Twixt

Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt is an interesting mish mash of genres. Blending horror, drama, mystery, and a healthy dose of camp, it weaves a gothic spell that reminded me of the dark flip side to the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris.

The film makes many references to Stephen King, and at times reminded me of a King tale. Val Kilmer play Hal Baltimore, a “Third rate Stephen King” who has gained some small success with a series of books about witches. He arrives in a small town, setting up a book signing in the local hardware store where he meets sheriff Bobby LaGrange, quirkily played by Bruce Dern. LaGrange wants Hal to collaborate with him on a book called “The Vampire Executions” about a serial killer in the area whose calling card is a wooden stake impaling the victim.  Slowly Hal is drawn into the town history as he hopes to write a book that is commercial while being personal to him as well.

It is not long before writer’s block leads Hal down a path of intricate dreams and fantasies. In these dreams, Edgar Allan Poe, who once stayed at the local hotel, is helping Hal with the development of the novel’s plot. He also encounters an ethereal, haunting lost girl who reminds him of his lost daughter. As parallels between history, current events, and Hal’s life arise, the journey to write the book becomes a journey to accept the truth of Hal’s past.

At the surface, Twixt may look like a surreal film with little distinction between dream logic and reality. However, with a little work on the viewer’s part, all the pieces are there for what are essentially 3 narratives that intertwine: Hal’s troubled past, The dream tale of the hotel murders, and the current staking murders. For example, central to the town in its dream version is a clock tower that features multiple clock faces, all at different incorrect times. As Hal moves towards accepting his tragedy, we understand Hal’s guilt ridden fear of not being on time, and how that is reflected in the town’s central feature.

The dream/fantasy scenes are sumptuous, with most color drained from the image except for the sharply contrasted reds. Often times the dream like images actually looked like the flickering images of film projected into the actual film itself..truly eye-grabbing.

I went into Twixt with little information other than it was a Coppola film that flirted with the horror genre. I was sucked into the tale, and later learned of the film’s experimental origins. Coppola intended the film to be seen as part of a tour, with him present. On the fly, he would be able to extend some scenes and shorten others to meet audience reaction. In addition, the film contained 3D segments which were “announced” with an image of 3D glasses covering the screen. I cannot comment on this presentation of the film, as I experienced it on a Blu-ray which contained no 3D or interactive options. I would love to see what this interactive experience would be like.

As for the version I saw, it is at heart the tale of a man coming to terms with his grief, filtered through lenses of gothic horror, skewed by surreal dream logic, and flavored with mystery. An inner journey masked by external ones, Twixt is a journey worth taking.

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Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim is a gift. It is like Guillermo Del Toro and his crew reached into my head, scooped out a handful of my childhood imagination and play, and turned it into a summer spectacle. Godzilla creature fests, Shogun Warriors, Voltron, Anime, military sci-fi–these are a handful of the touch points here. I sat through Pacific Rim with a big goofy grin on my face, growing more and more giddy with each over the top action set-piece. I can’t wait to see it again.

Pacific Rim’s concept is simple; in the future, giant monsters, called kaiju, are entering our world through a dimensional breach. To fight them, the military creates the Jaegers, giant robot fighting machines that require a two-man team to pilot them due to the strain it puts on the human brain to link, or “drift” as the film calls it, with the giant machinery. When two pilots share a drift with the machine, they share the load–but also each other’s memories, creating an extreme bond between pilots. The film is the story of these pilots and their leaders’ attempt to stop the kaiju from terraforming the earth for their masters.

Often times here on living24fps I like to dig into a film’s themes, meanings, and symbolism. Pacific Rim’s themes are straightforward. This is a film about the need to work together, and about courage and sacrifice. But let’s face it–this is a summer blockbuster about heroes piloting giant robots to fight monsters..and it delivers that in spades. 

What really makes the film work is the details, the little things that truly bring this world to life. The rating systems for the kaiju (category 3, 4 etc. like a hurricane or earthquake), the amazing details in the rain falling against the beasts and machines, the black market that springs up for kaiju parts, the squabbles in the military leadership, the arguing scientists –it’s these little points that, while still staying true to the pulpy origins of the film, make the world believable and grounded so we can get lost in the awesome battles and epic scope.

