by Steve Habrat
It has been four long years since JJ Abrams ventured into the Star Trek universe and left both die hard Trekkies and casual moviegoers hungry for more deep space adventures from the brash Captain James T. Kirk and the brilliant Mr. Spock. For some, that lengthy wait felt almost like a lifetime. In between 2009s Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams buddied up with director Steven Spielberg on the set of their 2011 alien-in-suburbia throwback Super 8, and it seems that this friendship has really inspired Abrams and his approach to science-fiction blockbusters. Almost every single frame of rollicking action in Star Trek Into Darkness is alive and bursting with Spielberg’s spirit for adventure, something that will absolutely delight anyone who is a fan of Spielberg’s breezy approach to summer diversions. Yet you don’t necessarily have to be big on Spielberg to adore the second installment in this rebooted franchise. We may only be three weeks into the summer movie season, but after taking this bad boy in, I think we may have an early contender for best blockbuster of the year. Featuring two times the action, two times the thrills, two times the emotion, two times the fun, and two times the laughs, Star Trek Into Darkness finds Abrams burning with sugary creativity and bubbly enthusiasm to deepen the relationships between his wonderfully reinvented characters.
Star Trek Into Darkness begins on the primitive planet of Nibiru, with the crew of the USS Enterprise on an undercover mission to monitor a volcano that is on the verge of erupting and wiping out the planet’s natives. The crew has been warned that they are not to reveal their presence natives, but after a dangerous attempt to stop the volcano from erupting, Captain James T. Kirk (played by Chris Pine) breaks orders to save Spock’s (played by Zachary Quinto) life. Back on earth, Kirk and Spock are reprimanded by Admiral Pike (played by Bruce Greenwood), who reassumes command of the Enterprise, relieves Kirk of his command, and reassigns Spock. Meanwhile, in London, a Starfleet archives is attacked and destroyed by a shadowy Starfleet agent named John Harrison (played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Kirk and Spock are called in to attend an emergency meeting at Starfleet headquarters to discuss how to respond to the attack. The meeting is interrupted by another attack that kills several high-ranking members of Starfleet including Admiral Pike. With Pike dead, the USS Enterprise is given back to Kirk and Spock, who quickly hatch a plan to go after Harrison, who has fled to the hostile Klingon planet Qo’noS.
Much like Abrams’ first Star Trek film, the second installment is loaded with nifty little plot twists that should not be spoiled by a review. Just know that if you are a major Star Trek fan, there a more than a few surprises that will almost make your head explode. With all of the characters fleshed out in the first film, Abrams can strictly focus on the nonstop action that practically blasts the audience into the neighboring theater. The film begins with an Indiana Jones-style chase between the terrified Kirk and “Bones” McCoy (played by Karl Urban) and a yelping tribe from Nibiru, who launch spears out of the screen in glorious 3D. In case there wasn’t enough to marvel at in this particular set piece, Abrams flips to the glowing action that is taking place within the swirling volcano. From there on out, there is a city-shaking attack on Starfleet, a wicked shootout between Klingons and a handful of crewmembers of the Enterprise, a nerve-frying space jump through a spinning field of spaceship debris, and a breathtaking fistfight on the streets of San Francisco. If that isn’t enough to hold your attention, you’ll certain find yourself unable to stop scanning the inside of the seriously amazing USS Enterprise or grinning over the wild crew members that operate it. Surprisingly, the film was converted into 3D in postproduction, but it is totally worth spending the extra cash to check it out in immersive 3D.
While the action will certainly have you drooling, Star Trek Into Darkness really comes to life through Pine and Qunito. It really is a treat to see these guys hilariously bickering it out every step of the way. They argue in a disciplinary meeting, during the opening chase, and even while they are trying to infiltrate Qo’noS. Pine continues to be reckless and cocky all while he flirts with one girl after another. The early scenes between Pine and Greenwood’s fatherly Admiral Pike were especially touching and shattering when Pike meets a nasty laser blast. Quinto continues to bring the laughs as the rigid and emotionless Spock, a stickler for the rules if there ever was one. Here, Spock’s emotional detachment is put to the test and it truly does strike a chord. Yet the real magic happens when Pine and Quinto are together, with their egos clashing and banging around the iPod walls of the Enterprise. Their friendship is really put to the test when the confront Cumberbatch’s Harrison. While it is best not to reveal much about John Harrison, just know that Cumberbatch nearly steals the entire movie away from Pine and Quinto. He is one hell of a commanding villain.
