In 2009, J.J. Abrams accomplished the impossible and successfully negotiated an unwinnable scenario by rebooting the Star Trek franchise with a new cast in a story that maintained continuity -- yet also broke somewhat -- with the establish Trek universe. This reset gave him license to play with the characters in entirely new ways; for instance, the relationship between Uhura and Spock. With the newly released Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams plays with the entire character of the Federation itself, playing out logically the results of events that created his alternate universe and arriving at a colder, harder conclusion that doesn't sit well with many hardcore fans.
Based on his Daily Show appearance this week, in which Abrams explained his goal was to make a movie for moviegoers and not just Star Trek fans, some have said he is only concerned with his film making as much money as possible. My own feeling was that Abrams again succeeded in bringing to life a story that is true to the characters on the Enterprise, but a disturbing departure from Gene Roddenberry's vision of The United Federation of Planets.
This is not the first time Trek fans have seen a darker vision of the future: The clandestine agency known as Section 31 mentioned in Star Trek Into Darkness has appeared a number of times in the various TV shows, which have also hinted at a much darker future for the Federation in centuries to come.
But the events on screen now, in this movie, are the darkest we've seen for the classic Trek characters, aren't they? As much as we might want to blame the effects of Christopher Nolan's Batman films for the darkening of comic-book and sci-fi films, there is precedent for a darker side of the Federation scattered through classic episodes. A 13-year-old Jim Kirk witnessed the massacre of 4,000 colonists by Governor Kodos during a food shortage on Tarsus IV (episode "The Conscience of the King"). The Federation also was known to have violent criminals and treated the criminal behavior as a sickness to be cured via therapy in one of several installations known as asylums ("Whom Gods Destroy").
It is also very well established that pre-Federation history included a series of wars that nearly destroyed civilization on Earth, and that but for the civilizing influence of the Vulcans, the UFP would have been a much more warlike body. In fact, classic Trek includes a mirror universe in which events did play out differently, resulting in a fleet where starship captains murder their way into command.
Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rich Boy
This often-repeated quote begins F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story Rich Boy, but it could be from Fitzgerald's magnum opus The Great Gatsby, a novel about the very rich. And the latest film adaptation of The Great Gatsby brings to mind a twist on the quote: Let me tell you about Baz Luhrmann's films. They are different.
Different, of course, can be wonderful. Luhrmann's proudly over-the-top style -- a mix of grand scale, busy, color-saturated visuals, daring anachronisms, hyperactive pacing and general excess -- works very well in his most successful features, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!.
Luhrmann's brand of filmmaking, however, doesn't work so well in The Great Gatsby for two reasons: The story is character driven, not visually driven. And Luhrmann doesn't realize that a little 3D goes a long, long way.
The Great Gatsby and Luhrmann should be a great match, as the filmmaker and the novel's central figure, the Jazz Age millionaire Jay Gatsby, share a love of artifice and excess. Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) lives in an ostentatious mansion in the fictional Long Island village of New Egg, where he leads a life of leisure, self indulgence and extravagant parties, punctuated with the occasional shady business deal that finances his lifestyle.
As the crème de la crème of the film industry begins invading the French Riviera for the 2013 Festival de Cannes, it is quite apropros for a movie about one of the Impressionist masters who spent his last days in the lush French countryside to open this week at the Regal Arbor here in Austin.
Based upon Jacques Renoir's work Le Tableau Amoureux, director and screenwriter Gilles Bourdos' drama Renoir paints a lush vignette of the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet) at the age of 74. Arthritis wreaks havoc on his body, and his middle son Jean (Vincent Rottiers) is dealing with his own combat wounds from his World War I mobilization.
The pair are both enamored and inspired by Renoir's latest model, the fiery headstrong young Andrée (Christa Theret). Pierre-Auguste's grief over the death of his wife Aline is lightened by Andrée's free-spirited nature and graceful body. Despite Jean's determination to rejoin his comrades once he's recovered from his injuries, his love for Andree inspires him to plan for a future in cinema as a filmmaker.
