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.

TV Review: Justified (2010-2015)

Also known as: Lawman (working title)
Original Run: March 16th, 2010 – April 14th, 2015
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Fire in the Hole by Elmore Leonard
Music by: Steve Porcaro, Gangstagrass (theme)
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Joelle Carter, Jacob Pitts, Erica Tazel, Natalie Zea, Walton Goggins, Jere Burns, M.C. Gainey, Brent Sexton, William Ragsdale, Stephen Root, Margo Martindale, Brad William Henke, Neal McDonough, Stephen Tobolowsky, Scott Grimes, Jeff Fahey, Garret Dillahunt, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Danielle Panabaker, Amy Smart, Alicia Witt, Michael Rapaport, Patton Oswalt, Gerald McRaney, Adam Arkin

Sony Pictures Television, Rooney McP Productions, Timberman-Beverly Productions, Nemo Films, Bluebush Productions, FX, 78 Episodes, 37-53 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Justified was one of those shows that everyone told me to watch. I really loved Deadwood and was pissed that it ended when it did, only after three seasons and on a cliffhanger. Timothy Olyphant was fantastic in that show. When Justified came around, it seemed like the modern spiritual successor to the near perfect Deadwood. And many people went on to confirm that to me, before I even saw it.

Then I saw it.

I don’t know what it is about majority opinion and my own opinion but when it comes to television shows, they don’t seem to match up. The thing is, I hate this show. “Awful” isn’t a strong enough word to describe it.

Maybe there is just something about FX that is horrible because every single FX show I have ever watched, except for Always Sunny, has completely underwhelmed me and left me befuddled as to how so many people are in love with FX’s product. The network is perceived by many to be on par with the greats like HBO, Showtime and AMC. Justified is just one of a string of many shows that feels just as safe and generic as the episodic crime drama bullshit found on the big networks: CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox.

I also don’t know who the music director is at FX but Justified easily has the worst theme song in television history. It is eye rolling, stomach churning and just a horrendous attempt at trying to force together hip-hop and bluegrass. But FX shows have a history of having really shitty theme songs, except for Always Sunny. The Justified theme, actually makes the terrible Sons of Anarchy theme, sound like a masterpiece.

The worst part, is that I like Olyphant and even more than him, I love Walton Goggins. This show has great talent on the screen but the final product is still crap. Sure, the acting is better than average but the plot, the characters and everything else is so drab and cookie cutter.

I only made it about halfway through the third season before giving up. I rarely give up on a show. But nothing really grabbed me by that point and the consensus from the fans of the show is that the first three seasons are the best and then it falls off after that. Well, it was never really on for me to begin with so I certainly don’t want to invest another twenty-plus hours in it “falling off”.

I wish there were more westerns and even neo-westerns on TV. I just wish more were like Deadwood, Hell On Wheels and Longmire (once it went to Netflix) and less like this basic bag of bullshit.

And ultimately, it’s just made me go back and start re-watching the far superior Deadwood once again.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Sons of AnarchyBreaking BadFear the Walking Dead and Deadwood.

Film Review: Bright (2017)

Release Date: December 13th, 2017 (Regency Village Theater)
Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: Max Landis
Music by: David Sardy
Cast: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry, Edgar Ramirez, Ike Barinholtz, Margaret Cho, Brad William Henke, Kenneth Choi

Overbrook Entertainment, Trigger Warning Entertainment, Grand Electric, Netflix, 118 Minutes

Review:

“This is like a nuclear weapon that grants wishes.” – Nick Jakoby

Any film where Will Smith is the chosen one, is probably guaranteed to suck. But then Netflix original movies are the modern version of direct-to-video schlock. At least, that seems to be the trend over the last year or so.

Also, I’m going to have to be brutally honest with this review because David Ayer is a shit filmmaker. Between this and Suicide Squad, I’d prefer it if the guy just stayed away from a camera unless he’s taking selfies for his profile on Tinder. Then again, I really don’t give a crap about his Tinder or his movies, at this point.

