Hell Or High Water

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2016

Sidney Kimmel Entertainment/OddLot Entertainment/CBS Films Lionsgate

Directed by David Mackenzie

Produced by Sidney Kimmel/Peter Berg/Gigi Pritzker

Written by Taylor Sheridan

Don’t let the fact that the bank robbers, the lawmen and the posse in HELL OR HIGH WATER pack semi-automatic handguns instead of six shooters or that they drive supercharged pickup trucks instead of riding horses trick you. It’s very much a Western. And as its set in West Texas it’s got Texas Rangers. And far as I’m concerned, any movie that has Texas Rangers in it qualifies as a Western. End of discussion.

The Howard brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) go on what at first looks like a spur-of-the-moment bank robbing spree. Nothing could be further from the truth. Toby has a meticulous plan in mind that he insists has to be followed to the letter if the brothers are going to accomplish their goal. Their mother has died recently, leaving their ranch in debt.  Due to a reverse mortgage, the bank will foreclose on their ranch in a week. Oil has recently been discovered on the land and Toby’s plan is to pay it off and give the ranch, land and oil to his sons.

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The plan involves robbing the very bank that holds their mortgage and using their own money to pay them. In order to avoid the dye packs hidden in stacks of banknotes the brothers only take the loose bills. This means that they’ll have to hit all seven branches of the bank in order to get enough money to pay the bank off. Once they hit a couple of branches they drive to Oklahoma to lauder the money at an Indian casino. This allows them to not only exchange the money for untraceable bills but gives them a plausible reason for how they acquired the money.

There are two things wrong with this scheme: a pair of Texas Rangers. Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is a few weeks away from retirement and not looking forward to it a bit. Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) is his long suffering partner who endures Hamilton’s good-natured racist ribbing of his Native American/Mexican heritage with a weary stoicism no doubt cultivated from years of working with the man. They catch the case and begin a quietly methodical pursuit of the bank robbers.

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Despite Toby’s insistence that they follow the plan and that nobody gets hurt, Tanner takes more and more increasingly risky chances and his violent streak, nurtured by a ten year bid in the joint begins to take over. And Toby begins to wonder if he can keep his brother on a short enough leash to keep somebody from getting killed until this is all over.

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The exceptional thing about HELL OR HIGH WATER is how quickly it gets you on the side of the Howard brothers. Yeah, they’re bank robbers but they’re robbing banks. And who really likes banks, right? I liked how the movie spends a considerable amount of time letting us just hang out with the brothers as they sit on the porch of their ranch, drinking beer and talking or eating breakfast in a diner. I loved one scene in particular where the brothers are just horsing around, wrestling and chasing each other and for a brief moment you can see the innocent, carefree boys that they were long ago.

The movie holds down the sermonizing on the state of financial institutions and their relationship with Americans but it manages to make its point. The people who live in this movie are people who have no illusions about The American Dream. There are a couple of monologues delivered by a waitress (Katy Mixon) and by Alberto that sums up pretty much the state of affairs that defines their world. They’re short scenes but powerful ones. And director David Mackenzie has a couple of scenes, including one involving customers at a bank branch, all who are armed, forming into an impromptu posse that I’m convinced are statements on American gun culture.

Chris Pine long ago proved in movies such as “Unstoppable” “Horrible Bosses 2” and “Into The Woods” that he doesn’t have to worry about a career after he’s done with “Star Trek.” Toby Howard, despite the fact that he’s been straight as an arrow all his life, turns out to be a far better criminal than his brother. Pine works at creating a character here and he pulls it off. Don’t look for any traces of James T. Kirk here. You won’t find it. Ben Foster provides most of the movie’s humor and is a refreshingly unpredictable element. We’re watching Tanner intensely because just like Toby, we don’t know what he’s going to do next and we don’t want to miss a second of whatever this lunatic decides to do.