Pacific Rim is everything the Transformers movies hoped to be but could not pull off, and so much more. It’s human characters are engaging, and make you care about their plights. Raleigh, played by Charlie Hunnam of Sons of Anarchy fame, has just the right mix of heroics and humility as the star jaeger pilot who retires after losing his brother, who was also his co-pilot, in combat.   Brought back to duty in the hour of greatest need, he needs a new co-pilot that he is compatible to drift with. Rinko Kikuchi plays Mako, orphaned as a young girl she now works to train the jaeger teams, but yearns to be a pilot. I am sure you can see where that is going. Idris  Elba as Major Stacker , the idealistic leader and also Mako’s father figure, shines in an inspiring role as the glue holding the ragtag team together.  Ron Pearlman as a trader in kaiju parts is a joy.

Pacific Rim is the prime example of summer film done right. It is packed to the brim with adventure, heart, and over the top images. It brought me back to the days of Shogun Warriors battling on my bedroom floor, epic army battles with giant alien beasts staged across the living room, or adventures fighting off giant sharks and sea creatures in summer pool playtime. The effects are masterful, the pace relentless, and the fun off the Richter scale. Do not miss this one!

Upside Down

Wow! This gem totally flew under my radar until I read something about it last week. I picked up the 3D Blu-ray this week and was blown away.  First of all, this film is gorgeous. The imagery here is just astounding. On top of that, we are given an original concept for a sci-fi/fantasy romance with some social commentary sprinkled on top. I want to stress the fantasy part of the sci-fi/fantasy description. If you try to scrutinize the story here from a scientific perspective it will not hold up at all. There is an almost fairy-tale type logic at play here that you need to embrace in order for the film to work for you.

Upside Down opens with a voiceover setting up the film’s premise and this is almost a requirement due to the high concept at work here. It seems there are two twin worlds orbiting a sun, and they each have their own gravity. Matter from the upper world always follows the gravity of that world, and matter from the under world always follows its’ own gravity. You can offset the gravity of your base world with inverse matter from the other world–essentially weighing yourself down with matter of the other world so you don’t drift “up”. In addition, after about an hour opposing matter in contact with each other will begin to heat up and then burn.

Adam and Eden cross paths at a young age. Adam is from the underworld–the impoverished lower class world. Eden is from the flourishing, high-class upper world. There is not supposed to be any contact between worlds unless it is through the monopolizing mega corporation that coordinates the exchanges between the two worlds.   After many years of visiting each other at a point where the worlds come close together, They are discovered by a border patrol, and Eden suffers an accident in the escape.  Years pass and Adam is hard at work on a special compound using the power of a pollen/honey substance that comes from bees that cross the boundaries between the two worlds. This compound, being used as an anti wrinkle cream, defeats the workings of gravity on a given world. Adam soon learns that Eden, whom he thought lost, is working at the Mega company and so he brings his invention to them in the hopes of finding a way to cross the worlds’ barriers and reunite with his lost love.

I will leave the details at that as I do not want to spoil a film that I am sure many have not seen. Suffice it to say that Adam and Eve are not named with any subtlety.  Jim Sturgess as Adam and Kirsten Dunst as Eve do fine work, and  Timothy Spall truly shines as Adam’s quirky co-worker and friend who does not quite fit into the predefined way of life in the upper world.The film works primarily as a high-concept romance, but also contains some fun adventure set pieces including a platform jumping section that truly felt like an old-school video game brought to life. Upside Down also comments on corporate monopolies, the haves and have-nots, and societal discrimination as well…all rather timely in the era of the 99%. YOu can not escape the loss of humanity in the office vistas with endless rows of cubes–both above nad below.

The 3D in the film is the subtle  kind where it used to add depth and recede into the screen as opposed to pop out at you. I found the subtlety appropriate for the tone of the film.

Upside Down is not a perfect film. If you study the rules too hard things do not all add up, and the use of the concepts of up and down is almost pointless. However, if you can look past that and get caught up in the spectacle and romance, you may find yourself lost in the film’s charms and engaging in the suspension of disbelief that a good fantasy provides.