If you were worried that the rest of the Enterprise crew had flew the coop, never fear, as they are all back where they belong. The sexy Zoe Saldana is back as Nyota Uhara, who has developed a relationship with Spock that goes far beyond the Enterprise. Karl Urban continues to bring the pessimism as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, who is constantly getting under Kirk’s skin with some of the worst metaphors you can think of. Simon Pegg continues to delight as the hilarious engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, who hams it up through an exaggerated Scottish accent. John Cho brings a quiet intensity to the role of Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu and Anton Yelchin is cartoonishly frantic as Ensign Pavel Chekov. We don’t get nearly as much of them as we did in the first film, which is a bit disappointing but understandable considering everything that is going on within the story. And we can’t forget the outstanding newcomers Peter Weller and Alice Eve, who are here as the ruthless Starfleet Admiral Alexander Marcus and the beautiful weapons expert Dr. Carol Marcus.
As far as summer movies are concerned, Star Trek Into Darkness is about as strong as they come. While there is an abundance of action and explosions to keep those with a severe case of ADHD hooked, there is still plenty of humanity to this story. We genuinely care about these characters and after a while they almost start feeling like close friends. They are especially irresistible when Abrams shakes the Enterprise and lets all these drastically different walks of life mix. Overall, Star Trek Into Darkness is a massive step up for the sleek and sexy franchise and at just over two hours, Abrams still leaves you wanting more of absolutely everything. Just like the first outing, it simultaneously pleases Trekkies and those just looking to be dazzled on a Friday night. You know what? Just stop reading this review right now and go see it. Just don’t be surprised if you want to see it again the second its all over.
by Steve Habrat
Before JJ Abrams’ sleek 2009 reboot, the Star Trek franchise was basically old hat and met with eye rolls or bored sighs from anyone who wasn’t a fanatic. Every so often, a new Trek movie would trickle quietly into theaters and it would basically only appeal to your Trekkie uncle or that weird kid up the street, but everyone else ignored it. It was a very closed-off franchise that seemed to be fading away as the years passed. Then something remarkable happened. In May of 2009, Lost creator JJ Abrams sparked the franchise back to life and introduced the crew of the USS Enterprise to a whole new generation of action-hungry moviegoers. Believe me when I say that you don’t have to be a Trekkie to absolutely adore Abrams’ Star Trek, a splashy, sexy, and clever re-envisioning of the classic television show. Right from the get-go, Abrams makes it clear that this is not your father’s Star Trek, and he catapults the viewer into a world of candy-colored action, shiny spaceships that look like they were designed by Steve Jobs, devilish humor, and fresh-faced youngsters looking to make a name for themselves in Hollywood. It would be just what the doctored ordered for a franchise on life support and it would go on to be one of the strongest films of the 2009 summer movie season.
Star Trek begins in 2233, with Federation starship USS Kelvin investigating a mysterious lightning storm in space. Out of the lightning storm emerges the Romulan ship Narada, which proceeds to attack the USS Kelvin. The Narada’s captain, Nero (played by Eric Bana), demands that the USS Kelvin captain board the Narada so that he can be questioned about the current stardate and about a man named Ambassador Spock. After Nero kills the captain for not answering his questions, he then orders his crew to destroy the USS Kelvin, which is now captained by first officer George Kirk (played by Chris Hemsworth). George orders that the ship’s crew, which includes his pregnant wife, Winona (played by Jennifer Morrison), quickly evacuate the ship before it is destroyed. During the evacuation, George’s wife gives birth to a boy they name James. Many years later, we are introduced to the brilliant young Vulcan Spock (played by Zachary Quinto) and reckless James T. Kirk (played by Chris Pine) as they both enlist in the Starfleet Academy and form a nasty rivalry. Kirk and Spock are forced to put their rivalry on hold and join forced after Spock’s home planet is attacked and destroyed by the mysterious Narada. As the young crew of the USS Enterprise races to understand this deadly enemy, they are forced to put their egos aside once they realize the Narada’s next target is Earth.
