Jupiter Ascending

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2015

Village Roadshow Pictures/Anarchos Productions/Warner Bros./Roadshow Entertainment

Written and Directed by The Wachowskis

Produced by Grant Hill and The Wachowskis

When it comes to The Wachowskis I think it’s only fair to tell you that their track record with me has been up and down. I really liked “Bound” but thought that “Cloud Atlas” was just okay. To be honest with you, I had to watch that one three times before I got it and even now I’m still not sure. “Speed Racer” I consider a magnificent masterpiece. As a confirmed “Speed Racer” addict ever since I was a kid I feel like The Wachowskis made “Speed Racer” just for me, that’s how perfect a translation from animation to live action I feel it is. Matter of fact, just talking about it gets me so hyped just thinking about it I’m gonna go watch my Blu-Ray of “Speed Racer” just as soon as I finish this review.

And as for “The Matrix” trilogy of films…they’re okay, but I’ve never been as wild about it as I’m sure many of you reading this were/are. They’re solid action films, sure. An exceptional visual style, sure. Outrageous action sequences, absolutely.  But if you’re a fan of science fiction movies, books, Marvel comics and Honk Kong martial arts/action movies for any period of time longer than ten years then nothing in any of “The Matrix” movies was new to you. What I give those movies a lot of credit for is being the first multi-racial science fiction trilogy.

Which brings us to JUPITER ASCENDING. Where would I put it in the Wachowski filmology? Let’s get the obligatory plot summary out of the way and then we’ll get to that, okay?

Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is an illegal Russian immigrant living and working with her family in Chicago. Along with her mother and aunt she cleans the houses of the wealthy and fantasizes about what it must be like to be so rich and live in such luxury. She sees no future in trying to rise above her station in life until she’s rescued from alien bounty hunters by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) Caine is himself a genetically modified warrior who explains to her that she is the genetic reincarnation of The Matriarch of The House of Abrasax. As such, she is not only galactic royalty but the owner of the planet Earth.

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Caine takes her off Earth and into deep space where Jupiter runs into a bewildering and astounding variety of alien and humanoid races, including her genetic children: Balem (Eddie Redmayne) Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth). All of them are scheming and plotting to get control of The House of Abrasax, which seeded life on Earth millennia ago to finance the family business which is immortality, plain and simple. Jupiter is the pivotal piece in the galactic chess game being played by her treacherous genetic offspring as they each seek to manipulate her for their own ends. Balem hasn’t got time for that felgercarb, though. He’d rather just kill Jupiter and get it over with. Good thing that Caine is there to thwart him at every turn, backed up by his former partner/mentor Stinger Apini (Sean Bean).

I have greatly simplified the plot because believe me, it is a lot more complicated than that. The Wachowskis have gone to a lot of trouble to establish this universe and I give them the highest of credit for it. They aren’t content to simply swipe from “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” in the creation of their universe. Everything looks absolutely incredible. The technology, the architecture (one spaceship looks like a flying Vatican) the fashion…JUPITER ASCENDING’s universe is one of the most complete, detailed and fully realized I’ve seen on film in a long time. The only movie I can think of that comes close is “The Fifth Element”. And indeed, there were moments when JUPITER ASCENDING had the same vibe as that movie.

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But the movie suffers from having two miscast leads who have zero chemistry together. Channing Tatum should have taken his cue on how to act in this kind of movie from Sean Bean. Mr. Bean knows he’s in a B-movie Space Opera with an A-movie budget and plays it accordingly. Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis play it as if this thing were written by Tennessee Williams. Tatum in particular is about as interesting as a tree stump. Considering that he’s got this badass pair of funky anti-gravity boots that let him skate on air and Errol Flynn all over the place, he goes through the whole movie as if he’s got the universe’s worst job. I watched his performance and all I could think of was how Chris Pratt’s committed performance was so integral to the overall fun and success of “Guardians of The Galaxy”. In contrast, Tatum looks he can’t wait to get out this movie and go make another “Jump Street” sequel.

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And I guess that is my main problem with JUPITER ASCENDING. For all the astounding visuals and outrageous action sequences, nobody in this movie looks like they had fun making it and there’s not much fun in watching it. It’s spectacular to look at, yes it most certainly is. But it’s a movie you can wait on for the Blu-Ray or Netflix.

127 minutes

Rated PG-13

Interstellar

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2014

Syncopy/Lynda Obst Productions/Legendary Pictures/Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros.

