While it started off cloning Elfman, it was inconsistent throughout the picture. It would get jazzy at times, like it was trying to accent the noir look of the picture and then it seemed like it was mimicking Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores, primarily those used in the Sergio Leone films of the ’60s. The score just had multiple personality disorder and none of it seemed wholly originally, it just seemed like homages to other things that don’t necessarily fit well together.

Then there is the plot itself. I do like the origin story of The Spirit and how it ties to the villain, The Octopus. But apart from that, everything else seemed overly stylized, ridiculously hokey and nothing was fluid. The film felt like a bunch of scenes sewn together without any regard for pacing or a consistent tone.

Humor was used a lot in this movie and most of it just doesn’t work. Everyone feels like a caricature and therefore, is lacking any real depth. Without depth, you don’t care about them, can’t relate to them and don’t even find them to be all that interesting. Sure, The Octopus changes his look in nearly every scene and he usually looks cool but when doesn’t Samuel Jackson look cool? Also, when doesn’t Scarlett Johansson look stunning? Here, she always looks great but she delivers her lines like she’s dead. I don’t blame her for that, I blame Miller’s script and his direction.

The only actor I actually liked in this was Dan Lauria. His role here felt tailor made for his personality. But I’ve always loved Lauria since The Wonder Years and I thought it was cool seeing him essentially play the Commissioner Gordon of this movie, even if he felt more like Harvey Bullock.

The Spirit lures you in with its credit sequence and its overall look but after about twenty minutes, you grow tired and bored of it. The humor is bizarre, the tone is confusing, the music is distracting and the actors deliver their lines like they’re in a film that should be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

It’s no wonder why there was never a sequel to this, even if the ending leaves things open for one.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: the Sin City and 300 films.

Film Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Release Date: December 5th, 2002 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean (Extended Edition), Andy Serkis, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 179 Minutes, 235 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 228 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 171 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak I fought with the Balrog of Morgoth… Until at last I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountain side… Darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time… The stars wheeled overhead, and every day was as long as a life age of the earth… But it was not the end. I felt life in me again. I’ve been sent back until my task is done.” – Gandalf

I have seen all of these movies probably a dozen times but it has been several years now since revisiting them. From memory, I always thought of The Two Towers as the weakest of the trilogy but it is still a masterpiece and a perfect film for what it is: a bridge between the beginning and the end.

It also ups the ante quite a bit and is more epic in scale, as the two final battles alone are bigger than anything we saw in the first film, apart from the intro that showed the fall of Sauron millennia earlier.

But, really, the climax to this motion picture is absolutely amazing. If you are a fan of epic battles, this does not disappoint. If you are a fan of fantasy, this should definitely satisfy your palate.

All the key players are back and that includes Sean Bean’s Boromir, who died in the previous movie. Granted, he is only in a couple of flashbacks in the Extended Edition but it’s great to see him and to get more context in regards to how Gondor is run and the relationship between Boromir, Faramir and their father.

The return of Gandalf and the shift in power away from Saruman and to him is a really great moment that helps turn the tide towards the light. Ian McKellan was superb and his character’s evolution was incredible. The continuation of his battle with the Balrog is one of my favorite cinematic moments of all-time.

It is Viggo Mortensen who steals the show, however. While he was great in the first picture and was perfectly cast, he truly shines here and anyone watching this film would want to follow him, which is great considering what his role is in the goings on of Middle Earth and how this series ends in the following film.

If you are going to watch these films, you should always watch the Extended Editions, as they provide more story, better context and a heftier helping of the meat and potatoes. The Extended Edition of The Two Towers offers a lot of extra footage that isn’t in the original theatrical version. It isn’t so much that it makes it a different film but it certainly makes it a better one.

The Two Towers is perfect. It is a masterpiece like the other two pictures in the trilogy. It is the weakest, sure, but I’d rather be the weakest film in this trilogy than the best film in the Transformers series.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Lord of the Rings films, as well as The Hobbit trilogy.