Jurassic World

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2015

Amblin Entertainment/Legendary Pictures/Universal Pictures

Directed by Colin Trevorrow

Produced by Frank Marshall/Patrick Crowley

Screenplay by Rick Jaffa/Amanda Silver/ Derek Connolly/Colin Trevorrow

Story by Rick Jaffa/Amanda Silver

Based on characters created by Michael Crichton

I’m going to step up on my soapbox here for just two minutes to give my $1.25 worth on some of the BMW I’ve heard/read about JURASSIC WORLD. If you’re not interested in me pontificating then please feel free to drop on down three paragraphs and read the review. I won’t be offended, I assure you.

Here’s the first thing: I’ve read reviews complaining about the lack of characterization and the predictable plot. You don’t go to a movie like JURASSIC WORLD looking for deep and meaningful characterizations. If they are there then that’s a bonus, sure. But if you pay your money and go in specifically for that then you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment and got nobody to blame but yourself. And as for the predictable plot….I mean, really? Aren’t all four of the movies in the “Jurassic Park” series basically the same movie?  They play out like this: People go to island full of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs break loose. People lose their minds and run around screaming. Dinosaurs chase people. People get et. Predictable? Sure is. Half a billion bucks worth of predictable at the box office, baby. And that ain’t dinosaur poop.

And here’s the second thing: the complaints about the lack of scientific accuracy. Sigh. Really? JURASSIC WORLD is a monster movie, plain and simple. It aspires to do nothing more than be an entertaining summer spectacular that gives you a thrill ride for two hours. It is not supposed to be a documentary.

But at the same time, it’s not entirely brain dead. If you pay attention I think you’ll see that JURASSIC WORLD, while itself being a summer blockbuster movie makes a statement about summer blockbuster movies and how audiences are constantly demanding for summer movies to be bigger and louder with more stunts and even more explosions. I have no idea if the writers and director directly intended for that to be in there and if they did, it’s a wonderfully subversive element to add in there. Okay, time for me to step off my soapbox and get to the review.

Brothers Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins) are packed off to stay with their aunt Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) while their parents work out some marital problems. It’s not as much of a bad deal at this may seem seeing as how Aunt Claire is the Operations Manager of Jurassic World, a dinosaur theme park located on Isla Nublar (cue the John Williams theme song) Claire is much too busy trying to woo potential investors with the lure of bigger and better dinosaur attractions. Dinosaurs genetically modified by the park’s Chief Geneticist, Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) And his latest one is a doozy. He calls it Indominus Rex and it’s a biological killing machine as he used the DNA of half a dozen predatory dinosaurs to create the thing.

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The Indominus Rex proves to be a lot more intelligent than anyone ever thought it could be as it manages to escape it’s enclosure and begins slaughtering its way across the island, killing humans and other dinosaurs alike as it makes its way straight to the park where the real feast awaits.  It up to Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and his hunting pack of Velociraptors to track down the Indominus Rex and stop it before it busts into the park.

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We’re not talking about a plot that you have to burn up brain cells thinking about. We’ve got Vincent D’Onofrio as Hoskins, the head of Security Operations who has some nebulous hair-brained idea that he can weaponize the Velociraptors for military use but he’s not the real bad guy here. He’s more of an annoyance. It’s Indominus Rex that is the true villain as it demonstrates a scary feral intelligence that gives it an unpredictability factor that goes off the charts.

Chris Pratt really impressed me here as he didn’t just fall back on doing a version of his Star-Lord/Peter Quill character from “Guardians of The Galaxy” Owen Grady is his own character in his own right and a lot of that had to do with the character’s body language. Since Grady’s hand signals, his stance and arm gestures are his way of communicating with the raptors he tends to stand absolutely still when talking with humans, not using his hands to emphasize his speech at all as most of us do. But when he’s with the raptors, his gestures and movements are very animated. It’s a small thing, I know. But to me it said a lot about the character and how he sees the raptors and his relationship to them.

I honestly don’t know if I liked Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance or not. She doesn’t have much chemistry with Pratt and she seemed to be going back and forth as if she herself wasn’t sure if her character was supposed to be the movie’s comedy relief or not. But she’s right there in the middle of the action along with Pratt and she has some pretty good lines in the scenes where Claire and Owen are in the jungle looking for her lost nephews.

