Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) Review

This week, I put on my pointy ears, set my phaser to stun and warped into the nearest cinema to check out Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). The film stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban and Benedict Cumberbatch. It's directed by J.J. Abrams.

Into Darkness picks up a few years after the end of the previous film Star Trek (2009). Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is in command of the Enterprise on a mission involving a volcano and a primitive culture. Needless to say, Kirk abandons all the rules and completes the mission while saving Spock's (Zachary Quinto) life, very much against the Vulcan's wishes as this would break the big rule known as The Prime Directive.

This idea of them working together despite wildly different views on how to handle sticky situations is a common theme throughout the film. It actually works quite well as the dynamic between these two is fantastic. Pine is clearly sinking his teeth into the Kirk role and Quinto is simply awesome with his deadpan delivery. It's interesting to point out that, in the original series TV show, you had Kirk, Spock and McCoy as the central three cast members with the other four sort of floating around them. In this film, it's really just Kirk and Spock that have the main focus and anyone they place in the scene with them gets immediately elevated by their seamless bickering.

That's not to say Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy isn't great in the role. Out of all the cast members, he's the one doing his best to emulate the original cast member's performance (in this case, the late DeForest Kelley) and he does so quite well. His role is a little different in this sequel, though. In the first film, he was Kirk's best friend and closest confidant. That spot is being filled by Spock in this film, so the good doctor plays a more supporting role and adds some laughs.

Zoe Saldana gets some serious screen time as Uhura, largely due to her relationship with Spock. In fact, it's this relationship that provides the majority of the truly funny moments in the movie, of which there are several. Saldana is able to bring some much needed emotion to the film to help break up some of the action pieces.

John Cho has a great turn as Sulu. Again, another cast member who's clearly getting comfortable in the role and starting to have fun with it. Cho even gets to sit in the big chair and deliver some kick ass lines, which he does superbly.

Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty, is used rather shabbily, in my oh so humble opinion. It's like someone on set said "Hey, this guy is hilarious, let's make every scene he's in have him cracking wise and acting like a goofball". Pegg gets very few truly human moments in the film and, even when he does, it's hard to take him seriously since he's been goofing off for the other 2 hours. I get that he's a funny guy and I even get that he's expected to provide some comic relief. I just don't think it needs to happen in every single scene he's in.

I'm not sure if Anton Yelchin pissed someone off or if he had another project on the go and just couldn't spare much time for the production, but his Chekov character is relegated to the bowels of the ship early in the film and is barely heard from again.

The supporting cast of this film is pretty great. Bruce Greenwood returns as Admiral Pike and turns in a great, emotional performance. He continues to act as Kirk's mentor much like he did in the first film but, this time, he's clearly acting as a father figure as well.

Peter Weller as Admiral Marcus just chews up the screen when he's on it. He makes the best of a shaky plot line and runs with it. It was late in the production before I'd even heard he was in the movie. I'm very glad they added him in.

The real scene-stealer in this one, though, is Benedict Cumberbatch. Right after I watched this movie, my friend turned to me and said "Cumberbatch just commands the screen in every scene he's in" and I couldn't agree more. His John Harrison character is one for the books. One of the best turns as a villain I've seen recently. Not all campy and over the top, in spite of some rather corny dialogue. He kept his villain reserved and calculating throughout. He was the Hannibal Lecter of this film.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the visuals. They are stunning. Truly stunning. Easily the single most gorgeous film I've seen this year. The space scenes in particular are rendered so beautifully it may take you a moment or two to realize these folks aren't actually in space.

And I can't talk about the visuals without mentioning the Klingons. Yes, our boney-foreheaded friends make an appearance in this one, if only briefly. Their look gets updated (I won't go into details) and there's clearly a promise of more to come with these guys. Expect big things from them in future installments.

The movie has some plot issues that I can't really go into without giving away some major spoilers, which I've tried to stay away from this time around. The story itself is the weakest part of the film, but it's still far better than the last film's shaky plot.

I think it's fairly important to know what you're going to get from a movie based on the trailers and the source material to come before. In this case, based on the trailers I saw and the 2009 reboot, I was expecting a romping good action/fantasy film with some character moments, some decent humour and a villain that was going to steal the show. I have to say, I got exactly what I expected.

