Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Also known as: Star Trek XII, Star Trek 2, 2, Untitled Star Trek Sequel (working titles)
Release Date: April 23rd, 2013 (Sydney premiere)
Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Written by: Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof
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, Deep Roy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Weller, Alice Eve, Noel Clarke, Chris Hemsworth, Heather Langenkamp, Bill Hader (voice)

Bad Robot Productions, Skydance Productions, K/O Paper Products, Paramount Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“He used my friends to control me. I tried to smuggle them to safety by concealing them in the very weapons I have designed. But I was discovered. I had no choice but to escape alone. And when I did, I had every reason to suspect that Marcus had killed every single one of the people I hold most dear. So I responded in kind. My crew is my family, Kirk. Is there anything you would not do for your family?” – Khan

There is one simple thing that ruins this movie. It’s still enjoyable and a lot of fun but this film could have actually been pretty great. What ruins it is the reveal that Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison is actually Khan Noonien Singh.

While this film was being made, everyone and their mother speculated that Cumberbatch was Khan. The filmmakers promised us that he wasn’t. It was a pretty big debate at the time going on within the Star Trek fan community. So when the reveal comes in the film, which was no surprise to anyone, it sort of made me go, “Really, MFer?! So you guys lied?!” Did they try to salvage the reveal by denying it? Did they think that would work and then the fans would be pleasantly surprised? Maybe that kind of Hollywood bullshittery is why Disney wanted J. J. Abrams to helm their first Star Wars movie.

I’m not really that pissed about it in retrospect. But it is worth mentioning how this film had some controversy around it because of that. But hey, the normies loved it, as they loved the previous Abrams Trek film and the post-Lucas Star Wars films. But I digress.

I did love Cumberbatch as the villain here but he didn’t need to be Khan. He should have stayed John Harrison and been a character in the same vein as Khan. There could be other genetically modified warlords from Earth’s past that were put on ice for centuries. Or he could have been an acolyte of Khan, leading up to a third film where Khan is unleashed.

The problem I have with Cumberbatch as Khan is that he doesn’t look the part, act the part or feel Khan-like in any way whatsoever. I’m not sure why he was cast, other than he is an incredible actor. He just feels wasted being wedged into a mold where he doesn’t quite fit. But again, he’s damn good, all things considered. Maybe Hollywood was all out of Mexican actors to play Indian despots?

But as good as Cumberbatch is, he is overshadowed by an even more villainous character that became a total curveball and pleasant surprise within the film, Peter Weller’s Admiral Marcus. Weller just owns this film in every single scene that features him. Plus, his vessel was one of the most intimidating in Star Trek history. He just fit the part so well and looked like a tyrant king sitting in his captain’s chair like it was a throne over the galaxy.

I also liked that the film finally included the Klingons, even though it got them wrong and made them look bizarre. The Klingons’ look has varied over the years but the look from the original movies and the television shows from Star Trek: The Next Generation on became their iconic look. Deviating from that makes little sense. They could have toned it down and made them look more like they did in the original series from the ’60s but no, Abrams had to make his own stupid version of them.

The crew was good in this but that carries over from the first film. I thought that most of the casting was well done and it’s nice to see them work better as a unit now without Kirk and Spock bickering for 75 percent of the movie. But I guess that’s replaced with Spock and Uhura bickering.

I did enjoy the addition of Alice Eve to the cast as crew member Dr. Carol Marcus, daughter of Weller’s evil admiral. She had great chemistry with Chris Pine and Dr. Marcus was a character I loved from the original movies. But where the hell was she in Star Trek Beyond? But I’ll address that when I review it.

The opening sequence of the movie is beautiful and really cool. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of this Kelvin timeline trilogy. The rest of the movie feels cold, as it primarily takes place in space until we get to see Earth at the end. There’s also about 5 minutes of the Klingon homeworld but it is mostly seen during a spaceship chase that just feels a lot like what Abrams gave us in the first act of The Force Awakens when Rey and Finn escaped the desert planet by flying through shipwrecked Star Destroyers.

Also, the scenes that are call backs to older Trek moments were pretty cringe. The scene where Kirk dies and Spock is on the other side of the glass, a role reversal from the end of Wrath of Khan, was so awkward and off putting that it sucked you out of the film. Plus, you knew that Kirk would be alive again in ten minutes and the emotional impact wasn’t there.

If they would have fine tuned this movie a bit more, not made Cumberbatch reveal himself to be Khan and not meddled with establish canon and character design, then this could have been a damn fine space adventure. At its core, it still doesn’t feel like Star Trek in spirit but there are very few modern filmmakers that I think could pull that off, especially when trying to appeal to the widest modern audience possible.

There is a lot to like with this movie but there are so many things wrong with it that it’s bogged down by its own bullshit.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Kelvin timeline Star Trek films: Star Trek and Star Trek Beyond.

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.

Film Review: Thoroughbreds (2017)

Also known as: Thoroughbred (festival title)
Release Date: January 21st, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Cory Finley
Written by: Cory Finley
Music by: Erik Friedlander
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift

June Pictures, B Story, Big Indie Pictures, Focus Features, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“You cannot hesitate. The only thing worse than being incompetent, or being unkind, or being evil, is being indecisive.” – Amanda

I’ve been wanting to see this for about two years, after reading about it following its premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. It was said to be “smart”, “quirky”, “unpredictable” and a mashup between American Psycho and Heathers.

It really isn’t any of those things, unfortunately. Okay, maybe it has a small dose of Heathers mixed in but it certainly doesn’t come close to the darkness one experiences in watching American Psycho.

I also didn’t find it to be “smart”, “quirky” or “unpredictable”.

I don’t want to take a big shit on this film, as I did moderately enjoy it and bits were amusing. Plus, I thought Anya Taylor-Joy and Anton Yelchin’s performances were terrific.

I just couldn’t buy into Olivia Cooke’s Amanda with her emotionless, dead pan delivery. I get that this is what her character is supposed to be but she doesn’t truly commit to the bit. You see, even though she isn’t supposed to care about anything, she is still conveniently driven by things in a way that seems to betray her own character.

Cooke’s Amanda was the apathetic angsty teen that acts overly depressed and always talks about it, probably for attention at first but somewhere along the line has bought into her own bullshit. I’ve dealt with major depression my entire life and people who act like her are typically attention seekers, even if they are legitimately broken. But I don’t think she was intended to be portrayed that way, I feel as if the director/writer actually bought into her bullshit too. But I guess that really just makes it his own bullshit.

Amanda is not quirky. She also isn’t smart. And as far as the plot goes, it isn’t unpredictable, it is actually very predictable. From the get-go, you know there is going to be a dark twist of some sort by the end and you also know that the stepfather will die somehow. But when that twist comes, it’s not all that shocking or surprising, it just limps its way into the narrative and all the ultraviolence that should come with something that’s compared to American Psycho, happens off screen.

I’m not saying that gore was necessary for this film to work but this was tame when compared to the things that modern critics have associated it with.

The big scene where the shit hits the fan is comprised of a still longshot that lasts a few minutes, as Amanda is passed out on the couch and you hear a loud, violent commotion upstairs. It’s a trope that’s been overused by indie filmmaking darlings for decades and its mostly lost its effectiveness. Or maybe I’ve just watched too many movies over the years.

But the point is that there is nothing new here and the promised shocks and surprises limp into the plot like a rat stuck to a glue trap.

Thoroughbreds isn’t a terrible motion picture but it is an underwhelming and disappointing one. It’s only real saving grace was the performances by two of its top three stars.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Heathers and Jawbreaker.