Archive for May, 2009

What’s Wrong With Star Trek?

Posted in Uncategorized on May 20, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

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Everybody and their mother loved J.J. Abrhams’ STAR TREK.  Critics are calling it the ‘movie to beat for the summer’ and many of my friends have hailed it as ‘this year’s DARK KNIGHT’.  Oh sure the Trekkies are complaining about minor plot details and inconsistencies and just about anything else in the film that doesn’t match their personal vision of the perfect TREK film, but that’s just what they do isn’t it? Everybody else is coming all over this thing like its Megan Fox lying naked on a beach.

But not me.  I didn’t get it.  Not at all.  I wouldn’t call it a bad movie, just a mediocre one.  It’s a hell of a lot better than X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (Fucking mouthful of a title), but that’s not saying much.  So, because I am in the minority, I am not going to attempt to figure out why people loved it so much.  Instead, here is my attempt to figure out just why exactly I didn’t have the same reaction as apparently the rest of the human race.  I feel left out and need to bring my feelings to light in order to get to the heart of the matter.

So just what the hell was it about the film that left me so cold? Perhaps it’s the source material itself.  I’ve never been a fan of STAR TREK in any of its incarnations.  I’ve seen all the movies and enjoyed a few of them, but I’ve always found the whole thing to be kind of…well…trite.  Sorry Trek Fans (they really hate the term Trekkies and I’m sure I’ll piss them off enough in the rest of this review), but the story of some spaceship exploring a bunch of other planets and fighting with different alien races has always just felt bland to me.  The metaphors about different planets and their inhabitants were always obvious at best and all the characters were one-note caricatures.  Bones is cranky, Spock has a hard time feeling emotion,  Kirk is adventurous, Scotty is quirky and so on and so forth.  They all have one emotion that clashes with the others on board so all conflict between them involves switching up which other character they’re arguing with.  No one ever grows as a human being (or Vulcan) or makes any drastic changes to their personality.  I suppose some fans are comforted by knowing that their treasured characters will never change, but I don’ t know, I like when characters develop and mature so they’re completely different than when we first got to know them.  But that’s just me. 

Maybe it’s the conventions of the TREK-verse.  I hate the shields.  Fucking hate those goddamn, useless, plot-halting shields that never protect the ship for more than thirty seconds.  How many characters in how many TREK films or TV episodes have gone through the following dialogue exchange: ‘Put the Shields up!’  *BAM* CRASH*CAMERA TILT* ‘Shields are down!’.  When in the hell is Star Fleet going to get round to making some shields that actually shield their precious space cruisers? Fix the fucking things already! Hasn’t anybody learned their lesson?  Then there’s beaming and warp speed.  Both devices (like the shields) are just ways for the writers to move the plot along without having to make their characters travel absurdly long distances.  They may service the plot, but they take away from the wonder and majesty of space travel.  There’s no wonder in any of the character’s eyes as they travel vast distances in seconds flat.  No sense of awe as they pass by another planet.  No sense of the sheer vastness of outer space.  It makes space travel seem trivial.  And those phasers! Over thirty years later and they still look like child’s toys.

Maybe it’s my poor attitude.  But hey, I don’t care for James Bond either and I fucking loved CASINO ROYALE (QUANTUM OF SOLACE not so much).  I went into the film with an open mind hoping for two things: (1) a thoughtful science fiction film that hearkened back to the days when the original show provided some political and social commentary,  (2) a fun, rip-roaring, action packed space opera.  Call me an asshole, but I felt cheated on both fronts.  There was no political, social, allegorical or any other kind of commentary going on in this film.  At all.  I didn’t even get a sense of what Star Fleet was or why they were even interested in exploring the universe.  And the Vulcans felt redundant.  They’re a poor metaphor for any form of human life, not just because there are actual humans in the film, but also because their notions about emotions seem so arbitrary and are only there to service the plot.  And I’m sorry, but the  ears are fucking goofy looking.  So is the hair.

So how about that fun space opera? Eh, not so much.  I had a decent time; the action was solid and many sequences were suspenssful, but nothing truly awe inspiring came across my eye.  Many of the sequences felt like they were just there to keep the plot from moving forward.  Like Kirk being chased by a bunch of monsters on the ice planet.  Why did we need that? We know he’s going to get away, it’s not connected to any of the main action sequences, it’s just there to show off some cool creatures and prevent Kirk from getting back to the main story.  It bored me. 

Maybe it’s the fact that I cannot help but compare the film to my own personal favorite space opera show, FIREFLY.  FIREFLY had characters with specific quirks, but they were changed and tested in interesting ways.  It was also filled with ideas about outer space and the future while maintaining a goofy sense of fun.  STAR TREK has no ideas.  And I suppose people will argue with me and say that Spock and Kirk both change throughout the course of the film.  This is true, but they only change enough so J.J. Abrhams and his screen writers can have them as what all fans remember them to be at the end of the film.  He just brings them back to status quo.

Maybe it was the screenplay that drove me nuts.  All the time travel stuff didn’t make a lick of sense and seemed only like an excuse to bring Leanord Nimoy into the story.  And the whole thing was rushed as hell.  They join the academay, get on ship, argue with each other, fight some pissed off alien dude,  Kirk and Spock come to an understanding, and then they’re all assembled in the exact posisitons they were in the TV show, the end.  And you can argue with me about Spock and Kirk changing, I’ll give you that, but not about anyone else.  All other characters just perform their stock character quirks and then recede into the background.