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Jeff Bridges is terrific as usual. When has Jeff Bridges not been terrific? He’s been so good for so long that I think there’s a tendency to take him for granted. The scenes between him and Gil Birmingham is a sort of mirror of the relationship between Tanner and Toby. These Texas Rangers have worked together for so long that in a very real way they’re brothers themselves.

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Should you see HELL OR HIGH WATER? Absolutely. It’s a Western. It’s a Crime Thriller. It’s a Heist Movie. And joining all these genres together is meticulous characterization and solid social commentary that makes it point without beating you over the head. Beautifully photographed and wonderfully acted, HELL OR HIGH WATER is one of the best movies of the year.

102 Minutes

Rated R

 

Star Trek Beyond

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2016

Paramount Pictures/Skydance Media/Alibaba Pictures/Bad Robot Productions

Directed by Justin Lin

Produced by J.J. Abrams/Roberto Orci

Written by Simon Pegg/Doug Jung

Based on “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry

They say that the third time’s the charm and in the case of STAR TREK BEYOND I’d have to say that’s a fact. Not that the first two movies were out and out awful. They weren’t. They had the burden of being reboots of the beloved franchise that has lasted for fifty years now. And the news that the reboot would be set in an alternate timeline with new actors playing the classic roles of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov didn’t send fans into the stratosphere with joy. I liked the first “Star Trek” even though I didn’t find the story engaging or particularly thrilling. But I enjoyed seeing new faces playing familiar characters and I think the infusion of new creative blood behind the camera is the best thing that could have happened to “Star Trek” overall.

I even liked “Star Trek Into Darkness” even though it made the mistake of trying to be “The Wrath of Khan” and apparently nobody took a cue from The Next Generation movie “Nemesis” or the three episode arc from Enterprise: “Borderland” “Cold Station 12” and “The Augments.” Because if they had, they’d have known that trick never works.

But thankfully STAR TREK BEYOND has a new director and an original story at last to work with. And the result is a movie and a story that feels like it could have been a movie made back when the original cast was in their prime. Much of that feeling comes from a screenplay that gives every crew member something to do and their chance to shine. The best “Star Trek” movies are the ones where all of the crew members are active in the story. And this one reinforces the concept that the reason Kirk is able to save the universe on a regular basis is that he has the best and brightest in Starfleet at his side and he knows the best way to utilize their skills and talents as a team.

The U.S.S. Enterprise is in the third year of it’s five year mission and Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is feeling the ennui of deep space exploration. He’s increasingly wondering what he’s doing out here and if this is really what he’s supposed to be doing with his life as he only joined Starfleet on a dare. First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also having a spiritual crisis of his own. Vulcans are now an endangered species and Spock is beginning to think that he should be on New Vulcan helping his people instead of gallivanting around the galaxy.

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The Enterprise puts in for shore leave at Starbase Yorktown, a ridiculously huge city in space for some much needed R&R but that doesn’t last long. Starbase Yorktown’s commanding officer Commodore Paris (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is soon dispatching Kirk and crew on a rescue mission to the planet Altamid. Turns out that the rescue mission is a trap. The Enterprise is attacked and destroyed by a swarm of spaceships. Krall (Idris Elba) who is looking for an ancient superweapon he insists is in Kirk’s possession captures most of the crew. The bridge crew is separated: Kirk with Chekov (Anton Yelchin) Spock with Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are prisoners of Krall while Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) comes under the protection of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) a scavenger whose martial arts abilities are more than considerably dangerous.

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As Kirk puts his crew back together, Krall’s plan is gradually uncovered. Using the ancient superweapon, Krall intends to attack Starbase Yorktown and kill everybody inhabiting it. He will then use the Starbase and it’s considerable resources to attack The Federation. Can Kirk reunite his crew in time to find a way off the planet and stop Krall? Since Paramount has already announced there’s going to be a fourth movie I think that in itself answers that question.

