Category Archives: Film Industry Criticisim

Wasting Away, Banished and Exiled!

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Well, I suppose I’m over my childhood trauma that was Ursula.  As I posted awhile back, she’s the one Disney villain that completely terrified me as a little kid.  Took me awhile to get over that one.  Maybe I’m just weird that way.  Or insane.  Or both.  But anyhow it doesn’t matter.  This is just another bit of a random post.  It’s quiet again this week.  I’m trying to work on a personal project in the midst of another project that’s in the works.  So far this new idea…is just okay.  Gonna take me some time to figure out the story and what it wants to be.  Bah.  I hate not knowing what a story is supposed to be.  But I suppose the search for the story is all part of the fun of it.  I SUPPOSE.  Sheesh.

I’ve been on a Breaking Bad high as of recently.  Last night’s Rian Johnson episode blew my mind at how good it was.  Extraordinary.  Between this and his film Looper which came out last year, this is a director to definitely keep your eye on.  I’ll be watching this guy for sure.  He’s phenomenal.  Last nights episode was absolutely gripping, showing without having to tell.  It’s the subtext and the fact that this show actually makes you think for a moment that really amazes me (although trust me, sometimes I’ve had to go on the internet afterwards to confirm certain aspects.  Hey I can admit it!)  The episodes end made me long to make a film where just everybody dies or is insane.  And make it a cartoon.  Yes, perfect!  Although admittedly there are times I wonder about that.  What’s my obsession with making dark cartoons.  Maybe not always dark, but sometimes complicated scenarios.  I long to create a masterpiece of television like Breaking Bad.  Seriously that show amazes me.  I want to make animation that powerful, even though Breaking Bad is not animation.  Somewhere I ask myself what I’d like to be.  Maybe Pixar’s dark evil twin.  I had some people comparing Jellyfish Girl to a Pixar film, at least until they got to the end.  That was satisfying to hear 😉

I suppose there’s not much more I can talk about.  This is expected to be a quiet week unless I see a movie that blows my mind.  Oh wait!  I did!  BLUE JASMINE!  Go see it.  It’s Woody Allen’s latest, and it’s a real treat.  It’s as funny as it is sad.  Jasmine is such a wonderful, complicated character.  It’s a real genuine, honest depiction of a melt down into complete psychosis.  It’s just really good.  Go see it or watch it when it arrives on DVD.

I’ll see if I can find more to write about this week if I’m not to busy.  Have a good week everybody.

Slow News Week

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I thought I’d write an update, although I have no idea what to actually write about. I guess I could tell you I’ve been busy writing for This Is Infamous, a fairly new movie website, which I’ve written several articles for. I will have a write up about Cinecon over there pretty soon. There were lots of great classic films screened this year, all of which I had never seen before. Last week I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and you can check out pictures from my own personal Breaking Bad tour I took. Speaking of Breaking Bad, that show is going swimmingly. I am still amazed at how well thought out and put together it is. There is definitely years of writing experience put into it thanks to the passion of creator Vince Gilligan. It’s a great show for sure. I’ve been watching the final season of Dexter as well, and I have to say that’s not going as great as I would have hoped. The storyline has just been kinda scattered. You still can’t even tell they’re building up to a major conclusion. Everything just feels so…ordinary. I’m not impressed.

Sorry everyone, I know I’m rambling on here. I’m currently at my favorite coffee shop in Burbank as I write this. It’s been a good place to draw up inspiration. As well as getting on a caffeine high! Which is what my writing is starting to sound like. Geez. Anyway, I should probably stop at this point…no really, stop now! Stop! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Have a good weekend everyone. 🙂

Movies Are Not Television

JossWhedonI was reading some angry debates on Facebook regarding a comment by Joss Whedon about THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and according to Whedon its lack of a proper ending.  Joss had this to say:

“Empire committed the cardinal sin of not actually ending,” Whedon noted during his 10-page deep-dive interview with Entertainment Weekly in this week’s issue. “Which at the time I was appalled by and I still think it was a terrible idea.”

To which your EW interviewer blurted: “You think Empire had a bad ending?”

“Well, it’s not an ending,” Whedon explained about the 1980 film, which had a cliffhanger leading into the next entry of the series, Return of the Jedi. “It’s a Come Back Next Week, or in three years. And that upsets me. I go to movies expecting to have a whole experience. If I want a movie that doesn’t end I’ll go to a French movie. That’s a betrayal of trust to me. A movie has to be complete within itself, it can’t just build off the first one or play variations.”

