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So much fast and furious, I’m beginning to lose track!

I have a confession to make: the first film I saw in this series was Fast Five.  And I can’t remember why I decided to see it too (it was back when it came out with my friend Tiera), other than it got surprisingly good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (around 80% from what I recall) and it just looked fun [1].

And it was great.  Normally I don’t go for dumb cinema like that, but I loved it.  Everything clicked between all the actors, since they’ve been around most of the films (Tokyo Drift being that oddball curiosity [2]), but it’s the stupidly ridiculous set pieces that were the highlight, including the bank heist at the end.  This film was great.

Fast Six… not so much.  It’s still good, it’s still fun, it’s fast and it’s furious.  It just drags a lot though, especially during the middle part of the film where everyone is trying to learn things about the bad guy in the film (Owen Shaw, played by Luke Evans) and why Letty is back and why are our heroes so stupid until the very last set piece in the film (that big plane explosion? yeah, stupid trailers).  The plot twists involving Gina Carano’s character towards the end was either entirely too predictable (Jean’s view) or so poorly laid out (my view) that I doubt a rewatch would reveal anything about that (but holy shit Carano’s just awesome in general: anyone see Haywire? Fan-fucking-tastic).  And some character’s are just wasted: for example; Toretto’s girlfriend from Fast Five, Elena, does nothing in the film and gets shafted at the end.

But no one’s here for plot or anything, right?  Silly people.  You’re here for fast cars, ripped guys, hot women, and shit blowing up.  And there are fast cars, ripped guys, hot women, and shit blowing up so much it’s hard to keep track at how ridiculous it all is.  Car chase through London with racer-inspired getaway vehicles?  An army tank on a Spanish highway with cars being crushed like soda cans?  A midair vaulting rescue (trailer again too)?!  And a fucking final set piece involving a military aircraft?!  Soooo ridiculous.  A lot of the smaller pieces are well filmed too, especially the dual fight scenes with Letty and Reily (does Carano do her own stunts?  Given her MMA background, I don’t see why she shouldn’t) and Roman, Han and Jah.  Kudos to Justin Lin, he knows what he’s doing [3].

It’s great though.  Well, it’s good.  Like I said, it isn’t as good as Fast Five, and could have been thirty minutes shorter.  But it’s Fast and Furious.  You know what you’re paying for.  Just get some popcorn and sit back and enjoy the ride.

[1] The only other one I’ve since seen was the first film, which… I guess some things don’t age well?  I’ll rewatch it at some point though, along with the whole series.

[2] Speaking of which, it looks like they’re finally connecting Tokyo Drift with the rest of the series.  Stick around for the credits.

[3] Justin Lin won’t be back for number seven though.  James Wan is taking over, and I’m not sure how I feel about it in general, given he’s mainly done horror stuff.  I only saw the original Saw film, which was fine, and made great use of a limited budget to tell its story.  I’ll be there next July though.


Yay Michael Douglas!

Oh, and the rest of the movie was awesome too!

Also, it kinda sucks seeing Soderbergh bowing out of directing after this film[1].  He’s strangely hit and miss (Traffic was fantastic, while the Informant! was a really weird film), but he takes a lot of chances, both large and small, and by the looks of his filmography (just direction wise), he’s made a lot of interesting films.  I have to see a lot of them still (I own his version of Solaris, and Magic Mike is now showing on HBO), but I say that for a lot of films period.

Anyway, Behind the Candelabra.  The film was adapted from Scott Thorson’s book of the same name, where Thorson detailed his relationship with Liberace from 1977 until the latter’s death in 1987.  The limited focus of the film helps a lot; other bits (Liberace’s deathbed vision from the 1960s, his lamenting of not acting more) is told through clever flashbacks and everyday conversations.  The focus seems to be more on Thorson though, given the autobiographical nature of his book: he encounters Liberace at one of his Vegas shows, and stays in contact with him until they start living together (Thorson is hired as Liberace’s chauffeur).  The story recounts other incidents as well: Liberace getting a face lift in 1979, amongst other things (with Thorson getting some changes made as well), the slow falling out between the two in 1981 and the eventual palimony suit in 1984.  There’s no singular fault either between these two, as Liberace was always one to eye younger men he found attractive (he made room for Thorson by kicking out his previous house guest), while Thorson fell into a heavy drug habit of diet pills and coke.

Liberace himself was an interesting individual.  I read the Wikipedia entry on him (as one would when they’d like to get some info on a person): he was outgoing and flamboyant, a showman in every sense of the word.  He was very Catholic, yet very materialistic.  He was secretive too, as he fought to keep his gay identity from being known (with settled lawsuits in the 50s and 60s, as well as the Thorson palimony suit).  This brief clip kinda explains most of that, actually:

Here he is playing his Boogie Woogie:

Crazy good.