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I would never have guessed that Colin Trevorrow had this kind of action movie in him based on “Safety Not Guaranteed” which is a completely different type of science fiction movie and one I heartily recommend. He does an absolutely terrific job of channeling Steven Spielberg here, swiping shots from the first two “Jurassic Park” movies left and right. It’s an impressive directing job. He knows how to keep the plot moving and how to invest us in his characters and care about what happens to them.

The bottom line is this: you want to go to see JURASSIC WORLD because in the words of Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and um, screaming.”

And that’s all it is. Enjoy.

124 Minutes

PG-13

Mad Max: Fury Road

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Warner Bros./Kennedy-Miller-Mitchell/Village Roadshow Pictures

2015

Directed by George Miller

Produced by Doug Mitchell/George Miller/P.J Voeten

Written by George Miller/Brendan McCarthy/Nico Lathouris

With all the deserved praise that he’s been getting for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, nobody seems to have mentioned that George Miller has revived a time honored movie tradition that has been forgotten in our age of reboot fever: he just simply recast a new actor to play Max Rockatansky aka Mad Max.  He didn’t reboot the series or felt that he had to explain why Max hasn’t aged in the thirty years between this movie and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” In fact, through some subtle visual clues such as Tom Hardy wearing the same jacket and leg brace that Mel Gibson did in the three previous Mad Max adventures, Miller lets us know this is the same guy. Hardy even gets to briefly drive the iconic black V8 Interceptor.

But he doesn’t feel the need to work some kind of jiggery pokery as to why Mad Max is now Tom Hardy and not Mel Gibson. He simply presents MAD MAX: FURY ROAD as another adventure of his signature character. You can take it or leave it. And in fact, that attitude runs throughout the entire movie. It’s a perfect example of that old adage: “Show. Don’t Tell.” Miller doesn’t waste our time having his characters stand around mouthing meaningless exposition, explaining things to each other that they already know or filling us in on the background of this visually deranged world. Miller’s attitude seems to be: “Here’s the characters. Here’s the situation. Now sit back and watch the damn movie.”

Mad Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by the soldiers of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who holds sway over a hoard of worshippers due to his control of an unlimited supply of water in the middle of a desert wasteland somewhere in Australia. Immortan Joe has used the water to create an oasis where he lives with his private army, known as The War Boys and his Five Wives. They are all women of exceptional beauty he uses strictly for breeding.

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Max is kept alive and used an an unwilling blood donor for Nux (Nicholas Hoult). While trying to figure out a way to escape, Joe’s right-hand woman Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) helps The Five Wives do just that very thing, hijacking the heavily armored War Rig. She intends to take them to The Green Place where she grew up. Once he discovers his wives are gone, Immortan Joe takes off after Furiosa with not only his War Boys but the armies of Gas Town and The Bullet Farm as well. Nux joins the pursuit with Max strapped to the front of his car and during that pursuit Max manages to escape and joins up with Furiosa and The Five Wives.

And that’s really all you need to know about the movie. What you’re getting is a two-hour epic car chase that is like a deliriously demented “Smokey and The Bandit” on acid. This is one of those movies that I watch in genuine amazement that nobody got killed working on this thing. It’s even more of an impressive achievement when you realize that most of the stunts and effects were done practically, at George Miller’s insistence. The use of CGI was used only when absolutely necessary and it’s actually Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron performing most of their stunts.

And speaking of Charlize Theron, she’s absolutely astounding here. The only other movie I can recall where she de-glamorized herself to this degree was “Monster.” Her role as Furiosa isn’t as dramatically daring as that of Aileen Wuronos but it’s no less captivating as she’s the best female action hero since Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens.” Yes, she’s that badass. Easily the equal of Tom Hardy’s Mad Max. They’re both warriors and survivors and come to respect each other because of their respective abilities to stay alive in this insane world. There’s no phony tacked on romance between them. They don’t have time for that bullshit. There’s only time to stay alive and ahead of the three armies chasing after them trying to kill them.

