Movies Opening in New Haven – Weekend of September 26th, 2014

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We’ve got an uninspiring Denzel Washington thriller and a gaggle of stop-motion monsters to close out the month of September. Thankfully, next week brings one of the first prestige releases of the Fall, Gone Girl.

The Equalizer: Denzel Washington re-teams with his hit-or-miss Training Day director Antoine Fuqua for this update of the 1980’s television series. Of course, things are a little more “Man on Fire than “lightweight, 44-minute CBS spy drama” here.

The film received the highest test scores for an R rated film in Sony history, although critics seem iffy on the whole thing.  Seems like something best watched on Starz in eight months.

Trailer: Youtube  Rotten Tomatoes: 58%  Metacritic: 57

Personal interest factor: 3

The BoxtrollsStop-motion thing of some kind. I don’t really care, do you? Watch The Nightmare Before Christmas instead.

Trailer: YouTube  Rotten Tomatoes: 71%  Metacritic: 63

Personal interest factor: 0

For classic fare: The Criterion in New Haven is running The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) Friday and Saturday evening and The Hustler (1961) Saturday and Sunday morning.

The Whitney Humanities Center at Yale is screening Carmen Jones (1954) and School Daze (1988) on Saturday as part of their African American Affinity Group Film Festival.  More details here.

Review: The Maze Runner

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TMR  Plots centring around people trying to get out of a seemingly impossible predicament have always been of interest to me. The Twilight Zone was famous for having such plotlines (like in the episode ‘Five Characters in Search of an Exit) and I loved them, trying to rack my brain as to seeing what the solution was to the characters’ predicament.

And this is the main reason I went to see ‘The Maze Runner’: its basic concept of characters in an inescapable predicament was a fascinating one to me. But whereas the Twilight Zone episodes took less than 25 minutes to play through its concept, how would TMR manage to hold one’s interest for its 113 minute running time?

The film begins with teenager Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) waking up in an elevator that transports him into a grassy clearing that’s surrounded by an intimidating and elaborate walls. Like the dozens of teenagers that have arrived there before him, he has no memory of his past except for his name.  The group of kids have been able to make a living in the area but with an elaborate maze beyond the walls and mysterious creatures patrolling the maze, escape seems hopeless. But as another character observes, Thomas is a curious personality and immediately he’s shaking up the community and begins to make them believe escape is possible… but  how and to what?

In many ways, TMR is an impressive work with Wes Ball making a fine directorial debut. He displays a good visual style and sense of pacing that ensures the film is never boring and even gets through the rather clunky chunks of early dialogue necessary to explain the plot (as when the other boys explain the setup to Thomas) as well as possible.  At no stage of its running time does the film ever feel boring.

The film also creates a vibrant and interesting dynamic  between the group of characters within the maze. Particularly pivotal is the strong performance of O’Brien as central character Thomas; he creates the right sense of characterisation of someone while not automatically heroic, driven by his courage and sense of curiosity to become a leader and find a way out of the maze.

There are also other interesting characterisations such as Gally (Will Poulter) who represents someone whose so used to life within the maze that he becomes hostile to anyone looking to change the setup, let alone escape from the maze. However the conflict between Gally and Thomas is rather heavy-handedly showcased.

For roughly three-quarters of its running time, TMR is a very strong, captivating work. Alas, as is the case in so many movies/TV shows about people stuck in an impossible predicament, the resolution is usually the weakest part as plot holes and contrivances come to the fore and TMR is no exception.

The film’s final 15 minutes are a letdown in more ways than one. Not only are the explanations and revelations unconvincing and contrived, but they’re conveyed by a character having to deliver large chunks of dialogue as if they’re saying to the audience, “We can’t think of a viable way to resolve this film so we’ll just provide you with this information”. In a film that has been so cinematically and visually strong, it is a disappointment (also because it’s about setting up a sequel as much as anything).

Despite the disappointing ending, I was mostly positive about The Maze Runner. It’s well made, solidly acted, well directed and a generally enjoyable night out at the movies. It’s box office success is deserved and I’ll be looking forward to the sequel.

