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Entries in anton yelchin (4)

Thursday
May162013

Star Trek Into Darkness

In 2009, director J.J. Abrams rebooted the much loved “Star Trek” series with one of the most thrilling, visually engaging and humorous science fiction movies in recent memory. He took a franchise that had remained largely stagnant since 2002’s underrated “Star Trek: Nemesis” and reinvigorated it with style. It may not have been the “Trek” we have all come to know and love, but its new identity nevertheless managed to win fans over, even if it failed to touch upon some of the wonderful themes from the previous movies. If the first batch of films with the original crew explored the meaning of life, the inescapability of death and religion vs. evolution, 2009’s “Star Trek” is more like “Star Trek: First Contact,” a technically well made, devilishly exciting action movie that doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot to say. The follow-up, “Star Trek Into Darkness” is largely the same. Luckily, a movie doesn’t have to be profound to be entertaining and “Star Trek Into Darkness” is likely to be one of the most entertaining movies of the summer.

The story begins on a primitive planet where the species living on it has “barely invented the wheel.” A volcano is about to destroy the planet, so Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the crew set out to save it. Federation regulations state that the crew of the Enterprise must not make their presence known to these people, a regulation they inevitably break. This reckless behavior lands Kirk in hot water with the Federation and his ship is taken away. However, an attack on Starfleet headquaraters by a mysterious man (Benedict Cumberbatch) leads to a desperate reversal of that decision. This man’s last known location is on the Klingon planet Kronos and even though that area is off limits to the Federation for fear of starting an all-out war with the Klingon empire, Kirk and his crew head out to bring him to justice.

One of the reasons 2009’s “Star Trek” was so good was because of it’s absolutely brilliant storytelling that not only managed to squeeze out some wonderful emotion in its opening moments, but also craft a story that didn’t neglect everything that had come before. It wasn’t a reboot in your typical Hollywood sense. Because the story involved time travel, a ripple occurred in the timeline, creating a new one and changing the personalities and adventures of the crew, even if only slightly. This allowed Abrams to preserve the original stories while crafting his own and include everyone’s favorite Spock, Leonard Nimoy, in the now famous 2009 cameo.

Unfortunately, this desire to preserve memories while crafting new ones is the new movie’s biggest downfall. Without giving too much away, “Into Darkness,” or at least its ending, sticks so closely to one of the franchise’s previous installments that it almost becomes moot, almost like a 2.0 version of that film in question. The path to the conclusion becomes so clear that only those unfamiliar with “Star Trek” lore will find what transpires surprising. Despite giving it its own little twist, it comes off as lazy—any screenwriter can take an existing story and repackage it with minor changes. Furthermore, when this same conclusion rolled around previously, it meant something. When it happens here, it feels derivative and any emotion that may be felt is offset no more than ten minutes later, its impact completely diminished. My vague criticisms may be frustrating to read, but to go any further would constitute spoilers and fans of the franchise are astute enough that they’d know exactly how this movie plays out, if they haven’t already.

Clearly, this is not as good as 2009’s “Star Trek” (though that’s perhaps an unfair comparison to make since it could be argued that film is the best of the bunch), but the style and fun remains. Abrams’ obsession with lens flares is still very much evident, to the point where the entire screen is sometimes covered with them, and his ability to use canted camera angles to make something as simple as running down the Enterprise’s corridors interesting is uncanny. The humor is still there as well, even if the proceedings are a tad darker than the previous installment. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength, however, is Cumberbatch in that mysterious role that I dare not reveal. Unlike Nero, the Romulan hell-bent on revenge from the crew’s last adventure, this character is calm, collected and manipulative. Once aboard the Enterprise, his incarceration becomes a little bit like “Silence of the Lambs” in space, where he becomes the equivalent of the intelligent and smooth talking Hannibal Lecter. Cumberbatch, in one of the film’s most moving scenes, turns to the camera and speaks of horrible atrocities while tears roll down his face, cementing himself as one of today’s great performers.

So although you could say this is a disappointment when compared to the previous film (or a number of other “Star Trek” adventures), doing so would be focusing too much on the negative. Its stumbles certainly don’t eclipse its technical proficiency, its exhilarating action or its stylish flair. “Star Trek Into Darkness” is a solid action movie that builds character personalities and relationships even while neglecting the themes that made the franchise so great.

Star Trek Into Darkness receives 4/5

Friday
Apr272012

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Aardman Animations is like a less successful Pixar or Studio Ghibli. Like those two (at least until Pixar’s Cars 2), Aardman Animations has never released a bad film, but they generally aren’t as magical, wondrous or humorous as those studios’. Granted, they’ve only put out five movies to date, so the best may be yet to come, but they simply aren’t on the same level as those powerhouses. Their latest stop motion animation effort, The Pirates! Band of Misfits has more chuckles than outright laughs and more sight gags than a silent film, but it’s charming, clever and amusing, even if it seems tired at a mere 88 minutes.