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Produced by Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan and Lynda Obst

Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan

You know how I’m always BMWing about how most Science Fiction Movies made in recent years really aren’t Science Fiction Movies? That they’re actually Action or Horror movies in disguise and that the Science Fiction elements are just there to provide an excuse for bigger guns and bigger explosions? Well, you won’t make that mistake with INTERSTELLAR. From start to finish this is a Science Fiction Movie that isn’t interested in trying to give movie goers a rollercoaster ride. And for those movie fans who constant mantra is “When I go see a movie I just want to turn off my brain” you need to maybe go see “Big Hero 6” then. INTERSTELLAR is a movie made to engage the intellect and make you think. If you turn off your brain when you see this movie then you’ve wasted your money. Now, that’s not to say it’s all that good either but nobody can say that Nolan and his crew didn’t go all out to try and give us a “2001: A Space Odyssey” for this generation.

Sometime in the near future the Earth has apparently become one big dust bowl. Corn seems to be the only thing that will grow (one nice visual gag has a family sitting down to eat a meal where the half dozen dishes are all made from corn) and soon Earth will be unable to feed humans at all.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot/engineer who is now a farmer. He hates farming but Earth needs farmers more than it needs pilots. That is until Cooper finds a secret NASA installation led by an old mentor of his, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) Brand tells Cooper that they’ve discovered a wormhole orbiting Saturn. NASA’s scientists believe that extra-dimensional aliens have deliberately placed the wormhole there for them to find new worlds that humanity can live on (then wouldn’t it make sense to have placed the wormhole closer?) and they need Cooper to pilot an experimental spacecraft through the wormhole. On the other side are potentially habitable planets that are being surveyed by members of The Lazarus Mission. It will be the duty of Cooper and his team to confirm the viability of those planets.

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This news doesn’t sit well with Cooper’s daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) as time will move differently for the explorers than it will on Earth. But Cooper has his duty and so he leaves Earth with his intrepid team. Professor Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), a respected scientist in her own right. Physicist Dr. Romilly (David Gyasi) geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley) and the multi-purpose artificially intelligent robots TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart) Their quest will take them to a strange new galaxy with worlds both weird and wonderful. But just as much as there is to marvel at, there is also death and despair. The quest to save humanity will not be an easy one and there must be sacrifices to insure that future.

INTERSTELLLAR is not going to be a movie for everybody. It doesn’t have fistfights every few minutes or spaceship chases/battles. The conflicts here are mostly cerebral and fought between intellect vs. emotion. That will cause some to perceive INTERSTELLAR as slow moving and I have to admit I was one of them. This also isn’t a movie that’s going to take the time to explain everything to you. You’ll just have to take a lot of the science on faith and that’s okay by me. As long as the characters sound like they know what they’re talking about, that’s good enough for me.

But INTERSTELLAR is not all about the hard science and grandeur of space. The heart of the story is the relationship between Cooper and Murphy and how it binds them despite the gulf of space and time separating them. And the acting of Matthew McConaughey and Mackenzie Foy convinced me of the depth of their relationship. Once Jessica Chastain takes over as an older Murphy there’s more intensity to the character but I think I preferred Mackenzie Foy’s characterization. Anne Hathaway and John Lithgow along with two actors that really surprised me when they popped up (Topher Grace and Casey Affleck) provide their usual solid work in supporting roles.

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What didn’t I like about the movie? Despite the fact that the Earth is dying, nobody seems to really be all that upset about it. Matter of fact, everybody seems to have accepted it really well. And we’re really not shown much of a disaster outside of a few dust storms. Despite all the family drama going on, the movie never engaged me on an emotional level. It’s a visual feast, especially if you see it in IMAX as I did but emotionally I just couldn’t get invested in the characters and the often dull dialog they had to work with. The third act just didn’t feel right to me as there were just too many things happening that seemed pulled out of a hat and for a movie that up until then had prided itself on its hard science it suddenly took a left turn into the kind of time travelling jiggery-pokery “Star Trek: Voyager” used to resolve it’s stories.

But it’s ambitious and I always respect a filmmaker who goes out on a limb to do something different and give us a personal vision. It’s not my favorite Nolan movie (that honor goes to “Inception” which for me so far is his best movie) but it is worth seeing just on the basis of its spectacle and grandiose desire to be a movie with more of a purpose than just selling popcorn.

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165 Minutes

Rated PG-13

 

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.