I think what Joss is onto is the problems with storytelling in movies and sequels today. It’s the fact that so many movies do not end when it comes to their stories. The thing about movies and franchises now is that they aren’t about good storytelling, they’re about driving the films forward and keep people coming back for more.  This isn’t television, and there’s a lack of respect for the medium of motion pictures as a result.  Television is more conducive to long term storytelling, because like the serials of the 1940’s, you can come back in only a week to get more of the story until it reaches its conclusion.  With movies, there is something wrong with having to wait 3 years or more for a story to continue or even end.  When you have a story and something to say, it’s about getting the message out to your audience, and it seems ponderous and almost silly to have to make them wait a year before the new chapter is released.  A movie needs to stand on its own and it needs to end.

That’s not to say that a movie like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is a bad film, it isn’t at all.  I wasn’t alive in 1980, but when that film came out, I imagine there were plenty of people who were probably pissed off they had to wait 3 years for the conclusion, RETURN OF THE JEDI, which for all the anticipation wasn’t anywhere near as good as EMPIRE. Star Wars in itself was based on the 1940’s movie serials where people would come back each week to find out what happened to the characters. But again, people only had to wait a week. It’s not simply a matter of nostalgia or entertainment value that counts. What matters most is the story and knowing when an artist has a vision or a message that is important to them. If it’s a movie they’re making, there comes a point where the artist needs to say what needs to be said and move on. Whedon talks about the need for movies having closure primarily because he and his family come from a television background. Television opens up the opportunity for better long term storytelling. We need more movies that can stand on their own and get their message across to audiences, even if it happens to be a sequel, it’s better sometimes if people who are unfamiler with the original aren’t completely abandoned because of the sake of continuity.

Joss makes another point regarding the famous gun scene in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and how it was redone in TEMPLE OF DOOM for no reason other than for the sake of fans service:

Joss Whedon: Fan service can be a nice thing in movies that feature characters who people genuinely love. But fan service like the gun scene in Temple of Doom — and those like it — just make everyone involved feel stupid. I enjoyed Star Trek Into Darkness, but the worst part of the movie was the almost complete recreation of the Kirk-Spock death scene from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It’s not so much that J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof did recreate that scene, it’s that they did so in an effort to make people watching say, “Oh, I get it.” Great! I mean, of course you “get it.” How could you not get it? Everyone gets it. That’s the problem. The best kind of fan service is when very few people get it. Being beat over the head with a reference to a prior movie isn’t fun for anyone.

Fan Service as well means giving power over to something else, winding up taking away the energy of the film your trying to make. The idea of playing onto the audiences nostalgia, through self referential material or, say, parody, makes it difficult to create a unique and original experience for the audience. It’s as Joss says. We “get it”, but it serves no greater purpose except as an easy way to play on audience satisfaction.  We lose something as a result.  I have to say when it comes to fan service and parody, I found those things to be tempting to put into my own work.  But it makes it hard because many times parody can be an easy out  for poor writing.

Continuity is a tricky thing when it comes to movies and in essence it’s much harder to pull off.  The problem with trying to establish a movie franchise or a series of continuing sequels is that story lines tend to wander, and often times the character may lose sight of the thing they were after in the first place.  It’s why its important for a story to hold its own and conclude.  People shouldn’t have to wait so long to get the message, and at the very least if you’re going to make them wait and invest so much time in it, there had definitely better be a reason or a good payoff by the end.

City Slickers (1991) Dir. Ron Underwood

CITYSLICKERS CITY SLICKERS is one of those movies I saw when I was 10 years old.  I absolutely loved it for the adventure of three guys going on a cattle driving trip in the open plains of New Mexico and Colorado.  The film was a fun experience for me, although I was a little young to understand the more adult messages of what these guys were facing in their lives.  I’ve only seen the film occasionally on TV but last night I watched it for the first time in a long while.  What struck me is the connection I had with the three men as they face middle age head on and wondering if this is all there is going to be in their lives.  Mitch, played by Billy Crystal, is 39 years old in this film.  I’m almost 32.  While that’s not quite middle age yet, I found myself more connected to these characters, watching them each face their own personal struggles.

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Mitch wonders if his life is ever going to be more than what it is, and the one thing that injects some kind of adventure and craziness into his dole drum existence are the vacations he takes with his childhood buddies Phil and Ed.  After awhile Mitch finds these trips a desperate attempt to cling on to his youth, but he becomes so depressed that his wife insists he goes on a Cattle Drive adventure in New Mexico and find his passion for life again.  On the trip he gets that and then some, as he meets trail boss Curly (the awesomely brilliant Jack Palace), who is one of the last of the real cowboys, and a downright scary fella.  Curly of course winds up being a reflection of Mitch, a crusty, grizzled, no nonsense kind of guy.  But he also teaches Mitch the value of finding the secret of life and embracing it.  He calls it that “one thing”…the thing that’s presently most important to you and you let that be the guiding force of your life.