Abrams’ Star Trek is absolutely loaded with enough backstory to fuel half a dozen origin stories. There is plenty of character development, especially in Kirk and Spock, but there is also tons of talk of time travel, red matter, supernovas, and more. While the storyline is certainly absorbing and full of surprises which won’t be revealed here, what will truly hold you are the introductions to characters you have certainly heard about from your dad or through pop culture chatter. We are treated to smile-inducing introductions of the cynical doctor Leonard McCoy (played by Karl Urban), spiky Nyota Uhura (played by Zoe Saldana), fast-talking Scottish engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (played by Simon Pegg), senior helmsman Hikaru Sulu (played by John Cho), and Russian navigator Pavel Chekov (played by Anton Yelchin). Each one of these characters is given more than enough time to shine, especially Pegg’s motor mouthed Scotty, who nabs most of the film’s laughs. My personal favorite moment is Kirk’s first encounter with McCoy, who pokes Kirk with a number of syringes that contain various illnesses so that he can sneak him aboard the USS Enterprise. It’s a moment of absolutely brilliance.
Then we have Pine’s daredevil Kirk and Quinto’s relentlessly serious Spock, both who play a game of tug of war with the film. Pine excels as the slacker Kirk, who refuses to see his full potential. He stumbles around drunk in futuristic bars and nightclubs, chasing around the repulsed Uhura and getting into fistfights with a number of Starfleet students. He’s absolutely irresistible as he sneers through bloody lips and taunts through black eyes, but his performance really takes hold when he finally looks inside himself and realizes his true potential. Quinto is the polar opposite as Spock, a brainy but cold Vulcan who is constantly conflicted over the fact that he is half-human. When you aren’t marveling at Kirk’s transformation, you’ll be glued to Spock’s realization that he needs to simply relax and trust those around him. And we can’t forget the superb villain Nero, brilliantly tackled by a surprisingly intense Eric Bana. Nero may not be a household villain, but he certainly makes you remember him as he spits threats at the USS Enterprise and demands that his crew “FIRE EVERYTHING!” With so much happening in the story, Bana’s screen time is limited, but he certainly hits a home run when he can.
Considering that Star Trek is a summer movie, Abrams constructs numerous action sequences that will have you gasping. The USS Kelvin’s encounter with Nero is appropriately tense and the evacuation is big, busy, shaky, and emotional even though the movie has only been going for maybe ten minutes. A nail-biting space jump onto a massive drill is fierce, only to be followed up by a white-knuckle fistfight that will have you on the edge of your seat. Just when you don’t think it can’t get any cooler, Sulu whips out a sword and Abrams blows an entire planet to smithereens. And how can I forget Kirk’s marooning on snowy Delta Vega, where he flees the jaws of some seriously nasty creatures hungry for some human flesh and comes face to face with a man that even non-Trekkies will be able to identify? For all the adrenaline rushes that pepper the bulk of the film, the climax is both expectedly epic and surprisingly intimate. Don’t worry, folks, there is no shortage of shootouts, narrow rescues, and bone-crunching fistfights that will have you cheering right along.
What has really turned Abrams’ lens-flared vision of Star Trek into such a winner is the fact that he has found a way to evenly balance fan expectations with an accessibility that was lacking in previous Star Trek efforts. You really don’t have to be a fan to appreciate or enjoy the film. The shiny visuals will have teens ignoring their smartphones while the storyline will have the Trekk fans chatting for hours upon hours. It truly is a balanced and fizzy concoction from a director who understands how to reach a wide audience. Overall, Abrams manages to rescue the Star Trek franchise from the black hole that it was threatening to consume it, punch up the action and adventure, give fresh life to aging characters, polish the outside of the rusty USS Enterprise, and then leave the viewer wanting a whole lot more. There is no doubt in my mind that moviegoers will follow Abram and this new crew where no man has gone before.