4 out of 5 stars.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on May 21 2013
Rating: 4

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Colony (2013) Review

This week, I threw on my snowsuit and took the dog sled down to the local cinema to check out The Colony (2013) starring Laurence Fishburne and directed by Jeff Renfroe.

The Colony (2013) takes place in a future where the world has entered another global ice age. The struggling remains of humanity have sought shelter in underground colonies. These colonies are slowly dying off due to lack of medical treatments and proper medicine.

When Colony 5 stops responding by radio, Colony 7, led by Laurence Fishburne's character "Briggs", sends out a rescue party across the frozen wasteland to determine what became of them. Hijinks promptly ensue.

I wanted to like this movie. I really did. It's a low budget Canadian production starring two of my favourite actors (Fishburne and Paxton) in a limited release. It's sci-fi in nature, which I love, and the trailer didn't look half bad. Alas, it was just not meant to be.

As with my previous review, Iron Man 3 (2013), I can't really do a proper review without giving away some spoilers. If you plan on seeing this turd of a movie, skip the rest of this!

The story is the real issue here. There are enough plot holes to drive a convoy of trucks through. What's worse is the almost total lack of explanation as to what really happened and why.

I'm usually okay with leaving some plot points to the viewers' imagination. Take The Matrix (1999), for example. Fishburne's character of Morpheus begins trying to explain to Neo what happened to the world and how the machines took over. He admits that it's been a couple of hundred years and record keeping is really dodgy, so they only have scattered facts and a few theories. It's left to us, the viewers, to fill in some of the blanks.

Now take this movie. Nobody stops to explain to the viewer how the world ended up a frozen ice ball. Only that, one day, it started snowing and it never stopped. The problem is, this event occurred within their lifetimes! Both Briggs and Paxton's character "Mason" were serving in the military when the snows began. They helped with the evacuation of civilians, according to Briggs. They were around when this started. Yet they seem fantastically uninterested in how it happened or even how to go about trying to fix it.

There's a hint fairly early in the film as to what might have happened. When our intrepid heroes set out to check up on Colony 5, they pass a huge structure that they identify as a weather controlling machine. When the youngest member of the group says something about checking to see if it still works, Briggs says "It's already done it's damage". This would seem to indicate it was the weather machines themselves that caused the global ice age. This gets taken away later in the film, however, when a message is received from another colony who happened to repair the weather machine near them, creating a thaw and allowing the planting of crops in soil.

So in all the time Colony 7 has been within walking distance of a machine that controls the weather, barely hanging on to life due to the extreme cold and constant snows, not a single person has ever ventured out to see if they could get it working and, I don't know, control the freaking weather. If we're unsure if they could fix it, we only have to look to the satellite in orbit that Briggs managed to fix from the ground and communicate with. Clearly, our man Briggs has some skills to pay the bills.

Then we get to the reason Colony 5 went silent:

Bad guys. Grunting, teeth filed to points, lots of chains and leather wearing bad guys.

In a not so subtle nod to Serenity (2005) and Ghosts of Mars (2001), the main antagonists are deranged dudes bent on killing everything and everyone they come into contact with. They don't speak or plot or plan, they just kill. Somehow, these 20 or 30 mentally unhinged, rabid killers band together and organize themselves into a colony-invading wrecking machine. Again, we rely on the Briggs character for an attempted explanation. He says they've gone "feral" due to the hunger. Oddly enough, we never see any of the baddies stopping to actually eat anything or even anyone. Just lots and lots of stabby stabby.

Oh, did I mention the baddies bring knives and axes to a gun fight? And WIN???

I was hoping for another decent, low budget sci-fi movie with great performances like Moon (2009). What I got was my patience tested and a sense of regret at having paid $9 to watch this.

1.5 out of 5 stars
The Colony (2013)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on May 12 2013
Rating: 1.5

Monday, 6 May 2013

Iron Man 3 (2013) Review

Greetings, true believers! This week, I cut in a nasty chin-strap beard and clomped down to the local cinema to check out Iron Man 3 (2013) starring Robert Downey Jr. and directed by Shane Black.