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Just on a purely visual level MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is brilliant. The vehicles on display are bizarre and just plain wacko. The Doof Wagon has to be seen to be believed. It’s a stage on wheels with six drummers banging away on drums while a guitarist swings back and forth on bungee cords playing heavy metal on a flame throwing guitar to Immortan Joe’s War Boys as they charge into battle.

Taking into account that he’s 70 years old, the imaginative visual power and energy of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is nothing less than astounding. Miller throws ideas and concepts up on screen for a couple of minutes that other filmmakers would make whole movies out of. You’d expect this kind of movie from a younger director, eager to show off what he can do.

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And maybe that makes all the difference. George Miller already knows what he can do. He did it before with “Mad Max” and with “The Road Warrior” which revolutionized the modern action movie. And he does it again with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop procrastinating. It’s definitely one of the best movies of the year and next to “Avengers: Age of Ultron” a Must See for the Summer of 2015. Enjoy.

Rated R

120 Minutes

 

Lucy

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2014

Universal Pictures

Written and Directed by Luc Besson

Produced by Virginie Silla

I know quite a few people who have said that they’re not going to go see LUCY because it’s “scientifically inaccurate.” You see, the plot of the movie hinges upon the long held belief that human beings only use 10% of their brain capacity and that if we ever gained conscious control of our entire brain then the results would be unimaginable. It could be that we would possess godlike abilities such as telekinesis, telepathy, matter reconstruction, time travel, levitation. The 10% thing has long been debunked as myth and I can’t understand why just because LUCY uses it as a MacGuffin that would keep anyone from seeing it. After all, it’s scientifically inaccurate that a high school student can get bitten by a radioactive spider and suddenly gain the ability to climb walls but that didn’t stop people from enjoying Spider-Man movies. It’s scientifically inaccurate that there are hundreds of alien races so close to humanity that they can breathe our atmosphere, mate with us and in general are configured much like humans but that didn’t stop people from enjoying the various Star Trek movies and television series.

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Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is going to school in Taiwan and after a night of wild partying with her new boyfriend of a week is tricked by him into delivering a locked briefcase to Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik) a Korean crimelord. The briefcase contains a package of CPH4, a synthetic superdrug that increases brain function. Lucy is drafted into being a drug mule and the package is sewed into her abdomen. There are three other mules, all with identical packages inside their abdomens, heading for different European cities where they will be met by Mr. Jang’s people and the packages removed.

But due to a vicious assault, Lucy’s package leaks and releases CPH4 into her system. It begins expanding her brain functions and she finds herself with greatly enhanced physical capabilities and mental abilities such as telekinesis, telepathy and total control over electronic devices. Due to her now hypergenius status, Lucy realizes she needs the other three packages to continue to expand her capabilities and elevate herself to the next stage of human evolution.

She contacts Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) whose research into higher brain functions may be able to help her. And she enlists the aid of a French policeman, Captain Del Rio (Amr Waked) to find and capture the other mules. In the meantime, Mr. Jang is not far behind as he still wants his merchandise and Lucy’s head as well. And he’s bringing an army to get both.

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Now despite what you may have seen in the trailers, LUCY isn’t as much of an action film as you might think. Oh, sure there are gun fights and car chases but this isn’t start-to-finish-punch-punchy-run-run-kiss-kiss-bang-bang which you certainly have a right to expect from Luc Besson. LUCY actually spends quite a bit of its short running time speculating on neuroscience, biology, evolution, philosophy and metaphysics as Lucy struggles to understand what is happening to her and what she will do with her new found knowledge before she ascends to another level of existence.

It’s a lot of fun watching Scarlett Johansson turn from a giddy party girl into Dr. Manhattan from “Watchmen” with a splash of V’ger from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” added for flavor. As her intelligence and her powers increase, she loses more and more of her emotions but Scarlett Johansson still makes us care for this poor girl who certainly didn’t ask for this to happen to her but desperately wants to do the right thing before she becomes too omnipotent to care.

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Morgan Freeman quite frankly made me crack up because I have never before seen an actor who plainly knows that his one and only function in the movie is to provide plot exposition do it which such gusto. For most of the movie, Freeman is explaining to us what’s happening and what’s going happen and damn if he doesn’t do it in an entertaining manner.