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For the first time, Chris Pine looks comfortable playing James Kirk and I think that’s because he’s become confident enough in his own acting abilities. He’s been in a significant amount of movies other than the “Star Trek” movie where he’s distinguished himself and so I think he’s not fighting so hard to not be William Shatner. Which is what I got from his earlier performances in the previous “Star Trek” movies. In fact, a lot of the fun in watching his performance here is because he is doing Shatner in many of the scenes, especially the opening scene where he’s negotiating a peace treaty. He’s even got his hair cut in a style reminiscent of Shatner’s hair style in The Original Series.

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Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban nailed the essence of their characters right from their first scenes in the first movie and that hasn’t changed. Especially Karl Urban. I say again that I’m halfway convinced he must somehow be related to DeForest Kelly as he channels his spirit to an uncanny degree. The movie’s story wisely puts McCoy and Spock together most of the time and their scenes together are perhaps the best tribute to Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly.

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Simon Pegg’s Scotty gets a nice subplot of his own (hey, if you’re writing the screenplay then why not give yourself a juicy subplot?) as he becomes a sort of mentor/big brother to Jaylah. She herself meshes so well with the crew that I’m hoping they’ll bring her back as a permanent member in the next movie. Idris Elba adds Krall to his already impressive resume of bad guys. The only problem I have with him is his motivation. In all three of these movies revenge has been the motivation for the bad guys and it’s wearying to me. Now that we’re getting more original stories let’s have some original motivations for the bad guys to be carrying on cranky, okay?

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And Starbase Yorktown is astoundingly impressive enough to deserve it’s own movie. I read a review of this movie where the writer said that if there’s ever a “Deep Space Nine” movie then it should look like Starbase Yorktown and I agree wholeheartedly.

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So should you see STAR TREK BEYOND? Chances are you’ve already seen it, especially if you’re a rabid “Star Trek” fan like me. But if you haven’t, by all means go see it. For me this has been a pretty sad movie year and STAR TREK BEYOND is one of the bright spots that reminds me why I go to the movies. Enjoy.

122 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

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2014

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mace Neufeld and David Barron

Screenplay by Adam Cozad and David Koepp

Based on characters created by Tom Clancy

About halfway through JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT I had the same feeling I did the first time I watched “Sneakers.” I felt like I was watching a really good “Mission: Impossible” movie. It’s a scene that involves Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) having to pretend he’s drunk so that he can slip away from the dinner he’s having with Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) a powerful financier who is manipulating Russian and Chinese investments in America to bring about a second Great Depression. Jack has to break into Cherevin’s high tech office to hack his computer and download important evidence. Jack’s boss, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) has a team of expert CIA spies backing Jack up and the plan involves Jack’s girlfriend Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) keeping Cherevin at the dinner table while Harper’s team has to pickpocket Cherevin’s security card, get it to Jack, get him in and out of the office and then return the card to Cherevin all without him knowing.

Sounds a lot like an episode of “Mission: Impossible” right? Jim Phelps and his team used to do stuff like this all the time. And that’s a large part of the problem with JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT. A lot of it felt like stuff I had seen before. Not that it’s bad stuff. JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is a well-made movie. It’s just that it’s not all that exciting or shows us anything new we haven’t seen in a dozen other action thrillers.

It also didn’t exactly grab me that this movie isn’t based on any of the Tom Clancy novels about Jack Ryan but an origin story cooked up by screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp. Why in the world they felt that Jack Ryan needed an origin story is beyond me. When we first met Jack Ryan in 1990’s “The Hunt For Red October” the movie just threw us into the adventure and filled us in on Jack Ryan’s background if and when it was needed. This movie spends a considerable amount of time showing us Jack’s grief upon seeing the 9/11 attack on TV while he’s attending school in London and then his crippling injuries he receives in a helicopter crash while serving as a Marine in Afghanistan. It’s during his extensive rehab he meets the two most important people in his life; Cathy Muller who will be his wife and Thomas Harper who will be his boss and mentor as Jack goes to work for the CIA.