In Defense of Prometheus

“This is just another tomb”

In Prometheus, when Holloway discovers the amazing  “canister” room with the  giant head statue on LV-223 , he is disappointed. He had a certain experience in his mind about what to expect here. He envisioned benevolent creators, still alive and waiting to greet him and share their wonders. What he found was something completely different, yet still an earth shattering discovery of epic proportions. However, he is unable to accept things being so different from his expectations, and staring at such wonders is left to proclaim “This is just another tomb”

I believe audiences similarly had set expectations when they entered the theater to see Prometheus. They were looking for a suspense and action onslaught that served as a direct prequel to the Alien series. When Prometheus did not give them exactly what they anticipated, the turned on it, declaring it “just another crappy sci-fi movie.” I however, found Prometheus to be an amazing piece of cinema, with a tone more  akin to 2001 then to Aliens.  Prometheus deals with heavy questions of faith, destiny, and religion…even bio warfare… all on a gorgeous palette. Pepper the heady ideas with some action and terror, and I feel you have a riveting sci-fi classic.

Re-watching Prometheus last night, I could not help but notice that religion is a major theme in this film. The voyage in Prometheus is essentially a search for our makers. The notion of arriving on LV-223 on Christmas is clearly not accidental. Let’s back things up a bit….In Prometheus it is revealed that the Engineers, the race of super beings found on LV-223, are our genetic ancestors. The prologue of the film shows an Engineer being sent to earth to sacrifice himself for the sake of engineering a new race of beings–man. It logically follows that in the world of Prometheus, the engineers are our “Gods”. As evidenced by the various cave paintings that Holloway and Shaw have discovered, they have visited us from time to time to check on our progress.

Later in the film, it is revealed that the stockpile of the genetic ooze–this primordial sludge that brings on evolution of some sort….may in fact be a biological weapon, and the ship that crashed on LV-223 was headed for earth. It seems our makers may have decided that we were not progressing well after all. They are going to wipe us out, most likely through the spawning of a new creature, a super predator designed to wipe us out. Of course this super predator will eventually lead to the xenomorph creatures of the Alien franchise, but that is for a later time.  The question Prometheus asks at this point is what have we done to cause our makers to turn on us in this way? Is it the way we treat each other? Is it our disregard for the state of the planet?  Or perhaps something more unsettling? Back in the canister room there is an amazing mural that resembles some sort of creature–perhaps somewhere between a xeno and an engineer…in a crucified pose. Crucifixion clearly is a religious symbol originating on earth. Why would these creatures be using it? Well, if these engineers are our “Gods”, who have visited us from time to time as our shepherds, is it possible we mistreated one? Perhaps we crucified it? And perhaps this godlike creator being, misunderstood and crucified by a faction of man, became an inspiration for an entire earth religion?   

I could go on and on. I did not even get into the Christmas conception, by an infertile woman, of an evolving species. Nor did I discuss Shaw’s dream discussions with her father about heaven, and paradise, and what one “chooses to believe”. My point is there are so many layers to Prometheus that I feel it gave viewers way more to contemplate than they were prepared for. I hope with time more folks will discover the beauty, depth, and power of Prometheus. I know I will be there at the opening for the next film in the series, hoping for even more to chew on.

Man Of Steel

NOTE: This review contains Spoilers

For years friends and I have discussed what we wanted to see in a new Superman film. I remember the constant recurring  theme–No More Origin! We wanted a film that started with Superman BEING Superman. A heroic, noble, super being among men, honor bound, loyal, and most importantly facing a massive threat that tests the immense power of the last son of Krypton. How many more times did we need to see Krypton destroyed and baby Kal-El sent to earth, raised in Smallville by the Kents? Let’s get to the good stuff!

Well, without beating around the bush, Man of Steel is not that film. However, it is an  an all together different beast that enthralled me while covering familiar ground in new and innovative ways. I will later get to the one point that keeps coming back to bother me that keeps me from calling this a perfect Superman film. But oh how it comes close.

Man of Steel begins on Krytpon, and we spend a fairly lengthy amount of time here. We are immediately shown a world of technological wonders as Kal-El is born to Jor-El and Lara. Yes some of Krypton’s sites and technology reminded me of other films–The Matrix came to mind at times, an exciting flight on a winged creature reminded me of Avatar, and I was even reminded of some of the settings in the Star Wars prequel. As a whole though, this is the most in-depth, fully realized  view of Kryptonian life we have seen in a Superman film, and this is a civilization nearing its end. Kryptonians have been forced to resort to population controls to try to stem the over harvesting of resources their expansion has caused, but it is too late. Krypton is dying.  