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The other characters Phil and Ed are terrific as well.  Phil especially as he deals with the divorce of his wife, not knowing where his life went from the past 12 years.  Phil has to find a new passion for life when at this point he really has nothing left except his lonliness.  One of my favorite scenes in the film is the three of them talking about the best and worst day of their lives.  Ed has the most powerful story of all, talking about his best day when he stood up to his father who beat his mother and told him to get out.  It’s a powerful, sad moment that Bruno Kirby plays to perfection.

The stakes of the film build as the group deals with the death of Curly and two unruly cowhands who almost kill one of the young calves Mitch affectionately named Norman.  Once the two guys run off after Phil threatens them with a gun, the group finds themselves on their own with no choice but to move the herd themselves across the river and into the Colorado ranch.  It’s one of the things I admire most about this film is that once all the people helping them leave or abandon them, the three main characters are put to the test to safely get the cattle moving.  In that challenge, the three men wind up finding themselves.  Ed puts it perfectly that there are no more rules, no one telling them what to do, and that getting the cattle safely across is something he has to do for himself.  His friends wind up feeling the same way and help him out.

The irony though is that once the cattle are brought to safety, they find out that they are being sold to the meat company.  It’s a sad twist for the main characters as they developed an attachment to these cattle, and a reminder of the end of an era in the days of the cowboy.  CITY SLICKERS is a story about embracing your middle age and finding a passion for life.  Mitch laments in the beginning that his face is the best its ever going to look before he slumps down into old age.  He is clinging on to whats left of his younger years as he fears facing the inevitable with old age.  But that changes by the end of the film when he’s a little wiser, and becomes okay with facing old age, as long as he can still embrace the things that are most important to him in life.

I don’t want to forget also the great score by Marc Shaiman, and the wild rousing cowboy theme he wrote for the film.  It also includes a solid cast of supporting characters who help make the journey with our heroes, especially the great Noble Willingham, a dentist with his son eager to get everyone in the spirit of the adventure, as well as the brothers playing a take off of Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream brothers.  CITY SLICKERS is a great, wonderful film with a sold message and story.  It’s and enduring classic that I hope to rewatch again the day I turn 39.

The World’s End (2013) Dir. Edgar Wright

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And so the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy continues, first with Edgar Wright’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, and now finally THE WORLDS END.  The story is about 5 men in the town of New Haven, who in their youths went on the Golden Mile:  12 pubs for a pint of beer each in one night, but they never made it to the final pub, The World’s End.  Now 23 years later, Gary King (Simon Pegg) the leader of the group, wants to band his buddies together again to redo their pub excursion and finally make it to THE WORLDS END.  Only once they return they find a lot has changed about New Haven, one of them being an invasion of alien robots that have taken over citizens of the town.

The film is at times hysterically funny, and it’s interesting to watch as these guys aren’t exactly in the prime of their youth anymore.  It becomes more of a quest to succeed for Gary King, as that night 23 years ago was the greatest night of his life, and somehow he doesn’t think his life will ever be complete without being able to relive that night and reach the holy grail of bars.  His friends of course have all grown up, but, as Gary points out, they have become slaves to their adult lives, which is not to dissimilar to the robots that have taken over the town.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie was a fight in a bathroom at one of the pubs between Gary’s friends and 5 robots that looked like teenagers.  In terms of really great storytelling, the scene has a lot to say, considering these men are fighting with versions of themselves, the forms of blank empty teenagers.  Thankfully the sci-fi portion of the story is well woven into the grand scheme of the movie, and the men are forced to continue their journey to not alert any other robots, and pretend to be going about their business.

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My problem with the movie however was that I did find the robot story started to become long and extraneous after awhile, especially in the final moments where there is a tiresome amount of exposition trying to explain the purpose of the robots, why they had come and are doing what they’re doing.  And yet because of that, I felt more and more that I was starting to lose my investment in what started as a great hysterical ride between these five guys on their journey of the Golden Mile.  The robots add a lot of the extra fun to the movie, but the problem too was that once all the explanations started, the film stopped being funny.  It’s a hard thing as well, because my favorite of the three Edgar Wright films, HOT FUZZ, keeps the laughs brilliantly going, and not only is it funny, it gets even funnier and more outrageous as the movie goes along.  There is exposition in that film leading to the next step of what the characters are going to do to solve their problem, but that’s the thing:  it actually goes somewhere that makes the characters active and leads us into the brilliant final act.  THE WORLDS END actually ends the film on exposition, and it sucks the film dry by the time its over.  There’s no final note for it to land on to have everybody cheering.  It’s frustrating because the first and second act work so well, that by the time we get to the end the whole thing just kinda slumps.

