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.

TV Review: Documentary Now! (2015- )

Original Run: August 20th, 2015 – current
Directed by: Rhys Thomas, Alex Buono
Written by: Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, John Mulaney, various
Music by: Josh Moshier
Cast: Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Helen Mirren (host)

Broadway Video, IFC, 14 Episodes (so far), 23 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2016.

Probably due to the immense success of Portlandia, IFC allowed Fred Armisen to do a second show on their network, Documentary Now! Like Portlandia it is also produced by Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels.

Each episode of the show parodies a well-known documentary film from history. Each one is shot in the same style and presented in the same way as the work it is parodying. This makes each episode feel unique and sort of timeless. They did a pretty outstanding job at recreating the essence of the films they’re emulating.

Armisen is joined by another SNL alum, Bill Hader. They act out the main roles in all of the films and have a great supporting cast full of cameos of a lot of recognizable people.

Each episode of the show is a half hour. On Netflix without commercials, they’re around 23 minutes. I think that this show could easily run for an hour and be just as engaging and entertaining. In the end, it is pretty damn hilarious.

The show is hosted by Helen Mirren who brings a level of class and legitimacy to this series. Seth Myers, also from SNL writes the show alongside Armisen and Hader. Sometimes John Mulaney contributes to the scripts as well.

There is only one season of this show, which has just seven episodes, but so far, I love it. I don’t know if it can maintain its quality level as it rolls on into the future but we have at least two more seasons to find that out, as IFC renewed the show through season three.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Armisen’s other IFC show Portlandia.

Film Review: Power Rangers (2017)

Also known as: Saban’s Power Rangers
Release Date: March 22nd, 2017 (Regency Village Theater premiere)
Directed by: Dean Israelite
Written by: John Gatins, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks, David Denman

Lionsgate, Temple Hill Entertainment, 124 Minutes

Review:

For awhile now, I have been a fan of Japan’s Super Sentai franchise. For those that don’t know, it is the source material that was used to create Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in the United States.

I have never been a big Power Rangers fan though. Believe me, I have tried but the show is cheesy to the point that it made Saved By the Bell look like an episode of Breaking Bad. Let’s be honest, Power Rangers has never really been good. And now that it is being presented more seriously and with a budget and also all original footage, one would have to assume that it could only be better than the original Power Rangers show.

Well, being that it doesn’t have much to live up to, it certainly surpasses the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers show in every way. That doesn’t mean that it is a fantastic movie, however. It also isn’t bad though. Let me elaborate.

The film is primarily a teen drama that doesn’t really get to the action and superhero vibe of the film until the finale. There are a few run-ins with the villain and training montages but this is an origin story. Like most comic book style origin stories, it puts most of its emphasis on the journey of the characters as they transform into heroes. This isn’t a bad thing and I like that the film takes its time, developing the characters and fleshing out their personalities, their individual characteristics and what all this means for them.

The acting is certainly better than what the Power Rangers television shows have given us now for two-plus decades. The writing is also better and so is the story of these characters. While the film reestablishes the franchise’s mythos in new ways and deviates from the source material, it is probably for the best. The original series wasn’t well thought out and it was just an Americanized attempt at trying to make sense out of the footage they spliced in from the Japanese Sentai series Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger.

Power Rangers is hokey but it is fun. However, it isn’t cheesy in an eye-rolling sort of way. It certainly stands well above the Michael Bay Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remakes. It also doesn’t play like the male version of Twilight, which I feared from some of the trailers and marketing. Unlike those three franchises just mentioned, you really care about the kids in Power Rangers.

Elizabeth Banks was also pretty entertaining as the new version of the villain Rita Repulsa. While the character is completely different than the television version, who was a different villain completely in Japan where she was known as Bandora, Banks owned the part and looked like she was having a lot of fun playing an over-the-top supervillain.

Bryan Cranston was solid as Zordon and Bill Hader was actually quite perfect for the voice of Alpha 5. I liked that Alpha 5 wasn’t some annoying moron and actually was a snarky character that could probably hold his own in a fight if he had to.

The Zords were all fairly cool and came off better than I thought they would. The Pink Ranger’s pterodactyl was by far the coolest. Megazord also looked good and resembled an upgraded and more futuristic version of a Jaeger from Pacific Rim.

As far as negatives, while the film takes its time before putting our heroes in their Ranger armor, they do seem to beat Rita Repulsa and Goldar fairly easily without any real experience. They learned how to pilot their Zords pretty quickly and after one initial stumble piloting the Megazord, the five pilots are able to fairly easily defeat Goldar. Also, apart from summoning Goldar and Putties, Rita Repulsa doesn’t seem to have much power at all.

Power Rangers is by no means a great film but it isn’t supposed to be. It is supposed to reinvigorate the fan base with something new and something better. It really gets away from the teen sitcom and tokusatsu vibe of the television shows but what it gives us is a legitimate upgrade. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as this new incarnation roars forward with other installments. I don’t expect mind blowing motion pictures but I do anticipate a lot of fun between bites of double buttered extra salty popcorn.