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Entries in Chris Pine (4)

Thursday
Dec252014

Into the Woods

There’s a certain joy that washes over me when I watch a good musical. Movies and music are wonderful mediums for artistic expression, as each find their own truths and meaning in their own distinct, separate ways, but combining the two is complete bliss. Both complement each other, the music giving the visuals an extra flavor that would be missing had they been accompanied by silence, and vice versa. When those visuals are as striking and the music as wonderful as they are in “Into the Woods,” it’s impossible not to be entertained. This is visually one of the best musicals since 1940’s “Fantasia,” full of all the grandeur and wonder that one might expect from a Disney movie.

Adapted from the 1986 Stephen Sondheim musical, “Into the Woods” tells a story that mixes together numerous childhood fairy tales. In a small town, there is a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who are desperate to have a child, but whose family lineage has been cursed by an evil witch (Meryl Streep), making it impossible. She tells them she will break the curse if they can obtain four items for her in the surrounding woods: a cow as white as milk, hair as yellow as corn, a cape as red as blood and a shoe as pure as gold. On their search, they run into Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), who is attending the Prince’s (Chris Pine) ball, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), who is on her way to see her grandmother, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), who is stuck in a tall tower with no stairs or doors, and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), who is heading to town to sell his cow, but will end up trading it for some magic beans. The baker and his wife, thrust into the middle of all these stories, will do their best to get each of those items however they can.

“Into the Woods” is a magical film, one that combines the natural wonder of the fairy tales it portrays with terrific songs that simultaneously poke fun of those tales and lovingly embrace them. It doesn’t shy away from the darker moments of these Brothers Grimm tales, including the death of major characters—and yes, you’ll get to experience the evil stepsisters getting their toes cut off in an attempt to fit their feet in the golden slipper—but it never gets dark enough to lose its whimsy. Chris Pine, in particular, steals every scene he’s in with a self-deprecating performance that adds a satirical spin on fairy tale machismo as it upends the traditional character gender roles so many of these classic stories exemplify.

But Pine is merely one part of one of the best ensemble casts of the year. Streep, as is expected at this point, gives one of the best performances of the year as the wicked witch. The nuance she brings to the character makes the witch all her own, as she crafts someone who is both terrifying and also immensely likable. Even as she threatens and frightens the baker and his wife, she charms, as does Kendrick, cast perfectly in the role of the disheveled, but nevertheless lovely Cinderella. She has proven her vocal talent in movies like “Pitch Perfect,” but whereas that movie mostly featured an a cappella group singing together, she gets to shine alone here. Her story is the funniest and most emotional, so her songs bring with them added weight and she performs them with aplomb.

For those more interested in visuals, however, the star of the show won’t be Kendrick or Pine or Streep or even Stephen Sondheim, but the fantastic art direction that somehow manages to give colorful life to the dark settings. The costumes, props, sets all create a vivid world, one that would be desirable to live in were it not for the witch curses and giants stomping about. If you don’t mind a pervading sense of dread in your visuals, “Into the Woods” will amaze you, even if the songs and story don’t.

It’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t, though, as almost every moment in this two hour movie is a delight to watch, the sole awkward part being the song sang by the Big Bad Wolf, played by Johnny Depp, which is full of enough (presumably intentional, but still uncomfortable) sexual innuendo towards Red Riding Hood to derail the mood up to that point. Luckily, it’s early on, so it corrects itself quickly, but in every other regard, “Into the Woods” proves itself as an absolute gem of a musical.

Into the Woods receives 4.5/5

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
Feb172012

This Means War

Originally set to be released on Valentine’s Day, This Means War was pushed back to the Friday after to avoid competing with the demographically well received Nicholas Sparks-esque romance, The Vow. It’s probably a smart move—I imagine most people would want to see a straight up love film than a silly screwball comedy like this on Valentine’s Day—but if we’re lucky, nobody will want to see it at all and we can stop future movies like this from coming out. This Means War is hopelessly derivative, unfunny and far more boring than an espionage comedy should be.

This film stars Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as FDR and Tuck, two best friends and secret agents at the CIA. FDR is a playboy, seemingly more interested in picking up women than he is in completing his missions, and Tuck is a romantic. He has a kid and an ex-wife, but he rarely sees them and he’s lonely. He wants to fall in love. After seeing an ad on television for an online dating service, Tuck posts his profile and gets a hit from Lauren, played by Reese Witherspoon, who was forced into it by her best friend, Trish, played by Chelsea Handler. After they have a nice meeting, Tuck finds himself smitten, but immediately after, Lauren runs into FDR who woos her as well, unaware that it’s the girl Tuck had just seen. When they find out they’re both after the same girl, the competition is on and they’ll do anything to win, utilizing every spy technique in the book to sabotage each other.