That’s not to say THE WORLDS END is a bad movie at all.  Far from it.  It’s funny, and at times charming with its own human touch that made SHAUN and FUZZ work so well, it continues here with END.  It’s a little gutsy for them to do this, but I like the role reversal between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, making Frost the more serious minded one this time around and Pegg being the total jack-off.  Pegg is quite funny as Gary King, and it’s funny to watch Frost once he starts to lose himself into alcohol, having no choice because of the robot invasion.  For a good portion of the movie, the story holds itself together, with themes about getting older and breaking out of the servitude of society and finding your own freedom as an adult.  It plays on both extremes with Gary King who has no rules, and the rest of the pack who have been bogged down by the rules of society.  That all changes by the films end, and the surviving characters have their slates wiped clean, a new mission in life and a place to start over.  Of course, like I said, the ending would have worked better had the filmmakers continued our investment into the characters and allowed us to watch them find their way instead of having it just be explained to us.  It’s not the greatest way to tell a story.

THE WORLD’S END overall is a good time, and should be seen because it does carry the charm of the previous Edgar Wright films.  For such a crappy 2013 summer, this is one of the better films and a nice way to cap off the summer.

Turbo (2013) Dir. David Soren

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As I said with my Croods review, I’ve been more and more impressed with the quality of films coming out of Dreamworks for the last few years.  They’re not all hits, but few of them have been downright terrible.  In my mind, they have been doing far superior work than Pixar, which has been a continuous decline in terms of creating engaging characters and storytelling.  Turbo is a cute, charming story, with some great visuals, and an exciting third act race.  It’s not always as hilarious as it could be, but the characters are enjoyable to watch and overall it’s just a really fun time.

Turbo, from Dreamworks Animation

One of the major aspects of the movie that works is the relationship between the pair of brothers in the film, the snails Theo (Turbo) and Chet, and Hispanic human brothers Tito and Angelo.  One of course is a dreamer while the other is a realist, trying to keep the other grounded in the reality of their situation.  One needs to get over their a snail, not a race car, and the other needs to live with the fact that they sell tacos, not enrolling snails in the Indy 500.  Which dreamer has the craziest dream?  Who knows, but it’s clear that Turbo and Tito are made for each other the moment they meet.  Turbo wants to be fast, despite his snail life, and dreams of racing all the time.  He especially admires his racing idol Guy Gang’e, the world champion racer at the Indy 500.  Turbo winds up getting his wish, when stuck on a car in a street race, he gets sucked into the engine, gets nitroed up in a special fluid, and gains the power of super speed.  In some aspects he gets literally turned into a racing car, with headlights (his eyes), backing lights, a car alarm, and blasting radio.  Gotta love it when someone’s not afraid to take some cartoon license.  Tito’s dream is to enter his new snail pal Turbo into the Indy 500, with the help of raising cash from other businesses in their outdoor mall plaza.

If I had any gripes with the film, it’s just one I have about animated films in general, in that  I sometimes wish these movies could be a lot funnier.  Not in a way that abandons kids with the humor, but I sometimes get the feeling that there could be so much more potential from the comedy, as opposed to characters just verbally cracking jokes.  It’s animation after all, and there should be the potential for far more physical comedy, especially for a movie about a speedy snail.  It’s the things we come to expect from animated films today…more talking and less action, and it’s something I hope to one day see change.

I suppose my only other complaint about the film was the need to make Guy Gang’e into a villain.  I’m not surprised they did this because there really isn’t anyone else playing as a main antagonist, but I think it’s worth pointing out that not all animated films need a villain.  In the race in the third act, Gang’e doesn’t really do anything “bad” to get in Turbo’s way…well, with the exception of trying to stomp on him to keep him from winning at the last minute.  But that’s also out of desperation.  The majority of the obstacles come from the race itself as Turbo has to keep from getting run over among other things.  Even though Gang’e is an antagonist because he’s racing against Turbo, it doesn’t mean he has to be a bad guy.  This is similar to the problem I had with “Rise of the Guardians” where the Boogyman was made evil and shown a lack of compassion for his situation by the heroes at the end of the movie.  I sometimes think it would be better and more constructive to show kids that antagonist characters aren’t inherently evil, but that they are people who are hurt or have problems like anyone else.  Making them one sided villains doesn’t give you anything to identify with, and it’s something most American animated films should change, giving us villains that have other sides to them and may not necessarily be bad.

