Movie Review ~ Annihilation

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply.

Stars: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny

Director: Alex Garland

Rated: R

Running Length: 115 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Until last week when Black Panther was released, movie going in 2018 was lacking any real spark. There were some nice family films (Paddington 2, Peter Rabbit) and the final nail in the Fifty Shades coffin (Fifty Shades Freed) but January was mostly a chance for audiences to catch up on the awards favorites they missed during the holidays. With the arrival and phenomenal success of Black Panther and now Annihilation (not to mention the upcoming Red Sparrow), I’m wondering if we’re moving into a nice groove where entertaining, hyper-intelligent films designed to challenge audiences get their day in the sun.

I’ll say right off the bat that Annihilation is going to divide a lot of people. Your mileage may vary at how much the movie speaks to you or if it even works at all in your mind, but I found it to be a dazzling bit of sci-fi that gets pretty close to becoming a modern genre classic. Based on the first novel of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, it’s hard to classify, let alone describe, what goes on in Annihilation but my advice is to go in as blind as possible. My review of the teaser trailer was the last bit of footage I saw before the screening I attended and I’m positive that added to my overall enjoyment of the film.

Director Alex Garland (Ex Machina) adapted VanderMeer’s book with a bit of a loose interpretation of the set-up. I confess I only got halfway through the short tome before the movie screened but what’s onscreen clearly doesn’t follow VanderMeer’s cagey narrative. There are some facts that remain. Three years after a comet crashes into a lighthouse on the Florida coastline, the smartest minds in the world can’t figure out why a strange amorphous cloud has started to slowly envelop the surrounding land known as Area X. Dubbed The Shimmer due to its transparent yet colorful form, people may enter The Shimmer but they mysteriously never return…until now.

Mourning the loss of her husband who disappeared on a military mission nearly a year ago, biologist Lena (Natalie Portman, Jackie) is dumbfounded when he returns without fanfare not remembering where he’s been or how he got there. Something’s not right, though. Kane (Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year) looks the same and while Lena can’t put her finger on it is clear something’s off in her husband. How Lena winds up at Area X and enters The Shimmer is best left for you to discover but know that it’s important to pay attention to Garland’s informative but tricky script.

Accompanied in her journey by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight), Anya (Gina Rodriguez, Deepwater Horizon), Josie (Tessa Thompson, Creed), and Cass (Tuva Novotny, Eat Pray Love), Lena is plunged into an upside down world of mutated life that holds unseen dangers. With several detours into dreams it becomes harder to tell what is real and what The Shimmer is conjuring up to confuse the women, but the end goal is never clear and absolutely not foreshadowed. It’s refreshing to find a film that doesn’t let you get too far ahead of the plot and allows you a fair amount of surprise along the way.

The experience of watching Annihilation is harrowing, with Garland revealing only the bare minimum of information and allowing careful viewers to pick up his not very generous hints at the end game. We get time to know the women, which makes it all the more difficult to endure along with them the hell they go through the deeper they get inside The Shimmer. There are several terrifying sequences that give way to profound sadness, cinematic kicks to the stomach after the film has already delivered a debilitating punch to the throat.

I can’t imagine another actress taking on Portman’s role. The Oscar winner is notoriously choosy about projects and while at the outset I scratched my head at the thought of Portman as an ex-military biologist hauling her gun around a deadly jungle, she more than justifies her place at the top of the cast list. Leigh is another actress with curious but not universally loved gifts but I was taken by her quirky approach to the role of a psychologist possibly harboring a dark secret. Her voice is pitched higher than normal but that same dour expression is classic Leigh. Rodriguez may have won acclaim in her comedic role on television’s Jane the Virgin but she makes a compelling case for her star continuing to rise as a tough medic slowly unraveling in this new world. Thompson’s role is the most difficult for viewers to navigate because it’s so esoteric but it’s Novotny that leaves a lasting impact thanks to her delicately nuanced performance.