There is one sole bright spot in this entire film and that is the performance of Joel Edgerton. Sadly, he had to play opposite of Smith, who can be a good actor at times but whose hokiness and cheesy delivery can be confusing in a role that requires more grittiness and a hefty helping of testosterone. Smith plays his role like this is Bad Boys III and even when he gets a bit of a harder edge, he’s always got that awful one liner that drags the movie down a few notches.

I don’t blame Smith per se, I blame Ayer for not knowing better. It was his job to dictate the tone of the film and thus, Smith’s execution of the character. Maybe Max Landis’ script was just hard to work with. While it showed promise and had some interesting ideas, the dialogue was mostly terrible, the metaphors for race relations were one dimensional and overall, it was incredibly derivative for something that really should have felt fresh and original. In fact, it mostly just played out like Training Day and End of Watch, two of Ayer’s better films. But really, I think Ayer can only make one kind of film and this is it. It just happens to have orcs and elves thrown in.

Bright is poorly executed in just about every way. It should have been cool and unique but it wasn’t. I guess Netflix already wants to pump out sequels, showing that they don’t really give a shit about the quality of their product anymore. They just need to make as much product as possible to justify rising subscription costs and a mass loss of content that they didn’t create. I’m pretty close to cancelling my subscription, actually.

Bright really is friggin’ terrible. That being said, it has to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. And the results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Rating: 3.75/10

Film Review: Hollywoodland (2006)

Release Date: August 31st, 2006 (Venice International Film Festival)
Directed by: Allen Coulter
Written by: Paul Bernbaum
Music by: Marcelo Zarvos
Cast: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Kathleen Robertson, Lois Smith, Molly Parker, Jeffrey DeMunn, Brad William Henke

Focus Features, Miramax Films, Back Lot Pictures, Universal Studios, Buena Vista International, 127 Minutes

Review:

“[about the bullet holes in George Reeves’ floor] Since when do suicides miss twice and start over?” – Louis Simo

This film really grabbed me immediately with the opening theme, which set the tone perfectly for this film-noir styled biopic about the death of George Reeves, the actor who was most famous for playing television’s Superman in the 1950s.

Ben Affleck plays the legendary George Reeves but he is not the main character. Adrien Brody gets the big spotlight in this one, as he plays a private investigator hired to uncover the truth surrounding George Reeves apparent suicide.

This is a very layered film, in the same vein as a classic film-noir, and it features a large cast of characters.

Brody commands your attention as Louis Simo. He exudes charisma and weaves his way through this tapestry with ease and a real air of confidence missing by most actors these days. Brody, as well as Affleck, almost feel overpowered though by the performance of veteran Bob Hoskins, who enters each scene with an aura of intimidation like a massive storm cloud ready to strike out with booming thunder.

Diane Lane puts in a solid performance as well, as do most of the ladies here. It was cool seeing Molly Parker banter with Brody. Robin Tunney and Kathleen Robertson both brought their A-game performances, as well. I wish we got to see more of Robertson, as she’s never quite broken out as a leading lady. Here, she shows that she has got more to offer than just being one of Ian Ziering’s girlfriends from the original Beverly Hills, 90210.

While this wasn’t an exceptional film, it did paint an intimate portrait and it handled the George Reeves situation with care and grace. There were a lot of shady things that happened in his life but the film felt honest and respected the man, even while displaying those flaws. Superman isn’t real and the man was just as human as all of us.

The film feels like it is missing something though. Maybe it’s the fact that it built up towards a resolution but we never really got there. Not in a proper narrative sense, anyway. By the time the credits roll, you’ve been taken on a ride but it just feels like a collection of scenes that don’t reach a solid conclusion.

