Sunday, July 24, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

Oh, Indiana. I forgot how hot, humid and miserable your summers could be. What a great time to go see an air conditioned blockbuster summer movie.

The Starship Enterprise is half way through its five year mission, and some of the crew is feeling the strain of a long term deep space mission.  Kirk is considering taking another post, and Spock feels that maybe his time would be better spent helping to restart the new Vulcan home world.  The Enterprise docks at the Starbase Yorktown for resupply, when an escape pod emerges from a nearby nebula.  The occupant claims that her shipmates are stranded on an uncharted planet in the nebula.  The Enterprise goes into the nebula on a rescue mission, but encounters an overwhelming hostile enemy.  Most of the crew end up imprisoned on the uncharted planet, with the exception of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and Chekov who attempt to free their fellow crew.

My one complaint about the Star Trek reboot films is that they feel too busy.  This movie may not be as bad as its predecessors, but it still feels rushed.  There is some character development, but only briefly between action sequences.  It feels like a lost opportunity to explore the characters more.  The movie needed to catch its breath so that the audience could do so as well.  I get the sense that the producers think that we already know who these characters are, so there is little need to explore them.

For example, it is implied that the character of Jaylah is an engineer, but I don't think that it is explicitly stated, nor is very clear to me who she is or how she ended up on the uncharted planet.  Therefor her character feels like a plot device.  It is also not clear why the Enterprise crew was being imprisoned on the planet.

The Yorktown starbase is like an Escher Painting with its complex surfaces going in every conceivable direction.  It is not only confusing to the mind, but I can't imagine watching this is 3D.  It might give a person motion sickness.

The movie pays tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy in two ways.  First we are told of the passing of the older Spock from the alternate timeline future.  Then the credits have the statement, "In loving memory of Leonard Nimoy."  I was hoping to also see a tribute to Anton Yelchin, but maybe Yelchin's death came too late to be mentioned in the movie.  Unfortunately, his character, Pavel Chekov, doesn't get much screen time.  It has been announced that the character will not be recast for future films.  In a way that is unfortunate, because Pavel Chekov is an important character in the Star Trek universe.

Just when I have come to accept these actors as the Star Trek characters that we love, the movie ruins the illusion by showing us a picture of all the original actors from Star Trek V.  This ruins the illusion because we know that the new actors look nothing like the old actors, and never will.

I like the movie, and it is a marvelous technical achievement.  However, it is not clear to me that there is enough in the film to make me want to see it a second time, but since I am a big Star Trek fan, I will probably see it a second time anyway.

Rating:  * * * 1/2

Star Trek Beyond has a 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Shallow Hal

Shallow Hal opens with a nine year old Hal talking to his father on his deathbed.  His father gives him some politically incorrect advice about women.  Then the movie transitions to Hal as young adult, played by Jack Black, along with his friend Mauricio, played by Jason Alexander, trying to dance with women way out of their league at a nightclub.  As they try to introduce themselves to women who aren't the least bit interested in them, this is the first scene of many in the film that seemed kind of creepy to me.  The scene feels really awkward.

Hal and his friend Mauricia are incredibly shallow and only see women for their beauty.  However, because of their attitudes, they aren't having much luck with women either.  Hal accidently gets stuck in an elevator with self help guru Tony Robbins (played somewhat amateurishly by himself), who realizes just how much Hal objectifies women.  So Tony hypnotizes Hal to only see "the inner beauty" of people.  This leads to Hal meeting what he thinks are many beautiful women, but these same women don't seem beautiful at all to his friend Mauricio.  
Hal meets Rosemary, played by Gwyneth Paltrow,  who is morbidly obese, but to him she looks like a supermodel, which naturally Gwyneth Paltrow does.  (Thanks to Hollywood magic, the actress plays both the thin and fat versions of Rosemary.)  This leads to many funny misunderstandings, and the movie is filled with fat jokes.  In his review, Roger Ebert's said that the movie is funny, and he is right, but the film has a creepiness to it in the way it uses jokes about physical appearance as humor.

Hal falls in love with Rosemary, but the hypnotic spell doesn't last forever, and in the end he is forced to confront his feelings about her and his attitude toward women.  

Rating:  * * *

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Giver

In some distant future, people live in an isolated community where sameness and uniformity are the norm.  They live apparently happy lives, but their emotions are kept in check by drugs that they are forced to take.  They do not know love or other strong emotions, nor do they see color.  The leaders deny them knowledge so that they cannot know that there is an alternative to their restricted existence.

This story made me think of North Korea, but the analogy does not have to be limited to totalitarian societies.  The movie could be metaphor for any type of society that expects conformity and suppresses human potential.  To one degree or another, all human societies are guilty of this.

In this community there is always one person who is implanted with the memories of the past, so that he can advise the leaders about things that even they are unaware of.  That person is called The Giver, played with subdued passion by Jeff Bridges.  He must pass his knowledge to an apprentice, Jonah, played by Brenton Thwaites.  However, when Jonah learns how much more there is to human existence, he tries to start a rebellion.  That would seem like an inherent flaw in this future community; there is always going to be one or two people who know that there is a better way.  Just being human means that they would want to change things.

Meryl Streep gives an interesting performance as the supreme leader.  She is a tyrant, but one with benevolent intentions.  She thinks that she is doing the right thing, but like her subjects, she doesn't know an alternative.  There seems to me to be something very special about the performances by Streep and Bridges, both of which are highly skilled actors.  Both their characters seem to be suffering in silence, but for different reasons.  They are both prisoners of a system much bigger than themselves. 

There is a plot element toward the end about "the border of elsewhere" that is never fully explained, nor does it fully make sense.  But in a science fiction movie things can happen that don't fully make sense, nor do they have to be fully explained.  I am hoping for a sequel that gives more exposition, or maybe I just have to read the book that the movie is based on.

The Giver only has a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but I do not understand why it was not more well received.  I think that the movie is good, emotionally moving, and I see nothing major wrong with it.  The futuristic Utopian theme reminds me of Logan's Run or Divergent, but most of it feels different from than anything I have seen before.  The most common criticism I have read is that the movie doesn't capture fully the magic of the book, but I haven't read the book, so I think that the movie is magical too.  The story elements are slightly better than the execution, like maybe the movie could have been just a little bit better, but the story still feels very compelling to me.

Parts of the film were shot in Utah, and having lived there, the scenery seemed familiar.

Rating:  * * *