Rating: B-

Movies Opening in New Haven – Weekend of September 19th, 2014

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A Walk Among the Tombstones: Liam Neeson stars as a former NYPD officer turned unlicensed private detective on the hunt of a brutal kidnapping ring. Scott Frank (Out of Sight, The Lookout, Get Shorty) writes and directs.

The throwback nature of this makes me a little nostalgic.  It’s the type of wannabe-prestige/early Fall thriller that was commonplace throughout the 90’s and very early 00’s.  Makes me warm and fuzzy inside.

Trailer: Youtube  Rotten Tomatoes: 63%  Metacritic: 53

Personal interest factor: 8

The Maze Runner: A group of young men find themselves trapped in a massive, elaborate maze.  Directorial debut of visual effects artist Wes Ball.

This one is a bit of surprise, in that the trailer is fairly intriguing and reviews are unexpectedly solid for this type of thing. Certainly seems to be a cut above the standard, aspiring YA franchise.

Trailer: YouTube  Rotten Tomatoes: 61%  Metacritic: 56

Personal interest factor: 6

This is Where I Leave You: Generic studio filmmaker Shawn Levy (The Internship, Night at the Museum, Real Steel) attempts to make a transition into more indie-esque filmmaking with this with this dramedy about a family (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Rose Byrne, Cory Stoll, Kathryn Hahn) dealing with the death of their father.

This cast seems like it could be magical…in a different movie with a different director.

Personal interest factor: 2

Trailer: YouTube  Rotten Tomatoes: 44% Metacritic: 45

TuskKevin Smith’s foray into the torture porn genre stars Justin Long as a podcaster who is abducted and surgically transformed into a walrus by a maniac (Michael Parks). Johnny Depp co-stars.

Personal interest factor: 0

Trailer: YouTube Rotten Tomatoes: 42% Metacritic: 54

For classic fare: The Criterion in New Haven is running The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Friday and Saturday evening and Laura (1944) Saturday and Sunday morning.

Review: Lucy

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For the second time in less than a year, Scarlett Johannson plays a character who disappears into the ether. In Her, she played an operating system, in Lucy, she is an actual human being who achieves 100 percent of her cerebral capacity. The film says that when we do so, we…well, I’m not sure what it says.

Johannson’s Lucy is a girl living in Taipei and attending school. She’s been dating some club rat (he sounds European) who finagles into her delivering a briefcase to some Chinese criminal. She ends up having a bag of drugs surgically implanted in her. When it starts to leak, she realizes she has abilities she never had before.

When the film was released in July there was some comparisons to Limitless, which was also about a drug that enhanced brain power. But this film, written and directed by Luc Bresson, is much more intellectually grounded. Limitless had the main character using his brains to play the stock market, while Lucy is able to read minds and manipulate matter.

I enjoyed most of Lucy, mostly due to Johansson’s performance and Bresson’s winking style. He uses stock footage of the animal kingdom to make his points, such as showing a gazelle being stalked by cheetahs when Johansson is surrounded by bad guys. The script is surprisingly intelligent, especially when Lucy tells brain expert Morgan Freeman that the only unit of measurement that matters is time.

The film offers plenty of mayhem for those that want it–there is a shootout in a library in Paris that offers more bullets than anyone could want–but the film kind of goes off the rails when Johansson is able to travel through time. At this point the film goes out of science fiction into Bresson’s fantasies, I think.

At 89 minutes, Lucy is also briskly paced. Normally an action-picture like this would be a bloated mess, but Bresson wisely boils it down to essentials, and we’re out of the theater in a reasonable time. Driving home, I took the film with me in my mind, looking around and wondering if what Johansson perceived is really the truth.

My grade for Lucy: B.

Opened in America, September 12 2014

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No Good Deed (IMDB rating 5.9) – This generic looking home invasion thriller has gotten lousy reviews from critics (and judging by its IMDB rating, the public) but has exceeded expectations at the box office, in a period where many films have underwhelmed in that area.

Dolphin Tale 2 (6.8) – I didn’t realise until last weekend that this film and its predecessor were directed by Charles Martin Smith, most famous for his acting career including American Graffiti and as the most atypical member of The Untouchables. I did see many years ago his directorial debut ‘Trick Or Treat’ which iirc was mildly interesting.

