X-Men Origins: Wolverine/Star Trek/Angels & Demons

So about 3 weeks ago, my computer decided to take a crap and stop working. I had to completely reformat to get it up and running again. So here are 3 full reviews, plus a few mini-reviews.

Sunshine Cleaning – 3 stars – A solid dark comedy, but doesn’t live up to it’s stylistic predecessor, Little Miss Sunshine.
Obsessed – 0 Stars – There is nothing to like about this film… not even Idris Elba.
17 Again– 2.5 Stars – It was fun to watch Zac Efron be Matthew Perry for an hour and a half.
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past – 1.5 Stars – It’s the same as every other Matthew McConaughey movie, only this time it’s Dickens-ian. So it still sucks.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

3 Stars

He’s a comic book character who is third only to Batman and Superman in popularity, yet has one of the most storied and intriguing backgrounds. Yet the film falls into the same traps that the source comics fell, too… good story, but poor storytelling. To fully and properly tell his story, you’d have to do at least two films, with this one being the second.

James Howlett/Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is a child of privilege in the early 19th century Canada. After witnessing the murder of the man he believed to be his father, and subsequently revenge killing his real father, he and his now half brother Victor Creed/Sabertooth (Liev Schrieber) embark on a Gump-ian journey through time. Participating in every major war through Vietnam, before being executed and then brought into the Weapon X program. Wolverine then turns on his superiors, going rogue to regain and hold onto his humanity.

Jackman (X-Men, The Prestige) returns to the role that made him famous. But it’s also a role that he made. The issue with many comic book characters is that they work entirely outside of the real world. Jackman brought that character into the real world for us in the previous X-Men films. This film would not have worked without Jackman. It is his character, and he of course does a fantastic job.

Schrieber (The Manchurian Candidate, Scream 2) is, in turn, a perfect foil in Victor to Jackman’s Logan. The humanity in Logan doesn’t exist in Victor. Victor is pure animal instinct, and Schrieber encapsulates that perfectly.

It all falls apart with the decent, yet ultimately forgettable turns from the supporting cast. Don’t get me wrong, they were good. And did add to the story. But the story was all Logan/Victor/Stryker (Danny Houston). You could have swapped out Bolt, The Blob, Deadpool and Gambit for just about anyone else in the Marvel cannon, and no one would have noticed. The movie would have been very similar. But they had to set up Deadpool for Ryan Reynolds ( Waiting…, Blade: Trinity) who did a good job. And they did have to include Gambit, finally. But really, it was all incidental.

Gavin Hood, you’re a competent enough director. I liked Tsotsi. But you either didn’t understand the material… Or you just didn’t care enough. This seemed like a throw away project for you. The fight scenes and special effects were cool, but that was how it was with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. And we all know how that turned out.

All I’m saying is that this movie was good, and it should have been better. After Iron Man, The Dark Knight and Watchmen, you really have to step up your game when handling comic book franchises.

Star Trek

5 Stars

J.J. Abrams made it very clear that this was “not your father’s Star Trek,” and it isn’t. While maintaining the spirit of one of the longest running franchises in Sci-Fi fantasy, it gives it a face-lift, and brings it into the modern era.

We follow Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) in their early days at Starfleet Academy, and their early clashes. But when Romulan Commander Nero (Eric Bana) threatens planet Vulcan, Starfleet snaps into action to ward off this enemy that haunts Kirk’s past and, through time warps, Spock’s future. This young, unruly band must come together when Cpt. Pike (Bruce Greenwood) of the U.S.S. Enterprise is taken captive by Nero. Not only are we treated to some first class action, but also to the great political subtext we’ve come to know and love in the Star Trek franchise.

The Star Trek brand, and indeed the original cast of characters, are such cultural icons that it at first seems sacreligious to even attempt a recreation. But where several flim makers have ultimately failed, J.J. Abrams in recognizing the origins of the franchise, taking things in his own direction, but all the while never insulting the original, has succeeded. You sometimes get adaptations of beloved TV shows, and they clearly had no idea what the original was about, and it comes off as insulting to the spirit of the original. But Abrams knows his roots. He himself is a geek, and stepped carefully to create a great film that fit into the original story, but was clearly it’s own entity.