LUCY is a movie that thankfully doesn’t take itself seriously and if you go into it with that attitude that it should be Serious Science Fiction then you’ll be robbing yourself of a solidly made, entertaining thriller than is full of enthusiasm and fun. Luc Besson has yet to make a movie that disappoints me and LUCY is no exception.

Rated R

90 minutes

The Final Programme

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1973

Anglo-EMI Film Distributors Ltd./MGM-EMI Distributors Ltd./New World Pictures

Directed and Written by Robert Fuest

Produced by Sandy Liberson

Based on the novel by Michael Moorcock

I discovered Michael Moorcock during the late 1970’s. I was in High School and it was right about then that I got turned onto Sword and Sorcery thanks to John Aiken, a guy who I hung out with a lot back then as we went to the same high school and shared a love of comic books and fantastic fiction. Thanks to Marvel Comics “Conan The Barbarian” I discovered Robert E. Howard and it was John who handed me a copy of “Elric of Melnibone” and said that if I liked Howard then I would love this guy.

And John was right. I devoured Moorcock the same way I devoured Howard. And after I read all the Elric stuff I went on to read Corum and the Hawkmoon books, which I still think would beat the snot out of the “Lord of The Rings” movies if they were done right. In fact I loved everything Moorcock wrote until I hit the Jerry Cornelius books.

Jerry Cornelius is a character who appeared in a long series of novels and anthologies written by Moorcock from the 1960’s up until as recently as 2008. The first novel “The Final Programme” which is based on the movie we’re talking about now is for me the most accessible one. It’s also the most fun to read as for the first half it’s a modern retelling of a significant part of “Elric of Melnibone” with Jerry Cornelius as Elric, his brother Frank as Yrykoon and their sister Catherine as Cymoril. In the later novels I simply couldn’t get into what Moorcock was talking about as Jerry Cornelius became not a character but an avatar for Moorcock to explore his own opinions and thoughts on social issues. The Jerry Cornelius books became more about social satire and philosophy than anything else. Forget about the action adventure we were promised in the first book.

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THE FINAL PROGRAMME follows the first half of the book pretty closely. Jerry Cornelius (Jon Finch) superspy, adventurer and Nobel Prize winning physicist is summoned to attend the funeral of his father. At the funeral Jerry is approached by a consortium of scientists led by the enigmatic Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre) who need a microfilm Jerry’s father had. The microfilm has the secret of “The Final Programme” a genetic code that will create a new being, a messiah that will lead mankind out of the end of the world that is soon to come.

Jerry really isn’t interested in all that. He just wants to get his sister Catherine (Sarah Douglas) away from the sinister clutches of his insane brother Frank (Derrick O’Connor) Frank has Catherine captive in the Cornelius ancestral castle which is protected by all sorts of lethal booby traps that can only be navigated by a member of the Cornelius family. Turns out that Frank has the microfilm and that sets off a worldwide chase after Frank. Eventually Jerry gets hold of the microfilm and turns it over to Miss Brunner and her scientists. But then he finds he’s in even greater danger as Miss Brunner considers him prime genetic material for the creation of her new messiah.

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The main reason to watch THE FINAL PROGRAMME is the direction of Robert Fuest who not only worked on “The Avengers” but directed “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” “Dr. Phibes Rises Again” as well as “And Soon The Darkness.” He throws in a lot of eye candy and wacky set pieces such as a vertical chessboard on a door. The only way to open the door is to move the pieces in the same manner as a famous chess game. If you don’t… There’s a scene in a club that is a giant pinball game where scantily clad girls and patrons are inside clear plastic balls.

final-programme-5Jon Finch is actually quite good as Jerry Cornelius and I wish he’d been given a better script to work with. He plays Jerry as a cynical superhero and it’s a lot of fun to see him run around with his needle gun in his black suit, gloves and frilly shirt nemesising evildoers when the script lets him do so. Jenny Runacre’s Miss Brunner is a character that shows a lot of promise in that she appears to be some sort of vampire that feeds upon the lifeforce of her lovers, male or female. But this is just another promising plot element that is left unexplained. Still, Miss Runacre commits herself to her character and that’s all I can ask from any actor.

