The Great Gatsby has always maintained a reputation for being one of… MoreThe Great Gatsby has always maintained a reputation for being one of the few classic novels American high schoolers actually care about and bother to read long after their junior year English classes become a faint memory. Oh, that and some literary critics have called it the greatest piece of American literature of the twentieth century. So when I saw several impressive trailers promising an amazing experience with a stellar cast and the budget suitable for a summer blockbuster, I was excited. Especially considering how all other attempts to adapt Gatsby were lackluster, abortive efforts at best. So color me disappointed with the final result. This should have been so much more substantial and lacks the oomph needed to stand the test of time.
Let me qualify that a bit. Baz Luhrmann's version of Gatsby is a decent and well acted production, if a bit schizophrenic and very schlocky. The feel and direction is too frantic and spastic at times, and we are rarely ever given time to process what we are seeing on screen. What saves Gatsby from complete mediocrity (or even suckitude) are a few elements, primarily the performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. (We really ought to just go ahead and give this guy an Oscar, we've snubbed him for too long.) His sympathetic and intriguing charisma dominates your attention, and the film feels more substantial when he's onscreen. When he's not - its a mixed bag. Kudos to the supporting cast as well, even if they are played a bit too sympathetically. (Their novel counterparts are far more disgusting.) And one scene that takes place at the climax in a hotel room, actually slows down a bit and allows the cast to act. It shows what this movie could have been and it is the highlight of the whole film.
The visuals are quite lavish and never cease to dazzle. Surprisingly, the anachronistic soundtrack works, even though it shouldn't. And for its problems, this version does faithfully follow the plot of the novel and most of the dialogue is lifted wholesale from text. But ultimately it ignores or downplays the themes and subtleties that made F. Scott Fitzgerald's magnum opus so insightful regarding the shallow debauchery of the jazz age. It needed a much slower pace and a serious approach to convey all of that. Spring Breakers was more successful in this aspect, when judging and analyzing its own era of hedonism. If that same level of attention had been paid here, this would have been up for Oscars. Sigh. Still, its worth watching as a rental or on TNT on Saturday or Sunday afternoon - its ultimate fate, it seems.
No franchise was ever in more dire need of a reboot when J.J. Abrams… MoreNo franchise was ever in more dire need of a reboot when J.J. Abrams released Star Trek in 2009. A canceled television show, and the recent disaster of a film that was Star Trek Nemesis (and the failure of any Next Gen movie aside from First Contact to reach an audience for that matter) had all but crippled Gene Roddenberry's brainchild. The reboot resulted in the best damn Star WARS movie made in decades (and yes I did not accidentally type in Wars there, it was by design), with an electric atmosphere, explosive yet easy to follow action, a beautiful score, and an aptly chosen cast that could convey the more emotional, less cerebral script that was needed to reach a general audience. Hardcore Trekkers hated the result, but the other 99% of the population embraced it leading to an inevitable sequel.
Said sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, is a solid, fun, and gripping effort that maintains the energy of the last film, even if it doesn't quite deliver the same highs. Considerably darker than its predecessor, it borrows heavily in theme and plot from another Star Trek movie, dear to its fandom, that will not be named here for fear of spoiling the couple of surprises in store. The returning cast is in top form, most notably Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, whom are given much more room to develop the franchise's most prized friendship, even if it is contentious. Benedict Cumberbatch excels here as a panther of a villain, his lines delivered with restrained thunder, and sizing up his fellow man as little more than food - something to broken and consumed. Peter Weller also has a notable, small role as the galaxy's worst boss. The visuals are beautiful, saturated with the colors and flair we would come to expect from the sequel of 2009's lens flare-a-thon (I like it, get over it). Michael Giacchino's score soars, resting somewhere between Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner.