Garland hasn’t shied away from the darkness in his sci-fi tales before (he also penned the screenplays for Sunshine, 28 Days Later, and the traumatizing Never Let Me Go) but he’s gone to an even darker place here. Gorgeously shot by Rob Hardy (Endless Love) and featuring an omnipresent creepy score from Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, the film easily manages to land its ending, which is largely without dialogue and surprisingly sustained suspense. You may walk out of Annihilation or you may crawl…either way, you’re in for a hell of a ride.

Movie Review ~ Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Tom Hollander

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 131 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: If there’s one thing I’ve said time and time again in this here blog it’s that Tom Cruise knows how to deliver a spectacular action film.  Off-screen antics aside, Cruise proves with each new release that he knows how to build off of his strengths and give the audience what they came for.  Never less than 100% committed to the work (see his bold turn in the otherwise blah Rock of Ages), he’s best when he’s going the extra mile.

That being said, for this fifth installment of the TV show turned blockbuster franchise I felt that Cruise and company didn’t take as strong a step forward as they did with 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.  That film felt fresh, with a renewed interest in inventive action sequences coupled with an intriguing plot of crosses, double crosses, and triple crosses.  Cruise tried out some cool stunt work and director Brad Bird produced a nice mix of over the top action and sly spy work.

With Bird off directing Tomorrowland, Cruise brought old pal Christopher McQuarrie into M:I5 and that’s where some problems surfaced.  All four previous installments had brought Cruise together with different directors he had no prior shorthand, but this is the first time Cruise is working with a director he has history with.  McQuarrie wrote 2008’s Valkyrie and 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow for Cruise and wrote/directed the underappreciated Jack Reacher back in 2012.

So what we have is a star and a writer/director that kinda already had it all figured out before starting up production and the final effect feels like an overly safe but still better than average film that could have been great.  No matter how many of his own stunts he was reported to have performed himself, Cruise isn’t challenged much by McQuarrie to truly push the limits so the resulting movie feels slightly tentative and more in service of protecting the profitable franchise instead of doing something truly original.

Not that McQuarrie’s script is your run-of-the-mill spy tale.  Sure, there’s a lot of intrigue to go along with the spy movie checklist items but it’s more intelligent than its predecessors and aims high in covering a lot of thoughts and ideas.  Each previous Mission: Impossible film has had its share of twists and turns and this is no different, it’s a credit to the filmmakers that even when the plot points feel rehashed from similar films they still manage to be effectively entertaining.

Building off of an idea introduced in the final moments of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation starts with Ethan Hunt and his IMF (Impossible Missions Force) compatriots attempting to prevent a stash of nuclear armaments from falling into the hands of the shadowy organization known as The Syndicate.  At the same time, the future of the IMF is called into question by a high ranking government official (Alec Baldwin, Aloha, doing his best impression of Alec Baldwin) and soon Hunt becomes a wanted man by The Syndicate and his own government.  Teaming with a skilled agent with a questionable allegiance (Rebecca Ferguson, Hercules), Hunt hops around the globe in search of the head of The Syndicate (rat-faced Sean Harris, Prometheus, a mostly forgettable villain).  Saying more of the serpentine plot would take up too much room here but suffice it to say that the quest isn’t easy and more than a few lies will be told along the way.

Where the film really excels is the breath-taking stunt work.  From the opening airplane sequence (already more than a little spoiled by the trailer and poster) to an underwater operation to thwart a complex security system to an edge of your seat motorcycle chase through the Moroccan desert, the film is a must-see on the biggest screen possible.  I didn’t catch it in IMAX but will seek out a screening later to really appreciate the scale of the work that went into these stunts that are more than worth the price of admission.

