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Entries in john cho (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

Sunday
Feb102013

Identity Thief

Jason Bateman is one of the most underappreciated comedians in Hollywood, though he enjoys an almost cult-like following thanks to his days as Michael Bluth on TV’s Arrested Development. Melissa McCarthy is a fresh new face who wowed audiences with her hilarious performance in 2011’s Bridesmaids and who also enjoys a rather stern following thanks to her hit CBS show, Mike & Molly. Put these two talents together and you get Identity Thief, a supposed comedy that wastes both of them on a messy script that is almost completely devoid of any and all laughs. It’s a sad sight to see, such talent floundering around in such a disaster, but with the comedy genre offering little recently in the way of quality, one can only hope the two leads agreed to star because it was the only thing they were offered.

Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, a lowly businessman in Colorado who manages his company’s in-house accounts, which, as his awful boss Harold Cornish (Jon Favreau) puts it, a computer program could do. He’s not held in very high regard at his job despite his high quality of work, so when his co-worker, Daniel (John Cho), offers him a job at his new upstart company where he’ll be making five times what he’s making now, he immediately accepts. Besides, he has a loving wife (Amanda Peet) and two young children at home to take care of, with another on the way. However, he soon finds out his identity has been stolen by an unnamed woman in Florida (Melissa McCarthy) who has taken part in illegal activities, confusing police and making him the prime suspect. This doesn’t look good for the company, so he makes an agreement with his boss and the local cop (whose jurisdiction doesn’t extend beyond Denver): if he can bring this woman to Colorado and have her confess, he’ll get to keep his job and the cops can close the case. They both agree, so he jets off to Florida to find her.

What follows is a predictable movie where the two seemingly opposite, initially at odds characters spark an eventual friendship and begin to appreciate each other, yet the narrative arc to those revelations is absurd to the extreme and mixes in bounty hunters, additional identity thefts, car chases and wildlife encounters. Because the proceedings are so outlandish, it’s hard to take what’s happening seriously, even if you manage to overlook the contrived set-up that sets them off on this adventure. The two, in and of themselves, aren’t particularly interesting characters either, or at least not as a pair. She’s a loud, obnoxious and colorful (in that she wears too much make-up) bore who flails her body around trying to wring out a laugh and he is a whiny, gullible idiot. It’s his own nitwittedness that got him to this point anyway—everyone knows not to give out personal information over the phone. She has wronged him to the point where his life is crashing down. His finances are depleted and services, like cable, that we all take for granted are getting shut off, so his eventual realization that, hey, she’s not such a bad person after all is unconvincing and trite.

However, this turn doesn’t come completely out of left field; the filmmakers certainly tried to realistically get them to that point. Early in the film, for example, this unnamed woman’s friendlessness and loneliness is established, however bluntly it may be (“They’re not your friends,” a bartender says as she uses Sandy’s money to milk the bar. “They just like you because you’re buying them drinks”), yet she’s such a vindictive and selfish woman that it fails to elicit any type of caring in the viewer. If Identity Thief has about ten percent of the emotion a good drama should have, it has about two percent of the laughs of a comedy equivalent. Because the characters are so unlikable, their shenanigans are barely diverting, much less funny and the film’s humor falls flat time and time again.

Its best moment comes when the characters act like real, decent human beings (imagine that). One excellent scene forces McCarthy to show her acting chops, going from goofy to sad and back again, and she pulls it off with grace, proving she has what it takes to carry a movie, even if this one will make her detractors say otherwise. Decrease the farce and make a real movie with a real message and Identity Thief could have proven to be something interesting, a movie that warms the heart and provides occasional laughs, but its over-the-top nature proves to be its downfall. It’s neither sweet nor funny. Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy and the movie going audience deserve a whole lot better than what this has to offer.

Identity Thief receives 1/5

Friday
Aug032012

Total Recall

The Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, Total Recall, from 1990 didn’t have high aspirations. It was a campy movie full of hilarious one-liners, explosive, gory action and oddly intriguing sexuality, like the now infamous mutant woman with three breasts and a midget hooker. It was off-the-wall fun and it knew it, fully embracing its silliness from beginning to end. This week’s high octane remake, also titled Total Recall, follows a similar narrative path as the original, but somehow manages to be its exact opposite. Camp is replaced with seriousness, gore is replaced with PG-13 scuffles and the three breasted woman is…well, she’s still there (even if they do cut away before you’re allowed a good look).

By the end of the 21st century, chemical warfare brought on by a third World War has made our planet practically uninhabitable. Earth has been divided into two superpowers, the Resistance and the oppressive Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), which are in a battle for supremacy in a world gone awry. Most citizens are lowly factory workers who spend their days building police robots for the Chancellor in his efforts to stop the Resistance. One of those citizens is Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell). He’s married to the beautiful Lori (Kate Beckinsale), but he nevertheless needs some excitement. One day, he decides to go to Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories into the heads of their customers, essentially allowing them to live out any type of fantasy they wish. While there, something goes wrong and the police force busts in. Next thing he knows, Quaid’s wife is trying to kill him and he’s on the run from the very machines he helped build. The strange thing is now he’s now being told he’s actually a secret agent; he just doesn’t remember it.

