Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

The biggest issue with reviewing and discussing Star Trek Into Darkness is that, through some shrewd marketing, it has managed to conceal a fairly big second act reveal, that most people managed to guess before the title was even announced, but that a lot of people won’t want spoiled. The thing is, in order to discuss it properly, I kind of have to bring it up. So, here’s the thing; I’m gonna give you a basic rundown of my opinion, and then back up my opinion past a cut. Do not click on the cut if you don’t want a major spoiler.

So then, my general opinion: It’s…not very good. I was not a big fan of the 2009 Star Trek film, but Into Darkness definitely falls short comparatively. It’s got some good points (the action scenes are still pretty good, the soundtrack is legitimately great and the cast is mostly good. But it’s issues, namely a weak script, poor plotting and an overreliance on winking references to the series on which it’s based. So, if you’re looking for my opinion, it’s definitely not worth it.

So. Now we discuss the movie. If you don’t want spoilers, turn back now. Last chance.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Review: Iron Man 3

The interesting thing about the first Iron Man, in retrospect, is how original it was, relatively speaking. It was a character who was new to the popular culture, one unburdened by previous movies, like Superman or Batman, or TV series that had been burned into the cultural unconscious, like Superman and Batman again, or Spider-Man, the Hulk, even the X-Men. Not that they didn’t try (check out this hilariously90’s opening theme to a failed attempt at an Iron Man animated show). What I’m saying is, Iron Man the movie was unburdened because it had no expectations to live up to; most of the public hadn’t even heard of the character. This, combined with a note perfect costume translation and the announcement that the countdown to The Avengers had begun (plus the fact that it was really well acted, written, directed, etc.) made Iron Man an overnight success.

Iron Man 2…didn’t have any of that going for it. Most of the public was familiar with the character and his world, the fans of the comics were now going to be picking over the movie looking for clues and it was tasked with setting up not only it’s inevitable sequel, but Thor, Captain America and even The Avengers itself. It’s understandable, if not necessarily forgivable, therefore that Iron Man 2 kinda choked. It’s not bad…okay, I’m lying, large portions of it are pretty bad and the movie as a whole doesn’t hold together very well, but it’s nowhere near as bad as superhero movies can get (Batman and Robin, Catwoman, Green Lantern…)

And yet, since the overwhelming victory that was The Avengers, turning these characters and their world overnight into household names and making the movie itself one of the most beloved and successful blockbusters of all time, it feels kind of fitting that Iron Man, the one who originally raised the standard of the Avengers and began it’s climb up to victory, should be the one to lift it again and begin the climb to the next level. And I am kind of proud of that metaphor. So how’s the movie?

Well…it definitely doesn’t suck. It’s much, much better than Iron Man 2, that’s for sure. Might actually be better than Iron Man, I’ll have to see it again. It definitely has a better third act than Iron Man and probably a better second act. It’s got a bit of a rushed first act, sure but that’s forgivable. It’s probably the best blockbuster I’ve seen thus far this year, and while I doubt it’ll retain that title for long, it’s definitely good.

The plot is concerned with Tony Stark who is, say it with me, Iron Man. After his experiences in New York during the events of The Avengers (which if you don’t know what they are, you probably aren’t interested in this movie) he’s been having trouble sleeping and having panic attacks. After a terrorist mastermind named the Mandarin bombs a theater, injuring Tony’s friend, seemingly without actual bomb parts, Tony threatens him and invites him to attack. Which he does.

Obviously, that’s not all there is to it. This movie, unlike parts 1 and 2, was directed by Shane Black, a newish director who cut his teeth writing for Tony Scott and directed the magnificent Kiss Kiss Bang Bang a few years back (which also stared Robert Downey Jr.) and he proves to not only be a natural for the material, not only delving rather expertly into Tony Stark’s psyche but also subverting as many superhero clichés and tropes as it plays straight.

Obviously we know the established actors work in their parts. Robert Downey Jr. is a natural fit for Tony Stark, and Gweneth Paltrow is still a good Pepper Potts, even as her part is significantly beefed up for this one. Ben Kingsley makes a great Mandarin and hey, Guy Pearce is in this. And he’s actually really good, why can’t he do that more often? All of these performances are buoyed by a great script and solid direction.