Star Trek is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Have you ever watched someone play a video game? It’s fun for about ten minutes and then it just becomes mind numbing, filling you with the urge to snatch the controller out of player one’s hands just so you can keep from nodding off. That is how I felt while watching Len Wiseman’s Total Recall, the CGI heavy remake of director Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 original of the same name. Wiseman’s Total Recall is the type of action film that I thought Hollywood had given up on. It is spectacularly stupid and composed of never-ending action scenes that all begin to run together after about twenty minutes. I kept expecting to see someone like Dolph Lundgren or Jean-Cluade Van Damme swoop in for a cameo and maybe throw a punch or two Colin Farrell’s way. It is clear that video game style action took top priority in Total Recall and it doesn’t appear that Wiseman has any shame over it. Yes, Total Recall is the worst movie of the summer and I hardly think that anything will top it (well, except maybe The Expendables 2 but even the first one had the sense to stop and wink at itself). The major victim here is the plotline, which is subjected to one explosion, punch, kick, bullet, and knife after another. By the time we reach the overblown climax, the storyline is in ruin with no hope of putting itself back together. It may be pretty rank on the big screen, but if Total Recall were converted into an XBOX 360 or PS3 game, I think this would run off with game of the year.
Total Recall begins by explaining that a good majority of Earth has been wiped out by chemical warfare. The planet has been divided into two superpowers: The United Federation of Britain and The Colony. “The Fall”, a gigantic gravity elevator that rockets through the Earth’s core, connects the two superpowers and allows the survivors to travel back and forth. Factory worker Douglas Quaid (Played by Colin Farrell) shacks up in The Colony with his lovely wife Lori (Played by Kate Beckinsale), the two living a relatively normal life. It turns out that Doug has been suffering from a recurring nightmare every single night, a nightmare that is causing him to loose sleep. Fed up with this strange dream, Doug seeks out Rekall, a swanky lounge in a sketchy part of town that implants artificial memories. Shortly after the procedure begins, a SWAT team storms Rekall, guns down all the employees, and attempts to arrest Doug. To his surprise, Doug is able to fight off the SWAT team and finds himself on the run from Lori, who now claims to be an undercover UFB agent who has been pretending to be his wife. Desperate to figure out why Lori and the police are after him, Doug begins trying to figure out if all of this is real or if it is Rekall. His desperate search connects him to a mysterious resistance fighter named Melina (Played by Jessica Biel), the resistance leader Matthias (Played by Billy Nighy), and the sinister UFB Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen (Played by Bryan Cranston).
Don’t be fooled by the lengthy plot description, as Total Recall is mostly compiled of one long chase scene with countless gunfights thrown in to switch things up. When the film isn’t providing computerized eye candy, it is giving us flesh and blood eye candy in its three main leads. Total Recall exists to look good and nothing more and that is precisely its crime against cinema. There is not rhyme or reason why this film even exists other than to act as an exercise for the special effects department. To make things worse, screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback throw characters into the action that are there simply to act as checkpoints within the story. Farrell’s Quaid bumps into them, they explain what the hell is going on, and then they get killed. Their death gets Quaid all frazzled, a fight scene erupts between robot police officers and Quaid, and Quaid escapes with a minor scratch on his face. This is the formula that Total Recall uses and it doesn’t break from it once. And while the action is all perfectly executed, coherent, and spiffy, that still doesn’t hide the fact that it is reckless, monotonous, and nonsensical. If half the action scenes were trimmed from the film, I swear that this thing would only be about twenty minutes long. I kid you not.
