Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Star Trek Into Darkness

Josh’s Note: Now that the new site is up and running, I’m hoping to get back to regular updates and to start, I’d like to post my first movie review since 2009! Not really sure why I got away from writing them, perhaps it’s because I just don’t see nearly as many movies as I did back in the 1990s and 2000s or more likely, I just got lazy. Maybe I’ll get ambitious and decide to go back and review the few movies I have seen in the last year and some DVD releases or Netflix movies.

2013
Dir: JJ Abrams

Wow. Just Wow. If you have forgotten my Star Trek (2009) review, let me sum up: Fun first have ruined by lazy screenwriting but overall still an enjoyable film. So going into this movie, I had zero expectations that it would be good. See, I am a trekkie (not a trekker) who loves the Original Series of Star Trek and has seen every episode of the TNG era Trek. I was let down by the last one and didn’t want to be suckered again. In 2009, I was very blase about the movie until the last trailer and for this movie it was the opposite. The first trailer really got me going but the last few trailers were kind of meh.
With some trepidation, Tiffany and I used my gift cards for the 3D IMAX version of the movie and let me just say I was blown away.

I liked this movie so much! I know I am in the minority as I think most people seem to like the 2009 movie better. I felt that the writers really got Star Trek with this one and sent our characters on a great journey to get them to where they needed to be at the end of the movie – to start the 5 year mission. I felt they did a great balance between paying respect to the original Star Trek, but made it their own with very clever twists to events and characters from the classic series (unlike last time!). It also is the first Trek movie that made me want to see it again in the theaters (not yet accomplished).

Unfortunately, it was not perfect – even with 99% less lens flares, they still managed to muck a couple of things. First, there was one line by Spock which completely ruined a powerful scene between Kirk and Spock (the writers seemed to be thinking “Should we do it? Yeah why not!”). Not quite the mess that the Vulcan incident was in the first movie, but still enough to drop me out of the emotion of the scene. Second, it just seemed to end. Things got resolved so fast I almost had whiplash. It seems they struggled with the ending (probably because the rest of the movie was so good) and it’s unfortunate.

Despite those minor quibbles, I wholeheartedly recommend seeing it. Now to the board to see where it ranks with the other 11 Trek Movies:
1 – The trilogy series (2-3-4)
2 – The Undiscovered Country
3 – First Contact
4 – Star Trek Into Darkness
5 – Star Trek 2009
6 – Generations
7 – Star Trek The Motion Picture
8 – The Final Frontier
9 – Insurrection
9 – Nemesis

Looking at the above list, I think I need to re-watch First Contact to see if it stays above Into Darkness. It will be interesting to see as I get older if the new Trek can break my emotional blockade at the top two.

Star Trek (2009)

Just a few notes before I begin. If you haven’t seen the movie, I will try and keep it as spoiler free as possible, but chances are, I will spoil the movie for you…Also, I love the original series of Star Trek. It is my favorite series of all of them and so please recognize that my feelings toward the latest Star Trek movie reflect that passion…

2009
Dir: JJ Abrams

“This is not your father’s Star Trek” was a tagline that was used to promote the newest movie in the Star Trek series, and it really worried me. I was never really excited about seeing the movie, let’s face it, the last few movies were pretty boring and Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future was tarnished and kicked to the curb. All that began to change with the premiere of the third trailer of the movie which felt epic and really got me excited about seeing a Trek movie for the first time since Star Trek First Contact. I heard that it was going to be a reboot – something I really don’t mind when done correctly (think James Bond and Casino Royale) but also tend to get bothered by when its just done for the sake of doing something different.

The start of the movie had me from the get-go. The starship Kelvin gets pummeled by a Romulan ship while George Kirk’s wife is giving birth to his son, Jim. These are people I’ve heard about and it was heart wrenching to watch what transpired. So right away I was hooked into the movie. Watching Kirk and Spock grow up was also fun and engaging and there are tweaks here and there that are different from what we know, but within the creative rights to re-imagine. There are great references to Trek 2, some classic Trek lines and episodes, and even a throw away reference to the show Enterprise. JJ and his writers had me hook, line, and sinker.