The story of Iron Man 3 is rather complex. Needlessly so, in point of fact. The film is meant to be viewed as a follow up to The Avengers (2012) more so than to Iron Man 2 (2010). It follows Tony on his latest quest to save the world, this time from the evil Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley. Along the way he meets up with Maya (Rebecca Hall), a genetic botonist and former one night stand, Aldritch Killian (Guy Pearce), a former dweeb that Tony wasn't very nice to once upon a time, and a host of minor characters that include the President (William Sadler) and Vice President (Miguel Ferrer) of the United States. James "Rhodey" Rhodes, played by Don Cheadle, also appears, returning as the newly rebranded Iron Patriot with a nifty new paintjob. And, of course, there's Pepper Pots played by Gwyneth Paltrow.

Just a warning before you read any further. There are a few twists in this film that I can't help but talk about, so if you don't want any spoilers, now might be a good time to read one of my other bitter reviews!

Watching the trailers and knowing the lore and history of Iron Man, I was extremely pumped to see Sir Ben Kingsley debuting as the villainous Mandarin. A terrorist hell bent on giving Tony Stark a major ass kicking from which Tony would struggle to rise from and eventually overcome seemed like a match made in heaven. Well, it wasn't. As it turns out, nearly everyone in this movie is the bad guy except for the actual bad guy. The rather douchey Aldritch Killian character? Bad guy, but kind of obvious for all that. Former flame and cute sciency Maya? Oh yeah, she's a bad guy (or girl, as it were) as well. The Vice President of the United States? Hey, why not? Who couldn't use one more bad guy? But but...what about The Mandarin, you say? The best of the bad guys, maybe? The one the rest of the bad guys are working for and plotting with? Yeah...no. In what had to be the biggest slap in the face to geeks and fanboys since Bane in Batman and Robin (1997), The Mandarin turns out to be just a drug addicted stage actor being paid to front the whole operation. Don't get me wrong; Kingsley is absolutely magnificient in the role. His acting is stellar. It's the role itself that winds up leaving you with a bad taste in your mouth. It's a twist that you keep expecting to twist back. It just never does. Instead we get an entire cadre of baddies, none of which I care a fig about. 

Still, with all these nefarious nogoodniks lounging about, you'd think it would give our intrepid heroes all kinds of opportunities to strap on the old armour and kick a bunch of tail, right? Wrong. If you're going to this movie to see Cheadle and Downey blasting away as Iron Patriot and Iron Man respectively, you're going to be sorely disappointed. There's a small scene at the beginning as Tony is tinkering with a modular suit (which turns out to be so flimsy that he can make it fall to pieces with a single bare-handed blow) and another scene early on made popular in the trailers of Tony's mansion being attacked by helicopters. Even this scene doesn't have Tony as Iron Man through half of it (it's actually Pepper in the suit). Then we get a long second act where Tony is without any armour of any kind. He ends up playing sleuthy detective and trading witty, if somewhat inappropriate, banter with an 11 year old kid throughout most of the second act. Oh, and also having anxiety attacks after the events of The Avengers. Yes, Tony Stark, billionaire playboy, genius, philanthropist spends a good chunk of the movie curled up in a ball trying not to cry.

Even in the third act and the climactic end battle scene, Tony spends so little time in the suit you start to wonder why they keep calling him Iron Man. In fact, Tony doesn't kill the bad guy. Neither does Rhodey, for that matter, who spends even less time in his suit than Tony does (and doesn't fire a single shot in it, if I'm not mistaken). Nope, it's Pepper that kills the bad guy. Yeah, that Pepper. In fact, Pepper ends up kicking all kinds of ass in this one. Maybe they should call it Iron Woman...

So, in the end, what we're left with is a bunch of bad guys with little to no motivation for being bad in a story that I cared nothing about with an absentee super-hero who's name is right in the goddamn title of the movie. This film should have been called "RDJ Cracks Wise For Two Hours in a Movie That Makes No Sense. Thanks For All Your Money". Ok, that's a little wordy for a movie title. How about "You Love RDJ, So You're Gonna Pay"? Hey, at least it rhymes.

Avoid this one if you can. Wait for Avengers 2.

1.5 out of 5 Stars
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on May 06 2013
Rating: 1.5