Then we have all the pretty faces that populate Total Recall. Farrell is the only one who shows up to do any real acting and it is a shame because this is a total waste of his time. The script asks him to look confused as he maneuvers through nonstop explosions and gunfire that practically shatters your eardrums. Anytime he tries to add something resembling depth to his character (believe me, he IS capable of it), Wiseman pulls the camera away and aims it at Beckinsale, who also happens to be his wife. Beckinsale is basically asked to walk fast towards Farrell, who scampers away and then fights a few police officers. She basically made millions to walk fast and look good doing it (seriously). Her character is a gigantic joke, a nuisance to instigate one destructive action sequence after another. Rounding out this smoking hot trio is Biel as Melina, a character that really serves no purpose other than to explain the plot to us. Half the time, I forgot she was even there because she adds nothing substantial to this mess of a movie. Hey, at least she looks good holding a machine gun and that has to count for something.
Then we have the supporting players, who all seem to have showed up for the paycheck and then mentally checked out. Cranston is familiar evil as Cohaagen, the real bad guy who is looking to expand his empire in the most brutal way possible. Cranston may be a badass on television’s Breaking Bad but I hardly see him holding his own in a fistfight with the muscular Farrell, who manhandles man and robot alike. He hams it up next to Nighy, who seems downright embarrassed to be seen in this shitstorm. He is probably extremely grateful that we hear about his character more than we actually see him. Harold & Kumar’s John Cho drops by to play the blonde haired Bob McClane, a rep for Rekall that doesn’t last ten minutes once the bullets tear through the place. Bokeem Woodbine is present to deliver cringe-inducing dialogue as Harry, Quaid’s best buddy who strictly warns him to stay far away from Rekall. If I were Woodbine, I would have fired my agent once I saw the finished product. And what would Total Recall be without that famous three-breasted prostitute who directs Doug to that mysterious Rekall place. Oh yes, she is here and played by the lovely Kaitlyn Leeb, who grins through her whole scene. You know things are bad when Leeb only delivers three lines but manages to steal any entire movie. She is the most interesting character here.
You’d think that there would be at least one scene in Total Recall that would have justified the ten bucks that I spent on it but I honestly can’t think of one aspect I enjoyed. I guess if I had to pick something, I’d say that the special effects were pretty impressive and I got a good laugh out of the three-breasted prostitute but that still doesn’t quite make up for it. Other than that, I fought through yawns and a mild headache as things went from pretty bad to extremely awful. I also felt bad for Farrell, who I’m sure has to be kicking himself right now for agreeing to do this. Take it from me, folks, if your friends, boyfriend, girlfriend, mom, dad, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, or whoever else you see movies with suggests seeing Total Recall, calmly say that you aren’t interested in it and suggest going to see The Amazing Spider-Man or The Dark Knight Rises again. You’ll thank me later. No one should have to endure the disaster that is Total Recall.
by Steve Habrat
They may not be for everyone, but I have to say that I just love the weed-fueled duo that is Harold and Kumar. I have found their previous adventures to be uproariously funny, strangely heartwarming in their quest for those tiny steamed burgers from White Castle and their relentless quest to clear their names after being accused of being terrorists. Yet their adventures never seemed meaningless, always riffing on stereotypes of all races and confronting every taboo under the sun. Who can forget the preppy girls bathroom game “Battleshits” from Harold and Kumar go to White Castle? Or how about their trek through the ghetto, getting a flat tire, and then fleeing in terror from a group of African Americans who just aim to help in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay? For my money, I prefer the darker second installment to the first, but I still like them both. Now Harold and Kumar are taking on something much bigger than the munchies for greasy burgers and the FBI. They tackle 3D! Oh, and Christmas too. It turns out that their Christmas hijinks are not nearly as funny as you would expect. Sure, they lob every body fluid and giant clay penises out at the audience like it will be going out of style. Sure, it’s raunchier than the last two films combined. So where does A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas go wrong? Well, it just seems like it’s trying too hard to shock us without ever really accomplishing it. I’m sorry but Santa Claus receiving a shotgun blast to the head, tumbling out of the air and then snapping back to reality while exclaiming “WHAT THE FUCK?!” isn’t that funny. It’s also the furthest thing from sophisticated.