With all this praise in mind, Into Darkness is not perfect. Its simply not quite as magical this time around. Perhaps this may be due to the darker tone or simply not having the formula of having the crew of the Enterprise meet for the first time on a swashbuckling adventure. Possibly both. The ending is kind of rushed and not quite as satisfying as it could have been. And I have to lament one other thing. That would be the loss of Trek's introspective and philosophical nature. To ask existential questions, search for god, and explore ideas in the same way the Enterprise explored new worlds. Sure this was better left for the multiple long running television series. And yes, when applied to film, this formula failed miserably (See Star Trek The Motion Picture, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and Star Trek Generations). But the fact that hard science fiction (as Roddenberry preferred) would never get greenlit in today's movie industry is a bit sad. That being said, the action heavy, revenge minded movie that we have been given is decent on its own merits and worth your attention, even if it bears more in common with Star Wars than Star Trek. Blame J.J. Abrams and his preferences if you must.
Considering how the Marvel/Disney Avengers franchise is now the most… MoreConsidering how the Marvel/Disney Avengers franchise is now the most absurdly popular entity on the planet and its movies have made more collective money THAN GOD, it was a forgone conclusion that I would end up watching Iron Man 3 on its opening night, along with a significant percentage of my generation. Then again, I thought the original Iron Man was one of the best superhero films ever made, even if the third act stumbled. And while Iron Man 2 was a clumsy, glorified Avengers trailer it was still entertaining (and I would still rank it above Incredible Hulk, Thor, or Captain America).
But my god did they make an experience here. And what's really frustrating? I can only say so much before betraying the second act surprise that makes this movie so subversive and bold. But what I can say is that all the pieces fit. Something that didn't quite happen with most of these movies. Robert Downey Jr. is, as expected, in top form chewing the scenery and delivering the best comedic one liners in years. (Let's face it. He's more or less replaced Johnny Depp as America's favorite over exposed male actor. Is anyone actually looking forward to Lone Ranger?) Gwyneth Paltrow is actually given something to do here and the payoff for our patience is quite rewarding to say the least. But the real unexpected stand outs are Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce, who always excel in villainous roles, but here in ways you would not readily predict. In addition to this, mech battles are few and far between. Iron Man (the suit) only makes select appearances adding to the stripped down feel of the film. Stark often must use his own ingenuity and cunning outside of his absurd uber tech.
Yet more so than any of this, Iron Man 3 succeeds because of one crucial element that was sorely missing in all of these movies so far. Actual character development. In many ways, this is about one man's struggle to overcome anxiety, paranoia, and depression, while dealing with the fear that his existence has just become meaningless and inconsequential in a world that has come unglued due to larger forces at work. Perhaps this is why Tony Stark often works outside of his Iron Man armor (something I felt added to the theme presented). He has to overcome his inner doubt on his own, stripped of his outer shell before he can become whole again. As for the aforementioned twist, it is quite annoying how many comic book fans are raging over it. My response? Drink a nice cup of GET THE FRAK OVER YOURSELF and pay attention to what I mentioned before. Plot development. It matters. Easily my favorite Avengers movie so far and an effort deserving of merit.
The Place Beyond The Pines is a perfect example of crime drama film… MoreThe Place Beyond The Pines is a perfect example of crime drama film noir, complete with an interconnected plot, that we simply do get much of these days. Its quite hard to describe how good this movie is, considering how that might simply spoil the experience. But there are reasons aplenty. Perfectly chosen cast, tight direction, great storytelling, and a restrained soundtrack. It shares much in common with No Country for Old Men and the underrated Killing Them Softly.
But, like those examples, while "Pines" is well crafted it is not incredibly enjoyable in terms of raw entertainment value. Especially considering the length and subject matter. This movie is fricking DEPRESSING. At one point suicide looked attractive to myself and my friends halfway into a showing of the movie. Also notable is the fact that after the first act the script becomes rather predictable and you can guess the entire plot afterwards. Luckily, the acting compensates for this. Its definitely worth a look, as long as you are not looking for a joyful, uplifting experience, but are looking for a somber, deep one that pulls no punches.
Taking several notes from Get Carter and Death Wish, The Horseman… MoreTaking several notes from Get Carter and Death Wish, The Horseman manages to overcome a small budget and a sparse script to deliver one of the more engrossing and gritty revenge films out there currently. Unflinchingly gory and violent, The Horseman has much in common with another similarly themed revenge film, I Saw The Devil, in that despite the carnage, it remains rooted in somber humanity.