The Drop (8.0) – This crime film has gotten good critical reviews and is also notable as the last starring role of actor James Gandolfini. His film career didn’t match the success of his iconic TV role but it seemed he was just breaking out into a really rich vein of work before his untimely passing.

Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt? (5.1) – Considering the total disinterest the first two films in this series provided, this surely must be the least desired sequel in modern memory. But going by the trailer it would provide some unintentional humour. Trivia note: on an early 1980s appearance on ‘Donohue’, Ayn Rand said one of her favourite TV shows was Charlie’s Angels.

The Skeleton Twins (7.4) – Opening in limited release with potential expansion later on, this film has gotten good notices so far. However the plotline – estranged twins reunite after coincidentally cheating death on the same day (?!?) seems so self-consciously it seems like a parody of a Sundance film (where it of course premiered). And it co-stars Kristen Wiig who’ve I never particularly rated. But it may be one worth catching up with.

My Old Lady (7.3) – British-American film that has a notable cast including Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith & Kristen Scott-Thomas. Of interest to me is that it’s the directorial debut of veteran playwright/writer Israel Horovitz, whose work in the late 1960s was what first brought Al Pacino & John Cazale to public attention. He also wrote the screenplay for the 1970 campus drama ‘The Strawberry Statement’ which I saw recently; interesting as a historical piece but not a very good film.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (7.7) – This sounds like an unmade sequel to Yellow Submarine but is actually a fascinating concept: a relationship told from three different perspectives. This version is apparently the ‘Them’ version with ‘Him’ & ‘Her’ to be released soon. One worth seeking out I reckon.

The Green Prince (7.0) – Documentary on an individual spying case within the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Take Me To the River (7.9) – American music documentary

Bird People (6.2) – Drama about an American in Paris who has an existential crisis while in a hotel.

Oscar 2014, Best Actor: Genius at Work

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Benedict Cumberbatch

Now that the Toronto Film Festival is concluded, the Oscar picture has come somewhat more into focus. There are no new pictures in the Best Picture landscape, although The Imitation Game, which won the Toronto’s main prize, seems now like a safe bet for a nomination. That film also seems to have the frontrunner for Best Actor, one of a few films that feature brilliant British scientists (and one artist).

Here are my very early predictions for the Best Actor race, in alphabetical order:

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher: This film is gathering steam as a Best Picture contender, and there are three actors that could be vying for nominations. Carell is the focus, though, as a Du Pont heir who murders a wrestler. The normally comedic actor has been given a fake nose (an addition of makeup seems to help actors with Oscar) and unless this category gets overloaded, he should be safe.

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game: Cumberbatch seems to be everywhere, and in just a few years has made himself a ubiquitous presence in film and TV. He just won an Emmy for his work on Sherlock Holmes, and has the man who cracked the German’s code during World War II, only to be later arrested for being a homosexual, this seems like the kind of role the Academy loves.

Michael Keaton, Birdman: Keaton has had a strange career, with some incredible highs and some puzzling lows, but he has never had an Oscar nomination. That should change with this meta role, playing a washed up actor who was once famous for playing a superhero. If a Brit doesn’t win this award, Keaton should.

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything: Redmayne plays a young Stephen Hawking, at the time of his romance with his first wife. Playing real people is catnip to the Academy–would Hawking attend the Oscars if the film got nominated? I’m not sure if the film includes the beginning of his ALS, but if it does, it can’t hurt Redmayne’s chances.

Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner: Spall plays British painter J.M.W. Turner, and while this doesn’t sound like thrill-a-minute cinema, there is a tradition of painters in films, ranging from Michelangelo to Andy Warhol. Apparently Turner was quite a curmudgeon, which probably gives Spall a lot of scenes to steal.

Also possible: Bradley Cooper, American Sniper; Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel; David Oyelowo, Selma; Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice; and Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood.

Hitchcock: Marnie

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie, which many call his last masterpiece. I agree it’s a masterpiece of technical filmmaking, but in some areas it hasn’t dated well, and at times is quite ludicrous.

