Movie Review ~ Searching


The Facts
:

Synopsis: After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her.

Stars: John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La

Director: Aneesh Chaganty

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: My favorite movies are the ones that sneak up on you like you never expect them to.  Searching was a movie that I missed several screenings of and usually these smaller movies are the ones that I wind up waiting until they are available on streaming to take a look at.  However, the buzz on the film was so good I sought the film out and I’m glad I was able to see it in theaters.  Though I think it will likely play even better at home (more on that later), Searching was one of the most surprisingly effective films I saw this past year.

A girl has gone missing and her father (John Cho, Grandma) must go through her computer and social media accounts for clues as to where she may be…and who she may be with.  Through this, he learns some hard truths about his child and eventually realizes that he didn’t know his daughter at all.  Now, with false leads and dead ends he must get creative with his methods or risk losing her forever.

Director Aneesh Chaganty’s timely movie definitely speaks to this day and age where children can lead a completely different life online their parents have no clue about.  I’d say the film champions parents exercising restrictions and staying present with their children as far as the internet and social media are concerned.  The movie takes several sobering turns that hit me in unexpectedly emotional ways even though at its core it’s a mystery with clues all over the place for the careful viewer to piece together long before the father does.

What might turn some people off from the movie is that it’s entirely “on screens”.  That is, every image that you see is taken from a computer, smart phone, iPad, television, etc.  Even if the filming method might seem strange to you, I urge you to give this one a chance.  I think the way the screen is set up that watching it on your television at home might actually enhance the experience.  When I saw Searching in theaters I made sure to sit close to the screen so it took up my entire field of view – you should try for the same effect.

Movie Review ~ Grandma

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A teenager facing an unplanned pregnancy seeks help from her acerbic grandmother, a woman who is long estranged from her daughter.

Stars: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Sam Elliott, Judy Greer, Marcia Gay Harden, Lauren Tom, Elizabeth Peña, Colleen Camp, John Cho, Nat Wolff, Laverne Cox, Sarah Burns, Judy Geeson, Mo Aboul-Zelof

Director: Paul Weitz

Rated: R

Running Length: 79 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Were it not such a competitive year in the Best Actress Oscar race, Lily Tomlin may have become the 13th EGOT.  Winning the grand slam of show business means that you’ve received an Emmy, Grammy, Tony, and Oscar and Tomlin is but an EGT at the present time. Though her performance in Grandma gives the comic actress the kind of star turn chance to shine that comes along rarely for actors/actresses of any age, I fear that it will be overshadowed by performances with more commercial appeal.

Not to say that there isn’t a place for this dark comedy or Tomlin’s performance in end of the year accolades but at a scant 79 minutes the film feels like an extended short film rather than a fully produced three act structured piece.  Writer/director Paul Weitz (Being Flynn) breaks the film into six chapters, seemingly editing around potential commercial breaks as we follow one eventful day for an acerbic septuagenarian and her teenage granddaughter.

A folksy poet still not over the death of her long-time lover a year prior, the film opens on Elle (Tomlin, Admission, another Weitz film) breaking up with her much younger onetime fan-now-girlfriend (Judy Greer, Jurassic World and every other movie in 2015) in a most hurtful way.  She’s barely showered post-breakup when her 18-year-old granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) shows up needing money to pay for an abortion.  Without the available funds to help (she’s long since decided to live off the grid, cutting up her credits cards), she instead offers to track down the money by any means necessary.

That leaves the film open to explore many routes to the same destination.  The careless baby daddy (Nat Woff, Paper Towns) is solicited for money and given a harsh lesson in respecting your elders at the same time while former friends (the late Elisabeth Peña and the overrated Laverne Cox) of Elle’s are asked to make good on debts. Finally, a trip to see a mysterious man (Sam Elliott, I’ll See You in My Dreams) from Elle’s past leads to the film’s most emotionally charged sequence.  By the time we get to meet Sage’s mom and Elle’s estranged daughter (a tightly wound Marcia Gay Harden, Fifty Shades of Grey) we’ve come along on a darkly humorous journey filled with a fair share of emotional truths.

Wearing her own clothes, driving her own car, and playing a (I think) less emotionally stagnant version of herself, Tomlin breezes through the movie with a tough charm and fragile core that belies her hardened exterior.  While her scenes with Greer lack a certain kind of chemistry, the sparks fly in her interactions with Elliott.  Elliott remains one of our great underrated actors and he’s damn good here as a man burned by Elle in the past for reasons I won’t divulge.  Garner is appropriately defiant as the teenager who knows she can’t care for a baby and Harden takes a character introduced as a sweaty harpy and manages to caress it into something deeper.