While Cruise may be the star of the show, Ferguson manages to swipe the film right out from under him.  Previous movies have placed the females as little more than damsels in distress (no matter if they’re trained super agents or not), but Ferguson represents a character that’s Hunt’s equal in every way.  Sure, her presence in a variety of skin baring costumes gives Cruise and audience members something to swoon over but McQuarrie wisely keeps it all business, adding to her mystery.  We never really know quite what side she’s on, so we never know what to expect when she appears onscreen,

While I’ve loved Simon Pegg’s work as a supporting cast member in Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and two previous Mission: Impossible films, it was an unfortunate mistake to beef up his role here as Cruise’s nervous ally within IMF.  Sure, he’s a valued element of comic relief but he’s made too much of a central figure here, taking time away from Cruise, Ferguson, and the forward motion of the plot.  It’s not all Pegg’s fault, but I’m sure Jeremy Renner (Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Ving Rhames (Won’t Back Down) would have liked a little more screen time of their own.

I felt like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol heralded the start of a new chapter of Ethan Hunt and the IMF and thankfully that’s continued here in Rogue Nation.  I do, however, wonder whatever happened to Paula Patton from Ghost Protocol, and Maggie Q from #3…not to mention Hunt’s wife (Michelle Monaghan, briefly seen at the end of the last film).  I kept hoping for a hint at what’s to come next but sadly the film leaves us with more questions than answers.  I’m invested enough in the series to keep accepting future Missions…but hope that the next outing feels a bit more challenging.

Movie Review ~ Terminator Genisys

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The Facts:

Synopsis: John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah Connor, but when he arrives in 1984, nothing is as he expected it to be.

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, Matt Smith, Emilia Clarke, Byung-hun Lee, J.K. Simmons, Sandrine Holt, Dayo Okeniyi, Michael Gladis, Courtney B. Vance

Director: Alan Taylor

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 125 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: So far, the summer of 2015 has proved fertile ground for highly anticipated blockbuster sequels.  From May’s Avengers: Age of Ultron & Mad Max: Fury Road to June’s record-breaking Jurassic World and Ted 2 audiences have willingly plunked down their dough to revisit old friends.  Well, July is here and a chilly wind has disrupted the warm paradise…and it’s called Terminator Genisys.

The Terminator franchise is a great example of a movie studio unwilling to quit while it’s ahead.  Released in 1984, James Cameron’s The Terminator was a sleeper hit that officially introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger (Kindergarten Cop) has an action star.  Seven years later Cameron had a golden idea for a sequel, resulting in the groundbreaking Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  That film was a forward thinking epic on the grandest of scales, effectively saving the summer movie event from the comic-book mayhem it was turning into.  Cameron’s director’s cut of the film remains one of my favorite films of all time, perfectly continuing the story he created and wrapping things up beautifully.

Unwillingly to leave well enough alone, Warner Brothers moved forward with a third film in 2003 and a fourth in 2009.  Neither were much to write home about because they were designed to be cash grabs for a studio that seemed to lack an original idea.  Admittedly, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines isn’t awful but it’s far more appealing than the gloomy Terminator Salvation…still, both films exist only for profit and nothing more.

So here we are, 31 years after the original with the fifth film in the Terminator universe and it’s easily the most troubling one of them all.  I held out a little hope for the movie at the outset because it seemed to be going for a clever revisionist reboot vibe, with scenes from the 1984 film recreated with a fine eye for detail.  Good intentions are quickly overtaken by uninspired action sequences that introduce a host of new faces playing familiar characters.

In the future where machines have taken over the world and are exterminating mankind, Kyle Reese (a flat Jai Courtney, Jack Reacher) is an impassioned devotee to resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke, Lawless, looking alarmingly like the puppet from the Saw films).  How impassioned is he? Well, let’s just say that when Reese finds out later that he’s actually Connor’s father you can see that Reese’s dreams of sipping mai-tais with Connor on a beach disappearing right before his sorrowful eyes.  When the opportunity arises for a mission back to 1984 to save Connor’s legendary mother, Reese volunteers and the rest is history…or the future…doesn’t really matter.

Back in 1984, things aren’t exactly like we remember them (the film reminded me a lot of Back to the Future Part II) and instead of finding a helpless Sarah Connor, Reese meets up with a determined heroine that has her own Terminator (Schwarzenegger) in her protection detail.  Emilia Clarke may have a Linda Hamilton look to her but the comparisons stop there.  Clarke is, like her co-stars, not a strong enough actor to carry this type of character to the end and therefore scenes displaying her unyielding stance at fighting for survival don’t land like they should.