The movie begins in London in 1837. The English Navy, as reported to Queen Victoria (voiced by Imelda Staunton), rules almost all of the oceans surrounding them, except for a small pirate controlled area in the West Indies. It’s an area that has more peg legs than actual people, where pirates convene to take part in the Pirate of the Year awards, presented by the Pirate King himself (voiced by Brian Blessed). One such pirate known only as the Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) has entered the contest and lost every year for the last 20 some odd years, but this year, he intends to nab the grand prize. This means gathering the largest amount of gold he can. After some unsuccessful looting attempts, he and his crew run into a ship guided by Charles Darwin (voiced by David Tennant). It’s at this unlikely moment that the Pirate Captain learns that his pet dodo (which he thought was a parrot) is very rare and worth a lot of money. If he follows Darwin, he’s guaranteed untold riches, so with his eyes on the Pirate of the Year prize, he sets off to claim his bounty.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is goofy, affable, fun and funny. It’s sporadic in all of those traits, but when it works, it’s something to behold. Clever spoken jokes followed by hilarious sight gags (like when the Pirate Captain hangs a hammock over an actual bed simply because he’s used to it) followed by inventive action scenes give the film a feeling of ingenuity, like some thought and care went into its production. Unfortunately, it’s also those moments that shed light on how weak other sections of the movie are. After some genuine moments of delight, it hits lulls, almost like a heart monitor with a constant stream of peaks and valleys. You’ll be laughing one moment and staring cold at the screen the next, but as far as its comedic prowess goes, The Pirates! Band of Misfits hits more than it misses.

Much of that is due to the approach the film takes to a group of people who are usually seen as ruthless and barbaric. Pirates both old and new are known for their indiscriminate violence against anyone they come across on the high seas, but the pirates in this movie are more or less kind, even when they’re forcing someone to walk the plank, and they come with real heart. The simple story about winning that award, which at first seems so trivial, is merely a tool to teach a valuable lesson to both the characters and the audience. It shows the unimportance of money and the true value of friends and family. It’s not a revelatory message, to be sure, but it’s one that is nevertheless worth hearing and certainly good for the young ones in the audience.

Where The Pirates! Band of Misfits suffers most is in its villainous portrayal of Charles Darwin and its casual, cynical approach to scientists “playing God,” (as cited in the Royal Society’s motto). Given the rampant ignorance many choose to embrace when confronting science, and Darwin’s evolutionary theory in particular, these choices seem dangerous. Then again, the film is so wacky that these issues are hardly issues at all and will most likely be overshadowed by the movie’s actual intent: to entertain. This isn’t a movie with an agenda (despite its flaccid stance on science and Darwin) and most people won’t see it as such. It’s a step up from Aardman Animations’ last film, Arthur Christmas, but it’s not the hit they need and are surely looking for. It’s simply good natured fun that the whole family can enjoy.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits receives 3.5/5

Friday
Aug192011

Fright Night

In regards to remakes, bashing Hollywood has become the cool thing to do. I don’t mean to be preachy (because I’ve done a fair share of it myself), but in reality, remakes aren’t nearly as common as original films. It’s a common misperception because it feels like they are (and even so called original films are redundant of each other). Case in point: in the last three days, I’ve sat through three separate remakes: Conan the Barbarian, next week’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and now Fright Night. It’s getting a bit wearisome, to be sure, but this new Fright Night is solid. It’s a faithful reboot of the 1985 original that simultaneously does enough to stand on its own.

Anton Yelchin plays Charley, a normal high school kid who is caught up in a relationship with his girlfriend, Amy, played by Imogen Poots. He’s trying to fit in, which has caused him to neglect Ed, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, his nerdy former best friend. But when Ed accuses Charley’s next door neighbor, Jerry, played by Colin Farrell, of being a vampire, he has no choice but to listen. Before he knows it, Jerry is after him and Amy and he realizes he won’t be able to peacefully rest until Jerry is dead.

The original 80’s Fright Night is a good, not great, film that used its campiness and humor to charm. It had a creepy moment or two, but it wasn’t scary. It was just plain fun. The remake, similarly, is a good, not great, film, that retains the original’s humor, but dials down the camp and attempts (without succeeding) to ratchet up the scares. For what it’s worth, one film is no better or worse than the other. They both do what they do and they do it well without ever truly impressing.

Neither manage to impress because both films hit insurmountable narrative flaws that hamper the experience. While it could be argued the original is a tad too slow for its own good, the pace of the remake is decidedly too rapid. The film does a masterful job of establishing a battle of wits between Jerry and Charley, the latter the only person aware of Jerry’s true self and the former using psychological scare tactics to keep Charley subdued. Just when this intriguing set-up is about to play out, however, it goes overboard. Jerry blows up Charley’s house and goes on a statewide hunt to kill him. It becomes a case of too much, too soon. Rather than take the calm and patient (and, ultimately, better) route of the original, it goes to extreme measures to please a cinematic society that favors fast action over calculated storytelling.