Overall, I thought this was a great movie, with a great story line and above all else passes the great litmus test I have for Star Trek movies: Something big happens. There are fundamental changes to our characters – most of which I thought were for the better. The classic supporting cast of McCoy, Uhura, Chekov, Scotty, and Sulu all felt like the classic characters and their updates felt natural and with the times. Kirk and Spock also felt right – and updating of a classic that was new and familiar all at the same time.

And then it happened. They lost me. At one point in the movie, the writers decided to go too far with their liberties and do something that I thought was so reprehensible and disrespectful that I completely became detached emotionally from the film. It was like a cell phone going off in the theater or the film breaking or someone ripping off a band-aid.

After calming down, I understand why they did it, but do not in any way agree with the decision. There were so many other things to do to get to the same point in the plot, that it reeked of cheapness and cop out and gimmicky. It was the moment when I felt the writers were just doing it to say they “rebooted the franchise and to prove it we did this” and no more. I think someone must have realized it in the development of the story, because it was at this point that Leonard Nimoy appears in the movie as the Spock we know and love and I think in a way he helps smooth over the open wound.

I will give them credit for trying to work back into my good graces, but the last half of the movie just felt rushed. Things fell into place too fast and easily, and it seems like everything is back on track despite the changes. But you know what? I just didn’t care. I had no connection to these strangers with familiar names pretending those I really cared about. Very disappointing since it all started out so well.

Maybe I am overreacting (duh, its a movie), and on repeated showings and as the years progress, I will probably like it more. Remember, I HATED Generations when it came out for killing Kirk (another reprehensible gimmick), but over the years have grown to respect it as a great character development piece. I think this Star Trek will do the same. You really get to know the characters better and see them develop and see major events shape their lives. In that sense, JJ and company have succeeded.
In the end, despite my frustration I want to reiterate that overall I thought this movie is a great movie – it will appeal to a great many different people – Trek fans and non-Trek fans. I hope this makes Star Trek more accessible and the classic series and the Next Gen/DS9/VOY series’ more popular than ever before. It will lead to another movie, which I am certain will be much better than this one (it will be an even one!), and I hope that it keeps the franchise going for years to come.
I just wish they didn’t have to blow up a certain planet and kill off a certain lady to do it. That really pissed me off.

********
Captain’s Log Supplemental: How does this movie rate with the others? This changes over time for me and is constantly evolving. I will have to go back and look at my old reviews from the 1990s to see how the last 20 years or so have changed my views, but this is how it rates the same day after seeing the new movie. I will expand my thoughts on these and why they are where they are on a later date..
1 – The trilogy series (2-3-4)
2 – The Undiscovered Country
3 – First Contact
4 – Star Trek 2009
5 – Generations
6 – Star Trek The Motion Picture
7 – The Final Frontier
8 – Insurrection
9 – Nemesis

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

2008
Dir: Steven Spielberg

These days, it is not very often that I will actually go and see a movie in the theaters, let alone on opening day. The movie experience in LA/OC just is not what it used to be. It is over $10 to see a movie now in the theater and then you have to deal with punks that talk through the entire movie or the smell of the Subway sandwiches from the family in your row that has smuggled food in because a popcorn and soda costs $15. The lone exception is the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood where Disney shows its latest releases. I prefer seeing movies there because despite the high kid volume, they at least tend to sit there and watch the movie. So in order to get me out to the theater on opening day it has to be an event movie like the latest Indiana Jones movie.

Personally, I can’t believe they finally made an Indy 4 after 19 years. I remember so many times getting excited that they were actually going to do it, only to have my hopes dashed. But finally, it arrived here last night. In 19 years, I feel like I have missed so much in Indy’s life. In the movie, they allude to a secret World War 2 history as well as some other interesting tidbits that we never got to see, but they also make reference to Marcus Brody and Henry Sr who have passed away since the last film. No one ever mentions Sallah. I mean he was not only in two movies, but narrates the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland, so you would think that he’d get a nod, but sadly not.