Not surprisingly, only Schwarzenegger scores with any regularity.  He’s perfected this character over several cinematic endeavors (and one exciting theme park ride) so this is all old hat to him. A chance for the elder Schwarzenegger to fight with a recreation of his 1984 persona is a pleasant sequence but an all too brief foray into ingenuity by screenwriters Patrick Lussier & Laeta Kalorgridis.

Director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) has several large action sequences up his sleeve and while they deliver the requisite thrills, they seem like they’re cut scenes from a movie far removed from the Terminator universe.  Mostly, the film is a paint by the numbers exercise in too much exposition backed up with surprisingly weak special effects.

The worst thing about the movie is how much of it has been spoiled by the marketing team.  I won’t confirm or deny what people are thinking but you only need to look at the poster or watch one of the many spoiler-heavy trailers to get an idea of what’s going on in the film and preview nearly all of the pivotal moments the film tries to spring on you.  A very shameful showing by the marketing people at the studio.

A poorly executed sci-fi adventure that loses itself in its own pretzel twists of time, there’s little to like or recommend here…it’s a chipped tombstone for the series.

The Silver Bullet ~ Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

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Synopsis: Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.

Release Date: July 31, 2015

Thoughts: I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time over the past several blogging years defending Tom Cruise. There’s a faction of audience members that can’t get past Cruise’s religious beliefs, wacky couch jumping tendencies, and somewhat self-aggrandizing attitude. Still…here’s the thing…the man knows how to make a movie. In fact, I’d say that Cruise has energetically come out of a mid-career slump of outings that were too serious and “important” and settled nicely into delivering popcorn chomping ready events that highlight his strengths. A lot of that renaissance was firmly cemented with 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol — maybe the franchise’s most enjoyable outing yet. I’ve got a good feeling about 2015’s upcoming fifth installment of Cruise’s spy series…and apparently so does Paramount Pictures. The studio moved it up from a prime Christmas Day release to an end of the summer bow that could be perfect time for box office gold. Reteaming Cruise (Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow) with his Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie (Jack the Giant Slayer) and with familiar faces (Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames) returning and a new beauty (Rebecca Ferguson, Hercules) on board this is one mission I’m more than happy to accept.

The Silver Bullet ~ Terminator Genisys

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Synopsis: The year is 2029. John Connor, leader of the resistance continues the war against the machines. At the Los Angeles offensive, John’s fears of the unknown future begin to emerge when TECOM spies reveal a new plot by SkyNet that will attack him from both fronts; past and future, and will ultimately change warfare forever.

Release Date:  July 1, 2015

Thoughts: I recently went back and re-watched the first three Terminator films and for a franchise that’s been around for 30 years, I was impressed how well the futuristic films have held up…well, that third entry has some serious problems and let’s not even go there with McG’s Terminator: Salvation. (I also visited the Terminator 3D ride at Universal Studios in September which, though amusingly dated, featured some of the most wowza 3D effects I’ve ever seen.)

With Paramount hitting the ever popular “re-boot” button that seems to be all the rage, the killing machine first introduced in James Cameron’s 1984 original is making a return to the big screen now that Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Last Stand) was willing to don that leather jacket once more.  Our first teaser for the summer 2015 flick looks like a splicing of the skeleton from the original low-budget entry and the effects marvel of the 1991 follow-up.  I’m interested to see where it’s all heading and with fresh faced cast members Jason Clarke (The Great Gatsby), Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher), and Emilia Clarke preparing for battle under Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) the hopes are high that the Terminator is back…for good.

The Silver Bullet ~ Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

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Synopsis: Jack Ryan, as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.