The film deals with one of Hitchcock’s favorite themes–psychology. As with Spellbound, Vertigo, and Psycho, Hitchcock shows a fascination with psychoanalysis–the why of aberrant behavior. “You Freud, me Jane,” Tippi Hedren, the actress in the title role, says at one point.

The first shot of the film is Hedren, from behind, carrying a canary-yellow valise. It is a grabber of a shot, what with the raven-black hair and her walking away from the camera on an empty train platform. It turns out she is a serial thief, who takes jobs in payroll departments under assumed names and works long enough to find the money and steal it. She has just liberated nearly 10,000 dollars from a tax firm when the film begins.

The entire film of Marnie is a psychoanalysis of her. We then see her visit her horrible mother (yet another older woman in Hitchcock’s oeuvre who is monstrous). Hedren becomes jealous of the attention her mother shows to a young girl, and then frankly asks her why she doesn’t love her. In a bit of dime-store psychology, we can assume that her kleptomania is a reaction to her feelings of not being loved by her mother.

But there are other disturbing attributes, such as her going into a bit of seizure whenever she sees red, and she has a lot of trouble with thunderstorms. She also, we will find out, is not only one of Hitchcock’s icy blondes, she’s downright frigid.

After she steals the money at the start of the film, she tries again, this time in a publishing house run by Sean Connery. He thinks he recognizes her from her previous job (he was a client) and hires her just to make sure. He is kind of turned on by her psychoses, and our clue to that is his passion for studying animal behavior. He is also something of an amateur psychologist (we later see him reading a book about the sexual behavior of criminal women).

Connery figures out Hedren is the thief, and in a bit of deviance that is rival to hers, he blackmails her into marrying him. It’s a very creepy section of the film–she calls him out for what he wants–a zoo specimen. On their honeymoon, after she makes it very clear she is repulsed by the thought of any man’s touch, he rapes her. Screenwriter Evan Hunter expressed his disapproval of the scene (we see a closeup of a zombie-eyed Hedren while Connery has his way with her) and ending up getting fired. He was later told by the eventual writer, Jay Presson Allen, that the very reason Hitchcock wanted to make the film was that very scene.

Hunter thought Connery’s character couldn’t be redeemed after that, but by god he’s wrong–Connery ends up trying to crack the childhood trauma that reduced Hedren to a frigid, thieving woman, and he succeeds, in a climax that is alternately thrilling and ridiculous. Part of the problem is that Hedren just doesn’t have the chops for the role, and her regression into her five-year-old self is completely unconvincing. Another problem is that, like Spellbound and Psycho, the psychology is just too neat and tidy. In reality, the mind just isn’t that cut and dried.

But on a technical basis, this is one of Hitchcock’s most virtuosic films. Every camera angle, every cut, every lighting effect just seems perfect. I will add the caveat that we get a lot of Hitchcock’s main flaw–his use of process and matte shots. There are some scenes, particularly of a fox hunt, and then of a painted backdrop suggesting a ship, that are eye-rollingly funny. But aside from those, the film bristles with visual energy. There’s a spectacular sequence with Hedren robbing a safe, and we the audience can see that a cleaning lady has entered the office. It is there that Hitchcock proves that we will root for the lead character, even if she is committing a felony–we don’t want her to get caught.

Hitchcock also borrows from himself (in a scene from Notorious) with a crane shot that takes place during a party. Instead of focusing on a key, this time he zooms in on the arrival of a guest who is the last person Marnie wants to see.

Some trivia: future well-known actors Mariette Hartley and Bruce Dern appears in small roles. Hitchcock’s cameo appears early in the film, when he exits a hotel room. Hitchcock conceived the film as Grace Kelly’s comeback role, but she dropped out when the people of Monaco objected, especially since she would be playing a sexually deviant kleptomaniac. Connery wanted the role because he didn’t want to be typecast as James Bond.

So, like Vertigo, Hitchcock has shown us is dexterity as a filmmaker, but also a disturbing look at his particular sexual fantasies.

Opening in Las Vegas, September 5, 2014

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My first Openings in Sin City. And wouldn’t you know another horrible week for new releases.