A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas has a straight forward set up. It’s been a few years since Harold and Kumar have spoken or seen each other. Harold (Played once again by John Cho) has a cushy office job, has married Maria, the Latino love of his life (Played by Paula Garcés), and lives in modest but upper scale home in a New York City suburb. Kumar (Played once again by Kal Penn) crashes in a dump of an apartment, surrounded in the haze of marijuana smoke. He has just recently broken up with his girlfriend Vanessa (Played by Danneel Ackles), a girl he still is head over heels for. Harold is hosting Maria’s parents for Christmas, a scruffy crew lead by the Christmas fanatic Mr. Perez (Played by the always welcome Danny Trejo). Mr. Perez brings with him a prized Christmas tree that he has been growing for years. After a mysterious package brings Harold and Kumar back together again, they accidentally burn down Mr. Perez’s prized tree, sending them on mad dash through New York City to find a new tree. Their journey leads them to a party thrown by a Russian gangsters virgin daughter, getting a baby stoned on weed, cocaine, and ecstasy, shooting Santa Clause with a shotgun, plotting to rob a church of their Christmas tree, drinking laced eggnog, eating at White Castle again, and crossing paths with the deranged party boy Neil Patrick Harris.
Truth be told, none of the situations that Harold and Kumar find themselves in are all that humorous in this installment. In jokes are made to the other installments and tweaks are made to the story to fit with present day issues. An Occupy Wall Street nod is thrown in, a gag that involves an egging, urinating on the windshield of a car, and human shit used as a projectile. Jabs are made about Asian’s taking pictures by Mr. Perez and so on and so forth. The problem is that the writing doesn’t hit you the way it has in the previous installments, coming across as weak and musty. Nodding to the previous two films is okay, but sometimes it feels like it is stretching it a bit. Worst yet, it’s predictable, a flaw that the first two films seemed to avoid with ease. Here, what is unpredictable lacks a satisfying pay off. This is especially true with the Russian gangster gag, a character that only exists to be an obstacle for the boys to overcome. He is never a genuine nuisance like Rob Corddry’s short fused FBI agent in Escape from Guantanamo Bay.
What also trips up this installment up is the lack of any satire. The previous installments hounded us with satire, bringing to light our hasty judgments of different races and economical standings of some individuals (Who can forget Freakshow?). It quietly slapped us on the wrists while luring out giant belly laughs in the process. It made us stand back and admit to ourselves that we are really shallow and closed off as human beings. Guantanamo Bay was much heavier with these ideas and it dared to get political, I will give it that, but this one lacks it all together. It opts for tributes to popular Christmas films and playing up the 3D add on. There are some nice touches with the rediscovery of friendship and sticking together, typical buddy movie messages that I could find in any given Happy Madison production. The film also tries to encapsulate the spirit of the season, going out of your way to bring happiness, joy, and love, especially to the nagging extended family.
The real treat in A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas is the fact that the entire cast returns to reprise their beloved roles. You can really tell that Cho and Penn enjoy playing the ethnic heroes. Hell, Penn left his White House job to once again play the gutteral Indian stoner. The film seems like the cast had a ball together and the addition of tattooed tough guy Danny Trejo was a pleasant touch. He does ramble off a few zingers throughout the 90-minute run time. Praise should also go to Neil Patrick Harris who narrowly saves the film from stinkville, once again embracing the inappropriate drug and alcohol junkie. The scene where he goes to Heaven is a jewel, especially his interaction with Jesus, who he calls “some hippie”.
I wish moments of A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas would have snowballed into something bigger and much more outrageous. It would have been appropriate for this movie with its winter setting. Instead it is comfortable with just grabbing a few chuckles and dashing off. It’s severely anticlimactic, lacking any big showdown or conflict, which was majorly disappointing. The filmmakers seemed to run out of situations that they could place our protagonists in. It doesn’t miss the opportunity in setting up another installment though and I’ll admit that it does have my interest. I’d gladly see another one of these films and I do hope they punch things up for another round. Wait a couple years and see what the social climate looks like. That seems to be the technique they are running with anyway. Sadly, the high has worn off of this franchise and this installment is crashing hard. Someone get the bong and let it toke up!