Kal-El is soon sent to Earth, the last hope for the Kryptonian race. General Zod, Krypton’s Military defense leader, born and bred, has staged a failed military coup. He and his followers are banished to the Forbidden Zone shortly before Krypton’s destruction.  All of the Krytpon prologue  is staged in spectacularly epic fashion, giving us a rip-roaring start and pulling us in.

Soon we are seeing the wanderings of a twenty something Clark Kent, and this jump in time is what really made the film work for me. The film wisely skips back and forth between time settings, so rather that sitting through the Kents’ finding and raising of Clark, discovering his powers, etc in one long section…we dive in to a Clark who is aware of his abilities but holds them back for fear of the response of human kind. He wants to help, he wants to be the noble hero, but the fear of the  reprocussions of revealing himself has been deeply ingrained in him by his father. And this history with the Kents is interspersed as flashbacks. So without having to take in the scenes of Clark’s youth in a long chunk, and with the novel approach to the way Jonathan Kent raises Clark, I never felt like I was retreading old ground. I was constantly engaged with the film.

Now to be clear, the film does not slavishly follow Superman lore. Elements of the timeline are changed, and Lois is looking for Superman way before Clark has been to Metropolis or the Daily Planet. Bits of urban myth have been left in Clark’s wake, and as a prize-winning reporter, Lois follows that trail and finds Clark. She knows Superman before she knows his alter ego. These changes to the cannon do not generally bother me, as I feel when adapting comics to the screen steadfast mimicry is not always the best path. A film is not a comic and what works best for one medium may not work for another.

That said there is one element of the story that troubles me. It is the item that I mentioned earlier that keeps me from calling this the perfect Superman film. In one of  Clark’s flashbacks with the Kents, there is a tornado, and while Clark takes his Mom to safety, Jonathan Kent returns to the car to rescue their dog. Clark and Pa Kent soon exchange a knowing look, but Jonathan shakes his head. At the risk of death he still will not allow Clark to reveal his abilities. Clark watches his father die,  a death he could have stopped with minimal effort. This right here is the point in the film I am having trouble with. Superman does not do this. While I know the point of this film is that this man is not yet the Superman we have come to know….that we are seeing  but the initial step on the path towards Kal-El developing into that man…it still does not sit right with me. Superman let his father die.

As the plot in the present moves forward,  General Zod and his fellow banished Kryptonians are free of the phantom zone, and trace Kal-El to earth. They want the codex that El has passed on to Kal-EL, for it is the genetic map for future generations of Kryptonians. Zod plans to terraform the earth into a new Krypton, sacrificing humankind to make way for the rebirth of Kryptonian society. Kal-El, born of Krypton but now a son of Earth, will not stand for this.

The second half of the film is that epic Superman battle we have dreamed of. Awesome adventure, epic heroics, massive effects and set pieces—it is all there and it left me with a big grin on my face, high fiving my son at key points in the excitement. One has to wonder though, as Superman gives his all to defeat Zod, just how many humans have actually fallen as collateral damage to the massive battle through their streets, buildings, vehicles… perhaps even homes? There is really nothing on display as far as Kal-El going out of his way to keep humans out of harm’s way…until the penultimate moment in the battle.

Superman has Zod in a headlock, and Zod, seeking to hurt Superman in any way he can, is aiming his heat vision at a cowering group of humans. Left with no choice, Superman snaps Zod’s neck, ending his life, and also killing off his last peer Kryptonion. Superman’s final victory is also his loss, and the scene carried an emotional heft for me.

There are two epilogue scenes, one that felt wrong to me, and one that completely sold me. The first comes when Superman downs a satellite from orbit that apparently the government was using to try to locate Superman. Confronted by a general, Kal-El claims that he is here to help, but on his terms. He does not want to be found. When asked how they can find him if they need him, he informs them to have faith. I can’t put my finger on it, but this response just seemed wrong to me–almost too smug for Superman.

However, next we see Clark Kent starting work at the Daily Planet (a job he wants as a way to keep his ear to the ground)  and a knowing exchange with Lois. It was a perfect note to end on, leaving the sequel to begin with Clark ensconced at the paper, working with Lois, and perhaps ready to take on more of the noble hero role that defines Superman.   

