Franchise Frenzy with Star Trek Beyond and Jason Bourne

It wouldn’t be the summer movie season without franchise entries galore, and although I proudly shirk most, two series I have always enjoyed are Star Trek and Jason Bourne. The latest episodes opened on back to back weekends and both are entertaining, serviceable entries providing escapism that hit all their required marks. But it was interesting to see how one was almost undone by its director’s ambition with action sequences, while the other was so taut and perfectly executed in its action as to take the film to another level. If Justin Lin’s smash-and-grab acrobatic incoherence is the perfect example of what not to do with action sequences, then Paul Greengrass’ intense hand-held location shooting is the masterclass of modern action direction.

Star Trek Beyond Damnit Jim Its Bright In Here

Being with the same cast for the third time around gives Star Trek Beyond a nice lived-in feel. We know the characters so well, as these actors have come into their own doing great jobs with Simon Pegg’s scripted witty and goofy banter that harkens back to classic Treks, especially Karl Urban as Bones. The plot is pretty basic. And since it seems like The Enterprise needs to get destroyed every time now, they wisely dispense with this in the beginning when the crew crash lands on an uncharted planet after having fallen into a giant space booby-trap. On hand as the villain, is a growling Idris Elba who seems to be the go-to guy for villains with crazy accents these days. The flick is fun and quick paced, and the special effects (especially the giant space station/city Yorktown) are colorful, bright and dazzling.

I was happy to see J.J. Abrams move on from the franchise, but Justin Lin was not the right choice to replace him. Lin made quite a name for himself orchestrating some of the most gleefully over-the-top car/truck/tank/plane/whatever smash-em-ups in the otherwise brain-dead Fast & Furious franchise. Sadly, his flair for the outlandish stunt doesn’t translate as well into space.   Continue reading

A Director, an Actor and an Icon Clothed in Immense Power in Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln…in Spielberg’s perfect light.

Steven Spielberg is a director/producer clothed in immense power.  He has carte blanche to do whatever his heart desires in Hollywood after years of pleasing audiences.  Sometimes his whims and faults get the better of him – as lame attempts to resurrect past haunts (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) or return to childhood wonder (The Adventures of Tin Tin) often are rendered mute in artifice and strained sentiment.  Yet, when left to his own devices in pursuit of his most sincere ambitions, once in a blue moon, Spielberg is able to pull a rabbit out of his magician’s hat.  He did it with Schindler’s List.  And he has done it again here with Lincoln – perhaps the crowning achievement of his career and the greatest American film since Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.

Not surprisingly, like There Will Be Blood, Lincoln is anchored by an impossibly great performance by Daniel Day Lewis.  If Lincoln’s political successes (among them the passing of the 13th amendment abolishing slavery, a process brought to painstaking and lively light here in the film) teach us anything, it’s that no matter how much power one is clothed in…nobody can do it alone.  There must be compromise, teamwork, and appeals to individual sentiments to achieve the greater good.  Continue reading

Captain America Wants YOU to Get Excited about The Avengers!

Stop...and look at these great period details!

 
I’ll be the first to admit to suffering from superhero fatigue. It seems every summer is overrun by comic book adaptations and superheroes, most of them wallowing in mediocrity and indistinguishable from each other only in levels of awfulness. I choose my poison carefully, and this year I’ve found it refreshing that Hollywood has decided to do comic book period pieces, first with the fun 1960’s set X-Men reboot, and now with the workmanlike 1940’s set Captain America.  This is essentially one of many prequels to Marvel’s upcoming Avengers multi-superhero-mega-comic-book-all-star-uber-blockbuster-spectacular, which we get a preview of after the credits. I can’t say that I’m very excited about it, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Captain America on its own merits.
 
Joe Johnston, your poor man’s Steven Spielberg and long-time likeable hack director, channels his Rocketeer roots with this WWII-based expository film about Captain America’s origins and his battle with Red Skull. Continue reading

A Review of the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men”

Blood, not so Simple, 12 November 2007
6/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

A Vietnam vet (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and casually takes off with two million dollars that a psychopathic bounty hunter (Javier Bardem) will do anything to get back. Meanwhile, a Sheriff nearing retirement (Tommy Lee Jones) strolls behind the mayhem always a few steps behind. Set in Texas in 1980, “No Country for Old Men” is a meticulously crafted misfire from the Coen Brothers and adapted for the screen from the Cormac McCarthy novel.

Roger Deakin’s stark cinematography matches perfectly the brilliant mise-en-scene and signature Coen Brother’s pacing. The audience is also treated to a revolving door of quirky side characters and dark deadpan humor in the dialog that have become the trademarks of a Coen Brothers’ dramatic production. It would seem to be a return to form, but there’s a wandering coldness to the film that leads to grave dissatisfaction.

The most disappointing aspect is that there’s a near perfect forty-five minute “mini film” riddled with white knuckle suspense involving the cat-and-mouse shoot-em-up between Bardem and Brolin that is lost inside yet another dour opus where Tommy Lee Jones plays a grizzled but good-hearted authority figure philosophizing about the sad state of the world for the umpteenth time. While Bardem and Brolin are sensational, Tommy Lee Jones seems to be playing an on-screen persona that has trumped his ability to show any type of range. He’s typecast, and his character is made moot. Meanwhile Bardem gives a career-defining performance as the psychopath working with his own warped sense of morals. In what may prove to be ironic in the future, it’s exactly the type of portrayal that risks making Bardem typecast in the same vein Anthony Hopkins was after his Hannibal Lecter character was born.

The brooding tension built around Bardem’s unforgettable villain and the inevitable showdown with Brolin’s wayward cowboy is completely wasted in anti-climactic fashion with no resolution that leaves the film to meander in philosophies that ultimately signify nothing. Coming off three straight comedies (the last two of which, “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers”, were abysmal) the Coen Brothers have clearly lost their footing in trying to get back to their roots. “No Country for Old Men” boasts many of their popular hallmarks and an instantly classic turn from Javier Bardem, but it lacks the moral fiber of “Fargo” and the dramatic climax of “Blood Simple”. Coming home, it seems, isn’t as easy as it looks when the roads are dusty and lead you nowhere.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0477348/usercomments-26

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Check out my review of “Fargo”:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0116282/usercomments-316