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What’s Wrong With Star Trek?

Posted in Uncategorized on May 20, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

StarTrek_2009Movie

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.

A Real Hero

Posted in Uncategorized on May 7, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

special poster

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.

Mike Skinner Succumbs to Latest Internet Trend

Posted in Uncategorized on April 19, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

I love The Streets.  Ever since Mike Skinner’s sophomore album, “A Grand Don’t Come For Free,” which beautifully chronicled one man’s journey through the worst day of his life and eventual redemption, I’ve found Britain’s answer to Slick Rick-style narratives to be inventive and engaging.  I was disappointed when I heard that there will only be one more Streets album (especially considering the fact that none of his successors seem to be able to match his wit and wordplay) but Mike’s shown no sign of slowing down.  He’s discovered TWITTER.

TWITTER is asinine, but, like Myspace before it, it proves a crucial avenue for musicians to showcase new music without the hassle of a record company.  Skinner has channeled the immediacy of Twitters tiny little blogs by promising to deliver three new songs in three days.  He came through on that promise, buuuut….are they any good?

Yes and No…

http://www.zshare.net/audio/5865344490dfb2e0/

First up is “I Love My Cellphone.”

Absolutely terrible.  Borderline unlistenable.  “A journey through time…” begins Skinner.  I could barely listen to this one without getting a headache.  There are a few interesting points to be made here about what we use our cellphones for, but it’s all done is tiny little verses with a chorus (..and we all know how good Mike is at THOSE…) repeated ad nauseum.  This one gave me very low hopes for the rest of the week.

http://www.zshare.net/audio/5865344490dfb2e0/

“Trust Me”
Heeere we go!  This is the Mike Skinner I enjoy.  The beat is a mishmash of disco guitar and sped up vocals with classical strings and Mike making much more interesting (and listenable points) about the internet and our technology-ridden future.  I hope Mike made this beat himself.

http://www.zshare.net/audio/58741911ffd641f3/

“David Hassles”
This song made me feel incredibly stupid and American.   I have no idea who David Hassle is, or Daniel Beddit (sp?).  I THINK this song about modern music.  Also has the corny line “I speak with a tweet you’re a beacon of weakness.”  It’s definitely better than that first song, but it reminds me of the lesser songs on “Everything is Borrowed,” where I’d listen to it once, but skip it on the album as a whole.

Skinner’s next album, tentatively titled “Computer and Blues,” could fit in any of these tracks, though I’d prefer it if we just kept that second gem.  Also, he promises three more songs next week.  Let’s see how many songs about computers the man has in him…

Observe and Report

Posted in Uncategorized on April 12, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

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What exactly is it that people find so gosh darn appealing about Seth Rogen?  I’ve enjoyed some of his movies and always find him to be affable and engaging but what has he done that has made him such a huge box-office and critical darling in such a short span of time?  Observe and Report is his fourth movie in a little over eight months (if you include his voice in Monsters Vs. Aliens) and its poster is just his big mug staring out at you. 

I suppose it has something to do with his natural everyman quality, which he skewers a bit (but not quite enough) in this latest film that, at the very least, acts as a sobering antidote to the the Kevin James vehicle.  Other than being about mall cops, the two films couldn’t be further apart.  I’m sure we’ll hear some amusing stories about well-meaning parents who take their six year old to this expecting another family friendly fat-guy-falls-on-his-face affair and are horrified to find themselves watching this deranged story of a mall cop who enjoys tasering parking violators, beating up teenagers, and spends most of his time hunting a serial flasher.  For that alone, the film deserves a lot of praise.

Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhart, the delusional head of security at a typically American mall.  Ronnie is bi-polar and spends a good portion of his watch fantasizing about saving the day with a big gun.  He is madly in love with Brandi (Anna Faris), the bitchy cosmetics girl  who is dopey, but at least smart enoguh to be wary of Ronnie.  Ronnie lives with his alcoholic mother and dreams of being a real police officer.  The appearance of a serial flasher and a robber spark Ronnie on a quest to prove himself to the local police (personified by Ray Liotta) and to the entire world.

Writer-director Jody Hill has stated that his first big studio effort is a tribute to Taxi Driver and indeed, some comparisons can be made.  Both films involve delusional men who use violence as a way to solve what they view as all the problems of the world.  But while Taxi Driver regards its anti-hero with fear and despair, Observe and Report seems to want you to like Ronnie Barnhart.  Yes, he is a sociopath.  Yes, he proabably belongs in an institution, but don’t you feel just a little sorry for him? And can’t you just root for the underdog? Um…sorry, not really.

Hill goes back and forth so much between painting Ronnie as a sympathetic character and a complete psychopath that the film becomes a bit schizophrenic.  Perhaps, that was Hill’s point, but it feels more like an attempt of his to lighten up this material for mainstream audiences.  Not a wise move.  Just when you think the film is going to jump headfirst into truly disturbing territory, it pulls back to get an obvious laugh or a cheap tug on your heartstrings. 

Most critics will probably say that the film is ‘too dark’, but I was hoping that Hill would go the full mile.  It has moments (such as Ronnie’s terrifying psych-evalutation) that hint at just how fucking dangerous this man is, but far too often, Hill takes the easy way out, like with the overally happy ending and a cheesy romance between Ronnie and a crippled barista (Collete Wolfe).