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Jack spends ten years working as a compliance officer on Wall Street but his real job for the CIA is to look for suspicious financial transactions that would indicated the financing of terrorist operations against the U.S. Jack does indeed find something strange about trillions of dollars being manipulated by the companies owned by Cherevin and he’s sent to Russia to check it out and see what’s going on. Harper believes that the missing money is tied into some activity at the UN, including a key vote that the Russian Federation lost.

Yawning yet? I wouldn’t blame you if you were. We’re not talking James Bond type of spying here or even Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt. The movie so far is essentially about bankers looking for money that other bankers are hiding. There’s nothing remotely exciting about Chris Pine repeatedly pointing at a computer screen and yelling excitedly; “There, there! See that?” and it’s a bunch of stock quotes.

In fact, there’s an assassination attempt on Jack’s life that makes no sense and I’m convinced was thrown in there simply because something has to happen to keep the audience interested in the plot. As is the terrorist attack thrown into the last twenty minutes of the movie in order that we have a car/motorcycle chase and a desperate race against time.

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Chris Pine is a very likeable actor and works his moneymaker off trying to bring Jack Ryan to life but he just can’t do it. I’ve always thought that the financial success of the two Jack Ryan movies starring Harrison Ford was due more to Harrison Ford being the world’s number one action movie star at that time than audiences wanting to see a new Jack Ryan adventure because Jack Ryan really isn’t all that interesting a character. He’s a desk jockey who crunches numbers. There’s a brief scene on a plane late in the movie where the script tries to impress us with how Jack can see complex patterns where others can’t while Cathy and Harper just stare at him in amazement but it comes far too late to make a real impact.

And it really is kind of a stretch for Jack, who has been working at a desk for ten years and by his own admission has had only three weeks of operational training can not only barehanded kill trained assassins but drive cars in high speed chases like Goggles Pisano. I mean, I can throw my suspension of disbelief out the window if needs be but I’ve got a problem with a screenplay that tries to have it both way. You either give me a Jack Ryan who’s just getting his feet wet in the world in international espionage and learning the skills he’ll need to do so or give me one who is a seasoned pro and knows what he’s doing. Jack switches back and forth between the two personas when the script needs him to be one or the other.

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Movies of this type are successful largely on the bad guy and in this, JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT fails miserably. Kenneth Branagh’s Cherevin is no Auric Goldfinger or Ernst Stavro Blofeld which is what the character really needed to be and what the movie needed. Cherevin is a poor excuse for a movie villain and Branagh goes through the movie with that “Moose Und Skwirl” Russian accent I simply can’t take seriously.

What else? Keira Knightley looks gorgeous, as usual, but is wasted as Cathy spends most of her screen time nagging at Jack for no reason at all and she’s only in the story because there needs to be a damsel in distress. Kevin Costner does his usual professional job and looks as if he’s actually enjoying himself. Kenneth Branagh does double duty as director as again, he disappoints. I’ve seen “Thor” so I know that Branagh knows how to direct action scenes but here it looks as if he was trying to copy the fight scenes from the Jason Bourne movies directed by Paul Greengrass and that wasn’t a good stylistic choice at all.

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I guess by now you get the point that I didn’t like JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT. It’s not so much I didn’t like it as I was disappointed. I always am when I see so much good talent used in such a lackluster movie that does not thrill me or make me glad I went to see it. Wait for this one to show up on Netflix.

105 Minutes

PG-13

 

Star Trek Into Darkness

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2013

Paramount Pictures

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Produced by Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci

Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof

Based on “STAR TREK” created by Gene Roddenberry

It was in the theaters 30 years ago and there have been ten Star Trek movies that came after it but none of them have matched the popularity and success of “The Wrath of Khan.” Ask any Star Trek fan what his favorite Star Trek movie is and 9 out of 10 times you’ll probably get “The Wrath of Khan” as an answer. Which kinda explains why Paramount Pictures has been trying their best to remake that particular Star Trek movie. They tried with “Nemesis” which I consider to be the worst Star Trek movie of all. Yes, even worse than “The Final Frontier” which is at least goofy nonsense that plays like the first cousin of “Spock’s Brain” on steroids. And the last Star Trek TV series to date; “Enterprise” tried to pull a “Wrath of Khan” in a three-part episode that guest-starred Brent Spiner as a Khan Lite bad guy.