The only film opening wide here this weekend that hasn’t opened elsewhere is The Identical (26), a faith-based film about Elvis Presley’s secret twin. Walter Addiego: “Earnest and well-intentioned, The Identical is based on a “what if” that straddles the line between ingenious and loopy.”

In limited release is another film beginning with “I,” Innocence (27), a horror film set at a prep school. Jen Chaney: “The prevailing tone throughout Innocence is as somber as the onset-of-twilight blues and grays that dominate the movie’s color palette. All that seriousness ultimately doesn’t blend well with a narrative that marinates in the preposterous.”

The Barrick Museum at UNLV is having a Jerry Lewis film festival, but I think I’ll stay home this weekend.

 

 

AGEBOC ’14 FINAL

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With a big final week Juan jumped from 4th to 2nd place! Slim still can’t lose, even while moving across the country, and ended up over 50 points for the season which may be the highest total yet (I’m too lazy to go back).

What I’m not too lazy to find out is that even with Juan’s big final week, Slim could have stopped playing after July 7th (nearly two months ago) and still won the game. That is total domination.

Congratulations to Jackrabbit Slim – our AGEBOC ’14 winner!

(To find out the rules of the game, go to the main thread for AGEBOC 09.)

FINAL rankings

agedbox

Aged Box

Jackrabbit Slim – 50.5

Juan – 31.5
Joe Webb – 28
Rob – 26
James – 22
filmman – 16
Marco – 9
Nick – 2.5

Opening in the U.S., August 29, 2014

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Labor Day weekend, the worst weekend of the year for new releases. The painful details:

As Above, So Below (38), a pretentious literary title for a movie about people getting eaten in the catacombs of Paris. Roger Moore: “It’s more unpleasant than scary, and ever so slow in getting up to speed.”

The November Man (39) stars Pierce Brosnan as a CIA agent who probably loves Thanksgiving. Roger Moore: “A humorless, muddled, bloody and generally unpleasant thriller.”

In limited release things aren’t much better. I may one day see Life of Crime (59), because it’s based on an Elmore Leonard novel. It was supposed to be made about 25 years ago, but the plot was so similar to Ruthless People that it was postponed indefinitely. With Tim Robbins and Jennifer Aniston (probably weeping this weekend because Brad Pitt finally married that hussy). Scott Tobias: “A solid, middle-of-the-road Leonard adaptation that lacks the singularity to be something more.”

The Congress (60) sounds intriguing, with Robin Wright basically playing herself trying to preserve her digital image. Xan Brooks: “The Congress contains tricks aplenty and ideas in abundance. The problem comes in herding these scattered, floating elements towards a satisfying whole.”

Also this week: The Calling (51), with Susan Sarandon trying to solve a series of murders; and The Last of Robin Hood (51), a documentary about Errol Flynn.

 

 

Oscar 2014: Brangelina Transcendent

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Unbroken

Yes, kids, it’s that time of year. Not only has school started, but it’s time to start thinking about the Oscars. The fall schedule is loaded with Oscar bait and surely some out-of-nowhere surprises, so let’s get to it with my ridiculously early look at the contenders.

News is that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie just got hitched. Mazel tov you crazy kids! They may also be in the unique position of both having a film nominated for Best Picture–one as a director, the other as star. Pitt picked up an Oscar last year as a producer for 12 Years a Slave. Can he do it again?

In alphabetical order:

Birdman, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (Oct. 17). The story of a washed-up movie star (Michael Keaton) who played an iconic superhero, this film just got rapturous reviews at the Venice Film Festival. May be too offbeat to actually win, but Oscar loves movies about Hollywood and it should be a lock for a nomination.

Boyhood, Richard Linklater (July 11). Some are wondering if this film has what it takes to be nominated, given that it is really an arthouse pic, but with ten possible nominees I think it’s a done deal. The film is the best reviewed film of the year, and it at least made it to the multiplexes.

Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller (Nov. 14). Pushed back from last year, this film, about a DuPont heir and his creepy association with wrestlers, is getting great festival buzz. Like Birdman, may be too weird to actually win, but a nomination seems imminent.