This Means War has a great cast. Aside from the over-the-top and grating Chelsea Handler, the three main stars are all charming, good looking and talented. The poster alone should sell this movie. However, not all talent is created equally. Witherspoon is still as lovely as ever and Chris Pine, who showcased some great comedic talent amidst all the sci-fi shenanigans in 2009’s Star Trek, is as funny as he can possibly be with what he’s given here, but Tom Hardy is miscast. Although he has proven himself as a wonderful dramatic actor in films like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the criminally overlooked Warrior, he is simply not funny. He isn’t a comedian and doesn’t know how to deliver comedic lines. When working with mediocre material such as this, his inexperience comes through even more noticeably.

Most films can overcome such a flaw, however, if their characters are fun to be around—jokes don’t always need to land when we’re spending time with people we like—but This Means War’s two main characters, the two battling it out for Lauren’s affection, are daft, selfish, shallow and manipulative. They spy on Lauren using advanced government technology (which would lead to all kinds of offensive invasions of privacy if this were anything other than a vacuous romantic comedy caper) and they use it to gain the upper hand. When they learn what Lauren doesn’t like about them, for instance, they change those aspects of themselves to fool her into thinking they’re someone they’re not. Their dishonesty is off-putting and by the end, you’ll hope she picks neither of them and moves on with her life.

You’d think that’s exactly what she’d do too after discovering that her feelings were the center of a crude and infantile competition, but she doesn’t and makes her choice. While I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to spoil who she picks, her decision is boneheaded for a number of reasons and doesn’t feel authentic. It feels like the choice was made only because, through an early contrived set-up, it allowed for a gushy happy ending for all the characters, even the one she toys with, doesn't choose and leaves heartbroken.

The pretentiously named McG, whose best movie is probably the first Charlie’s Angels (which certainly isn’t saying much), directed This Means War and it feels exactly like one of his films: stylish, but overblown; sometimes serious, but obnoxiously childish; fast paced, yet still amazingly boring. He has so many things to improve on, it’s hard to know where to begin in listing them. Even when compared to his previous failures, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Terminator Salvation, This Means War fares only slightly better, if only because it’s shorter and a bit breezier, but for every one thing it does okay, it botches five.

This Means War receives 1.5/5

Friday
Nov122010

Unstoppable

Over 80 years ago, silent movie star Buster Keaton released a movie called The General. Critics at the time didn’t appreciate it, nearly all of whom wrote negative reviews. As time went on, however, the cinema world began to realize its genius. Amidst the goofy humor, it was a movie that featured exciting, life threatening stunts. As I watched Keaton jump from car to car and even ride on the front of a train barreling down a railroad tack, I began to realize just how much danger he was putting himself in, all for the sake of my entertainment. I mention this because that movie is truly something special and if you’re looking for thrills, you need look no further than that. Passing by on the 2010 “train action” movie, Unstoppable, to watch The General instead would be a benefit to you, but if you’re so inclined to venture to the theater this weekend to check it out, you’ll find a stupid, half brained, yet absurdly enjoyable piece of nonsense.

Loosely based on a true story, Unstoppable stars Denzel Washington as Frank Barnes, an engineer at a Pennsylvania railroad company. Along with the new conductor, Will Colson, played by Chris Pine, they set out to do their daily duties, but they soon find out that a runaway train carrying hazardous material is barreling down the track towards them. After narrowly escaping a collision, they take it upon themselves to stop the train before it derails and kills any citizens in its path.

Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott have gone from the subway to the railroad. Last year, they teamed up for a remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, a similarly stupid, but oddly compelling film that more or less has the exact same problems as Unstoppable. What that film lacked, so does this and both can be compared to other, superior films.

And when you do compare, this doesn’t hold a candle to the aforementioned The General. Unlike that movie where the action and excitement came from the characters, Unstoppable relies on objects. It isn’t until the last block of the movie that the two leads find themselves in any real danger and the admittedly impressive (though derivative) stunts begin. Up to that point, we merely watch the train hit other unmanned means of transportation. Ultimately, that is its biggest downfall.

The movie doesn’t bother so much with the characters, uncomfortably forcing in expositional dialogue in the thick of the action, but instead focuses on the runaway train, treating it as if it were this giant monster hell-bent on taking as many lives as it can. There’s no real villain here, though it makes a flimsy attempt to create one in the form of the company Vice President, played by Kevin Dunn, and its demonic personification of the train is absurd.

Truth be told, the events that unfold before the big climax are a little boring, though that doesn’t stop Tony Scott from attempting to create some artificial excitement with his trademark hectic technique. Like Pelham 123, the camera rarely stops moving, circling around the actors and quickly zooming in with the hopes that we’ll be fooled out of realizing that there actually isn’t much happening.

Scott’s irritating style is distracting, but the stars of the movie pull off the material, which helped me to, at times, forget about the incessantly moving camera. Washington and Pine are great together and, although they have only known each other for a few hours at the beginning of the movie, you feel like they’re genuinely bonding and coming to like each other.

Their fine chemistry together makes up for the lack of substance from the dialogue, a nonexistent problem in The General. That movie was more exciting, fun and funny than all of Unstoppable and it was done without the help of spoken word. While I am recommending this for its idiotically fun nature, I advise also watching that Buster Keaton classic so you can see just how easily a movie from the 1920’s can outmatch a modern big budget blockbuster any day.

Unstoppable receives 3/5