What I think a lot of people are going to be wondering about is how good the action scenes are; after all the issue with the weak action scenes in the 3rd act of the first Iron Man is one of the things people remember the most about it. Well, on that count I have good news: the actions sequences are good. In fact they’re really good, good enough that I wonder why Shane Black hasn’t been hired to direct action before. In particular, a rescue scene towards the end is really creative and the big final climactic showdown is one of the more original and interesting action scenes of the year. None of them approach the big explosive level of The Avengers, if that’s what you’re wondering, but without Thor and the Hulk hanging around we can’t really expect them to.

It’s also worth pointing out that this film is, on the whole, a lot darker than most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. I know, I know, it’s shocking that a movie who’s first act ends with a home base destruction on par with someone burning down the Batcave (leave me alone that’s not a spoiler, it was in the first goddamn trailer) but everything from the tone, to the visual style to the story itself are a lot darker than most of it’s predecessors. I suppose it makes sense that the second part of the Avengers buildup would be the darker part (using, as we must always, the original Star Wars trilogy as our guide) but it’s quite…interesting to see it in action.

There are flaws, some of which are actually kind of annoying. Rebecca Halls’ character hangs around the movie a lot, but she doesn’t seem to be very important outside of maybe one scene, and I’m pretty sure another character could have done that just as well. As I said earlier, the first act seems a tiny bit rushed, there are parts of the second act that seem draggy and the exact abilities of certain enemies seems kind of…nebulous at times (I’m pretty sure one of the villains uses a pretty major ability and then just sort of forgets he has it).

The best thing I can say about Iron Man 3 is that it expelled my worry that it would be just an empty victory lap for The Avenger’s massive success. Instead it manages to move the story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general and Tony Stark in particular forward, and it did it in a smart and exciting way. Iron Man 3 is a worthy successor to both The Avengers and Iron Man and well worth your time.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’s a little annoyed that the Hulk-Buster armor didn’t get to do anything.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: Trance

The degree to which you’ll think Trance is a good, or even great, movie will depend heavily on how well you can absorb it’s twist(s). A lot of that will depend on how well you like twists in general, and that can and will vary wildly but if it helps it’s a well done twist, probably one of the better ones I’ve seen in a while.

But I can’t talk too much about the twist without revealing what it is, so let’s start from the beginning. The plot is concerned with James McAvoy as Simon, an art auctioneer, whose prize painting is stolen, but is clubbed over the head trying to stop it. He awakes months later and it turns out that A) he was involved in the robbery, B) that he stole the painting from the robbers and C) that he can’t remember where he stashed the painting. So the head robber Franck (Vincent Cassel) hires a hypnotist (Rosario Dawson) to help him remember.

So yeah, we’re literally less than 15 minutes in and the plot is already ridiculously complex, and it’s not getting any simpler. It might seem, on the face of it, to be an excuse for an odd director to work with his extremely odd style (it’s directed by Danny Boyle…I can’t believe I’m just now mentioning that) and it’s the sort of thing the director of Sunshine could probably do in his sleep by now. But he’s on board enough for the fun of visualizing hypnotism.

Boyle is an odd director, and while his direction is not quite as bizarre or interesting as some movies I’ve seen this year (or in his career) he certainly adds a unique touch, with some great cinematography and unique editing techniques employed to visualize memories, both real and imagined and their interplay, and while he falls back on some of the well known techniques in visualizing hypnosis (such as the therapist appearing the visuals themselves) these techniques are well used because they’re effective and Boyle uses them well. They combine with a subtly unique color palette and an eclectic soundtrack (done yet again by Rick Smith) to make the movie feel unique even when it’s walking a familiar trail (which it isn’t, for very long).

The story and script present a lot of difficulties to the actors, because they have to sell a lot of weird changes in character over the course of a very strange story arc, and they all do solid jobs. Cassiel has the most comparatively normal performance and while he’s very good in it, it means he gets overshadowed by Rosario Dawson, who has to sell a pretty big aspect of her character on her own and especially James McAvoy, who is once again proving that he is a pretty goddamn good actor when he puts his mind to it.

The script might or might not be an issue. There are a few moments that feel like plot holes or issues that get skipped over or go unexplained, but given the number of moments I was able to identify in retrospect as foreshadowing and build up, it’s possible that those moments weren’t actually plot holes. I’d have to see it again to be sure.

And I will want to see it again. Trance may not be Boyle’s best work, but it’s definitely a good, perhaps even great, film from this increasingly bizarre year. The spring lull is almost over which means the summer season is about to be upon us, so most of you will have your rosters filled with blockbusters. But while you still have time for the small indie films, I’d definitely recommend Trance, if only to see how a twist ending can be done right.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’d like to tie Shyamalan down and make him watch this movie Ludivico style.