M8DFIPR EC002THE 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

 

 

 

Riddick

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RIDDICK

2013

Universal Pictures/Entertainment One

Written and Directed by David Twohy

Produced by Vin Diesel, Ted Field and Samantha Vincent

Based on characters created by Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat

When we pick up on RIDDICK it is five years after the events of “The Chronicles of Riddick” and he has learned what many a king before him has learned: it is easier to seize a crown than hold it. You may remember that at the end of that movie, Riddick slew The Lord Marshall (Colm Feore) and thereby himself ascended to the throne of The Lord Marshall, leading The Necromongers, religious fanatics who either convert or destroy entire planetary populations. “The Chronicles of Riddick” left us on quite a cliffhanger wondering what the most dangerous man in the galaxy would do with his own army.

Turns out not much at all. Riddick is double-crossed by Commander Vaako (Karl Urban) who tricks Riddick into going to a desolate planet that may or may not be Riddick’s homeworld of Furya. Riddick is left to die on that planet. A fate that he himself thinks he deserves because in those five years he allowed himself to get soft, to lose his edge. As this is a hostile planet full of hideously dangerous lifeforms that appear to do nothing but eat anything and everything, Riddick sees this as the perfect opportunity to get back the edge he’s lost, strip away the surface veneer of civilization and return to what he once was: the perfect killing machine.

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I can’t help but wonder if after the ambitiously baroque excess of “The Chronicles of Riddick” David Twohy and Vin Diesel sat down to plot out this story and themselves wondered if they had lost their edge as well. Maybe they had taken Riddick too far from the character they had established with such overwhelming success in “Pitch Black.” Maybe they felt they had to pull Riddick back to his roots and for that reason RIDDICK plays out a lot like “Pitch Black 2.0” in the third act.

And for the record, I like “The Chronicles of Riddick” a lot. I approve of an ambitious failure much more than a play-it-safe success. The only problem I have with that movie is that it’s actually two movies in one. Once Riddick leaves Helion Prime and gets to Crematoria it’s an entirely different movie with its own supporting cast of characters that have nothing to do with the cast back on Helion Prime. That’s not to say it’s not exciting stuff to watch and if you haven’t seen “The Chronicles of Riddick” yet then consider that your homework assignment for the weekend. But let’s get back to RIDDICK.

Riddick is enjoying his life on this godforsaken planet, regaining his killing edge but the real test is to come when two separate groups of mercenary bounty hunters show up to capture Riddick dead or alive. One group is led by Boss Johns (Matthew Noble) the father of William Johns (Cole Hauser) from “Pitch Black.” He wants answers from Riddick as to his son’s fate. The other group is led by Santana (Jordi Molla) who simply wants Riddick’s head. The cat-and-mouse game of blood between Riddick and the mercenaries quickly develops into an all-out war for survival when the humans are attacked by a horde of savage monsters and must work together to stay alive long enough to get off the planet.

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RIDDICK doesn’t add anything to the mythology of Richard B. Riddick and his universe the way “The Chronicles of Riddick” did and to me it feels like a movie whose only purpose is to re-establish Riddick as the character he was in “Pitch Black” before sending him off on further adventures. I hope so as I’m looking for a proper resolution of the Necromonger storyline in the next Riddick movie as there is still a lot of potential there to be explored.

The acting in RIDDICK is nothing to write home about but neither is it anything to sneer at either. It’s the type of acting that serves the need of the story. No more and no less. Jordi Molla walks off with the acting honors here. Santana is a delightfully goofy character that wouldn’t be out of place in a spaghetti western. Fans of Katee Sackhoff require nothing of her except to stand around looking hot, talk plenty of shit and beat the piss outta guys and so they will be more than satisfied with her performance here.

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As for Vin Diesel himself, he slips back into Riddick’s skin with no problem and he again reminds us that when he wants to, Vin Diesel can act really well. I loved the first half hour or so of the movie which shows Riddick on his own, learning how to survive on the planet. I would have loved it more without the voiceovers but I appreciated the reminder that Riddick isn’t a thug or an ignorant killer. He’s actually very intelligent and perceptive with an inner life he shows to nobody.

So should you see RIDDICK? Yes. Even though to me it feels like a placeholder and not a complete movie. It feels to me like a warm-up before Twohy and Diesel tell a Riddick story that they really care about. It’s not a terrific nail-biter like “Pitch Black” or a pulse-pounding planet-hopping space opera like “The Chronicles of Riddick” but it’s an honest and respectably entertaining entry in the series with hopefully more to come. Enjoy.

118 minutes

Rated R

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.

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Strangely enough for a movie that aims to be as loud and 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