I like Hollywoodland despite its flaws, in the same way I appreciate George Reeves despite his. It doesn’t fully hit the mark but it does connect with you emotionally and then lingers long after the final scene. In that sense, it is an effective movie.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Split (2016)

Release Date: September 26th, 2016 (Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: West Dylan Thordson
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, M. Night Shyamalan (cameo), Bruce Willis (uncredited)

Blinding Edge Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Universal Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

It has been a really long time since I have wanted to see an M. Night Shyamalan movie. When I first caught the trailer for Split, I was very intrigued. Then I saw Shyamalan’s name attached and thought, “Well, this might bring you back to greatness, buddy. Don’t screw it up.” After having seen this, I can say that he certainly didn’t screw it up.

James McAvoy has never put in anything other than great performances. In this film, we get to see McAvoy at his greatest, up to this point in his career. He’s still young and has a lot of years left but McAvoy gave us an Oscar caliber performance. Why he wasn’t nominated for anything is kind of baffling. Maybe it’s because this got a wide release in January of 2017 and he’ll be considered next year. But by that point, he won’t be fresh in the Academy’s minds and they snub lots of great performers every year.

Alongside McAvoy, is Anya Taylor-Joy, a young woman who is becoming quite a good actress. This is the best that I have seen her but now that she is joining the X-Men franchise in next year’s New Mutants, I think she has definitely made her mark and will have a busy career going forward. She certainly deserves it after her performance in Split.

Betty Buckley was superb as the therapist while Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula did a good job as the other girls held captive by McAvoy’s multiple personalities.

Brad William Henke stood out as the creeper uncle. I always love Henke’s work but he always gets the hulking creeper roles. I’d like to see him get bigger roles, the guy deserves it.

The film also gives us the obligatory M. Night Shyamalan cameo, as well as a Bruce Willis cameo. The Willis part ties into another great Shyamalan picture and ties these two movies together, as Shyamalan has plans to make a film that is a sequel to Split and that other movie.

Now I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, this isn’t a film that should be spoiled in any way. But I do want to explain why this works so well, as Shyamalan has struggled with narrative in the last decade and a half.

So, the only real spoiler is that Split has no big twist ending. Well, not really. I’ll explain.

It is a good solid story, it has a lot of revelations but none of those typical Shyamalan attempts at dumping the film on its head while screaming, “A-ha! I shocked you! It’s a twist!”

You see, I feel like Shyamalan painted himself into a corner with his famous twist endings. It got to the point where a twist was expected and people spent the whole movie bracing themselves and also, trying to figure it out. Eventually, the twists became really mundane and weren’t all that shocking.

In some films, like The Village, it felt like Shyamalan couldn’t decide what to do. Should the beasts be real or imaginary? What he gave us was a bizarre and awful twist in that regard and then another twist that completely destroyed the film. The twists became messes that ruined otherwise effective pictures.

In Split, the big twist is that there is no twist. And maybe that is Shyamalan’s greatest use of the twist, whether that was his intention or not.

After a slew of films that just didn’t cut the mustard, Shyamalan proved to me and the rest of the film-going masses, that he’s still got it. He may have been lost for too long but he found himself once again. I hope he’s learned from those many mistakes because I want Shyamalan on his A-game. He’s extremely talented on his best days and he’s a director that has shown that he is much better than some of the schlock he’s put out. Split is proof enough that The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable weren’t flukes.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the films that sandwich it: Unbreakable and Glass.

Film Review: Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016)

Release Date: March 17th, 2016 (SXSW premiere)
Directed by: John Lee
Written by: Paul Reubens, Paul Rust
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Paul Reubens, Joe Manganiello, Alia Shawkat, Jessica Pohly, Stephanie Beatriz, Brad William Henke, Hal Landon Jr., Diane Salinger, Patrick Egan, Tara Buck, David Arquette

Pee-wee Pictures, Apatow Productions, Netflix, 89 Minutes

Review:

It has been close to three decades since Paul Reubens has given us a Pee-wee Herman film. I went into this expecting it to be entertaining enough for a viewing but didn’t anticipate it being close to the level of greatness that was Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. But I certainly hoped it would be better than Big Top Pee-wee.

It falls somewhere in-between those two movies but very close to Big Adventure.

The film does a fantastic job of capturing the heart of the original film. Sure, it is essentially a rehash of that movie, considering that circumstances send him on a big road trip.