Shane Black is one of the pioneering Hollywood screenwriters of the contemporary action genre. The screenwriter for Lethal Weapon 1 & 2, Last Action Hero and his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang now takes the reins of one of the biggest and most-beloved moneymaking franchises in the golden age of comic-book Hollywood. A $200 million budget is proof Marvel and Disney think Iron Man 3 is in good hands, but canon-obsessed fanboys may not agree.
Co-scripted with TV writer Drew Pearce (who's also credited in the upcoming Pacific Rim and Sherlock Holmes 3), this entry in the series incorporates many fan-favorite storylines and characters from the Iron Man comics. Though they're brought together in a mega-blockbuster of an action film, one or two departures from established canon will be the subject of controversy among hardcore fans for the foreseeable future. Naturally, I won't go into specifics here (no spoilers!) but moviegoers who are more interested in what's onscreen and less concerned with the printed page will have a great time. I guarantee it.
If that phrase is familiar to you, you'll understand when I say this movie is all about suits. It's clear from a shot in the trailer that in Iron Man 3, Tony Stark has more suits than a Men's Wearhouse. At least a double-digit percentage of the effects budget must have been spent on animating Stark putting on, taking off, getting into or being knocked out of one of his battle-armored suits. In fact, Robert Downey Jr. probably spends more screen time putting on his superheroic suits than actually fighting in them.
That's probably a deliberate choice, as the story heavily involves Stark's internal conflict between spending time with the people he loves and spending every moment working to protect them. This is a struggle we've seen before in films like Superman II, when Clark gives up his powers to be with Lois, or to an extent in the 2007 Spider-Man 3, when Peter Parker's emotional turmoil affects his superhero abilities.
After the events at the end of The Avengers, Tony Stark is suffering from insomnia and panic attacks as he works ceaselessly to improve his armor designs. After challenging a mysterious terrorist figure known only as The Mandarin to a one-on-one battle, the resulting surprise (?) attack leaves him stranded, forced to deal with the powerful enemy minus his usual limitless resources and therefore prove Iron Man is Stark himself, and not just the battle suit. This theme is echoed in the heroics of Don Cheadle as Col. James Rhodes, aka War Machine, who likewise finds himself forced to operate outside the suit when they team up.
When Chris Nicola traveled to the Ukraine, it was to understand his own family's history and explore caves. Not only did he inexplicably discover everyday objects such as buttons and shoes in a remote cave, but he also unearthed a rumor of a group of Jews who lived in a cave. These discoveries led to an incredible Holocaust survival story of how 38 people lived underground for a year and a half -- the longest recorded sustained underground survival -- to escape the death camps. Nicola confirmed the story by locating 14 of the original cave inhabitants.
The experiences of these Ukrainian Jews is captured in the documentary No Place on Earth -- which opens in Austin tomorrow at Regal Arbor -- by longtime television producer Janet Tobias in her film directorial debut. The survivors are now in their eighties and nineties, but they were quite young when they took refuge in the cave. According to Tobias (from the press notes), "There were no leaders in the cave above about 35. And they were doers – they weren’t thinkers and analyzers. They really didn’t have the time to sit around and contemplate."
No Place on Earth can easily be described as a docu-drama rather than documentary, as the movie relies mostly on dramatic re-enactments of the group's experience in the cave. This vérité style is enhanced with interwoven present-day interviews with the main storytellers, including brothers Saul and Sam Stermer and sisters Sonia and Sima Dodyk. Thanks to the resourcefulness and determination of the brothers, the group had a community that survived despite the odds -- often with very little food or water for days on end, and with very little light.
Trash Dance opens Friday for a weeklong run at Violet Crown Cinema.
The adage that one person's trash is another person's treasure is relevant to Trash Dance, but doesn't apply in the strictest sense. In the Austin indie documentary and the dance performance it celebrates, the treasure isn't the trash -- it's the unlikely beauty of trash collection.
Director Andrew Garrison's film is an inspiring look at the Trash Project, Austin choreographer Allison Orr's ambitious dance performance featuring 24 City of Austin Solid Waste Services Department employees and 16 large sanitation vehicles. (That's right -- trash trucks.) The performance and the film find artistry in the mundane world of picking up garbage; more importantly, they show us there is dignity in even the hardest and least desirable jobs.
