It took a couple of days and an errant first draft after seeing “Star Trek Into Darkness” to realize that what I found most galling at first is in fact thrilling, glorious subversion by allegory. Sure, JJ Abrams liberally imposes his goofball digitally created lens flares; his action scenes aren’t exceptional at spatial coherence; and the reign of male-pattern bathos is interspersed with comic callbacks to touchstones from nearly fifty years of “canon” derived from Gene Roddenberry’s stories, as well as four television series and eleven feature films. There are bright colors, a camera style of no fixed address, and a pace that moment-to-moment is “fun,” aided immeasurably by a lovingly manic score by Michael Giacchino (“Alias,” “LOST,” “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “Up,” “Super 8,” “Star Trek”), capable of striking notes that range from fear to giddiness in the same passage and always capable of being bigger than the biggest CGI explosions aloud in space, but never bigger than the love that Spock has for Man, I mean, Jim. Read the rest of this entry »
Baz Luhrmann, Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio.
I never expected Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” to feel understated, but it’s almost demure at times. While busy and jumped-up, it’s as much about trappings of luxe, the secret life of brands. (The brands include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jay-Z, Tiffany & Co., Miu Miu, Prada, Brooks Brothers, Fogal of Switzerland, Moët & Chandon, and of course, Baz Luhrmann.) Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio: none of this trio of dreamers, schemers, adulterers and enablers feels like a grown-up, only playacting children rather than Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway and Daisy Buchanan. (Even DiCaprio’s pronounced laugh lines fail to make him seem Gatsby’s age of thirty-two.) But Gatsby’s mannered way of speaking, a made-up accent of uncertain and variable provenance, is annoying, transparent and wholly appropriate. As is our introduction to the elusive Gatsby’s full face, gleaming and golden and fireworks-festooned like the most grandiloquent Suntory whiskey ad ever storyboarded. Such freighted momentousness is endless, the acting erratic, sapping even Mulligan’s sorrowful kitten-cum-coquette intonations of quiet despair. Read the rest of this entry »
Who was Professor Marvel, long before he met Dorothy in the sepia-toned opening of “The Wizard of Oz”? He is Oscar Diggs (James Franco) in “Oz The Great and Powerful,” directed by Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man,” “The Evil Dead”). Set in 1905, this delectable 3-D fantasy adventure starts in black-and-white. Oscar is a cad of a carnie magician who knows Dorothy’s future mother prior to her marrying Dorothy’s future father. To flee a furious circus strongman, Oscar boards a balloon and lands in a colorful widescreen Oz. (That’s the same balloon that Professor Marvel refurbished to leave Oz at the end of the 1939 film.) Three characters from Kansas are doubled in this new “Oz.” One is a girl in a wheelchair (Joey King) who implores Oscar: “Make me walk.” He cannot, blaming “a distemper in the ether tonight.” Later, in Oz he will succeed in gluing the broken leg of a plucky China doll voiced by King. Inhabitants see in Oscar’s name and descent from the sky a prophecy come true. “You are going to fix everything,” exclaim the oppressed of the kingdom. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
All the characters in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” just want to get home. Me, too!
In the first installment of his three-part digital video adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s 95,000-word precursor to “The Lord of the Rings,” set sixty years earlier, co-writer-co-producer-director Peter Jackson makes it through six chapters of “The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again” in just under three hours. The final product, finished in 2014, then with extra footage added, as is Jackson’s custom, should amount to a ten-hour or so running time. (Has it ever taken anyone taller than an elf that long to read the 270 or so pages of the book?)
In its present incarnation, “The Hobbit” is exhibited in a numbing number of 3-D formats, including an accelerated frame-rate (HFR) double that of regular projection. (Reportedly, that fashion looks a lot like events shown on badly adjusted flat-screen TVs in sports bars; I’ve only seen the “Real 3-D” version.) “All good stories deserve embellishment,” we’re told. And while to this non-initiate, the relentlessly eventful pageantry, crammed with protean design elements, feels erratic and overinflated, leaning all too heavily on the reverent invocation of names of places, battles, weapons and off-screen characters, “The Hobbit” should bring pleasure to those predisposed to follow those who fear the dragon “Smaug.” (Yes, you know who you are.) Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
The great nineteenth-century Romantic painter of sky, water and tempest J. M. W. Turner wanted to lash himself to a mast to get a full faceful of sea. There’s some of that giddy danger in the splendid surfaces and 3D depths of Ang Lee’s “Life Of Pi.”
The ferocious swells and intent visual beauty Lee has brought to Yann Martel’s best-selling seeking-of-the-spiritual yarn quickly evokes a second thought: “Kitty, kitty, kitty, nice kitty, here kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty,” in response to a gorgeously rendered digital Bengal tiger named “Richard Parker.” From a shipwreck-and-survival story with lots of God bits studded within—the ship that sinks, Tsimtsum is named for a Kabbalistic concept that God must withdraw from a world he creates—Lee conjures something richer than Martel’s magical somnambulism. And David Magee’s script adaptation mocks overreach. A novelist who met his uncle back in India visits an older Pi: “He said you had a story that will make you believe in God.” And Pi says, smiling, “He would say that about a good meal.”
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Genndy Tartakovsky (“Samurai Jack,” “The Powerpuff Girls,” ”Dexter’s Laboratory,” “Star Wars: Clone Wars”) directs a smart and smart-alecky screenplay by Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel about a vampire teen stretching her bat wings. She kisses a non-vampire and sucks not a corpuscle. Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez) wants to get out of gloomy Romania and go to the sunny spot where her father Drac (Adam Sandler) first met her late mother, as pictured in a faded postcard. Home-schooled with too little geography, she pronounces “Hawaii” like the “Wii” game platform. That’s typical of the popcult bits, alongside a werewolf upset at the depiction of his kind in “Twilight.” Read the rest of this entry »
“Finding Nemo,” in memory, feels like one of the more genial of Pixar’s movies, but I was surprised to discover Newcity’s original May 25, 2003 review, was so direct and to the point: “Pixar: bottom-line behemoths who do no wrong fiscally or funnily. The top-of-the-line, terabyte-heavy animation of the comic creatures under “Finding Nemo”’s sea is a joy unto itself: an ever-undulating Lava Lamp tapestry suitable for both moppets and potheads. The voices include Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres, and both are swell, writers and directors alike adept at exploring and exploiting the contours of their comic personalities, as much for range as for possible familiarity to an audience. The jokes are terrific, families are reunited, the gags continue through the end credits, and Apple stock will remain buoyant.” Read the rest of this entry »