Friday, May 08, 2009

Three Quick Thoughts

Here are some quick thoughts on three films I have seen recently and promised critiques for. I’m behind in my reviews, so I will keep it quick until my full critique of JCVD.

For now I start with…

Quantum of Solace (2008)
starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko
written by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
directed by Marc Forster

The haters can say whatever they want, but Quantum of Solace is not the worst Bond film. Not by a damn sight. In fact, Solace is not only a good stand alone film, but a great direct sequel to Casino Royale, which is, a) exactly what it was supposed to be, and b) unprecedented in the franchise. A considerable feat considering the pressures the filmmakers were under by just attempting such a drastic change to a long standing formula and history reminds us of the jokes associated with “sequelitis.” Casino Royale made it perfectly clear that the World of Bond was going to be different. Daniel Craig plays a different 007 than his predecessors, and MI-6 is different than the M’s and Q’s from the last forty years.
I love Casino Royale. I love the changes.
Quantum of Solace begins within hours of Royale’s end and is chock full of action from start to finish without distracting the viewer from the plot. It’s a wonderful balance of action and story and successfully lays the groundwork for future sequels, direct or not.
The mysterious criminal organization that no one seems to know about can be a precursor to a revisited S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and the fortuitous Mr. White may be set up as this generation’s Blofield.
I, for one, cannot wait to see what the Broccoli Company has in store for us next.

The Petrified Forest (1936)
starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart
written by Charles Kenyon & Delmer Daves, based on the play by Robert E. Sherwood
directed by Archie Mayo

Touted as Humphrey Bogart’s breakthrough performance, The Petrified Forest was a showcase for Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. In fact, Bogey’s character doesn’t even make an appearance until well after half of the film’s running time. Until then, Petrified Forest is a collection of talking heads while middle-of-nowhere diner waitress Gabrielle (Davis) bats eyes with drifter Alan (Howard) whilst jealous middle-of-nowhere gas station attendant Boze (Dick Foran) repeatedly attempts to assassinate Alan’s character.
The film suffers from some moments of tedium while trying to build up the suspense to the arrival of super-badass criminal Duke Mantee (Bogart). When Mantee and his gang finally show up, the film gets more interesting, and then the bullets start flying. The gunfight is fun to watch and leads to the film’s surprise ending.
Luckily for us, this boring film juggernauted Bogey’s popularity rather than kill his career.

The Wrestler (2008)
starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
written by Robert D. Seigel
directed by Darren Aronofsky

The rumors are true. Mickey Rourke is magnificent as the fictional, has-been wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson. The Wrestler is a slow paced film, but care for and interest in the character doesn’t allow the viewer to get bored. You can thank Rourke’s performance for that. The film’s only flaw as far as I can tell is that it is sorely depressing, by design no less. The viewer spends an hour and forty five minutes loving and feeling bad for The Ram, and not one good thing happens to the poor guy throughout without it seriously going wrong. Writer Robert D. Seigel could have had The Ram experience a little bit of good luck while keeping him sympathetic and tragic at the same time. Instead, we are left with absolutely nothing to feel good about when the ending rolls around, and we’re not sure whether The Ram lives or dies.
Marisa Tomei is wonderful as The Ram’s love interest, a has-been stripper named Cassidy, but it’s obvious Seigel hasn’t spent much time in gentlemen’s clubs. There is a line between strippers and their customers that a stripper would never cross. Cassidy finally does, at the end of the film, damaging The Wrestler’s realism credibility.
The ending, by the way, is an abrupt cop out, in my opinion, and the audience deserved better. The Ram deserves better, too.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Star Trek (2009) No spoilers.

I'm willing to admit that in order for a Trek reboot to succeed, it would need a facelift. Maybe my fellow Trekkies are a dying breed, but the established magnificence just wasn't connecting with contemporary adolescent mouth-breathers. I thought that Enterprise would surely be the death blow of everything I knew as "Trek."
Well, J.J. Abrams and Roberto Orci did, in fact, completely re-arrange well-established canon, but did so (in the truest spirit of Trek-explanations) while keeping one foot firmly planted in the context of sci-fi writing.
To explain without giving away too much, a band of Romulans from the future (led by Eric Bana and his sidekick, Clifton Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez, Jr. lol) go back in time in an attempt to wipe out the Vulcan race because they're mad at Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy reprising the role). The Romulan actions create an alternate reality. So the events of Trek past still happened, but didn't, get it?
Oh well, the movie explains it well enough.
In short, I appreciate the efforts of the filmmakers to not completely ignore and forget past canon.
As for performances, Zachary Quinto is magnificent as the new Spock. Chris Pine is going to be a very interesting new Kirk, as he incorporates some not so subtle "shades of Shatner" at the end of the film. Karl Urban nails the role of Dr. McCoy, and Simon Pegg is twelve degrees of enjoyable as Scotty. Anton Yelchin and John Cho are commendable as the loveable helm tandem of Chekov and Sulu, but the most surprisingperformance comes from Zoe Saldana as Uhura. Interesting because Uhura is the character that undergoes the most changes, and she's much more prominenetly featured here than Nichelle Nichols ever was (no fault of her own, let me make that clear). Saldana's Uhura is very sexy and smart, but much stronger than Nichol's. If Nichelle Nichols was an inspiration to young women of her day, then Zoe Saldana takes the torch and runs with it most admirably.
Old school Trekkies like me will not be disappointed with all the homages to the original, believe me.
The only weakness of the new Trek, and it is a big deal, is Eric Bana is a very weak villian. He's not the best actor out there, and his attempts to bring any charisma to Nero fails miserably.
It was nice to see Clifton Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez Jr in a big budget film again. he's one of my fave supporting actors.

Live long and prosper, bitches.