Boldly Going Pt 11 (Star Trek, 2009)

ST_Kelvin_2009_PosterIt is often not really a great sign when a franchise seems to go dormant. After the struggle at the box office with Nemesis and a large amount of negative fan reaction, Paramount’s Star Trek team started trying to figure out new ideas, most which put the Next Generation Crew out to pasture.

Eventually, they opted to focus more on the Television side while they tried to crack a new approach.  And then they reached out to J.J. Abrams. He and his team came up with an idea… what if we went back to the beginning? What if we go back and meet the Enterprise crew all over again? Captain Kirk? Mr. Spock?

This seemed like a risky proposition…the original cast was tied to those characters and the idea of bringing new actors in to give the crew new life and adventures had a huge chance of going wrong.

Abrams chose to go back to the start of the series…but with a twist.  On the day James T Kirk is born, his father sacrifices himself as a Romulan ship appears from a black hole. In the original series, Kirk grew up with his father…and with this change Kirk grows into a rebellious and responsibility avoiding lout. But one night in a bar, he meets Cadet Urhura- and ends up in a fight with several of her fellow cadets. The fight is ended by Captain Christopher Pike who convinces Kirk to apply to Starfleet.

Kirk’s recklessness in the academy puts him at odds with the Vulcan Spock.  But when the Romulan ship reappears 25 years leader, Bones helps get Kirk on the  Enterprise and the crew must face the mad Romulan and also deal with interpersonal conflicts.

The casting of the film is interesting, as only Zachary Quinto bears any likeness too Nimoy. Yet, give Karl Urban the right haircut and let him channel DeForrest Kelley and he is uncanny in his likeness.  Really, the entire cast does so well, that I quickly found myself not paying attention to the details that said it is not the same person. This cast is… well, a lot of fun to watch. They have a real chemistry and work very well together.

I confess, I am one of those people who kind of gets annoyed when Trek has a prequel series with better tech than the original series.  I get this is mostly due to budget changes and better tech for film and television. But it always bugs me a bit to see a setting from before the original series with sleeker tri-corders. However, here? I find it pretty easy to excuse this world on the simple “history has changed” rationale.

The Enterprise here is bright and vibrant and feels wide open in a way prior television and film never really managed.

The film took some heat for being a little more Star Wars than Star Trek, and Abrams has openly stated he was always more of a Star Wars guy.  This is true of me as well.  I like Trek, but Wars was always a bit more my jam. And so, I do not really dispute the criticism, but for me it is a bit of a bonus.

The villain Nero is kind of lackluster…Eric Bana is not really given room to flap his wings. He almost feels like an afterthought.  While I enjoy seeing Nimoy return to the role of Spock, I also feel like he is being used in the film to shortcut mountains… specifically the relationship of Kirk and Spock.  Theirs is a friendship that feels deep and real because we got to spend decades with it. Here, Old Spock has to give pushes to Kirk and his younger self in the right direction. It feels a bit like a cheat.

Oh…and all the damn lens flares…

But those points aside, this was an incredibly fun new approach to characters we know and love and begin to get to know again.  It is a blast and a new start that had me very excited for the next film.

Oh foolish youth.

Cops and Demons (Deliver Us From Evil, 2014)

Deliver_Us_From_Evil_PosterOpening in Iraq, some soldiers discover a strange cave. Inside they encounter something unnatural. The film then picks up with Ralph Sarchie a few years later. He is giving mouth to mouth to what is revealed to be an infant…unsuccessfully.

Sarchie is a man dealing with facing a very dark world that has tested his faith and left him feeling hopeless and empty. His partner (Community’s Joel McHale) takes a lighter view of life and his wife would like him to open up and be a part of their life.

When Sarchie find himself facing a set of crimes with seemingly impossible to explain aspects, he gets connected to Father Mendoza. The Priest is familiar with one of their suspects, Jane.  He becomes Sarchie’s educator in the spiritual world.

Like the Conjuring films, Deliver Us From Evil is based on the stories of a real guy. Ralph Sarchie is now retired, but became a Catholic Demonologist.  Not unlike Ed and Lorraine Warren, it is pretty hard not to believe that their stories are a bit…exaggerated.  And I have no doubt that Derrickson and screenwriter Paul Harris Boardman take liberties.

Sean Harris makes for a freaky victim of possession and I am a fan of Eric Bana who gives Sarchie a rough and weary edge.McHale brings some comedy, but he also proves himself capable in the drama.  Olivia Munn does not get a ton to do, but she has a nice scene with Bana where he pours out his sense of futility about the world…sharing all the thinks he has kept bottle up inside to protect her.

Yeah, the films finale gets a little crazy, but Derrickson knows what he is aiming for (a horror movie with a tale of redemption) and mostly hits the mark with a dramatic and entertaining film.

Hulk Smash Poodle! (Hulk, 2003)

Hulk_2003_posterTruthfully, the idea of “get the visionary behind Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to direct this film”  struck me as brilliant.  So I went into this film with a bias towards it.