Running shorter than a visit with your own grandparents, the movie actually feels longer than it is.  That’s not always a bad thing but there are some unexpected dips in momentum that stymie what could have been a film with a bit more pep.  Still, any chance for Tomlin to get some time as a long overdue leading lady (her first leading role in 27 years!) is fine by me.  She may not make it to full EGOT status, but after great success with her Netflix show and now this, her 2015 was filled with numerous wins.

The Silver Bullet ~ Star Trek Beyond

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRVD32rnzOw
Release Date
: July 22, 2016

Thoughts: It’s probably a wise move from Paramount to release the first look at Star Trek Beyond mere days before that other Star prefixed yarn arrives.  After all, Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams helmed Star Trek’s reboot and successful sequel and moviegoers ponying up for the next Star Wars chapter are likely also interested in catching the new adventure of Captain Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise. With new director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious 6) aboard and Chris Pine (Into the Woods), Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana (Out of the Furance), and others reenlisting alongside fresh faces Idris Elba (Prometheus) and Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service) this will be a test to see if Trek can continue to boldly go with Abrams manning the ship.  This preview is ever so slightly too rock ‘n roll and bombastic…but it also clearly gets the message across that there’s a new captain on deck.

The Silver Bullet ~ Grandma

grandma

Synopsis: Self-described misanthrope Elle Reid has her protective bubble burst when her 18-year-old granddaughter, Sage, shows up needing help.

Release Date: August 21, 2015

Thoughts:  It’s been a good year for Lily Tomlin.  She recently scored another Emmy nomination for her work in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie and while I felt that the Netflix show had some serious problems, Tomlin’s aging hippie helped to make the series more palatable.

Even better news is that advanced buzz on her performance in Grandma has been great…though it does creep me out that some critics have called it a “career-capping performance”…yeesh…she’s not dead yet people!  Directed by Paul Weitz (Admission, Being Flynn) and co-starring Julia Garner (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Judy Greer (Jurassic World), Sam Elliott (I’ll See You in My Dreams) and Marcia Gay Harden (Fifty Shades of Grey) this road-trip dramedy could find Tomlin attending the Oscars in addition to the Emmys.

 

Movie Review ~ Star Trek: Into Darkness

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, Peter Weller

Director: J.J. Abrams

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 132 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  Here’s a math riddle to start my review of the sequel to 2009’s re-boot of Star Trek.  What do you get when you add well-formed characters that evolve, solid special effects, an interesting villain, and a highly anticipated second chapter in a historic franchise?  Well…Star Trek: Into Darkness of course.  In movie math, this sequel really has it all when you look at what makes a summer blockbuster and its thanks to a dedicated production team that have gathered the right people that the movie flies as high as it does.

After the re-imagined Star Trek was such an orbital hit when it was released four years ago a sequel was greenlit before opening night audiences were tucked safely in their beds.  Everyone was eager to see the further adventures of the revitalized crew of the Starship Enterprise…but little did people realize that the wait would be a little longer than expected.  While director J.J. Abrahams went right to work on another film for Paramount (the way underappreciated Super 8) screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof started to lay the groundwork for the follow-up film.

Turns out the subsequent four years was well worth the wait because Star Trek: Into Darkness represents a carefully formulated film designed for maximum impact for fans and the general movie-going population alike.  While some knowledge of the previous film is nice, it’s certainly not a requirement to enjoy what Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman, and Lindelof have thought up in this mostly stand alone entry.

Opening in the middle of a breathless rescue mission on a primitive island, the crew of the Starship Enterprise hit the ground running (literally) as they race to stop a volcano from wiping out the native people.  This is the one scene where the 3D technology works the best and I found myself instinctively dodging as spears fly by and towering plant life creep out.

With Kirk (Chris Pine, People Like Us) taking a hit for his actions in this mission, hard feelings develop between not only Kirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto) but also Spock and his lady love Uhura (Zoe Saldana) who questions his feelings for her.  When the Federation is attacked by a mysterious figure (Benedict Cumberbatch) resulting in the death of a featured character, it’s up to the Enterprise crew to track him down and avoid dissention from within.

Moving at a breakneck speed, I found Star Trek: Into Darkness to be slightly superior to its predecessor mostly because it feels like the characters were allowed to expand and breathe a bit more in this film.  While there were some colorful touches in the original (most notably Simon Pegg’s brilliant Scotty) there seemed to be a little tentativeness in the rest of the cast to truly make the roles their own. That hesitation doesn’t exist here and instead we have actors like Pine and Quinto stepping up and owning their interpretations of characters that have been around for four decades.

There was a lot of smoke and mirrors around Cumberbatch’s character and how he fits into the scheme of things and while the revelation wasn’t unexpected it’s thanks to Cumberbatch’s steely performance and unlikely choices that makes some of the secrets revealed so much fun.  (Early reports had Benicio del Toro being thought of for the role…which wouldn’t have been nearly as good).  Cumberbatch even manages to pull a little bait and switch action keeping us guessing for a while where his loyalties really are.