I know that my few  issues with Man of steel stem from the path that Chrtopher Nolan,  David Goyer, and Zach Snyder have chosen to take with this story. They are not giving us the Superman we expect. In this version, Kal-El has not yet evolved into that completely selfless hero. Perhaps some of that choice stems from the fact that today’s audiences may not be as accepting of that level of over the top heroics. Their whole approach is to ground Superman in reality wherever possible. Their approach asks–if there really was this alien sent to Earth as a baby what would his experience be like? I commend them for finding a fresh approach, and for 95% of the film it works. However, Superman is not Batman. The nature of Batman’s character leaves a lot more room for grey. Superman’s has always been more of black and white, right and wrong. If I am right, and the plan is that Man of Steel is the springboard for that Superman to take flight from, then I think we have here a great beginning.

Revisiting The Hobbit and the 48 fps Question

 

As a huge fan of all things both Middle Earth and Peter Jackson, the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a pretty big deal for me. At the time of its theatrical release, a lot of discussion centered on the 48 frame per second edition that certain theaters would be screening. As my local theater had the 48fps 3D version showing on their RPX screen, it was my format of choice for the several theatrical viewings of the film that I attended.

My initial reaction to the new format was that it was sharp and detailed, with amazing 3D, but somehow created distance from the film. It had an almost soap opera quality to the image, something that I initially found distracting. It felt more video than film. As I took in my first viewing, over the course of the film’s running time I seemed to adapt to it. And upon subsequent viewings I was prepared for the different quality. By the time I had finished with my trips to the theater to watch The Hobbit, I thought the 48 fps format had won me over. Surely you can’t go wrong with clarity and detail?

Jump to the present, where I recently purchased a 3D 1080p LED set. I just finished watching The Hobbit again, this time at the good old-fashioned 24 fps rate. And the verdict? I felt like I was seeing the film for the first time all over again. Instead of feeling distanced from middle earth, I felt much more drawn into the story. I loved the Hobbit from my first viewing, but tonight I REALLY L-O-V-E-D the Hobbit.  The Hobbit is a long film, and I was fully captivated to an even greater extent than I was in the theater.  I fully believe this is due to being more comfortable with the 24 fps rate.

What does this mean for the future? Will 48 fps eventually gain the same “intimate” feeling with enough exposure? What format will the sequels be shown at, and which will I choose to see? I don’t know the answers to these questions at this time. What I do know is I am really glad I finally experienced the film at 24 fps 3D. I have a whole new level of admiration for a film I was already quite take with.

Sadako 3D

The Ring series , and the first film in particular, were really influential in the J-horror boon. Re-releases of Asian horror films in the U.S. soon led to a glut of American remakes, and eventually as happens with these crazes, the market became over saturated with lesser quality films, and eventually interest waned.

Now comes the release of Sadako 3D, an attempt to restart the Ring franchise. Sadako 3D Arrives following the first 3 films, the American remake and its sequel, and countless copycats since. The result is lackluster. In no way does Sadako 3D live up to the creeping dread of the original. What we have here is a film overflowing with 3D gags, and a weird tonal shift from psychological horror to an outright monster onslaught. It does have its merits as a fun film with some interesting imagery, but it lacks the intelligence and scares that make the original a classic.

The Ring series centered on a cursed video tape. The new film smartly updates this idea to become a cursed video clip on the web. However the suspense of the concept of watching the VHS and waiting to die is nullified by the fact that the cursed clip claims it’s victims immediately upon watching, making the death look like a suicide. Rather than the creepy montage that constituted the VHS tape, the video clip seals with the suicide on a popular internet artist, Kashiwada. Through convoluted details that I will fully admit I had trouble following, Kashiwada’s clip is part of a plan to resurrect Sadako, the creepy girl from the original films.

Soon we are introduced to Arkane, a school teacher with an unusual past of her own, and her boyfriend Takanori. Arkane’s students are falling victim to the curse, and before long the two are deeply entangled in Kashiwada’s plans, and must come face to face with the evil of Sadako herself.