Hulk is definitely made more for the comic reader than the person who loved the show as a kid.  That said, it takes great liberties.  Liberties are not bad, and sometimes are greatly understandable.  Especially considering that the Hulk had decades as an established character who was constantly changing.

Right away, Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is established as a rather emotionless guy.  Not really emotionless, but suppressed.  He just keeps taking hits like a punching bag.  His relationship to Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) seems to be in limbo.  Greedy private sector profiteer Talbot (Josh Lucas) is trying to sweep Betty off her feet.  Betty’s father Thunderbolt Ross (Sam Elliot) is not impressed with Banner.  And the new night janitor is kind of a weirdo.

While working on an experiment, something goes wrong.  Bruce saves his assistant, but traps Bruce in the room while Betty and the assistant watch in horror-expecting to see Banner die.  Miraculously, it seems, he survives.  Unknown to anyone he has changed.

Bruce gets frustrated and his temper builds, unleashing years of repression he becomes a big, hulking green monster.   A mass of muscles, unable to communicate beyond growls and roars.  Talbot sees dollars signs, Thunderbolt sees a weapon, Betty wants to save him and the creepy janitor is just still creepy.

It is soon revealed that the creepy janitor is actually Nick Nolte-or rather Bruce’s long lost father.  Father is not back because he missed his son, but rater because he is a mad scientist wanting his son’s genetic material.  Ew.  That sounds gross.  He uses some of Bruce’s blood to create a formula to make Hulk Dogs.  Really.  Including a poodle.  Betty has discovered who the janitor truly was and that he was up to no good.  Betty is stalked by the hounds, but the Hulk battles the Hulk Dogs to the death.

Eventually, it is made clear that the accident merely released the Hulk, but that the but that the power was in Bruce’s genetics, as his father injected Bruce with some sort of enhancement drug he was working on for General Ross.  Apparently, it drove Father crazy, but Bruce just got really repressed.

All attempts to subdue the Hulk end in failure.  Then, while trying to replicate his son’s “success”, father gives himself some kind of  vague absorbing powers.  He sets up a meeting with Bruce, attended by the army.  They have Bruce hooked up to a chair that will electrocute him before he can change.  So, of course, father absords the electricity.  He then tries to get Bruce to transform.  The fight that ensues is…well, the most “Huh” I have seen in a few minutes time ever.

In the end, the Father absorbs the Hulk, turns into a giant amoeba and is killed by Hulk’s rage.  Or something.  In the end, everyone thinks Bruce is dead, but we find out he is hiding in the jungle.

Ang Lee does a lot of visually interesting stuff in this film, he plays around with imitating comic book panels.  He has a keen eye for the importance of backgrounds.  Really, Lee seems great on paper.

The cast is solid.  Bana makes for a terrific Bruce Banner, and I would have happily forked over money to see him in the role again.  Josh Lucas is an appropriately amusing scheming douche-bag.   Connelly is good, though the role is not very demanding.  Sam Elliot is ideal for the role, which calls for his patented combo of gruff exterior and kind protector.   Nolte is the odd man out, but that is because his character is a confusing mess.  It is a thankless role, which is unfortunate.

The effects are pretty solid, the Hulk looks good most of the time.  They have some neat concepts at work, like the more force used against the Hulk, the larger he gets.  The big fight sequences with the military work pretty well.

As I mentioned, taking liberties are not inherently bad.  But the whole idea that it was not the experiment that changed Bruce, but rather something done by his father to him…just feels like forced pathos.  I admit, I always liked the hokey “saving Rick Jones and getting hit with the gamma blast” of the comics over the film and television take of a science room experiment gone wrong.

The subplot of the father is entirely unnecessary, and as a villain, the Father (the character has no name in the film other than the Father) briefly gets cool powers that he instantly understands how to use.   And then proceeds to use in the dullest way possible to fight the Hulk.  For reasons that do not fully make sense.

The biggest crime is…well, this is a Hulk movie.  Your Big Bad should not be something the Hulk cannot hit.  This is not Superman here, where you try and balance brains and brain.  The Hulk is not a tactical fighter .  He is a mass of angry muscle.  You need to give an equal threat, but one that creates a visually interesting bit of combat.  The Hulk jumping between clouds (yes, you read that right) and getting frozen in a lake?  Not compelling action.

The worst part?  The final few minutes are totally the start of a movie I want to see.  We see Banner hiding out in the jungle helping the locals with his medical knowledge.  Guerillas burst into the camp demanding medicines from Bruce and being quite aggressive.  He utters that great line… “Don’t make me angry…you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”  And BAM! End of movie.

So, Ang Lee, not quite as successful as Bryan Singer.  The formula is not always going to work, even when you take someone with great skill as a director.  Sometimes, they just are not the right fit.  And with three screenwriters, it is hard to tell where the story  started giong off the rails?  First draft? Second draft?  The film ends up not being all that

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