Release Date:  January 17, 2014

Thoughts: Poor Jack Ryan…he can’t catch much of a break.  The star of Tom Clancy’s bestselling novels has already shown up in four screen outings and his latest screen adventure was set to open in a prime late December spot…until The Wolf of Wall Street was pushed back, taking good ‘ole Jack’s place.  Perhaps moving this reboot from the crowded Christmas season will be a good thing but I can’t imagine director Kenneth Branagh and stars Chris Pine (Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness) and Keira Knightly (Anna Karenina) were all that pleased with the last minute shuffle.  I’m not sure I love the idea of moving Jack Ryan back into his youth…he’s been played by three different actors so far (Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October, Harrison Ford in Patriot Games {my favorite} and Clear and Present Danger, and Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears) and I think I prefer the character to have a few more miles on him.   

Movie Review ~ World War Z

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The Facts:

Synopsis: United Nations employee Gerry Lane traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself.

Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Fana Mokoena, Moritz Bleibtreu, Ruth Negga

Director: Marc Foster

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 116 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: So far 2013 has been a very good year for zombies.  With the continued success of The Walking Dead on television, the February release of the surprisingly great “zom-com” Warm Bodies, and now the pulse-quickening epic World War Z…it’s not a bad time to crave brains.  I have to admit that with each new trailer for World War Z I grew less interested…mostly because it seemed like a run-of-the mill summer blockbuster that would open big and disappear within a few weeks.  So you can imagine my surprise when ten minutes in I was white knuckling it in my seat, barely able to catch a breath.

Many felt that Max Brooks’s 2006 novel, written as an oral history, would have been better suited for a television series/mini-series and not as a multi-million dollar picture starting one of the biggest A-listers out there.  Those same people should enjoy a nice meal of their own words because the novel has been brought to life in slick fashion that never feels like its cheating on the source material.  The film opens big and for the next two hours rarely lets the audience come up for air as we are taken along for the globe-hopping, zombie killing ride.

Pitt (The Counselor) is a retired investigator for the United Nations living a seemingly peaceful life with his wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters.  As they get ready to start their day we can hear in the background news reports of virus outbreaks in other cities but given that it’s not in their neck of the woods the family pays no attention.  Soon they are packed up and heading out for their day when traffic jams put them in the center of madness as the entire city population starts to become infected around them.

Calling on his old contacts, Pitt eventually gets his family to safety but is then tapped to lead the investigation to find the origin of the outbreak.  This takes him away from his loved ones and into a mystery that moves him from one end of the globe to another…this is one guy who has a full passport by the time the credits roll.  Part of the fun of the film is following Pitt from as he country hops because you never know who he’ll meet or who will survive.  There are plenty of surprises in the movie, not the least is that Pitt is still a proven star who can easily navigate a picture filled with international actors and accents.

Thought Pitt is the star of the show, director Marc Foster (bouncing back nicely from the dreary Bond entry Quantum of Solace) spreads the love globally employing many new faces to fill the roles of people Pitt encounters in his journey.  Enos is so brilliant on TV in The Killing and though she starts strong her character is unfortunately eventually relegated to shouting Pitt’s name in the phone as the time between their connections grows longer.  James Badge Dale is an actor that seems to pop up a lot lately (he’s also in The Lone Ranger) and he’s put to good, albeit brief use, as part of the puzzle Pitt must solve to save the human race.  Israeli actress Daniella Kertesz is a force to be reckoned with too as a solider that accompanies Pitt on a most harrowing airline ride.

Then there’s the zombies.  Not merely brain dead shufflers, these zombies take a page from Danny Boyle’s 2002 zombie classic 28 Days Later… and sprint after their prey.  Moving so fast amps up the adrenaline yet it doesn’t overwhelm the bottom line and the film takes care to explain behavior of the zombies/infected in a way that seems fresh and unexpected.  Even a sequence set in a sterile lab late in the film has little frenzied action at all and still manages to make the sweat bead up on your forehead.

These little character moments (from the living and the infected) do not go unnoticed and that’s what winds up setting World War Z apart from similar films.  It’s a brisk popcorn adventure that keeps trucking along with such expediency that you’ll probably be a little exhausted by the time the lights come up.  Yet even with its fast pace I left feeling that the movie had earned its quieter moments and called upon its actors in the right way to give solid performances.  One of the best films of the summer, it’s a movie that I feel will warrant repeated viewings alongside other zombie classics that came before it.