I think Lucas and Spielberg have created an (almost) perfect Indy Movie for the time in Indy’s life he is at. A bit retrospective, older, wiser, but still gonna punch the bad guys when he has to do so. I did feel that the movie needed one or two more action sequences to plus up the middle. The action sequences that were there were top notch. One thing that suffers is that you can clearly see when there is a stunt double in places for Harrison Ford. The good thing is that it is not very often, but for example, when Indy jumps on the back of Mutt’s Harley, it is clearly a thinner guy in a gray wig holding on for dear life. It was so jarring it reminded me of when Leslie Neilsen would do amazing cart wheels in The Naked Gun.

Nits aside, I am glad I saw it opening day. One more note – I was surprised at the number of empty seats in the theater in Huntington Beach. I wonder if our wacky weather is to blame? Could also have been an early-ish showtime, but I hope business picks up!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

2007
Dir: David Yates

I finally caught this movie from Netflix and I have to say that while enjoyable, this seemed to be a “lite” feature. There was not much really going on other than Harry brooding around the place and other than Neville, the rest of the characters experienced zero development (OK, Harry did get a first kiss, but that is about it).

Having not read the book, I can only imagine what was left out considering its size. At any rate I certainly enjoyed Goblet of Fire more.

Bonus note: The Richard Donner cut of Superman II was pretty good. I missed the Eiffel Tower, and it was pretty obvious when they used a screen test instead of actual footage, but they did a great job making it all work. I don’t know if any one else noticed, but Richard Donner seems like he is still pissed about what Richard Lester did to his movie. Oh, and apparently his is a big anti-fur activist (if you have any doubts watch the bonus features – nice Anti fur button on his shirt, and the end credits – large font fur disclaimer). If you have not seen it I recommend checking it out.

The Poseidon Adventure (2005)

*/****
Dir: John Putch
2005 English Color 156 min.
Note: This is the TV Movie from 2005, not the 2006 Feature or the 1972 classic
This movie sucked so bad that it was a chore to sit through. Now I know you are all saying, “Oh that’s just because you like the original so much”. Not true. I have been aching for an updated Poseidon Adventure for many years and back when all I wanted to do was make movies, I had hatched a plan to create an updated version (that and one for DW Griffith’s Intolerance, but that is another post).

Before I dive into what really went wrong with this movie, I should point out that I have never read Paul Gallico’s book so I do not know if it is closer to the original story than the original movie, but regardless, the problems are numerous:
1. There was no protagonist: Gene Hackman pushed the survivors to the limits to get them to the engine room. In the new version, it was sort of a committee decision and the bishop character (Rutger Hauer) was a total wimp
2. Terrible acting: I can’t think of anyone in this movie that was believable or even remotely interesting. When a major character dies that brings me to tears in the original, I shrugged and thought thank god.
3. The whole rescue angle: Valuable screen time was wasted on the rescue angle. I want more upside down ship and people swimming for their lives. Not some bored actors pretending to be interested in what was going on.
4. Terrorists? Jeez do you have to update everything. I guess Tsunamis are too touchy a subject these days.
5. The second group: They leave way after the original group does and actually leave right as everyone gets swamped in the ballroom. Yet the original group has to dodge fire and swim underwater for 90 seconds, this group wanders a few corridors and runs into Rogo.
6. The original exit is blocked? Heck let’s blow a hole in the other side. Wow. Lets blow a hole in a sinking unstable ship. That’s a great idea.
7. The captain’s name was Paul Gallico. Not Captain Gallico, but Captain Paul Gallico, and Peter Weller made sure everyone knew this was a **wink-wink** nod to the author. Several times. Over the PA. Once would have been sufficient guys.
I could go on for days. Thank goodness I have the original to get the bad taste out of my mouth. Also, the Big Screen remake titled Poseidon looks awesome and has real actors! Check it out on May 12, 2006!