Almost from the time when 2009’s “Star Trek” reboot hit theaters, fans have been asking if the new Star Trek team was going to remake “The Wrath of Khan.”  J.J. Abrams, the director of that movie and the sequel, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS continually insisted that they were not going to remake “The Wrath of Khan.” And you know what? He’s right. Oh, there are characters in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS named Khan and Carol Marcus but they bear only a superficial resemblance to the characters in that earlier film. And yes, that scene is recreated and somebody gets to scream “Khaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnn!” but for me, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS isn’t a remake of “Wrath of Khan” at all. That doesn’t mean I’m as giddy about this movie as I was with the first one but my reasons for that have nothing to do with the nods to “The Wrath of Khan”

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A secret Section 31 installation in London is bombed and the bomber is a rogue Starfleet Intelligence agent named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) Turns out that the bombing was a ruse to get as many starship captains and first officers to attend an emergency meeting at Starfleet HQ so that Harrison can attack them with a gunship and eliminate as many as he can. Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) the mentor and surrogate father of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is killed in the attack.

Kirk gets permission from Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) to pursue Harrison to his hideout on the Klingon homeworld of Kronos. Armed with 72 prototype photon torpedoes, Kirk gets the band back together; Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) Dr.‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) Chief Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg) Lt. Sulu (John Cho) and Ensign Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and takes the starship Enterprise into forbidden Klingon territory to bring Harrison back to Earth to pay for his crimes. The mission is quickly complicated by the revelation that Harrison is actually Khan, a genetically enhanced superhuman who has been in frozen cryosleep for 300 years. The photon torpedoes actually contain cryogenic pods holding more genetic supermen. Turns out that Marcus had been holding them hostage to get Khan to develop advanced weaponry for him. Beats me why Admiral Marcus is so hell-bent on starting a war with The Klingon Empire. Or how he thinks that a 300 year old man could help develop advanced weapons but STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS isn’t the kind of movie that slows down enough to let you engage your brain long enough to ask pesky questions like that.

Marcus has constructed a sort of super-Enterprise, the USS Vengeance and he goes after the Enterprise himself, determined to eliminate Khan once and for all. And if that means destroying Kirk, his loyal crew and the Enterprise as well, so be it. Strangely enough for a movie that aims to be as loud and

star-trek-into-darkness-cro as punchy punchy run run as it possibly can, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS contains plenty of good, solid performances and some really nice scenes between the principal characters. I got a big chuckle out of a moment on the bridge when Sulu is in command and has to run a really big bluff.  Karl Urban and Simon Pegg I enjoyed the most as they do an amazing job of evoking the essence of DeForest Kelley and James Doohan without imitating them. I’m half convinced that Urban must somehow have been related to Kelley.

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Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison/Khan makes for a formidable bad guy and maybe I’m a little off in my thinking here but for me, Cumberbatch was much more interesting as John Harrison. Once the big reveal that he’s Khan is made, I was actually disappointed. I wanted to know more about Harrison and his deal and when he proclaims that he’s Khan my first thought was; “That’s the best they could come up with?” But it’s just such a pleasure to listen to Cumberbatch and see what fun he’s having double and triple-crossing everybody in sight.

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Peter Weller follows admirably in the tradition of previous Starfleet Admirals who have gone batshit crazy (seriously, doesn’t Starfleet do annual psych evaluations on these guys?) with gusto and it’s always a pleasure to see him on screen. As Dr. Carol Marcus, Alice Eve appears to be on the ship for two reasons and one of them is her already infamous scene where she strips down to her underwear for no apparent reason at all. It didn’t bother me at all but what does bother me is that guys are complaining about it. Really? Since when do guys complain about gratuitous scenes of hot chicks in their underwear in a movie?