Turbo is an entertaining ride, with some great enjoyable characters.  The visuals and racing sequences are fantastic and entertaining.  It’s not the greatest movie ever, but it’s a fun enjoyable ride that can be enjoyed by adults and kids of all ages.

The Great Escape (1963) Dir. John Sturges

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Well, now I can check off another great classic on my list of must see films.  The Great Escape is a pretty tremendous film, with three great stars in the lead roles: Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough.  I liked the epic feel of this story.  It’s a true story by the way, where supposedly every detail of the Escape is exactly as it happened.  I have to admit, when watching the film, the escape itself is an incredible undertaking as these POW men band together to dig an escape tunnel under the fence and out of the compound.

In a funny way, I saw the whole thing play out as sort of a game.  It’s the escape game if you will, and sometimes it’s funny to watch as the men have to come up with ways to make noise and distract the Nazi’s from the real noise their making in trying to dig through the tunnels.  There are secret codes and messages, giving the men enough warning when Nazi’s are coming while they’re in the middle of planning and executing their escape.  Then of course there’s Steve McQueen whose character becomes almost a running gag for all the time he has to spend in “The Cooler”, a solitary confinement room where he has nothing to do but chuck a baseball against the wall.

I also really enjoyed watching Richard Attenborough in this film.  Like most people of my generation, I know him best as Hammond from Jurassic Park, but it was great to finally see his earlier work and see what an incredible actor he was.  Already his clock is ticking and this major escape attempt is a risk to his life as the Nazi Commandant tells him if he tries to escape one more time he’ll be executed.  Of course, if he’s going to go out escaping, he’s going out with a bang, as it becomes his mission to get all 204 men out of the prison at the same time.    Attenborough gives a kind of understated performance, and a seriousness that seems to keep him driven to make sure everything goes to plan as leader of the escape.

The film plays out in three acts, each lasting almost an hour, with the first act introducing and setting up the plan for the escape.  The second act focuses on the execution and work the men put through to keep the Nazi’s unaware of their plans, leading up to the actual escape.  The third act focus on the 74 men that do get out as they attempt to flee Germany for Switzerland.  The final hour of the film is certainly engaging, although so many men end up getting caught, I was starting to wonder if anyone was going to actually get away at the end.

The part that confused me the most was the reasoning behind why Steve McQueen’s motorcycle hopping the fence was supposed to be such a famous scene.  When the scene was coming, I expected something far more dramatic and epic than what we got.  It turns out the motorcycle hop is filmed at a long shot, with McQueen hopping a four foot fence.  It’s an impressive trick, I guess, considering that McQueen did the stunt on his own.  But there’s no drama to it, no swelling music…it’s just…a motorcycle hop.  So why are people so blown away as to make this a famous scene in the film?  I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s just that it was more impressive for its time than the kind of stunt work I’m accustomed to seeing in movies today. But this just felt like a letdown because the stunt was fairly understated and didn’t seem like that big a deal.

Some of the other things I liked about the film was that it kept a fairly light sense of humor, although I am not sure how different the POW camps were from the concentration camps, and why the Nazi’s seemed to think the POW’s deserved better treatment (apart from religious persecution/ discrimination).  The prisoners are free to walk around the camp, garden, play sports, and surprisingly McQueen is allowed his baseball and mitt in the Cooler when I think that would defeat the purpose of solitary confinement for the Nazis.   Who knows.  I think some of the freedoms the prisoners had might have been played to give the film a lighter, not too serious tone.  After all, the movie plays itself with a sense of fun, and the excitement of the audience being in on the major escape.  Although, I think the darker third act makes up for the lighter beginning as we see some of the prisoners who aren’t so lucky.

Overall, I really liked The Great Escape.  I don’t think it’s a truly great movie, mainly because it plays up some romanticism/ “escapism” of the audience wanting to be part of the adventure in this prison escape movie.  The lightness the film portrays is obviously opposed to the much more serious things that were happening in Germany at the time.  But hey, it’s a movie.  I can enjoy the film for what it is, and if anything it’s enjoyable, well-acted, and a good time for all.

Check out my new gig!

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Hey everyone, wanted to give you a heads up that I have started writing for the film website This Is Infamous.  The website was started by Billy Donnelly (aka Billy The Kidd on Aint It Cool News). I will writing articles a few times per week, and so far I have a few that are already up.  Check out the website if you get a chance, there’s some pretty good stuff up!