Creating the dance was a year-long project starting in late 2008. Orr knew that to choreograph such a work, she had to get to know the workers, earn their trust, understand what they do and study their movements. So she spent many days the job with them, and not just as an observer. She emptied garbage cans, picked up litter, collected dead animals (a task she could barely stomach) and learned to appreciate the finer points of picking up trash. Garrison's film crew tagged along, capturing every messy detail and introducing us to some of the people who keep our world clean.
Robert Redford's newest film The Company You Keep is a charmingly small movie with a larger-than-life cast. It tells the story of members of the Weather Underground, a radical political group from the late Sixties who were well known for both their opposition to the Vietnam War and the use of violence to deliver their message. The Company You Keep deals primarily with the aftermath of this violence.
During this group's heyday, some of the members decided to rob a bank. During the robbery, a security guard is killed and many members of the group are forced to go underground. After four decades underground, the first crack in their wall of secrecy breaks when Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), one of the bank robbers, is captured at a gas station near Albany, New York. Soon after, the news of Sharon's arrest reaches the desk of Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), a young ambitious reporter for a struggling newspaper in Albany. After a well-deserved razzing by his editor, Shepard decides to follow up on the story of Solarz's involvement with the Weather Underground.
On weekends as a kid, my sister and I would go play on my godparents' farm, which was just outside of the county seat where we lived in rural Maryland. Their two kids were our greatest friends, and together we formed a fearsome foursome, subjecting ourselves to our own glorious reign of terror that included snapping turtle bites, egregious poison ivy, falls from trees, fences, tire swings, horses and roofs, unfriendly ghost sightings, four-wheeler accidents and various fights with fists/mud/sticky burrs/chewing gum. We were always filthy and often bloody, but it was always an amazing adventure.
Some great children's films, like The Goonies, The Black Stallion and The Wizard of Oz, have captured youthful myth-making and discovery to cinematic advantage, and often use childhood dramas as a metaphor for adult problems happening just outside the frame. In Jeff Nichols' latest movie Mud, the grown-up world is at the center of the story but is seen through the electric naivete of youth. The magic of Mud is that you don't have to pretend to remember the heightened feeling of being a kid who finds an adventure. With Mud, you can watch the movie through a 12-year-old's eyes without ever leaving your own.
Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland play Ellis and Neckbone, a contemporary Arkansas version of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Like those two, one of the boys has a family and one is essentially an orphan, but both have problems at home and find that in this world, trouble itself is routine. The boys have a confidence that's both impressive and comic; they can fish, drive and operate a motorboat, but they are still learning how to curse.
On Friday, the movie Upstream Color opened in Austin and is currently screening at Violet Crown Cinema and Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter.
While at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, I sat down for a conversation about the film with writer/director Shane Carruth, pictured above with producer Casey Gooden, production designer Tom Walker and editor David Lowery. This psychological science-fiction narrative is Carruth's long-awaited second feature.
Carruth also stars in the film with Amy Seimetz as a couple reluctantly brought together by forces of nature and fate beyond their control. Together they must piece together their lives and come to an understanding of their connection to one another and other people.
Tom Cruise stars as Jack in the movie Oblivion, director Joseph Kosinski's (Tron: Legacy) cinematic reinterpretation of his own graphic novel. The year is 2077. Jack keeps drones in maintenance; these drones protect ginormous "hydrorigs," which suck in seawater to create fusion power for the removed citizens of Earth. Attacking the hydrorigs and drones are alien-like "scavs," who, Jack tells us, are behind the destruction of the Earth. "We won the war, but lost the planet," he states during some fairly trite narration.
In this post-apocalyptic film, Tom Cruise is onscreen fourth-fifths of the time. If you don't care for Cruise, odds are you won't care for Oblivion. Still, Cruise isn't really the complete problem with the movie. Let me count the ways I was disappointed.
- The hollow depiction of women in Oblivion. Jack works and sleeps with teammate Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, Happy Go Lucky, Made in Dagenham), who has large pupils (especially obvious on an IMAX screen) and no personality. She looks forward to going back to their home on Titan and has sex with Jack in a pool. Jack goes out to check on his drones in his functional clothing, while Vicka, as communications manager, hangs around their pad in tight sheath dresses and stiletto heels.