Maybe it was the acting.  Karl Urban impressed me with his imitation of DeForest Kelly, but that’s all it was.  And, frankly, that’s all everyone in the film did; act like the other actors who had come before.  When did it become impressive or note-worthy for an actor to simply copy someone else’s performance?  Chris Pine wasn’t bad as Kirk.  He made me laugh a few times and seemed to want to create his own character, but he was bogged down by the universe he’s stuck in.  Zach Quinto wasn’t bad either (Much better here than on HEROES) but he too felt restrained by everyone’s preconceived notions of what Spock should be.

IS THAT SHATNER???trek

Maybe it was the villain.  I didn’t find Eric Bana’s Nero to be an interesting antagonist at all.  All he is is a bitter Romulan with a big ship and an even bigger grudge.  Also, a misguided grudge.  He isn’t clever or manipulative like the Joker.  He just wants to blow up planets.  Yawn.

I’m Very Meannero

I give up.  There are too many thoughts rolling through my head.  I think I was simply destined to not like this movie; I’m too opposed to the universe it takes place in.  STAR TREK just isn’t for me.  I like my science-fiction to make me think.  I eagerly await MOON, staring Sam Rockwell as an astronaut who has been monitoring a space station alone for over two years and chronicles his possible descent into madness.  That sounds interesting to me.  It sounds though-provoking.  It sounds like it treats space with the awe, terror and grandeur it deserves.  And I need to see a film like that.  Becuase this one just didn’t do it for me.

I guess I’ll never be a Trekkie.

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A Real Hero

Posted in Uncategorized on May 7, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

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This weekend, instead of going to see the ocean of mediocrity that is X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (Fucking mouthful of a title), why not give yourself a treat and rent a little movie called SPECIAL.  The film says more about super-heroes in five minutes than Hugh Jackman and Liev Screiber do in their endlessly boring, clawing, snarling ninety minutes of screen time.

SPECIAL stars Michael Rappaport, an affable actor who has made memorable appearances in a tons of decent to good films, and a few very bad ones.  Remember him in SMALL TIME CROOKS? He was the guy who insisted on wearing his hard-hat backwards.  When another character asked why, his response was, ‘Cuz it looks cool like this’.  And let’s not forget his immortal line in MIGHTY APHRODITE when he asked Woody Allen who the bad guys in SCHINDLER”S LIST were.

Rappaport has made a career out of small parts in big movies, though he did star in the short-lived TV series, THE WAR AT HOME.  With SPECIAL, he makes his first film as a leading man and, to be perfectly frank, it is something of a wonder to behold.

Rappaport plays Les, a mild-mannered meter maid, who submits to an experimental drug test in order to make a few extra bucks.  Les is a meek fellow.  He spends most of his free time hanging out with his buddies in their comic book store or reading comics on a park bench.  But soon after taking the drug, he begins to develop special powers or so he thinks.  He can levitate, walk through walls, read people’s minds and even make people disappear.  Upon the discovery of these powers, he dons a makeshift super-hero costume and begins patrolling the streets.  That all of his powers are probably only in his head is something he doesn’t consider much.

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SPECIAL is by no means a perfect film.  It’s so bristling with ideas and new developments that the script often seems like it’s going to cave in on itself.  It could have been very easy for Les to be nothing more than a one-note bad joke, but Rappaport makes us believe in this man.  And when he crashes head-first into a wall, with blood streaming down his nose, and then asks his friends what they think of his new powers, our first instinct is to laugh.  But Rapaport is so good, so sincere, so completely convinced of his abilities that we really just want to cry.

The movie offers a terrific critique of what it would mean to really be a super-hero.  Les is little more than a boy with childish delusions of saving the day.  There is nothing glorious about what he does even when he succeeds in catching a shop-lifter or a purse snatcher.  More often he only succeeds in knocking over an innocent bystander.  And that’s truly what super-heroes are all about isn’t it? They’re not about protecting society or helping people.  They’re about making themselves look good for the public eye.  They exist only to be figures of worship.  Poor Les is so deluded that he actually does believe he is saving the world, but the character shows us the dark side that would have to lurk underneath every super-hero.

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Someone who definitely has a a burning need to watch this film is SHADOWHARE, the self-proclaimed super-hero of Pittsburgh who wanders around with a few of his friends, carrying handcuffs, mace, and tasers as a way to dish out justice.  SHADOWHARE seems to actually believe his own line of bullshit, but anyone with half a brain can tell that this is an extremely mentally ill human being.  For more on the history of SHADOWHARE, click here.

It is in this area where SPECIAL almost loses itself.  By the film’s midpoint, Les slowly but surely starts to become aware of his unstable mental state and the film switches from being a scathing, funny critique of super-heroes into a study in mental illness.  Some of the things Les does seem out of place for someone so deranged, but the movie is a comedy after all, so we can forgive the flights of fancy.  One big problem though is that the movie sometimes suggests that Les does have some powers, but never comes to a complete conclusion.  It seems a bit cheap to paint such a sympathetic portrait of a deluded man and then say, ‘hey, maybe he wasn’t crazy after all!’

But Rappaport is so good here that he makes up for all of the film’s shortcomings.  For a good 45 minutes, the director’s use him as a punching bag.  He crashes into walls, jumps off buildings, tackles people, gets beat up, and even gets hit by a car.  Rappaport doesn’t let any of this stop him from creating a completely believable and relateable figure.  There is true pathos in the films final, touching (albeit a bit ludicrous) last act.  And when he tells the young, pretty sales clerk that he is probably losing his mind, he makes us feel his pain.

So the film is a bit unfocused.  So what? These days, when we get a new super-hero movie every week, all of which are carbon copies of what has come before, SPECIAL is like a breath of fresh air.  Super-heroes have become such a part of our consciousness that we are indeed in danger of breeding more sad cases like SHADOWHARE.  Folks, if you’ve ever thought of donning a mask and taking to the streets, take a look at the wonderful work of Michael Rappaport in SPECIAL and then see if saving the world still seems so appealing.