6-3-13 Movies Need More Consequences (This Is Infamous)

The Diary of a Film Cynic (This Is Infamous) 5/30/13

When Cartoons Were For Everyone (This Is Infamous) 5/29/13

After Earth (2013) Dir. M. Night Shyamalan

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I have a strange soft spot for M. Night Shyamalan’s work.  I don’t know why.  Like most people, I think his best three films are Signs, Unbreakable, and The Sixth Sense, with Signs being my personal favorite.  But maybe it’s just that, through all the disappointments, I feel that he is still an artist with a vision and something to say.  It’s just…something went off in a different direction with his style of filmmaking, and the acting choices he wants from his actors.  Whatever the reason, I still manage to pull something meaningful out of his films, even if they aren’t as great as they once were.  With After Earth, that Shyamalan mediocrity that we’ve had to get used to is unfortunately still there.  But after difficult First Act, I actually found myself warming up to the movie.  Once young Kitai was off on his adventure, there was less talking from him and more action.  Jaden’s Smith’s performance may not have been perfect.  But I did feel something for this kid, who only ever wanted to make his father proud.  Even if the conclusion is inevitable and we know that things are going to turn out okay, I enjoyed the movie.  It had some positive messages about facing fear, knowing that it is an illusion, and how when worse comes to worse, remembering to ground yourself in the present moment.

One of the things I do admire about M. Night’s movies is that you can usually count on the danger being taken seriously, and he does a good job building the rules of the universes his characters inhabit.  The film has a few moments of humor to relieve the tension, but it never got too bogged down into seriousness like some of his other films have.  There was actually a favorite scene I had in the film.  It’s where Kitai gets bitten by a poisonous leech, and in order to stop the poison from spreading, he has to stab a needle in his heart with the antidote medication for it to spread through his system.  The scene had me on edge to watch the poor kid have to stick something in his heart to save himself.  It’s the one scene where I really felt I saw a kid having to overcome his fear to save himself from death.  Strangely with the scene of him jumping off a log to fly, not so much.  I didn’t see the fear in his eyes the way I did in that earlier scene.

Part of the story involves an alien creature known as an Ursa that can “smell fear” through a release of skin pharamones when a person becomes frightened.  Kitai’s father learned a technique, called “ghosting”, which purges fear and makes the creatures unable to sense their victim.  As you can guess, Kitai discovers this technique in himself when he has to face the creature in the climax of the movie.  But personally, the moment didn’t feel earned.  The film in my opinion didn’t build the stakes enough in its danger scenarios for me to believe that this kid found it in himself to conquer his fears.  The problem also lies in the first act of the film, where Kitai comes off as whiny and spoiled.  I couldn’t quite understand how I was supposed to feel the conflict between him and his father, when for the most part, his father is right.  There wasn’t enough of a build up in the conflict between them in those first scenes to relate to Kitai for me to want to side with him.  Kitai seemed more relatable to me once he was away from his father, facing danger, and having to make choices to survive.

When it comes to movies, one of the things I can’t do is judge child actors too harshly, because many times I think some of the criticism is unwarranted when we’re talking about a kid who is trying their best at a performance.  Admittedly, Jaden Smith has some trouble when it comes to his dialogue scenes, and he’s a bit difficult to understand when he voices the opening monologue.  But for a child actor, I found he was very good at being physical, such as with the needle in the chest scene, which I thought he pulled off well.  It might have been more of a challenge if he had to pantomime act through the movie, but the less he talked and the more he did in action scenes, the more I was engaged with him.  It’s more issues with the script than him where the film has its problems.

Overall, I kind of liked After Earth.  It’s not a great movie by any means but it was enjoyable and fun at times.  I think it’s also a decent film for parents looking to take their kids to a movie this summer, one that actually has perilous moments taken seriously that kids can relate to.  It’s certainly better than most of what you’ll seen in the theater right now.  It’s a story that doesn’t need to be too big or too epic to make it’s point.  It’s fast paced, and for the most part it’s an enjoyable ride that I recommend you check out.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) Dir. J.J. Abrams