The big appeal, besides a film on Liberace, was seeing Michael Douglas in a leading role again.  I forgot for a moment that he was in Haywire, though mostly in support.  Here, he’s pretty much in command, and he’s great.  He embraces what made Liberace completely: the showman, the flamboyant and outrageous, and the private and controlling.

Everyone else was good as well.  Matt Damon played Thorson well, despite being a bit overaged for the role (apparently Thorson was in his early 20s when they met?).  His caution gave way eventually to a deep love, both familial and sexual, though he did himself in with his hard drug use.  Dan Aykroyd was Seymour Heller, Liberace’s manager, and Rob Lowe was Dr Startz, Liberace’s plastic surgeon.

Actually, one thing that was really good was the makeup in the movie.  Besides making both Douglas and Damon look younger, both Aykroyd and Lowe were practically unrecognizable.  Lowe was especially creepy: I’m guessing Dr Startz was a result of his own face lift overuse, with his narrow slit eyes and a smile that barely crossed his face but was just weird.

Behind the Candelabra has been playing late on HBO pretty much all this past week since its debut.  Definitely check it out, it’s great.

[1] This interview with Soderbergh is really good, and also gets into the background of the making of the film.

Oh, Star Trek, I am disappoint.

Warning: spoilers forthcoming, because I do have to explain why I was disappointed with the film.

I watched Star Trek (2009) prior to seeing Star Trek Into Darkness (STID).  It remains a fun and energetic movie, though the second half suffers from rather bad writing.  Abrams was able to make it work by keeping things moving, and with the performances from everyone involved that refreshed the original Star Trek mythos.

STID… not so much.  It’s a solid action movie with several great set pieces and a truly great performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, but the writing is pretty bad again, with Abrams unable to pull the film from the lack of originality it has.

Let’s start with the good though.  Obviously Cumberbatch as Khan, he was masterful.  He’s a terrific actor in general, having watched some Sherlock Holmes, but also random movies he’s appeared in that I didn’t even realize he was in (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Atonement).  He plays Khan like a mad genius, or as mad a genius as you can get with how shaky he was written.  He commands one of the film’s best scenes though, where he’s interrogated in the brig, and talking about his “family”.  So much power and raw emotion there.

All of the returning stars get something to do as well, for the most part.  Scotty (Simon Pegg) does a lot more this time around.  Sulu (John Cho) starts demonstrating that he has captain chops.  Chekov (Anton Yelchin) becomes chief engineer over a moral quandry.  And Uhura (Zoe Saldana) speaks Klingon, or something.  It took me a moment to remember that she did something worthwhile other than “stare at Spock [insert emotion adverb here]”[1].  Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, as Kick and Spock, both hit their roles again.  Quinto is actually pretty good here, blending the logical Vulcan side of Spock with his emotional human side.  The last half hour or so has him fighting that balance, with an event that sets him off and unleashes a new kind of fury within him (though that’s wasted completely, see further).  Oh, and Bones (Karl Urban) helps save the day too.

The special effects are a definite improvement over the first film.  The Enterprise looks sleek and impressive (though I still don’t know where anything is at inside that ship), the military ship the Vengeance looks appropriately intimidating, and several sequences involving those ships were well done.  The warp trail was a neat touch too.  The score was amazing as well.

This was a well directed film in general – no real incompetence about it – and if you’re able to ignore the glaring problems forthcoming, then you’ll probably enjoy it.  It isn’t as fun as the previous film, but there are some fun sequences in it (the opening sequence on Niburu, the interaction between the crew of the Enterprise), and there are things to definitely enjoy in the film.

*spoilery bits probably start here* But then stupid things happen, and you almost want to get sucked out of a cargo bay door to get away from it.

The biggest thing: Khan.  The promotion for this film, or at least his reveal, was handled poorly.  Is it just some guy named John Harrison, or is he really Khan, and they’re going in that direction with the film (I had mentioned Schroedinger’s Khan to a friend, and that’s what it felt like)?  He was Khan though, and when he said his name… nothing.  I didn’t feel the shocking reveal or the clever twist as, say, Iron Man 3 with the Mandarin.  Then again, I don’t think it was intended that way, since Khan continued to talk of his plight, but I didn’t feel any emotional resonance there.  I just didn’t care, honestly.