Abrahams seems to be the kind of filmmaker that Michael Bay (Pain & Gain) only wishes he could be, delivering a well-paced and handsome looking sci-fi stunner that builds and builds to a dynamic finale where a lot of expectations are thrown out the window.  Though this updated franchise will continue on more missions, it seems likely that Abrahams won’t be in captain of the ship moving forward thanks to his deal to direct the next Star Wars film for Disney.  Here’s hoping that the next director continues on with the forward thrust that Abrahams and company have provided.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Star Trek (2009)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The brash James T. Kirk tries to live up to his father’s legacy with Mr. Spock keeping him in check as a vengeful, time-traveling Romulan creates black holes to destroy the Federation one planet at a time.

Stars: John Cho, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Winona Ryder, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, Leonard Nimoy

Director: J.J. Abrams

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 127 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  When it was announced that J.J. Abrams was going to be helming a re-boot of the popular Star Trek franchise for Paramount, more than a few eyebrows were raised.  That’s no indictment on Abrams, only on the fact that the Star Trek films/television shows have a devoted following and starting from scratch seemed like it could cause a ruckus in the Trekkie-community.  Though the big screen series movies had seemed to run its course with its current Star Trek: The Next Generation crew, there continued to be interest in moving a later television cast into a feature film.  Paramount, however had a different idea.

That idea proved to be a smart one because this refreshed Star Trek from 2009 is a slam-dunk for fans of the series and newcomers alike.  Even if you’d seen every episode, read every tie-in novel, lined up for each film, there’s no denying that what Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman did with Gene Roddenberry’s original set-up was a gamble that paid off.  What continues to be so pleasing about the film and the way it was handled was that it didn’t wish away the other films/series nor did it negate the characters that audience have come to love.  By playing a tricky game with time-travel, what came before could still exist in the same universe as this new entry.

Abrams went back to the drawing board when casting the film, choosing some relative newcomers for the key roles of Kirk and Spock.  Chris Pine (People Like Us) has that same handsome all-American charm that William Shatner had as James T. Kirk but wisely sidesteps his predecessors famously mock-able line delivery.  With his clear blue (and slightly crossed) eyes, Pine steps into leading man territory with a lot of the confidence that the role requires, showing us a troubled man that’s haunted by the shadow of his late father (Chris Hemsworth, right on the cusp of his own stardom from Snow White and the Hunstman, Cabin in the Woods, Marvel’s The Avengers, and 2013’s upcoming Rush). 

Zachary Quinto had perhaps even bigger shoes (well, ears) to fill as Spock, the intelligent Vulcan that struggles with his half-human side taking over when emotions come into play.  It would be easy to play Spock with a straight-laced monotone but Quinto keeps him interesting even when he’s getting in the way of Kirk’s mission. 

The other crew are nicely rounded with Karl Urban’s Bones, Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, and Simon Pegg’s Scotty making the biggest impression without merely feeling like a spoof of the actors that played these parts before they stepped in.  Only Eric Bana’s villain Nero feels a bit out of place, mostly because his plot line feels underdeveloped and only created to test the crew as they battle black holes, revenge plots, and each other amid time warps into deep space.

This being a reboot, I was worried that too much time would be spent introducing characters and that this first film would serve more as an introduction rather than feel like the beginning of something new.  While the first half of the film is largely devoted to getting us up to speed with the characters, I didn’t mind it as much because Abrams keeps things moving at a rapid pace.  Before you know it, you’re catapulted into an impressive final half that’s filled with Oscar winning make-up and Oscar-nominated special effects that blow previous Star Trek films out of the water.

An auspicious start to a truly next generation of Star Treks, this is one that holds up on repeated viewings and provides the kind of entertainment that’s rarely found in blockbusters of this nature.  It’s appealing, engaging, and has always kept me on the edge of my seat though I’ve seen it half a dozen times since its initial release.

The Silver Bullet ~ Star Trek Into Darkness ~ Pre-Teaser

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Synopsis: After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.

Release Date: May 17, 2013

Thoughts: J.J. Abrams worked wonders with his 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise ny bringing in a fresh faced cast ready for the challenge and tapping into his highly successful television scribes, he brought the series in a new direction that still retained the feeling of the original series.  A sequel to that mega-hit was inevitable but instead of rushing things, Abrams has taken his time to get Star Trek Into Darkness into theaters.  The first teaser (billed as a teaser announcement) is an exciting mix of expected space age wonderment and some mysterious clues as to where the crew of the starship Enterprise would be headed next.  As a serious fan of anything related to outer space, this is one of my highly anticipated films of 2013.