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I’m not sure how I would categorize myself when it comes to being a Star Trek fan.  I watched all of the Original Series, and admittedly I’m not as huge a fan of it as I am with Next Generation and DS9.  I can’t recite plots for you, I don’t own any of the books with the schematics for how the Enterprise works.  But I know the basic rules of the series.  I know enough of the important things that hold it together.  Simple rules like the Prime Directive.  Or you can’t beam to the surface when shields are up.  When it comes to the Original Series, most of my knowledge about it comes from the first 6 Star Trek features, but I know the characters well enough to understand who they are and what their history is.  When I first saw the Wrath of Khan in 2004, I hadn’t watched all of the original series at that point, but I understood the meaning behind Spock’s death.  I understood that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy had a history that they shared together, over three seasons of televisions and two feature films.  There was also no guarantee at that point that Spock would ever come back.  Even though I knew there was a movie after The Wrath of Khan called The Search For Spock, I was still emotionally caught up in Spock’s death, and the movie was so well written as to make Kirk finally stare death in the face for the first time.  Even if you had no connection to Star Trek at all, you could understand the story well enough to let Spocks death have some sort of impact on you.  It’s that well written.  Everything about that story had built up to that moment, and it was just as beautiful, wonderful and as sad as any other pinnacle moment in motion picture history.

It seems almost idiotic and unbelievably stupid that anyone would try to redo that famous moment in film, but that’s what Star Into Darkness tries to do.  From the moment John Harrison is revealed to be Khan, I had a feeling the movie was getting itself into serious trouble.  This is like retelling the story of the Wrath of Khan from the perspective of Back To The Future 2, seeing the events unfold from another side.  But instead of being worked into the structure of good storytelling, it’s about nothing more than serving the fans of the original movie.  It takes advantage of the audiences naivety when it comes to storytelling by letting their emotions from another film influence them instead of the story we’re watching being able to hold its own.  The film also couldn’t let go of holding hands with the original series and walk on its own once Leonard Nimoy made a useless cameo appearance.  Elder Spock should have been smarter and not told anything about what happened in his timeline, because all he did was allow young Spocks emotions to get caught up about Kirk in a timeline that has nothing to do with him.  Elder Spock should have known this and not said anything.  But the moment has nothing to do with plot.  It’s all about giving fans another reappearance from Spock.  It just goes to show how unwilling J.J. Abrams is willing to detach himself from the Original series, and from that point on the movie falls into disaster.  The moment I saw that Kirk was going in to save the warp drive of the failing ship, I knew what they were doing and what was coming.  I let out an audible “Jesus Christ” starring in disbelief that the film had completely lost its own sense of meaning and purpose to itself.  It couldn’t allow itself to be it’s own thing.  It had to take the easy path, keeping fans of the show unaware that there was no real story here to begin with..  For one thing, the fact that John Harrison is Khan, to Kirk and crew that doesn’t mean squat.  They don’t know who he is.  There is no relationship between them yet.  As of this moment, there even still isn’t enough of a relationship between Kirk and Spock for Spock to shed any tears over Kirk’s “death”.  On an emotional level, the scene makes absolutely no sense.  The people who are getting caught up in the scene emotionally are getting caught up in their emotions from the Original Series.  J.J. Abrams is letting somebody else’s movie drive his film.  In the two Star Trek films Abrams has directed so far, I don’t see how Kirk and Spock could have established any sort of real relationship to make Spock shed tears over his death.  Spocks emotions are based on what Elder Spock told him about the other timeline.  To follow such emotions from somebody elses timeline is…er…illogical.

In fact, I think the new series has failed to establish the primary relationship that does matter: the trio of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  It’s these three men who are at the heart of Star Trek.  The new films so far have failed to build up their relationship together.  McCoy is rarely there when the three of them are a group.  As far as the two main characters go, Kirk spends more time cutting off Spock any time he has something important to say.  It made more sense from the first film when the two men were at odds with one another.  I still haven’t seen them go through enough for their relationship to mean anything.

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First, the opening sequence makes no logical sense.  It’s pure action drivel with very little development put on the characters.  It’s not just the fact that Kirk revealed the starship to a race of primitive aliens, the entire mission is a violation of the prime directive.  If the volcano is going to wipe out their civilization, then the Federation can’t interfere with the evolution of the planet or the destruction of a species.  Kirk from the series was known for violating the Prime Directive, but at least his reasons made sense, and he wasn’t about to start impacting an entire ecosystem.  Second…why was the ship underwater again?  I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t keep the ship in space, except for the reason to have a “hey wouldn’t it be cool to see the Enterprise burst out of the ocean” moment.  Third…why could they not beam Spock through water?  In The Wrath of Khan, they could beam through the center of planet.  In Star Trek TNG, there were cities on Earth built underwater where people could be beamed in and out.  If they can beam through rock, why should beaming through water be any different?