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.

Movie Review ~ The Guilt Trip

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The Facts:

Synopsis: As inventor Andy Brewster is about to embark on the road trip of a lifetime, a quick stop at his mom’s house turns into an unexpected cross-country voyage with her along for the ride.

Stars: Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen, Kathy Najimy, Colin Hanks, Adam Scott

Director: Anne Fletcher

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 95 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: As anyone who has taken a road trip can tell you, the worst part of the trek can be when you’ve run out of things to talk about and are annoyed with your travel mates. You resort to niceties and having polite conversations as a way to distract you from the fact you have hundreds or thousands of miles left in your journey. That’s a great description of The Guilt Trip, the joyless new film starring one Funny Lady and one Stoner Dude.

One of the most frustratingly polite films I’ve ever seen, The Guilt Trip logs a bunch of miles in its cinematic adventure but never gets out of the garage in terms of entertainment. The film reads like a sure-fire winner with the unlikely pairing of Streisand and Rogan as a mother and son who hit the road from New Jersey to California as she accompanies her offspring on a sales pitch trip. This is a film that has an Olympic-sized pool of comedy in front of it but only gets to the end of the diving board before turning around and running away.

Seeming to not want to offend absolutely anyone, it instead winds up being a one way trip to Dullsville courtesy of flat direction from Fletcher (The Proposal) and a wimpy script by Dan Fogelman. I can’t say for sure, but even if the script was written with Streisand in mind it had to have had a major overhaul when she signed up to remove some humor and not sully her pristine and purposeful image. There’s just no other way to explain why the film wouldn’t take advantage of some prime comedic opportunities that it ignores.

Ok…I did laugh a few times. The first was when we meet Streisand, dressed in a typical Jersey jumpsuit with her hair perfectly rumpled she looks every bit the middle aged character we think she should be…until she lifts her hand to touch her hair and reveals those immaculate French manicured nails. The woman reuses water bottles to save the environment but doesn’t have any trouble shelling out bucks to keep her nails nice? Streisand is so overly made up at times that at one point I leaned over to my friend and said “Man, the guy that got to play Streisand is doing a great job.”

Rogan doesn’t fare any better and he looks as uncomfortable in the role as he does in the numerous suits he is poured into. I think Rogan’s pot head persona is nearing the end of its fifteen minutes of fame so it’s possible this was a way to test the waters as a real person…and it’s a failure. His character is such a stubborn doofus that you can’t muster up any kind of sympathy for him. The reasons he asks his mother to go with him on the trip are unclear too…for a time it seems like he asks her along for his own personal benefit but then it changes in a way that makes the audience unclear as to what the purpose was from the start. The final explanation is that there was no real reason for her to come along…aside from the fact that a movie plot depended on it.

Now I can see where the film’s restraint in the comedy department can seem refreshing to those weaned on movies that make jokes at the expense of the defenseless (mothers, old people, fat people, etc) but if the film had any real soul to it I may have gone with it a bit more. It’s plain to see that the movie doesn’t have much going for it aside from its stars whose talents are wasted and a premise that should have been milked for all its worth.

For a movie that takes its stars across the country, it may surprise you to know that neither Streisand nor Rogan left the state due to Streisand’s wish to stay close to home. Scenes of Streisand and Rogan in front of the Grand Canyon look like an effect out of an amusement park photo booth and the endless scenes in cars look like they were filmed in the span of two days. It’s a damn shame that more effort wasn’t put into punching up the script because I’d have watched a movie with Streisand and Rogan stuck in a car if the material was good enough.

So many missed chances and so many laughless minutes…The Guilt Trip is a movie you may find yourself re-writing in your head as the movie is playing out in front of you. With so many far better films playing in theaters now, you’ll be taken a guilt trip of your own making if you see this before pretty much any other film in cinemas now.