Reubens hasn’t lost a step, even though it has been a long time since he gave us a full length Pee-wee feature. The magic is still there and Reubens does a fine job of recreating the spirit of the character and the oddness that is Pee-wee’s world.

He is accompanied by Joe Manganiello, who plays himself. Manganiello is stupendous though in this goofy comedy and he brings a level of coolness to the picture and to Pee-wee’s life.

It is also a film that showcases friendship and does a fine job of it, considering it plays out in such a bizarre fashion.

But what is Pee-wee Herman, if not bizarre?

It’s definitely a movie for Pee-wee fans and probably won’t be that entertaining to newcomers to Reubens’ wacky world. But if Pee-wee is your thing, this film certainly isn’t a disappointment and lives up to whatever expectations it may have.

It also features probably the most elaborate Rube Goldberg machine sequence in any Pee-wee adventure.

Film Review: Pacific Rim (2013)

Release Date: July 1st, 2013 (Mexico City)
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro
Music by: Ramin Djawadi
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Rob Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman, Brad William Henke

Legendary Pictures, DDY, Warner Bros. Pictures, 131 Minutes

pacific-rim-poster4Review:

Let me start by saying that it has been a long time since I’ve had as much fun at the movies as I had the first and second time I saw Pacific Rim. Yes, I saw it twice. That is incredibly rare for me, as time isn’t a luxury I usually have but I enjoyed the film so much that I wanted to experience it on a big screen one more time before it left theaters. Besides, good or bad, how often do we get to see a kaiju versus mecha live-action cinematic feature?

Yes, this film is at parts cheesy and over the top and relies on a lot of CGI, things I am often times critical of. However, in the vein of kaiju films, these elements are almost customary. There is a place for such things and a film about giant robots fighting massive kaiju is that place. Regardless of those more traditional giant monster movie elements, this film still delivered a serious and emotional story that was entertaining despite the giant battles.

Have you ever seen Idris Elba in anything and not been pleased? Once again, in this film, he delivers and gives a great epic speech that rivals Bill Pullman’s speech in Independence Day. Apart from Elba, Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia played a smart version of the character people have loved on his FX series. Day was awesome and I wish I’d see him in more roles. Ron Perlman, who shared almost all of his scenes with Charlie Day, played an entertaining character that was a perfect marriage of goofy and bad ass. Perlman’s Sons of Anarchy co-star Charlie Hunnam was the film’s lead but he was just as drab as he always is and I really didn’t care about him or his struggles. The other characters made up for Hunnam though. On a side note, with all these actors from FX shows packed into this film, I anticipate it being in regular circulation on that channel, all the time.

The action sequences in this film were spectacular. Pacific Rim actually has one of the best openings that I’ve ever seen in a summer blockbuster film. The Hong Kong battle is also a high point of the film, as a trio of Jaegers (the giant robots) take on a pair of kaiju. The big confrontation starts in the harbor and carries over into downtown Hong Kong.

Director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and many other films) serves up his patented visual style but does so on a much larger scale. This is my favorite of his films and has me hopeful for its sequel, even though he isn’t directing it.

There are only two negatives I want to point out about the film.

The first, is that the score is mediocre. The music is generic sounding and really repetitive. It does its job for the most part but it also distracts from the picture. There is nothing memorable about the soundtrack, other than it just feels like the same damn theme playing over and over again and it isn’t that good to begin with.

The other negative was the design of the kaiju. They were fairly cool but there wasn’t much to make them unique or anywhere near as cool as the kaiju of the 1960s and 70s. They all generally had the same look with a few minor tweaks here and there. The coolest was the one with the big knife on its head but that was really just a modern version of the much more awesome Guiron from the Gamera franchise. But then again, this is a movie where giant robots fight giant monsters and it was pretty effective, regardless of mediocre monsters.

If you want a film that is just a smash’em up ass kicking epic blockbuster, this is your movie. If you don’t want that, you are probably dead inside.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Pacific Rim: Uprising, 2014’s American Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island.