If this all sounds a bit silly, that’s because it is. In many wise I was reminded of a later entry in the Elm Street series, with teens struggling to avoid video screens as opposed to sleep and dreams. As a solid entry to a succesful franchise, 3D fails miserably. However as a fun 3D horror flick, with some fun 3D gags, cool monsters, and a leave your brain at the door mentality, you could do a lot worse for a night’s entertainment than Sadako 3D.

Hangover Part III

I must admit I completely skipped the second chapter in the Hangover trilogy. While I found the first one to be hysterical, nothing I read or glimpsed of the second one left me with any desire to see it. By all accounts, it was a pale retread of the first and I stayed away.

I am not sure what piqued my interest about the third one, perhaps it was the hook of this being the finale, but I really wish I had skipped this one as well. Hangover III has no idea what it wants to be, and so it doesn’t really amount to much of anything. It does not approach the laugh quotient of the first one at all, and its crime story hook is flat and uninteresting. Let’s face it, did anyone really come into Hangover 3 looking for a straight crime caper? No, we wanted to laugh at our loveable wolf pack and their hi-jinks. Instead we get a mostly maudlin final adventure for our gang, with only the occasional chuckle included.

I won’t bog you down with details of the so-called plot. In a nutshell the gang is off to take Alan to a rehab, and are sidelined by their old friend/nemesis Chow who is now mixed up with a new criminal played by John Goodman.  The gang must return Goodman’s gold that Chow stole to save Doug, who is being held hostage…Hilarity then fails to ensue.

Zach Galifanakis as Alan does get a couple of laughs, but you have already seen most of them in commercials or previews. Ken Jeong as Mr. Chow spends the film running around shouting his curses and catchphrases without any real novelty or humor. Melissa McCarthy also gets a few laughs as a love interest for Alan, but she is not in the film long enough to pull it out of the mire.

Overall  this is a dull, humorless mess that is at most times more depressing than funny. I always appreciate dark humor–but this is just dark minus the humor. Rewatch the first one–it’s time much better spent.

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Let me start with a spoiler warning–it is too hard to discuss this film without plot specifics.

I loved Into Darkness for what it is, but at the same time sort of wish it wasn’t that thing. Does that make sense?

Into Darkness is still set in the alternate timeline created by the events of JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot, and we are just on the cusp of the crew beginning the 5 year mission that the original series covers. Kirk begins the film as captain of the Enterprise, but is soon stripped of that title when he violates the prime directive.  During an exploratory mission that reveals a planet whose civilization is in danger of being wiped out by a volcano, Kirk decides that saving Spock is worth revealing the presence of the enterprise to this un-technological civilization. This is a gesture that Spock has trouble understanding as he is not yet capable of valuing relationships over Starfleet mandates. The tone is now set for one of the major themes in the film–the meaning of friendship.

Shortly after these events Starfleet falls victim to a terrorist who then flees to the Klingon home world. Before you know it, Kirk is back in control of the enterprise and heading out on a seek and kill mission, armed with new weaponry that Starfleet is readying to combat the increasing hostile nature of the Klingons.

The theme of the greater militarization of Starfleet as a result of the first film’s events is timely, and Spock’s objection to the find and kill nature of the mission, as opposed to capturing and holding a trial, is relevant. So far we have an exciting premise, political allusions, and great characters–a pretty great set up.

This is where the divisive nature of the plot kicks into high gear–you see it turns out that the terrorist in question is actually Khan, who in this timeline has been defrosted a lot earlier as a super soldier to  combat the Klingons. Khan is not interested in being Starfleet’s pawn, and wants to save the other 72 members of his crew, who are housed in Starfleet’s new missiles. The strike on Khan will wipe out all trace of his colony, burying this military mistake.

From here on out the movie becomes an alternate version of the rightfully revered Wrath of Khan–the greatest of all Trek films. This begs the question, if Abrams work so hard to set up a new premise for Trek that allows them to move away from established Cannon, why go right back to such holy ground in the second film? I think they did a great job with this material, but I wish this wasn’t the material they chose to tackle. With so much endless possibility in the Trek world, why retell a film that nailed it the first time?

In an interesting twist Khan is not the true villain here…that role is really filled by Admiral Marcus…a military man determined to wipe of Khan and the others at all costs, and also to begin aggressions with the Klingons. He is manipulating Kirk, Khan, and everyone in between. Again this adds to the films theme of military aggressions over taking morality, exploration, and common sense. 