And I think from there is when the film, running decently at this point, stumbles and falls apart, and just rehashes the better parts of Wrath of Khan, or at least what I can recall.  There are tons of red herrings with the conspiracy theory plotting – is Khan the bad guy doing the good guys? is Admiral Marcus the good guy doing the bad guys work[2]? (Does anyone really care?)  The role reversal in the warp core would have worked better if Kirk stayed dead longer than ten minutes, but the emotional resonance from that scene (and it was probably the most heartfelt scene in the film, judging by the sizable amount of sobs heard in the theater) was undermined minutes later.  At least Spock stayed dead between films!

Oh, and Spock yelling “Khan” made me cringe.  I can’t remember if I wanted to laugh, but it just felt wrong.

The thing that took me out of the film completely happened a bit earlier, when future Spock showed up to discuss the plot.  It was just frustrating, and instead of showing us how the crew of the Enterprise would discover Khan being a evil dude, they called future Spock to have him tell us[3].

And this, I think, reveals a problem with this alternate reality universe they made with these Star Trek films.  They can, at any time, call future Spock to ask him about a big bad threat, listen to the same spiel of the temporal prime directive, and then say “fuck it, I’ll tell them anyway.”  He’s their ultimate deus ex machina (Jean just quipped “Spock ex machina”, which nails it), and that will forever prevent this crew from doing anything original because of their connection to future Spock.

There were other stupid things as well, some examples include: a post-9/11/terrorism theme that would have worked if the film was better but just feels tossed into it to add some relevance; terrible macguffins scattered throughout (mobile transwrap teleportation device? Khan’s blood?); and the question of whether Alice Eve served any other function besides fan service[4].  In the end, it’s the lack of original ideas and the constant recursion to the original Star Trek universe that killed this film for me.  I blame the writers, or at least Orci and Kurtzman.  I didn’t actually sense Lindelof’s hand here much: his Big Ideas were rather muted, and everything did more or less wrap up, unlike the mess he made with Prometheus.  Orci and Kurtzman wrote the first film though, and while I gave them the benefit of the doubt there (between how rushed Star Trek felt and how much Michael Bay redid Transformers 2 to the disaster piece that became), I can’t this time.  I doubt Abrams will be back for the third film, since he has Star Wars coming in two years, but if Orci and Kurtzman are back for the next film, consider me out.  They’re just not good at all.

In summary, Star Trek Into Darkness is a well directed and nicely produced film, but bereft of any original ideas.  I am truly disappoint.

[1]She also stunned the shit out of Khan, so that was cool.

[2]Gotta say, Peter Weller played the hell out of that role.  He was a generic villain (“I want to start a war hurhurhur”), but a well played generic villain.

[3]This sequence looked like it was filmed after the fact too, given how weirdly it looks compared to stuff that happens before and after.  Or they probably just called Nimoy to deliver the monologue and have him on his way.  Either way, it’s a dumb part of the film that just ruined it for me.

[4]Jean and I both wondered whether Eve’s character (Dr Carol Marcus, the daughter of Admiral Marcus, one of the bad guys in the film) was in league with Khan or not.  That stuck with me until she ran up to the bridge when the Enterprise was under attack and pleaded to speak with her father.  So, yeah, fan service and nothing more.

Ah, such a wonderful, beautiful mess of a film.

I find it strange how I’ve seen three of Luhrmann’s five films.  I don’t recall Romeo + Juliet much (and I haven’t seen Moulin Rouge! either), but I do remember Australia being two epic films connected together by a montage of sorts.  It was strange, and disconnected from itself, but it was big and bold and certainly impressive.  Gatsby shows that off again, with the grand scale, how big and stuff everything is, and how it threatens to overwhelm everything at times.  It’s melodrama is so over the top at times too, and yet it’s that melodrama that drives the film forward to its devastating, tragic end.  The voice over is all over the place at times.  It’s a mess, but it’s such a great mess.

Oh, and the soundtrack and score is incredible too.  It shouldn’t work (especially the use of modern pieces over some specific 1920s era parties), but it adds a certain flavor to it and gives it new energy and passion in the proceedings.  Again, big and beautiful and messy.  I’m curious if that’s Luhrmann’s motif in general.

All the actors are in top form here.  DiCaprio is certainly awesome as Jay Gatsby, a man with great charm but who hides behind many secrets.  Carey Mulligan, one of my favorite actresses (see An Education, Never Let Me Go, Drive, and Shame as prime examples), is once again great as Daisy Buchanan, playing well with a character who is more superficial than she appears.  Tobey Maguire is good as Nick Carraway, the man stuck in the middle of Gatsby wanting to relive his past and trying to figure out his own future.  I really like Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan though, a truly rat bastard of a character.  His performance probably sold me on how much I hate his character.