Those familiar with the 1990 original will both be in for a treat and a disappointment when watching this update. With plenty of sly references to the original, including a redheaded woman passing through a security gate (“Two weeks” she says when asked how long her trip will be), there is no shortage of little Easter eggs to be found. But sometimes those finds aren’t for the betterment of the film itself. Many of the lines (or at least variations of them) from the original are spoken here as well, but their tone is significantly different. While lines like “If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?” were played as humorous before, they’re played depressingly straight here. All the fun has been sucked out in favor of telling a darker story, but one that lacks substance.

That’s not to say the original had much substance to it, but it then again it never claimed it did. Both are so packed full of action that they hardly have time to tell a particularly engaging story. The difference, however, is that the original was knowingly silly, so it was easy to forgive. This Total Recall, on the other hand, tries to make you care. It wants the conclusion to be something you cheer for, but most cheers will be coming simply from the fact that it’s over rather than because the story has grabbed hold of you. With its over-stylized action scenes and constant forward motion, the characters hardly get breathers and their relationships are never built like they need to be. It’s not necessarily that I didn’t care about what happened to them that bugged me, but that the movie wanted me to, but provided no justification as to why I should.

Much like the original, the big question at the end is whether or not what we saw actually happened or if it’s just a byproduct of the Rekall implant. The question isn’t necessarily a hard one to answer in either movie when you consider certain things (that I’ll leave for you to figure out), but at least the answer had some slight ambiguity in the original. In the remake, it’s more or less cut and dry, despite trying to force that ambiguity in right at the end. The larger question outside the context of the films is: does it even matter? The answer in regards to this remake is a resounding no. This weekend, when you’re thinking about heading to the theater to see it, don’t and watch the original instead.

Total Recall receives 2/5

Friday
Nov042011

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

People get way too excited for Christmas way too fast. November barely begins before radio stations start pumping out Christmas music, stores start stocking for the impending rush and nearly every television commercial transitions to holiday themes. If you ask me, looking forward to Christmas over a month and a half ahead of time is a bit silly, but people like it and there’s a demand for it, at least in most cases. I can’t imagine the Christian based and family oriented communities were clamoring for A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, a movie that takes the sacred holiday (and the iconography associated with it) and uses it in the most offensive way possible. Don’t grab granny for this one kids.

Years have gone by since Harold (John Cho) and Kumar’s (Kal Penn) last adventure and the two have drifted apart. Kumar is still the same slacker-stoner he’s always been while Harold has moved on, married and nabbed a high paying job on Wall Street. He wants nothing more than to live a normal life, but when Kumar shows up at Harold’s house on Christmas Eve, they find themselves victims of yet another crazy adventure.

That’s about all you really need to know about the “plot” because the “plot” is inconsequential. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is about gags and the film goes about getting them any way it can, even if that means disregarding entire portions of the story. We find out early on that Kumar’s ex-girlfriend is pregnant with his child, for instance, but it only serves as a late film character redemption, an unnecessary narrative arc in a movie where the characters turn into clay and whip out their penises for no other reason than to allow the audience to see one in 3D. There’s also a side story involving two characters who are trapped in a closet at a mob boss’s house, but it depressingly goes nowhere and serves as filler in between the comic absurdities of the main story, which, come to think of it, fares about the same.

The situations the two find themselves in are so ridiculous and strung together by such a loose narrative thread that one could write a thesis paper with a hypothesis arguing that the entire movie was really a drug trip journeying through Kumar’s narcotics-laced brain, especially since he spends the entire opening moments getting high. There is nothing holding this thing together from scene to scene, but there are moments of genuine hilarity, which, at least for the purpose of this franchise, trumps poor storytelling. Sure, the drug jokes are old and you can only watch the characters blow CGI smoke towards your face so many times before it starts to wear thin, but if nothing else, you’ll laugh at its political incorrectness and willingness to dope a young child up with marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. A sequel set 10 years in the future where that young child has become a crack whore selling her body on the street for drugs might not be too amusing, but it sure is now.

The star of the show once again, however, is Neil Patrick Harris. His cameo was an added treat in the original movie and single-handedly saved the second from the brink of disaster. Well, he’s back here and he’s better than ever. The movie slyly works his homosexuality into the story, dealing with it in its own crude way and Neil Patrick Harris simply plays along. He may only be in the film for about ten minutes, but it’s ten of the funniest minutes you’ll see all year.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas shows signs of farcical intelligence early on, mocking the use of 3D while utilizing its unwelcome effect. In that sense, it takes a new approach to the format and makes it work, but that approach is not constant. Aside from a few clever moments, the 3D is simply there (but just barely), once again rearing its ugly, unnecessary and worthless head. Still, there is some holiday joy to be found in it, perverted and juvenile though it may be. One thing’s for sure. After watching this, you’ll never be able to look at A Christmas Story the same way again.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas receives 2.5/5