Movie Review ~ The Boys in the Band (2020)

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The Facts
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Synopsis: At a birthday party in 1968 New York, a surprise guest and a drunken game leave seven gay friends reckoning with unspoken feelings and buried truths.

Stars: Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver, Robin de Jesús, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington, Tuc Watkins

Director: Joe Mantello

Rated: R

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  It’s a curious thing to watch a movie that began life as a play starring it’s original cast that performed it onstage.  It’s an even stranger experience to watch a movie that’s a remake of that earlier filmed version of a play…that also began life as a play…that also stars the original cast who appeared onstage. If you’re struggling to wrap your head around that, let me break it down for you.  Mart Crowley originally wrote the landmark play The Boys in the Band in 1968 and it played off-Broadway for a healthy run of over 1,000 performances.  When it came time for the play to make the leap to the silver screen, a pre-Oscar winning William Friedkin brought it to life with the entire original cast.  In 2018, the play was revived, this time on Broadway with an all-star cast for a strictly limited run that became a smash summer hit.  Produced by Ryan Murphy and directed by Joe Mantello, this entire cast was brought back for a filmed version now premiering on Netflix.

A landmark of gay culture both on stage and on screen, The Boys in the Band is an interesting time capsule to watch today because it captures a piece of history almost impossible to get back.  Taking place in the pre-AIDS era, both the film and the play make no mention of the “gay cancer” that is felling the community or gathers its doom and gloom from the shadow of illness that countless projects would take advantage of once HIV enters the picture throughout the next decade.  It would be almost unheard of to not mention AIDS or HIV at a certain point and to not have that factor at all into the mix here is both a startling reminder of a time before an entire generation of men were lost to the disease and a welcome relief to be able to watch a movie about gay men that isn’t going to end with a hospital bed or a graveside emotional breakthrough.

That’s not to say The Boys in the Band arrives in 2020 without some heavy emotional baggage of another sort, though, because the same themes of self-hate and acceptance it grappled with in 1968 are still front and center.  Longtime Ryan Murphy collaborator Ned Martel has trimmed Crowley’s two-act play down (more on that later) to a more streamlined machine built for the attention and vocabulary of modern audiences and it’s mostly successful in maintaining Crowley’s message even if it loses key reference points that gay cards were earned off of.  The resulting two hour film is both a faithful adaptation of a fifty year old work and a fresh look at the lives of gay men who struggled then with a number of the same personal issues that are still prevalent today.

As it opens, it feels like returning director Mantello is going to be opening up the film past its one location setting as we are introduced to “the boys” throughout New York City.  Tightly wired Michael (Jim Parsons, Wish I Was Here) is preparing for the birthday party of his best frenemy Harold (Zachary Quinto, Star Trek) who is already doing his pre-party work in front of the mirror to hide his pock-marked face that becomes an easy target for some of his image obsessed friends.  Larry (Andrew Rannells, The Intern) is on his way to meet lover Hank (Tuc Watkins) to pick up loud and proud Emory (Robin de Jesús)…if only that other guy he bumps into on the street wasn’t such a distraction, so he might be a little late.  Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington) might be seen to some as the token black friend of the group but as the ‘60s are drawing to a close he’s starting to see the ‘70s as a time of change for all.  The three semi-outsiders to the group that night are Michael’s friend Donald (Matt Bomer, The Magnificent Seven) in town for the evening after being stood up, a gigolo Cowboy (Charlie Carver) meant to serve as Harold’s birthday gift from Emory, and Alan (Brian Hutchinson, Winter’s Tale) a college friend from Michael’s past that arrives unexpectedly needing his help for reasons that are unclear at the outset.

Fairly quickly, it becomes obvious there’s just no way around the material coming off like a stage show and while Judy Becker’s (American Hustle) expertly designed production is filmed handsomely by Bill Pope (2019’s Charlie’s Angels), it just all feels so bound to a different medium than film will allow.  To be fair, that’s the same issue the original film had but while that might be the kiss of death for some projects, it winds up benefitting The Boys in the Band because this is material that feeds off of the intimacy that is generated from the stage.  While Mantello makes some nice moves in finding brief moments (via flashbacks) to get out of the apartment, I was surprised at how alive the whole movie felt even though it was essentially locked in one space for the duration.

Looking at pictures from the 2018 revival, it appears the costume and set design have been tailored back to the original design from the 1968/1970 productions and I think that’s the right choice.  The new production felt a little too luxe and, at least from the visuals, made it look campier than I think was intended.  Now, the performances feel like they can come to the forefront and that gives the actors a chance to really show off some new sides to what we’ve seen them do so far.  I’ve always been far on the opposing side of the fence on Parsons but admit that he won me over here with his take on a difficult role, one he is arguably very right for.  Same goes for Quinto who almost, almost, manages to make you forget how good the original Harold Leonard Frey was in the role.  Parsons and Quinto have a lot of verbal sparring that has to be delivered with razor sharp precision that can’t be fixed by mere editing and both play these scenes to the hilt – you can’t ever quite tell if they love to poke at each other with the friendly back and forth or if they actually derive some sick pleasure in cutting down their friend in a public forum.

The rest of the cast all get their moment in the spotlight, as is the way in these well-written, long lasting plays.  There’s a reason this show is often done in community theaters (open-minded community theaters, that is) and it’s because each role has a showcase moment any actor worth their salt would love to sink their teeth into.  Obviously, the showiest role is Emory and de Jesús recreates his Tony-nominated role with the same energy and heart that has gotten him good notices throughout his career.  I also quite liked Washington’s Bernard who, in a harrowing sequence, walks us through a first love and is eventually pushed by Michael into being the first member of the group to play a game that exposes a number of raw nerves within the friends.  The other actors all have their requisite turns to be the focus but more or less play on their existing strengths we’ve seen before.

As a fan of the play and the original 1970 film, I have to say that I enjoyed this remake (revival?) quite a lot and would recommend it with the request that you make sure you do your homework and compare it to Friedkin’s earlier film.  A number of the trims make sense, I suppose, in terms of keeping the momentum moving forward and not simply re-doing The Boys in the Band as a museum piece.  What they’ve excised isn’t a dealbreaker because what’s there still reminds us of the landmark achievement it remains and how far we’ve come since it first premiered.

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.

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.