Should you see THE FINAL PROGRAMME? Since it’s available to see on YouTube for free (and I’ve provided the link below) I would say Yes. Especially if you’re a fan of the work of Robert Fuest. The movie has some wonderful set designs and the energy of the actors can carry you past the dull parts as everybody in this one gives it their all. Mind you, it’s not a good movie and that ending is nothing less than than a slap in the face to the viewers who have committed their time to this movie. Still, it’s eccentric enough that I can recommend it to those of you who are Michael Moorcock fans like me who may be curious enough to check out what is the best known adaptation of his work to date. Enjoy.

Rated R

81 Minutes

Edge Of Tomorrow

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2014

Warner Brothers Pictures

Directed by Doug Limon

Produced by Erwin Stoff

Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth

Based on “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

After all these years Hollywood has finally managed to do it. They’ve made a video game movie that actually is entertaining to watch and is clever enough that most people who watch it won’t even realize they’re watching a video game movie. But make no mistake; that’s exactly what EDGE OF TOMORROW is. Whenever the hero dies, his life is reset back to a starting point and he has to start all over again. But each time he gets a little further as he gains more knowledge and experience. And there are different levels where he has to accomplish certain tasks before he can move onto the next level.

The story begins in the fifth year of a vicious war humanity is waging against an alien race called Mimics. All of Earth’s armies have combined into the United Defense Force and it’s the job of a slick public relations officer, Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) to keep the propaganda machine well oiled. He’s assigned by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to provide on the spot coverage from the front line during Operation Downfall, an all-out invasion of Europe, which is entirely under Mimic control. Cage is no combat soldier and foolishly tries to blackmail the General to get out of the assignment. Brigham promptly has Cage arrested, stripped of his rank and thrown to the tender mercy of Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) and his squad of misfits.

Cage and the squad land on the beaches of Normandy and are quickly wiped out by the hordes of Mimics who have apparently been waiting for them. Cage doesn’t last five minutes but is covered in the blood of an Alpha Mimic and it’s this that “resets” him every time he dies. Every time Cage gets killed he immediately wakes up on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport on the morning of the day before Operation Downfall.

Now it doesn’t take Cage long to figure out what has happened and of course he can get no one to believe him. No one except Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) known as “The Angel of Verdun” due to her spectacular victory there where she slaughtered hundreds of Mimics by herself while wearing a Jacket.  Jackets are armored exoskeletons that effectively turn a soldier into a walking tank. It would do that for Cage if he could only figure out how to turn the damn thing on.

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Turns out that Rita once had the ability to “reset” as well and it was this ability that allowed her to kill so many Mimics at Verdun. Before she lost her ability she learned of The Omega Mimic which is the consciousness that controls all the other Mimics and can also reset time. Rita agrees to train Cage so that he can survive long enough to get them to The Omega Mimic and destroy it.

Once you get the gimmick behind the time loop, you can sit back and relax and just enjoy the mayhem. Cage gets progressively better at using his Jacket and since he remembers when and how he and Rita get killed in the previous life he’s able to use that knowledge to avoid getting killed the same way twice and get closer and closer to his goal. You’d think that a movie about a time loop would be repetitive but there’s some really funny moments thrown in to break up the grimness of the story. And I wonder if Rita isn’t a statement on video game players who have no patience with the game they’re playing when they can’t advance as when she gets frustrated she simply kills Cage to “reset” everything and start all over.

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The Mimics aren’t terribly clever enemies. Looking like great big whirling balls of tentacles they’re simply here to fulfill what every video game needs: something to shoot at. Don’t go in expecting a lot of characterization here either. We’re told exactly what we need to know about the characters, no more and no less. I did like how Tom Cruise wasn’t playing his usual gung ho Man Of Action who jumps into the fray with fearless abandon. Will Cage is a coward, straight up and he’s not in the least bit ashamed to admit it. He has to grow and develop into being a hero and Cruise sells it well.

It’s always fun to see Bill Paxton, no matter what and Emily Blunt does a more than capable job backing up Tom Cruise. So how does EDGE OF TOMORROW measure up against the other science fiction/action movies Tom Cruise has done? It’s light years ahead of “War of The Worlds” and “Oblivion” but doesn’t come close to touching “Minority Report” It’s an undemanding movie that does exactly what it’s designed to do: provide you with 113 minutes of spectacular action. It’s also a lot smarter than I expected and a lot more fun as well. It’s the best video game you’re going to see at the movies this summer. Enjoy.

