Friday, May 17, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Star Trek is about space but not just in the galactic sense. The adventures of that intrepid septet of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhuru, Sulu and Chekov have spawned intimate connections among fans over the years. But as the franchise moved from television to motion pictures and back to television, the personalities became ever larger and soon they were more myth than human(oid). When J. J. Abrams took over the film franchise in 2009, he injected a refreshing amount of rip and roar to the venerable series and reaped enormous benefits from casting Chris Pine as a callow, spit and vinegar Kirk, Heroes's Zachary Quinto as Spock and Zoe Saldana as Spock's love interest communications officer Uhuru. It was thrilling fun, self-referential enough to titillate the millions of knowing Trekkies scattered around the globe and ballsy enough to push the mayhem up a notch. Abrams applies the same formula in the latest entry -- Star Trek: Into Darkness -- and reintroduces one of the original series' most infamous villains [he who shall not be name] (played by the BBC's Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch). The action is still gigantic and the background is still cosmic and the film delivers and delivers. Highly recommended though its intensity would probably be too much for little ones.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Great Gatsby

I'm pretty sure I was in the minority of serious film watchers who enjoyed Baz Luhrmann's Australia (2008). I didn't mind its outrageous implausibility because it was so visually arresting and overwrought. I actually enjoyed it more than the director's first "big-boned" work, Moulin Rouge (2001), a stagy phantasmagoria with music, which has much more in common with Luhrmann's latest, The Great Gatsby, than it does with Australia, I feel. Luhrmann has raised the bar for his already storied cinematic showmanship with the stunningly beautiful and busy Gatsby, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the enigmatic bazillionaire Jay Gatsby, Tobey MaGuire as Gatsby acolyte / neighbor and the film's narrator Nick Carraway, and Carrie Mulligan (Shame) as Carraway's fickle and spoiled cousin Daisy Buchanan. Working with such familiar material as Fitzgerald best-loved work would pose challenges for the most seasoned and imaginative of film-makers but Luhrmann gives the work his usual wildly impressionistic treatment, leaving the story (such as it is) intact and spinning dazzling set pieces of 1920's Long Island and Manhattan bacchanalia that feature players in numbers rivaling those of a DeMille epic. Executive Producer Jay-Z's hip-hoppy fingerprints are all over the soundtrack, an anachronism that is signature Luhrmann (witness Moulin Rouge). Just as Spielberg did in Tin-tin, Scorsese did in Hugo, and Ang Lee in The Life of Pi, Luhrmann employs 3-D technology intelligently and meaningfully though certainly not conservatively. Roadsters speed along gravel by-ways kicking up dust and rock, colored confetti drifts down like snow upon the revelers at one of Gatsby's notorious parties and secret dalliances in arbored gardens are obscured by leafy branches.  The film has an abundance of texture layers as bedding for what I feel are too often pedestrian performances. Still, its a visually delightful re-imagining. Recommended..

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3

Predictability can be deadly for a major motion picture, but in the case of Shane Black's Iron Man 3, it will be the key to the film's predictably substantial success. Black took over the directing duties from Jon Favreau, who along with star Robert Downey Jr. introduced the world to Marvel comic's glibly egoistic and irreverent Iron Man in 2008 and brought him back for a rousing second act in 2010. The character was the best among equals in last year's Avengers, directed by wunderkind Joss Whedon. This year's Iron Man model has all of the sleekness and polish of its predecessors,  and mountains of demolished steel, and maniacal villains (Sir Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce) AND a pretty clever twist to boot. What's not to love? Downey Jr. is in complete control of the proceedings (even though some of the film's biggest laughs come from the utter unpredictability of Tony Stark's hardward).  Series regular Gwyneth Paltrow (People's Most Beautiful Woman?) as the ever-imperiled though brainy Pepper Potts as is Don Cheadle as Col. Rhodes, Iron Man's beefy comrade in armor match RDJ intensive measure for measure. Especially refreshing is a segment that features the child actor Ty Simpkins, who plays a latch-key Tennessee boy who stumbles across a beaten but unbowed Stark and his hollow Iron Man suit in the family tool shed.  It's all great, lavishly excessive Marxian fun (Groucho not Karl) and is highly recommended.

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith...