Star Trek - I'm kinda torn about this one. I hate to say it, I heard such good things the past week, I had pretty high hopes, and it fell short. It's a very fun movie, it's a good summer movie, it certainly has mass appeal, the casting is spectacular, the effects are beautiful. Believe it or not, I'm totally on board with the method of the "reboot" even though it involves, gasp, time travel! I didn't necessarily need a reboot, I don't think there's anything fundamentally wrong with the star trek universe. You can make shitty movies in a universe of any quality. Besides the fact that this is before everything except Enterprise, so how burdened are they by the mythos? But, whatever, they wanted to reboot, JJ Abrams wanted to stamp his little feet and make his mark and it's a new universe - fine. I actually like the way they did it even though it has stupid fucking time travel and I'm fine with going forward from here. A friend described it as Marvel's Ultimate line, which I find to be spot on. It's a different time line (the movie went out of the way to obnoxiously point this out to the droolers) with its own share of stories to tell. Granted, this isn't comics, if we go with this one we have to leave the other one be for a while or for good. Nonetheless, it's a good analogy and I like the universe they've set up. I hope it stays limited to TOS times though, I don't need to see a slightly altered Voyager where 7 of 9 is 5 of 6 and Chakotay has a vagina. So the movie is fun, the casting really is great, Simon Pegg kind of steals the last bits. But the movie has a lot of little faults. The "science" pushes it even for star trek. The faults with star trek, as always, aren't when they do things and just expect you to accept it (no one defends warp drive or phasers), it's when they try to explain things and it's dumb (a supernova that destroys the galaxy? you are stupid and fired and stupid). That and just common sense things that take you out of the movie. Just because it's star trek doesn't mean you can be dumb. But whatevs, star trek is silly, it has time travel and happy magic lands (the nexus), and heisenberg compensators, nothing new. My biggest problem with the movie, honestly, is that it's just so... plebian. The humor, fully 50% of it, is slapstick cheesy bullshit. There are truly clever moments (again, pegg is great), but so much of it is just shit comedy. An short little alien sidekick? really? hitting your head on the bulkhead? seriously? hands accidently on boobs?! come on! It just had so much stupid amateur shit jokes for the masses. If this is what it takes to make star trek palletable for the mouth breathing Dance Flick attendees, fuck 'em, I'll keep star trek in my nerdy corner that will never see any real or sustaining success. This crap is what's wrong with the latter star trek movies and the star wars prequels (though it did spare us the puns, thank you jesus). I expected a lot more from JJ Abrams and from the critical response I've heard so far. It's not a bad movie, it's a good movie, it's a fun movie, I hope they make another. But I hope they fire the half of the writers they borrowed from According to Jim and give more money to the other half. Also: why do romulans design their ships based on that quake 3 jumpy level? also also: why does everyone in the future have slanty sideburns? also also also: did the lens flare button get stuck down or something? seriously, we get it, the bridge is glowey, now cut it out.
Frost/Nixon - Finally my Oscar movies of 2008 are pretty much complete. There's gaps, but the main ones are finally seen. Perhaps more than any other of the movies, I was really anticipating this movie. The subject matter, or the buzz around it, I was very excited to see it. That might be why I was slightly disappointed with the movie at first. Not that it was bad in any way, there's no real faults, but there is a lot of set up. A lot of stuff I didn't know would be in the movie, I had this idea that it would be much more play-like, and almost entirely focused on the interview itself. The first half is setting up Frost, and some insight into the social form of Nixon, but it was just good, mostly unamazing. The best part of the first half was Michael Sheen. He had such a fantastic permanent veneer on his face. An eternal facade, pretending to be something he clearly wasn't. The dread and insecurity and fear of failure all but bursting around the corners of his smile and the tip of his eyebrows. It was really quite good. Unfortunately, that was all the first half held for me. All the other actors do a very good job, though, Bacon in particular is perfect. The other guys on the Frost team are good. But as soon as the interview started, wow. Sheen is once again on point, for the first three interviews just cringing under the dominating Nixon presence. You could see him wilt and crack and try to play it off as okay, it was great. Frank Langella as Nixon in the first half was kind of boring. A good job, but just being a boring droning storyteller, which can only be exciting. But when he became impassioned, he was a force on screen, I can only imagine what it would be like in person in the play. During the late night phone call, and during that last interview, Langella is just a master, completely captivating. It may have been a long way to go, but the interview is so great, it makes the movie great. I think this movie and Doubt are a perfect pair. Plays made into movies characterized by two masterful performances. Sadly, neither have the resonance or lasting effect as what are still my favorite 2008 movies, the Wrestler and Slumdog. But still really good movies.