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So should you see STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS? It’s a solid action-adventure space opera, full of explosions, chases, fist fights and yelling; “Fire all phasers!” If you’re a long-time Star Trek fan like myself I think that in order to watch it you have to come to terms that this is a Star Trek that is made for the movie audience of today. It’s the overblown spectacle, shouty rapid-fire dialog and CGI extravaganza audiences demand in their science fiction summer blockbusters. Star Trek TV shows are the way to go for allegorical explorations of contemporary culture and to delve into character.

No, it’s not the Star Trek I grew up with but it’s heart is in the right place and that goes a long way with me. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is an acceptable sequel but now that the five-year mission is underway I’m going to be looking for more from the next one than just a Warp Nine thrill ride.

PG-13

132 minutes

Star Trek

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2009

Paramount Pictures

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Produced by J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof

Written Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman

Based on “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been a fan of Star Trek ever since I can remember. It was a nightly ritual for me that I couldn’t go to bed until I had watched Star Trek on WPIX here in New York where they reran it for years at 11:00PM. And I’ve seen all the movies in the theaters the day they opened. I’ve watched every episode of every Star Trek TV series. Even “Voyager” and “Enterprise” I estimate I’ve read somewhere between fifty and seventy Star Trek books.

I relate all this not to impress upon you how much of a Star Trek geek I am but to let you know that I consider myself pretty well versed in things Trek. So when I tell you that the new STAR TREK movie is 80% on point you’ll have some faith that I know what I’m talking about.

The selling points of the movie are twofold: One: it’s directed by J.J. Abrams who has mostly had success in TV with shows such as “Felicity””Alias””Lost” and “Fringe”. But his motion picture track record hasn’t been too bad either what with his work on “Mission Impossible III” and “Cloverfield” Two: STAR TREK is Paramount’s attempt to reboot/relaunch its primary moneymaking franchise with an all new, younger cast playing the beloved characters of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov as well as giving the Star Trek universe an updated look and feel.

For a long time I’ve felt that Star Trek needed new blood. “Voyager” and “Enterprise” suffered from creative burnout as the producers of those shows had been with the franchise since “The Next Generation” and it showed. Star Trek badly needed someone new to come aboard and bring freshness to the material.

Thankfully, J.J. Abrams and company have done exactly that. STAR TREK isn’t a perfect movie and there are a couple of things that made me groan but there were also plenty of things that made me grin as well.
star-trek-6The movie tells us the story that The Original Series never did: how did the crew of the starship USS Enterprise first meet each other? Well, first of all, through some imaginative time travel futzing involving Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and his pursuit/being pursued by a revenge crazed Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana) we’re informed fairly early on that this is an alternate reality/timeline where things aren’t exactly the same as us old heads remember. Most notable is that without the guiding influence of his father, this James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) is a rebellious, risk-taking malcontent. But Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) the current captain of the Enterprise sees something in the young man and challenges him to join Starfleet. Kirk accepts the challenge and signs up, meeting Nyota Uhura (Zoë Saldana) and Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban)

Three years later, the planet Vulcan is attacked by Nero and his ginormous mining ship. Starfleet heads out to stop him but the ships they send are all destroyed. Except the Enterprise, of course, which is left in the command of Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) a Human/Vulcan hybrid of frightening brilliance and severely disciplined logic who immediately clashes with the hot-headed Cadet Kirk as to the best way to deal with Nero. It soon becomes apparent that the two men have to learn to put aside their differences and work together because Nero also has plans to destroy Earth. All while meeting Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) who along with Uhura and McCoy will become their lifelong companions in adventure and exploration.

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The plot in STAR TREK really isn’t all that important or even interesting, to be honest. This is either the third or fourth STAR TREK movie that has had some huge cosmic whatchamacallit heading toward Earth to destroy it and the Enterprise is the only ship able to stop it. Makes you wonder why The Federation even bothers maintaining a Starfleet when it’s the Enterprise that’s always the only ship available all the time.