Where it betters the original is in its casting of the villain. Colin Farrell is wonderfully evil as Jerry and he brings a type of menace that was missing from Chris Sarandon’s performance 25 years ago. The problem is that the script doesn’t allow him to shine (again, a problem stemming from the much too quick pace). He’s most effective when things are quiet, so when the movie decides to go berserk at about its halfway point, his commendable creepiness is rendered moot. Those around him do a good job of picking up the slack in the screenplay, however. Yelchin is a great nemesis for Farrell and he produces authentic chemistry with Poots, though that’s probably more in part to Poots’ natural beauty and charisma than anything else. Likewise, Mintz-Plasse does his best to keep the comedy coming and mostly succeeds, though, like most of his attempts since Superbad, he’s hit and miss.

Keeping with the recent trend, Fright Night is in 3D and, yet again, it’s an unnecessary aesthetic. Because this is a horror movie that takes place mostly at night, the dim picture is sometimes hard to see and there is rampant double vision. Despite a few effective moments, the 3D here is unpleasing to the eye. Even movies that are shot in 3D, as opposed to post-production conversions, have done little to persuade me that the effect is necessary, including this one. But 3D or not, Fright Night works and proves itself as one of the most purely enjoyable movies to be released this summer.

Fright Night receives 3.5/5

Friday
May062011

The Beaver

They say there are no more original ideas left in Hollywood, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anything like The Beaver. If you’ve seen a film where a man lives vicariously through a beaver puppet on his arm, then you’re more cinematically cultured than I. This is an odd little movie with an inconsistent tone and a subplot that doesn’t gel with the main story, but it’s nevertheless intriguing and easily watchable, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a hopelessly depressed individual. His marriage to Meredith (Jodie Foster) is falling apart and his oldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin), does everything he can to not be like him. (If Mel Gibson was your father, you’d probably do the same.) Before he retires to a hotel room for the night (after having been kicked out of the house), he throws some of his possessions away in a nearby dumpster. Inside he spots a beaver puppet and is oddly drawn to it, so he snatches it out and heads to the room. After a failed attempt at suicide, he decides to use the puppet to start over and informs his family and friends to address it as if it were him. His name is The Beaver (Mel Gibson’s left hand) and he’s there to save Walter’s life.

I think it’s safe to say that nobody condones the things Mel Gibson has said and done in the past. Frankly, he has become a deplorable person, taking an incredible nose dive after being praised as a beacon of Christianity with his immensely popular film, The Passion of the Christ. But I’m not here to judge the man. I’m here to judge the actor and in that regard, Gibson reaches sheer brilliance. He has always been a talented filmmaker, in front of and behind the camera, but never have I seen him put such veracity into a role. He gives a nuanced performance where even the slightest change in mood is brilliantly expressed, perhaps because the character, who is misunderstood and merely wants to start over, so closely resembles his own life. Regardless, he wonderfully draws out the emotion, forcing even the most jaded Gibson haters to forget about the man and invest themselves in the character.

An explanation as to why he’s depressed, however, is left unexplained. It’s easy enough to put a reason together given the current state of his family, but some moviegoers may want more. I was ok with its ambiguity, though, because one doesn’t need a reason to be depressed. Depending on which study you read, anywhere between 8 and 26 percent of American adults suffer from some type of mental illness and although you can trace some cases to certain sources, most simply exist.

If anything, I was disappointed with how the illness was explored. Its presentation was fine, but its analysis is questionable, which is where the inconsistent tone comes into play. The Beaver is a movie that presents a man who is trying to better himself and overcome a deadly illness that had him on the brink of suicide, but at times it felt like we were supposed to point and laugh. A movie about a man who has his hand inside of a beaver the whole time (a premise that opens itself up to a host of scrutinizing jokes) already has many challenges to face and it doesn’t win some of them. Just when it looks like it’s going to settle down as a serious look at mental disorders, a humorous moment comes and throws it off track. Of course, some of its more somber sections don’t work either, like a late scene where Walter wrestles with the puppet. Despite having serious dramatic intentions, it brings to mind those “Saturday Night Live” sketches where a stuffed animal is attached to a performer as he or she rolls around on the ground faking danger for chuckles.

As for the subplot, it revolves around young Porter as he courts classmate and cheerleader Norah (Jennifer Lawrence). Although it works on its own terms, it is only loosely connected to Walter’s plight. Had the two stories been intertwined to a greater degree rather than working as two separate entities, The Beaver would have had a smoother flow, which could have offset its tonal problems. It could have been something that was truly great. As it stands, however, it’s merely good.

The Beaver receives 3.5/5