M - What a fascinating movie! This movie has a lot of history. It is made by Fritz Lang, later a nazi propagandist. It was his first "talkie" after (I'm told by the commentary) strong resistance to sound, as he was one of the founders of german silent films. It's also considered the first serial killer movie. It also stars this guy Peter Lorre, who I didn't know the name of, but certainly recognize from these old movies. So that's the framework, I kind of expected it to be interesting for it's cinema history importance, but not really much beyond that. But it really was very good in several ways. There are lots of themes, most of which I got, and symbols and motifs, much of which I did not (hearing them in the commentary). The movie covers a lot of social issues (it is essentially a statement movie). It covers mob mentality, mass media, mass fear/hysteria, police procedure, capital punishment, subjective morality, governmental control, and more. It covers a lot of ground, mostly pretty well. It all has a lot of resonance today, for me, espeically with all the swine flu bullshit lately. It's hard to cover that much and do it well, and each issue has probably been done better since with 80 years of cinema as practice. Yet in the end I'm pretty blown away by how effective it is. I do have a big problem with the movie, which is its final social message "Protect the children!!" It's not a failing of the film to deliver its message, I just don't like that message. It's surprising, with all the commentary on mass media leading to mass hysteria, I was on board, I thought the point was that it maniuplates and controls us, that we needn't be so afraid of that dangerous evil out of sight (or off screen, in this case). Then it has this plea to the audience to watch our children, that punishing criminals (or not, it's not perfectly clear) will not protect them, only our vigilence can. I have a big problem with this culture of fear and control through fear, and it seems like the film gives in to that at the end, and I'm confused.
Stop-Loss - Well, this movie was average. At first I thought it had a good chance. It wasn't amazingly acted, or written, or filmed. But, believe it or not (produced by MTV!), I felt like it had the angst of a young person. That rather than slick as shit killers, or archetypical place holders, or plain ole dumbshits, the soldiers felt like actual kids and more importantly the story was being told as if an actual kid was making it. That's not totally a good thing, but it seemed perhaps a bravely appropriate thing. But it doesn't really last, it becomes a fugitive story and a depressing story and a generally average story. An so in reflection I think maybe the perspective was just trying to appeal to kids, not an honest attempt to give insight. So the movie loses me, not a bad movie, maybe the right movie for some, just ok for me.
Downfall - Oh man, really good movie. It's about the end of the WW II in Germany, Hitler and the generals and his secretary and how the last few weeks played out. I've never seen this part of the story. I suppose there is no lack of movies about it, but I havne't seen them. Every WW II movie I've seen ended where this one starts. And the most amazing thing about it is that you almost feel sorry for the nazis. You know they are murderous evil bastards, but at their end, you feel pity. And that only succeeds because of the wonderful way this movie is framed. You never see the murder or the evil. You only see the generals and their maps, making plans, sending troops this way or that. You don't see the troops dying, you don't see the civilians suffering, you sure as hell don't see the jews, polish, gypsies, or others being round up, gassed, or tortured. And that is exactly the point. This movie is nominally from the perspective of Hitler's secretary. It's not first person, it's not narrated, it's not only what she sees, but it's the kind of things she sees. The movie is bookended by footage of the real woman, near the end of her life, reflecting on her choices. The point is she didn't see any of the evil, she was just doing her job and seeing the day to day. Of course we all agree that isn't enough, that you can't be blind to it, but the movie does such an amazing job of only showing those things, that it allows for that inch of pity to work it's way in. As I'm typing it it's hard to beleive I felt that way, but I know I did. The movie also shows the way different nazis dealt with the failing of their world, which was equally amazing. Some held on to glory, or to duty, or loyalty, hope, family, politics. They each had a thing they clung to as the russians came crashing down upon them. And then each of them gave it up in some way, also different for each person, though often with the same result. Tragic choices, despairing excuses or justifications. It was really fantastic. I suppose everything I've talked about is plot/script related, but everything in the movie stood up and supported that script. The acting was perfect, from a truly insane hitler to the naive devoted secretary, the actors had to carry a lot of weight to express all these attitudes. Such a fantastic movie.
Vicky Christina Barcelona - So.... people like this thing, eh? I have a fear that I'm prejudging it, as I've never seen a Woody Allen movie, yet I'm pretty sure I don't like Woody Allen movies. Still this movie seems like what I wouldn't like about his movies. It seems so self-involved and narcassistic and pointless. The narration, which I at first thought I would really like, became annoying, intrusive, and at times literally telling me what I was watching happen and didn't need description of. The investigation of love and relationships seems cliched and uninspired. The characters have a simplistic view of relationships, on both sides of the debate. If I'm kind, the movie just isn't for me, but it will speak to some people who will find insight in these silly relationships. If I'm unkind, Woody Allen really wants to be that sexy guy who can swoop in and steal a taken woman off to another place and fall in love with her.