The story itself is fine.  I haven’t read the book in years (though I should), though Jean told me this was a pretty good adaptation of it.  What I think the film does well, and it’s a credit to Luhrmann in general, was to create the craziness of 1920s America, when Wall Street was making tons of money and prohibition fueled cheap liquor and speakeasies all over.  The color and the fashion reflected that, but also the energy and passion.  It showed off rather well too the excess of everything, and how easy it was to both rise to prominence, but also how quickly one can fall, and how hard that fall can be.  The stock market crash that followed a few years later is a grim reminder of such things, and it reflects a lot too on the most recent recession in 2008, where people lived hard and fast and beyond their means, only to see it disappear when the stock market fell and banks foreclosed on a lot of people.

So yeah, the film offers a bit of something beyond the excess and the glam.  It’s interesting in that regard.  It’s Luhrmann though: expect beauty, expect things on a grand scale, expect a mess.  You won’t be disappointed.

EDIT: Jean and I saw it in 3D.  It looked really good, surprisingly.  Just wanted to add that.

Tony Stark and Iron Man is back, and after the misstep/retread that was Iron Man 2, in much better form.

I will note now: I will get spoiler-ific, though I’ll keep it separate from the actual review.  There will be a line separating the two sections.  Though, $175 million open weekend?  You should have seen it by now at least.

As for the review?  Well, Tony Stark, facing anxiety from the events in Avengers, is trying harder than before in keeping himself (and others around him, like Pepper Potts) protected.  The Mark 42 suit, for example, is a suit constructed of individual pieces and controlled by small receivers embedded in Stark’s arms.  He runs into trouble though when unexpected demons from his past show up, along with the terrorist known as the Mandarin.

Iron Man 3 is a much better film than the second one was, simply by not rehashing everything from the first film (climactic battle against bigger badder suit? check).  It keeps away from all of the Avengers stuff too, and that I feel is a good thing.  Iron Man 2 suffered a bit as well from trying to connect Iron Man to the whole Avengers universe.  The singular focus helps in a good way.  It’s not as tight as the first film – it feels looser, and some scenes don’t connect well – but it’s still well filmed, especially with the big action pieces that occur (Tony’s mansion, Air Force One, and the harbor sequence at the end).

Everyone that returns from the previous film is good. Downey Jr is impeccable as Tony Stark, as always.  Gwyneth Paltrow is great and is given a lot more to do, which is awesome (though being the damsel-in-distress for a moment again is wearing thin).  Don Cheadle is back as Col. Rhodes/War Machine (or, jokingly, the Iron Patriot) and has some good scenes as well.  The several new cast additions were all good as well, to a varying degree: Guy Pierce is good as Aldrich Killian, the founder of AIM and the creator of the Extremis virus, which acts as one of the plot catalysts; Rebecca Hall plays Dr Maya Hansen well, though I was confused at times with her motivations; and Ben Kingsley is the Mandarin, and part of the spoiler discussion coming.

All in all, this is a good, solid film.  Better than the second film, and a natural progression for Tony Stark/Iron Man to take.

There are two bits of spoiler stuff I want to discuss, both good: the post-credits sequence and the Mandarin.

The post-credits sequence, with Bruce Banner as a “psychologist” to Tony Stark, is pretty funny and works well. The one thing I was particularly glad to see what that they didn’t advance any sort of Avengers plot. What I’m guessing is that the Avengers stuff will be limited to post Thor (given how galactic that one will be), if they do that, and Guardians of the Galaxy. The latter seems the more natural fit, since that film will transition into Avengers 2, if they’re going to do the Thanos route with it.

The Mandarin reveal was interesting, and a welcomed change of pace from the norm. Yes, he’s Asian in the comics apparently, but terrorists from anywhere in Asia has been done to death in movies. Making him a drunk British stage actor named Travis is a bold, brilliant move that works, especially in the movie: have someone act as your face while you cause all the mayhem in the background. It’s a clever bit of misdirection. Though, Killian as the main villain was hard to say. I didn’t mind too much, though I’ve heard both positive and negative reactions to him.

There’s also this piece over on Badass Digest that pretty much says that no one saw the Mandarin reveal coming, since Marvel didn’t hype it up. There’s the comparison to JJ Abrams and Star Trek regarding Schroedinger’s Khan as well, though I might have different problems with the film besides that. I won’t voice them until I see the film though, if those criticisms do apply.

So one speculation and one awesome reveal. Dicussions?

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