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113 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

Oblivion

oblivion

2013

Universal Pictures

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Produced by David Fincher, Peter Chernin and Ryan Kavanaugh

Screenplay by William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt

Based on “Oblivion” by Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson

I get what OBLIVION is trying to do. Or at least I think I get what it’s trying to do. Watching OBLIVION I felt myself squinting like Fry from “Futurama” in one of those “Not Sure If…” memes. OBLIVION makes a noble try at being a Science Fiction movie with some action in it rather than an Action Movie with some science fiction. If that makes any sense to you. It started out to make sense to me but the longer the movie went on, the more I squinted. The movie’s leisurely pace gave me time to think about what was going on and yep, start doing the “Not Sure If…” thing.

After a devastating war with a race of aliens known as Scavengers, The Moon is destroyed and humanity’s Hail Mary use of nuclear weapons has all but destroyed the Earth’s ability to continue supporting life. Technician Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his communications officer/partner/lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are part of a massive operation to extract water from Earth to use on Titan where the human race has relocated. Jack and Victoria get their orders from their commander, Sally (Melissa Leo) who communicates with them from The Tet, a gigantic space station that resembles an upside down pyramid.

Now all of this information is conveyed to the audience in a voice over by Jack in the first ten minutes of the movie. I kid you not. I gave you the short version but just about everything you read in the paragraph above this one is relayed in a voice over, along with the information that Jack and Victoria had their memories wiped five years ago as a security measure in case they’re captured by Scavengers. Do I really have to tell you that any character in any science fiction movie who’s had their memory wiped is not to be trusted? Or that at some point in the movie, everything the characters in the movie have been experiencing will turn out to not be real? Didn’t think so.

Jack’s job is pretty much being a glorified maintenance man as he keeps the weapon-laden drones running. They protect the ginormous water extraction machines from those Scavengers that still remain on Earth. But Jack is conflicted in his job. Unlike Victoria who has no desire at all to go down to the surface, Jack feels more at home there than in the mile high tower complex they live in that looks as if it were designed by the same architect who designed the spire where The Jetsons live. He has reoccurring dreams about being on Earth before the war. He’s on the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building with a woman he knows he has deep feelings for but cannot remember her name or why he has these dreams. The answer comes one day during his routine patrol when a sixty year old spaceship,  The Odyssey, crash lands near the ruins of the Empire State Building. The ship contains a number of hibernation capsules carrying humans. One of them is Julia (Olga Kurylenko) who is the woman in Jack’s dreams. Defying direct orders from Sally to bring Julia to The Tet, Jack and Julia begin their quest to discover what The Odyssey’s mission was and how it is connected to the war with The Scavengers.

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OBLIVION has some good things going for it. It’s a gorgeous looking movie with some really cool gadgets and gizmos to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over. I really dug Jack’s flier which is one of the coolest flying machines I’ve seen in movies recently. The special effects are appropriately amazing but in this day and age of computer wizardry do we ever see a movie with bad special effects anymore?

I really wish I could tell you to go for the acting but Tom Cruise doesn’t do anything to stretch his acting muscles in this one. And Tom Cruise can act when he wants to. I point at “Tropic Thunder” “Magnolia” “Collateral” and “Valkyrie” as just a few examples of what Cruise can do when he takes himself off autopilot.

I’ve seen Olga Kurylenko in three movies now and the more movies I see her in, the less I want to see of her. Didn’t like her in “Hitman” and actively disliked her in “Quantum of Solace.” She’s not much better here. And Andrea Riseborough is just plain dull. And despite what you see in trailers, Morgan Freeman isn’t a major character in this movie. His character’s name is Malcolm Beech but it should have been Malcolm Exposition as that’s the main purpose Freeman serves here.

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So should you see OBLIVION? Are you a Tom Cruise fan? If so, you’ve probably seen it already or have plans to see it and so nothing I say will change your mind. And that’s okay. Believe me, I understand. But for the rest of you I say wait for OBLIVION to come to Netflix.

124 minutes

PG-13