Try and follow this if you will, and you’ll see what Abrams was up against- To stay true the original blueprint of the series, Abrams had to refer to the 1966 version of the future, even though 2009 version of the future is now vastly different (especially considering all the technological advancements made since, you know, like man on the moon), than the 1966 version. So in order to present the current future, he had to use the past future, and update it to the present. All the while creating his own versions of classic characters.

Much could be said about the interaction of the two Spocks (Quinto/Leonard Nimoy), and don’t worry, I’ll get to that. But first, I want to talk Chris Pine (Bottle Shock, Smokin’ Aces), the relative unknown who had to step into William Shatner’s shoes. Say what you will about Shatner, Kirk wouldn’t have been nearly as great without Shatner back in the 60’s. So Pine had the daunting task of playing this icon, without reducing it to a charicature. Pine did the best thing he could do: forget the original. He created a whole new Kirk. And his Kirk is the cocky, reckless, rebelious, reluctant hero he should be. And he beds the green chick. Hat’s off to you, Pine. Admirably performed.

Quinto (“Heroes'” Sylar) makes his feature film debut, also tackling an iconic character. But Pine had it easy compared to Quinto. Quinto has to be in the movie with the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy. Quinto had to follow the rigidity of the character, but was able to take a few more liberties with the character, given the Vulcan’s relatively young age. And you’ll geek out when young and old Spocks share a scene.

Everybody else in the cast was perfect as the young counterparts to the originals. And the only one who I really had any reservations about, John Cho (Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle) as Sulu, far surpassed what I could have hoped for the character.

I like the new direction Abrams is taking the franchise. He’s mixing bombastic action and special effects with the global policitically aware writing of the franchise. If this is just the start of it, I can’t wait to see where they take it. Count me in.

Angels & Demons

2.5 Stars

Well… it’s better than The Da Vinci Code, but Angels & Demons suffers from a lot of the same pitfalls its predecessor did. Too much story trying to fit into too little time. An over the top religious conspiracy. A theme loftier than the movie generally warrants. Having been written by Dan Brown.

Harvard Symbologist (if that were a real thing, I’d care if it was spelled right) Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called to the Vatican after the death of the Pope and the kidnapping of the four primary Cardinal nominees to become the new Pope. One of CERN’s top scientists, Vittoria Vetra, is also called in on the case as the group behind the kidnappings, claiming to be the long secret society “Iluminati,” had stolen a canister of anti-matter to use to blow up the Vatican if their demands are not met. It’s a race against the clock to save the Cardinals, stop the bomb and solve the mystery before midnight.

Unfortunately it’s not as pulse pounding as it wants to be. The end result is as human and fallible as anything, without the mythos and mystery that accompanied The Da Vinci Code. On the flipside, director Ron Howard created a tighter film, less convoluted film than the first. I’ve viewed the Langdon character as somewhat of a descendent of Indiana Jones (the similarities are there), and I’m more than happy to let him live in the realm where these conspiracies are true. They should have kept some of that in, instead of building it up, then tossing it aside with a “the bad guy lied” explanation. As long as the Vatican doesn’t turn into a UFO at the end, I’m happy.

The presentation of science vs. religion is a) handled poorly and b) a little too big for the film. This is a popcorn flick. Don’t go existential on me if you’re not going to follow through with it. They kind of half assed their way through it.

Hanks abely plays Langdon, but honestly, and this goes back to the first film, too, I don’t think he’s really right for the role. I’m thinking more Jeff Goldblum or David Duchovney. My friend Jenny even mentioned Bill Pullman. But Hanks just doesn’t click right with me on this role. He’s not bad. It’s just a bit off.

If you really must go see it, and really want to, then yeah, I guess I can recommend it. But this one is worth a rent. Maybe a viewing on ON-Demand.

Oh and one more thing… They say that if you lock up 500 monkeys in a room for 500 years with typewriters, they’ll eventually write Shakespeare. If you lock up about four, over a weekend, with grocery bag apiece full of cheesy bean and rice burritos from the Taco Bell value menu… they’ll crap out Dan Brown’s next book. I just wanted to point out that Dan Brown is a terrible writer.

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