The next thing that happened bugged me even more.  The story presents a plot issue that Kirk has his command taken away from him, which we think is going to be a driving story point.  After making a big mistake, Kirk has to prove himself to regain command of the Enterprise.  But all it takes is the death of Captain Pike in the next scene before Kirk is given his ship back.  So any sense of drama that might have related to Kirk losing the captains chair and fighting his way back to it are completely extinguished.  I also can’t relate to Kirk feeling emotionally lost about losing the Captains chair because quite frankly he deserves it.  And he just turns into a whimpering baby over it.  Also, as far as Khan killing Captain Pike goes, I just don’t think there’s enough of relationship between Kirk and Pike to justify Kirk’s need for revenge.  We have to be reminded of Pike giving command to Kirk in the first place from the first film, taking him under his wing and acting like a surrogate father to him.  But it’s not enough to drive an entire emotional arc of a film.  I sometimes think Kirk has the emotional stability of a high school kid, and one would think they would put a person with some ounce of maturity in the Captain’s chair.  It made a little more sense in the first film, which established Kirk as being somewhat of a prodigy, even if he was unruly.  But with his maturity level here, he seems undeserving of command, and I wish the film had spent more time forcing him to see this side of himself instead of instantly giving him back the Enterprise.

And then there’s the completely messed up logic in the build up to Kirk’s death, which is the Wrath of Khan moment in the story.  The Enterprise is falling out of orbit and Kirk has to realign the warp core to power the main thrusters.  Umm…I don’t read Enterprise technical manuals, but I know that’s not how the Enterprise works.  The warp core powers the warp drive.  NOT the Thrusters.  That’s why in any Star Trek series, when the warp core gets knocked offline, the ship can still run on impulse (i.e. THRUSTERS).  It’s one of these imbecilic design flaws where all the ships power is connected to one circuit breaker.   It worked in Wrath of Khan because Spock had to fix the Warp Drive and send the ship into warp to get away from the Genesis explosion.  As far as Spock screaming Khan and turning into the Vulcan terminator, they try to turn Spock into a badass, but without any of the buildup to it.  It made me think like they were trying to do an Iron Giant moment, like when the Giant loses himself and turns into a killing machine.  We don’t see Spock struggling to control his emotions except for getting into whiny high school banter with his girlfriend Uhura.  The fight presumably being that Spock showed no feeling towards Uhura about how she would feel if the Enterprise would have left him to die in the volcano.  Umm…Uhura…that’s part of service in a military operation when it comes to giving your life for service.  If she’s that emotionally impaired, what is she doing in a military operation like Starfleet?  It just tells me even more that this crew is not ready to be piloting starships around the galaxy.

STID2And about Carol Marcus, another layover from Wrath of Khan…she serves absolutely no purpose to the film.  She could be taken out of the film and have almost no effect on the outcome of the story.  She’s that forgettable.  Also, why is her father piloting a starship bigger than the Enterprise?  The Enterprise is supposed to be the most advanced ship in Starfleet.  Why is there a ship out there that looks like a Star Destroyer?

Once again we have another summer film that builds on everything that was familiar and had come before.  This film gives more power to The Wrath of Khan than it does to itself.  I think this is by far the worst Star Trek film ever made, because it never allows itself to be it’s own thing.  It goes against the promise of the first Star Trek that we would see the crew go on new adventures, and I thought the very idea of separating itself by having the characters in a separate timeline was done so it would NOT INSULT the fans of the original series or Star Trek in general.  For people who say they still prefer this film over Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, I say this…as bad as that film was, at least it was an original story and at least it had the guts to be its own thing.  This film never follows through on any of it’s consequences.  Unlike Wrath of Khan, we know Kirk isn’t going to die, and that by the end of the film he’ll be back.  And also, what the hell was that moment where we hear Khan crushing Scotty’s head…and then a few minutes later when they transport back Scotty is fine?  I thought they were implying Khan had killed Scotty.  The rest of the crew as well just doesn’t have any solid, memorable moments like they did in the first film.  There are absolutely no serious stakes or consequences that are followed through.  Khan is nowhere near the murderer he was in Wrath of Khan.  In that film, he killed and slaughtered everyone in the orbiting science station.  Also, the fact that Kirk has a brief alliance with Khan doesn’t do anything to build up the hero/villain relationship.  They are not mortal enemies yet.  They don’t know what either person is capable of.  Everything about this film gives more power to The Wrath of Khan than it does to itself, and it denies us any chance of getting invested in this new crew and their mission.  I don’t think I have any reason to continue watching the next Star Trek.  J.J. Abrams and his team of writers have no understanding or willingness to make their own mark on the Star Trek universe, or allow themselves to take chances and mark their own course in the series.  If he can’t let himself go there with Star Trek, what makes anyone think he’s going to make a difference with Star Wars?