That romance bugged the shit out of me.  Ronnie meets this friendly, kind-hearted woman who works in the coffee shop and suffers a barage of insults about her broken leg from her boss (a hilarious Patton Oswalt).  Yes, Ronnie comes to her defense by nearly shoving his head in the oven, but other than that, he is cold and awkward towards her.  That doesn’t stop her from staring at him with cute, puppy dog eyes and listening to him when he is clearly on the verge of a psychotic epsisode.  If she likes this creep so much, then she must be as deranged as he is, but that’s something the movie never explores.

Celia Watson earns solid laughs as Ronnie’s boozing mom, but once again, Hill paints her too kindly.  Her alcoholism is nothing more than a cheap joke that wears thin after awhile.  I also enjoyed Ray Liotta’s police officer who shouts things at Ronnie that my thoughts were echoing.  Michael Pena, known for serious roles in Crash and World Trade Center, has a blast as Ronnie’s second in command.  Faris is funny too, but her dumb, bitchy blonde act is starting to get old. 

And then there’s Rogen.  He plunges himself into the role with a confidence that is quite admirable and manages to navigate Hill’s touch-and-go script with ease.  I guess the reason people like Rogen so much is that he is just naturally funny.  And I have never been more convinced of that than while watching this film.  His facial expressions, strange movements, and sometimes touching monologues provide a lot of smirks and snickers. 

Observe and Report is not a bad movie, just a misguided one.  It wants to be disturbing and edgy, but also charming and sweet at the same time.  It doesn’t quite work, but it’s still more entertaining than most dipshit comedies that score millions at the box office (Paul Blart is a prime example).  I just wish Hill would have trusted his intentions a bit more.  The result is a movie that’s not nearly as funny and sharp as it could have been.  I kept thinking of one of the film’s funnier lines of dialogue:  Liotta’s character delights in informing Ronnie that he cannot join the academy and has his partner listening in the other room, the both of them snickering while Ronnie sinks into despair.  After a few moments, Liotta’s partner steps out of hiding and says, “I’m sorry.  I thought this would be funny, but it’s just kind of sad.”  And that, ladies and gentleman, says it all.

Where The Wild Things Are Trailer

Posted in Uncategorized on March 26, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

wherethewildthingsareclip

Wow.  This looks absolutely incredible.  I was impressed last week by the CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS trailer that was filled with images right out of the children’s book.  But it doesn’t hold a candle to this.  It looks like Spike Jonze has literally brought Maurice Sendak’s classic to life. I read it about a thousands times when I was a kid, didn’t you? It’s almost scary how this film looks like it was ripped right from the pages.  Everything from all the beasts, to Max’s costume, to the scenery is right on target.  The music is perfect too.  This just became the most anticipated film of the year for me.  How about you? Find out here.

Drag Me To Hell Trailer

Posted in Uncategorized on March 12, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

 AHHH!! EVIL GYPSY LADY!!!drag20me20to20hell

The trailer for Sam Raimi’s new horror film, DRAG ME TO HELL (love that title), hit the internet today and I am just a bit apprehensive.  For one thing, its PG-13 and I cannot think of a single good PG-13 horror movie in recent memory.  Sorry, THE RING and THE GRUDGE both sucked.  Its produced by Raimi’s own Ghosthouse Pictures which has given us a slew of shit ever since its conception, such as BOOGEYMAN, the already mentioned GRUDGE, and THE MESSENGERS.  All were PG-13 and all sucked big fat hairy balls.  I don’t get the point of making horror films ‘accesible’ to young audiences.  They’re called ‘horror films’ for a reason folks.  I suppose a PG-13 horror flick could be good, but the evidence shows otherwise.

Also, Raimi’s last film was SPIDER-MAN 3, a complete and utter waste of time.  It felt like a good portion of that film was heavily influenced by the studio and that kinda seems to be the case here as well.  This feels less like a passion project for Raimi and more of a way for him to cash in on his status as a ‘horror icon’, which he really isn’t.  I love the ‘EVIL DEAD TRILOGY’ as much as the next guy but they’re demented screwball comedies, not truly frightening films.  I also love them more because of the God known as Bruce Campbell than the director known as Sam Raimi. 

Maybe I’m being too harsh.  Raimi’s track record is pretty strong, all things considered.  SPIDER-MAN 1 and 2 were pretty great, the EVIL DEAD films are awesome, and A SIMPLE PLAN is a flat-out masterpiece.  Alison Lohman is a good actress, it’s nice to see David Paymer again and I always like Justin Long.  And for a PG-13 flick, this looks intense enough.  

The film itself is about a bank teller who denies a gypsy woman a loan and gets a cursed placed on her.  Said curse involves her being tormented by a demon who after three days (arbitray number) of torture will literally, you guessed it, drag her to hell.  I don’t know.  The idea is solid, but I think the gypsy curse is overused as a horror device.  THINNER anyone?   Check out the trailer here and hit the theaters on May 29 to see if ‘the return of true horror’ really has come to pass.

Something to think about…

Posted in Uncategorized on February 21, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

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…How much do you think one of these babies goes for on the black market, considering the value of gold these days?

…Could it help with your mortgage?  Rent?  Car payment?  …Could it buy some diapers?

Now ask yourself:  did you stop to think about this before this post?  OR were you too busy fretting about how the Dark Knight got snubbed and how Slumdog Millionaire better not sweep the oscars?

…Your rent’s late, deadbeat.