However, the heart of the film is the bond forming between Kirk and Spock. The film essentially puts them in the mirror positions of the events of Wrath of Khan. Spock is left to man the bridge (Phoning for help from Spock Prime on new Vulcan allowing for a Leonard Nimoy cameo) while Kirk has to make the great sacrifice to save the crew.  All of this works, although not as well as it did in Wrath of Khan because in this reality Kirk and Spock do not have nearly as much history behind them.

I am really torn on this one. I really did enjoy the film, and for the path they took I feel they hit a homerun. However my mind keeps turning to the untaken path. I can’t help but wonder at what could have been if these characters were shown tackling completely original adventures. Here’s hoping for next time.

The Great Gatsby

Over the top visual decadence-check, anachronistic music-check…ok we are clearly in the grip of a Baz Luhrmann film. This time it is his opulent take on The Great Gatsby, in 3D no less. I have to preface this review with an embarrassing admission: I don’t recall ever reading the book. While this is something I hope to rectify at some point, I will obviously not be commenting on how the film does or does not stray from the novel.

Luhrman’s exuberant style is almost a character in the film, and one that feels right at home with the style-over-substance obsessed folks populating Gatsby’s world. A condemnation of the pursuit of wealth as its own end, Gatsby shows the wealthy existence as listless, dull, and directionless. Carey Mulligan as Daisy wanders aimlessly in a world-weary manner through her life while husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) seeks solace in sports and the company of other women. Extremely wealthy Jay Gatsby has purposely purchased an enormous mansion across the water from them, throwing decadent parties in the hopes Daisy ( whom he had fallen in love with five years prior but whom he had lost while serving in the war, and for fear of not being wealthy enough for her) will come. Gatsby’s new neighbor is Nick, a struggling writer who has abandoned his writing to make a living in the bond market, and who also happens to be Daisy’s cousin. Jay soon befriends his struggling neighbor, wooing him with parties and plane rides before gaining the courage to ask Nick to invite Daisy to tea.

Gatsby is singular in his goal of winning back the lost love of Daisy. All the lengths he goes to in obtaining wealth and  material goods are all in an effort to bring Daisy back into his life. One of the film’s central mysteries is how Gatsby attained his wealth. The truth reveals much about Gatsby’s win at any cost nature.

However, in my view, it is not Daisy per se that he really wants, but rather the dream of the unattainable. Gatsby often spends time gazing at the green light across the water at the end of the dock at Daisy’s home. A siren beckoning him to that which he cannot have. And yet he seems at his best with the allure of the light in the distance. Once he has Daisy’s affection, and does not have an unattainable goal, he seems to lose something, and must again rekindle that light across the bay. He now wants Daisy to publicly rescind her love for Tom and announce her unending love for Jay. And with each step he moves closer to his goal, he needs to push that goal back further, so that the light is always there for him. Gatsby cannot live in the present, he is always longing for an unattainable future.

Nick is a constant voyeur, never fully engaging, perfectly happy to soak in others experiences at the expense of having any of his own. Pulled by Tom, manipulated by Jay, he is a puppet. Perhaps this speaks to the nature of his role as writer, a sponge for other’s experiences so he can write about them. Although he has seemingly abandoned this passion in the quest for the almighty dollar,  he film is bookended by Nick telling his tale to a therapist, and when he is unable to continue the therapist prompts him to write, forging Nick’s position as narrator.

The film itself is a visual marvel, the opulence oozing off the screen, quite literally with some choice use of 3D. The use of modern music, particularly modern rap, fits the themes with its glorification of wealth and material gain. Tobey McGuire’s Nick comes across as likable but in need of his own drive, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby is amazingly aloof at times, incredibly charming others, and hopelessly lost throughout. In fact, with all its over the top parties and decadence, the film leaves a lingering feeling of melancholy after spending time with such damaged people. For truly there is not one character in the film that is not hopelessly damaged in some way.

Gatsby is not a perfect film, there are areas that could be tightened up, and Luhrman certainly indulges his fetish for over the top grandeur. But these flaws also work in the context of the themes at play here, and also make for a film that is an interesting mix of stylish bombast and thoughtful introspection. Between this and Iron Man 3, the summer of 2013 slate  is off to a good start.