Fury, David Ayer (Oct. 17). Pitt stars a battle-hardened tank commander in what looks like an old-fashioned World War II film. Pitt has been on a pretty good role lately. This is not from his production company, Plan B, but looks like a solid chance for a nomination.

Gone Girl, David Fincher (Oct. 3). Fincher’s last adaptation of a smash-hit novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, did not score a best pic nod, but you can’t count him out here. The book was widely read (I didn’t think that much of it) and sure to be a box office hit, but will Oscar go for a pulpy murder mystery?

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson (Mar. 7) Maybe wishful thinking on my part, as the Academy has not loved Anderson’s films (except for the screenwriter’s branch). This was the biggest hit of his career, but the early release date may doom it. Fingers crossed.

Interstellar, Christopher Nolan (Nov. 6). The director’s branch does not like Christopher Nolan (he’s never been nominated) but this could be the year. After showing love for Gravity last year, the Academy seems to have shucked its reluctance to reward sci-fi films with major awards.

Into the Woods, Rob Marshall (Dec. 25). If it’s directed by Marshall, it’s probably bad, but every year there seems to be great hope placed on musicals. This one, despite it’s fairy tale setting, is fairly intellectual, but after seeing Nine I don’t know if Marshall can pull this off. It still may get nominated, though.

Mr. Turner, Mike Leigh (Dec. 19). Going a bit on a limb for this one, a biopic of British painter J.M.W. Turner. Got high praise on the festival circuit, particularly for Timothy Spall in the title role. Oscar has shown great love for Mike Leigh before, but it may be lost in the shuffle.

Unbroken, Angelina Jolie (Dec. 25). Jolie’s second directorial effort, and as baity a movie can get, being about a real hero and full of indomitable spirit and patriotism. The Academy, being mostly actors, over-rewards actors who direct, so unless this is absolutely horrid I don’t see how it won’t get a nomination here. Right now the de facto favorite for the win.

Also possible: American Sniper, Clint Eastwood; Big Eyes, Tim Burton; The Imitation Game, Morten Tyldum; Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson; A Most Violent Year, J.C. Chandor; The Theory of Everything, James Marsh; Wild, Jean-Marc Vallee.

AGEBOC ’14 August 29-31

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We can forego the standard final-week-private-guessing games as Slim has had this locked up since July. Get your guesses in for fun!

Predict the #1 film of the weekend.

The one who predicts closest to the total Friday to Sunday gross for the #1 film wins 4 points. Runner-up gains 2 points. Predicting within half a million earns 2 extra points.

Full-point bonuses for the final weekend:

1. Predict the Cantinflas box office total within +/- $1m

2. Predict the percentage drop of Sin City: A Dame To Kill For within +/- 10%

Deadline is Thursday August 28st 11:59PM (blog time)
To find out the rules of the game, go to the main thread for AGEBOC 09.

Current rankings

agedbox

Aged Box

Jackrabbit Slim – 48.5
Joe Webb – 28
Rob – 26
Juan – 25.5
James – 22
filmman – 16
Marco – 9
Nick – 2.5

Review: Star Trek The Motion Picture (1979)

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ST Motion Picture

In watching the Star Trek films of the The Next Generation era and the present Abrams era, what has constantly disappointed me about them is that they’ve lacked a sense of sophistication, ideas and intellectualism that characterised the original 1960s TV series and the ST: The Next Generation TV series. All these features is what made the original TV series do distinctive and even when they’ve been entertaining (as the Abrams films have been), there’s a level of depressing superficiality to them.

So when I got the chance to see the 1979 film Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the first film based on the original TV series, I was interested to see whether it had a different mentality and perspective.

Despite being an enormous financial success STTMP has always had a maligned reputation. While some considered it imaginative and inventive the majority opinion seems to be that it’s slow, heavy-handed and humourless. Which view is the more valid one?

The film’s plot concerns a seemingly all-powerful, relentless entity that destroys everything in its path. The entity is heading towards Earth and seems certain to lead to its destruction so the Starship Enterprise is chosen to stop it with Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the old crew brought back in charge.  But when the entity is confronted, there is much more to it than meets the eye.