No, the real reason this STAR TREK exists is to introduce us to the new cast, the new Enterprise and set up this alternate universe/timeline so that we can go on to other movies that will hopefully have more engaging stories. The special effects are appropriately dazzling and at times even inspired. I’d have liked to have seen more of the interior of the new Enterprise but what we do see is glitzy to the max.

The acting is better than I thought it would be. The new cast wisely doesn’t try to imitate the mannerisms or speech patterns of the original cast. With the exception of Anton Yelchin who deliberately does the Classic Chekov accent. Instead, they channel the essence of what makes those characters work and they pull it off quite well. Especially Karl Urban as Bones McCoy and Zachary Quinto as Spock. Karl Urban has the added fun of throwing off a few of McCoy’s famous lines and he does them excellently. Zoë Saldana doesn’t have as much to do as her co-stars (and dammit, would it have killed them to have her say “hailing frequencies open, Captain” at least once?) A lot of Classic Star Trek fans were upset and confused by the romantic relationship between Spock and Uhura but it didn’t throw me at all. It certainly makes more sense than the revelation in “The Undiscovered Country” that Scotty and Uhura had been having a secret romance for years. Even in The Original Series there were hints that Spock and Uhura were closer than anybody else knew about. There were several episodes where it was shown that in their off hours Spock and Uhura liked singing together, often entertaining other members of the crew.

Eric Bana is one of my favorite actors and he disappointed me as Nero. In fact, Nero’s a pretty poor villain. There’s a reason we remember Ricardo Montalban as Khan and Christopher Plummer as Chang: they were magnificently realized villains of Shakespearian stature. Nobody’s going to remember Nero. Neither are they going to remember Ben Cross as Sarek, Spock’s father. Cross is so bland and dull it’s downright sad.

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The movie is chock full of Easter eggs and winks to the original series and films. I got a big chuckle out of the nod to “The Wrath of Khan” during the scene where Kirk is taking the Kobayashi Maru test. And there’s even a tribble thrown in. Can’t ever have too many tribbles.

That’s not to say I loved everything about the movie. There are way too many scenes where Kirk is hanging off a cliff or on a ledge and if you took coincidence out of this movie then you just wouldn’t have a movie. Too many characters just happen to be in the right place at the right time and there’s a coincidence involving Kirk and Spock Prime (as Leonard Nimoy is billed) that made me want to throw something at the screen. And I never got the sense that anybody was in any real danger. Even though Spock’s mother (Winona Ryder) is killed in the destruction of Vulcan I really didn’t feel any sense of loss since I never got to know this version of the character at all.

And speaking of Nimoy, he meshes so well with Pine, Quinto and Pegg in the scenes he has with them I wished he had had scenes with the other members of the cast. It’s a nice lump in the throat moment when young Kirk and the aged Spock meet and there’s a wonderful nod to “The Voyage Home” involving Spock and Scotty.

Spock

So should you see STAR TREK? If you’re a fan then you’ve no doubt seen it already and have probably seen it a second or even a third time. But this is a movie that accessible to non-fans who just may want to check it out to see what all the fuss is about or who just want a slam-bang space opera. I know, I know…there’s been a lot of debate and argument that this new incarnation of STAR TREK is way too much punchy punchy run run and not enough of the philosophical core at the heart of STAR TREK. And I can see that. But that was tried once in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and even though I enjoyed it a lot there were Trek fans who didn’t, claiming it was too slow moving. Let’s face it, the STAR TREK movies that have garnered the most box office and the favor of fans and critics have been the more action oriented ones.

Hopefully with the next movie we’ll get more into the exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations that is really the meat of what STAR TREK is about. But as a launching point for a new series of STAR TREK movies, this is terrific stuff.

127 minutes

Rated PG-13