Rashomon

****/****
Dir: Akira Kurosawa
1950 Black and White Japanese 88 min
Unrated because they didn’t do that back then silly.
Leave it to Akira Kurosawa to break the string of Netflix disappointments. I admit this one has sat on my record player for the last two months waiting for a chance to get watched. It even traveled to Hong Kong since I figured that I would watch it on the plane. Tonight I dove in and I am glad I did.
The story was basic but straightforward. The acting was top notch as usual, but let’s be honest, Kurosawa is an awesome director and editor and his cinematographer, Kazuo Miyagawa did an amazing job. I think that is why people watch his films really or at least why people in the US do – to marvel at amazing filmmaking. Like Seven Samaurai, and even Amelie, it is a testament to a foregn film that it keeps me interested despite language barriers

Adaptation

**/****
Dir: Spike Jonze
2002 Color English 114 min
Rated R for language, sexuality, some drug use and violent images.
Another Netflix mixed bag. Roger Ebert said this was one of the best movies of the year. I just found it to be boring. AND I had to suffer through not just one Nicholas Cage, but two. (Damn Twins).
I was raring to give Spike Jonze a try and this was my first attempt. I do see some great potential here so I will probably still add Being John Malkovich to the Netflix list. I did like Charlie Kaufman�s adaptation of Chuck Barris� book �Confessions of a Dangerous Mind� (though I did point out it was a bit uneven here and there � come to think of it I think that is my biggest gripe against most movies these day � too uneven.) so hopefully this was just a mixed bag movie and not a litmus of things to come.

Good Bye Lenin!

** � /****
Dir: Wolfgang Becker
2003 Color German 121 min
Rated R for brief language and sexuality.
From the Netflix queue, this was one of those movies that you read about and think to yourself that it should be funny and interesting and crazy. The trailers certainly made it feel that way. I should know better than to listen to trailers.
I put this movie in the mixed bag category. One the one hand I liked the whole situation of the movie and the characters that were involved, but I think the movie wasn�t very successful in playing up the comedy when it was there and wrenching the emotions when it was trying to be serious. I think part of the disconnect comes from the fact it was in German, and let�s be honest, I live in the US and have never been personally involved in the sort of trauma and life that these people lived through. I also think part of my blas� feelings regarding this movie was that I felt it just dragged on in spots.
The German thing might be a cop out since I thoroughly enjoy Japanese and French movies that are subtitled�

Un Long Dimanche de Fianailles (A Very Long Engagement)

***/****
Dir: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
2004 Color French 133 min
Rated R for Violence and Sexuality
Ok, I fell for the If you Love Amelie you will love this French movie starring Audrey Tatou line. Damn. Believe me I know Amelie, I Love Ameile, and The Longest Engagement, you are no Amelie.
It is a sweet story about lovers who get separated by war. There is some amazing cinematography in this one as well as some top notch acting (even a surprise visit by Jodie Foster! Acting in French! Who Knew!). I admit I got a bit bleary eyed at certain parts, especially the end. A good date movie if there ever was one despite the occasional blood and violence (It takes place after WWI and flashes back to wartime so duh). Some memorable supporting characters always make for a good time in my book and this movie is chock full of them.
So in the end, I liked the movie, but it just didn’t engross me as that other French movie.

Hauru no ugoku shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle)

*** 1/2 /****
Dir: Hayao Miyazaki
2004 Color Japanese 119 min.
Rated PG for frightening images and brief mild language.
One thing I enjoy about Miyazaki’s films is that you always hit the ground running. Sometimes it takes you awhile to get your bearings, but when you do, you are usually in for a good solid film. This one is no difference, though skimming through the list of actors who dubbed the movie into English, I am glad I watched the movie in Japanese with subtitles. This movie has something for everyone.
Now let me tell you about my experience seeing this film. Daniel and I raced to the Beverly Center from OC on a Thursday towards the end of the films run. There were very few places playing the film and this was one of the last places to see it. At first I had doubts that it was the right place and from a distance it looked like the theater was abandoned. We got to the ticket counter and thankfully we were able to see the film. The lady behind the counter warned us that the air conditioning had gone out in the theater and it was a tad hot. After some deliberation, we decided to go for it anyways since we were here. The lady rewarded us with a free small soda. When we got into the theater I was amazed. This was by far the smallest theater I had ever been in. The screen was maybe 70″ and there was maybe 30 seats in the auditorium. And it was hot.
Thankfully the film was wonderful and the AC was working in the mall when we were done so we were able to survive the rest of the day.