Upon viewing the film, the widely held belief that STTMP is slow would be an understatement. During most of the half, it is so slow that it is downright tedious. In particular when Kirk and colleague Scotty (James Doohan) are travelling down to the Enterprise is so drawn out it felt like the most boring scene I’ve ever seen.

The reason for this ponderous tone may have been because the makers of the film were worried that Star Trek wouldn’t cut it on the big screen and wanted it to be something more than feeling like a longer episode from the series. This seemed to include having a higher tone and substance, which included hiring a prestigious, veteran director in the form of Robert Wise.

However, Wise seemed to have little feel and understanding for the concept. As a result the camaraderie and humour between the crew that was so prevalent in the series is absent here, replaced by a dour mood that adds very little to the film.

But after an unpromising and dreary first half, STTMP improves considerably in the latter stages. One reason for this is that despite slow pace and lacklustre characterisation, the film always has a classy feel to it. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is excellent and vibrant (much more than the film itself is) and the film’s big budget is well spent on impressive sets and quality special effects, which hold up well even today.

But more significantly, the film develops significant narrative interest once the Enterprise encounters the entity. Whereas present-day Star Trek films would probably treat the entity as some simplistic, malevolent enemy to be destroyed, the entity in STTMP is a source of complexity and mystery. Instead of leading to confrontation, it leads to development and a potential step forward for humanity (although the film’s conclusion is rather similar to 2001: A Spacy Odyssey).

So despite its considerable flaws, STTMP leaves a much better impression than most of the Star Trek TNG films & pair of Abrams Star Trek films. That is because it has an undercurrent of wonder, awe and excitement for the future for humanity that the other ST films lack.

Back to the original question of whether STTMP is either a dreary bore or an inspiring and imaginative film? The answer is: all of the above.

Rating: B-

 

Opening in the U.S, August 22, 2014

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The dog days of August drag on, as a trio of middling films open. Once again, quality seems to be only at the arthouse.

The likely winner of the box office race this weekend appears to be If I Stay (46), a mawkish adaptation of a YA novel, starring Chloe Grace Moretz. She’s a terrific actress; I saw her in a play earlier this year, but this role seems to be a nonstarter. A. A. Dowd: “Child actors can have a tough time transitioning into adult careers, their charm often evaporating with the onset of puberty. But for Chloë Grace Moretz, the trouble isn’t growing pains; she’s just overqualified for the roles Hollywood tends to offer young women her age.”

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (45) is the long-awaited sequel from Richard Rodriguez and Frank Miller. I was unimpressed with the first one, seeing it as a prime example of style over substance, but I may see this if I’m bored this weekend, if only for Eva Green’s boobs. Betsy Sharkey: “There is an interesting kernel of a story about beauty, betrayal and brutality inside each of the film’s scenarios and a cast that could handle anything thrown at it. But the kernel never pops, and all we’re really left with is a whole lot of neo-noir corn.”

When the Game Stands Tall (41) is another of those sports/character films, this time about a winning program that loses a game. Boo hoo! For a game that revels in violence, it sure is put forth as something great for God and country. Jordan Hoffman: ““Hoosiers” this ain’t. The redemptive final game has some nice plays and bone-crunching sound effects, but no grit. Ultimately, it’s a ho-hum, bromide-filled production undeserving of a victory dance.”

The highlight in the arthouses this week is Love Is Strange (84) about a longtime gay couple who marry, setting off unforeseen events. The couple is played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. Keith Phipps: “Neither Molina nor Lithgow are stranger to big performances, but here, they offer studies in restraint, underplaying dramatic moments in ways that make them all the more powerful.”

The One I Love (64) stars Marc Duplass and Elisabeth Moss as a couple who attend a couples’ retreat. There’s some kind of twist about it that no one is revealing. Peter Travers: “If you survive that wrenching plot curve (some won’t), you’re in for an emotional workout. Knowing you’ve never seen anything like this, Moss and Duplass let it rip. You’ve been warned.”

Finally, Jersey Shore Massacre (5). Please be a documentary.