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Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

I’ve been a big fan of Star Trek for most of my life and I’ve tagged along with the franchise through good times (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Star Trek First Contact ) and troubled times (Voyager, Enterprise, Star Trek Insurrection). When I was kid, I loved the original series, but I love the movies more and watched Wrath of Khan so many times that I could (and, embarrassingly, still can) recite the lines along with the actors.

When they announced they were re-booting the series back in 2009 with an all new cast playing Kirk, McCoy, Spock, et all, I was cautiously optimistic. After all, nothing they did could hurt the franchise worse than anything Rick Berman did. Star Trek came out and everybody loved it and it made a ton of money and, most impressively, it made Star Trek cool.

When the sequel was announced I was more than cautiously optimistic and bounced around like a loon waiting for it to come out. To the credit of the marketing team, the trailers they released showed almost nothing of the plot. I knew next to nothing about what to expect going in. Except explosions.

And lens flares.

Star Trek Into Darkness  picks up pretty much where the first left off, with Kirk (Chris Pine) the Captain of the Enterprise and still as reckless and brash as he was in the last movie. Spock (Zachary Quinto) still doesn’t get human emotions. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is still dating Spock. And so on.

One of the reasons why the first movie was so successful with both old and new fans is that they jettisoned decades of cumbersome backstory in order to tell new stories wit established characters, which Into Darkness continues to do. Everyone still feels very familiar, but you don’t need to have seen Spectre of the Gun to understand the multiple layers of Chekhov’s character. The classic characters have been rebuilt on the same foundations, but with enough tweaks and modifications to keep them compelling and interesting.

In fact, the plot of this movie builds upon plots of some older episodes and reintroduces a few new/old characters as well as aspects of Starfleet like Section 31, more so than Star TrekInto Darkness has a stronger villain, a more compelling plot and a tighter grasp of the characters that comes from everyone involved being more comfortable.

It’s a visually brilliant movie right from the beginning  where Kirk and McCoy (Karl Urban) run through a vivid red alien jungle chased by striking, white aliens while Spock rappels into an active volcano from a shuttle. And, if you couldn’t tell from that preceding sentence, the action is just as lively as it was in the first movie. There are ships exploding and fight scenes and disintegrations and cool warp effects. It’s a shiny, pretty movie and one that does the genre credit.

Also, spoilers: Benedict Cumberbatch is exactly who you think he is and he’s wonderful and I want to hug him and hold him and never let him go.

All in all, Star Trek Into Darkness is a funny, explosive and intense entry in the Trek series and J.J. Abrams once again proves that he was the right person for the job and it makes me want to see, more than ever, how he handles the Star Wars series.

I give it a Baker’s Dozen of bowl cuts and pointy ears.

-D-

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Saturday Night Movie Review: Stake Land

I believe, fervently, that Saturday nights are made for watching bad movies, mainly because I’m a shut-in with the personal skills of a wounded bear who was already not too fond of people. But finding the right bad movie is difficult. You need to hit all the right notes of hilarious dialogue, wooden acting and over-the-top special effects. Sometimes you spend ten minutes flipping through the Netflix Instant selection of horror movies, think you’ve hit a winner (The Stuff) and then realize that you’ve made a terrible mistake (aside from the uncomfortable under and overtones and the wonderful casting of Michael Moriarty as a master of corporate espionage, The Stuff was dull. Insane, but dull). You have an option: turn back and spend another ten minutes browsing before clicking on Strippers versus Werewolves or just sticking it out with The Stuff.

So, in order to spare you and your loved ones the pain of watching the wrong bad movie, I offer to you my semi-weekly, most likely going to only do this twice, feature of Saturday Night Movie Review. I will scour Amazon Prime and Netflix Instant looking for the best, bad horror movie for you to enjoy. This is a service I graciously provide for free. Buy my book.

This week: Stake Land

I chose Stake Land because the poster reminded me of Zombieland and Zombieland still fills me with warm cheer whenever I think about it. There are also a few plot point similarities (post Apocalyptic America, surly vampire/zombie hunter teams up with teen to travel the countryside). The difference is that while Zombieland was an entertaining romp and hilarious, Stake Land is a giant downer. It’s Zombieland meets The Road. Vampires have overrun the country and it’s no longer safe to go out at night. Unlike in, say, Daybreakers, the vampires are not suave sophisticates, but drooling, brutal beasts that operate more on Old World Europe Vampyr rules than 19th Century Victorian Vampire rules.

StakeLand

Stake Land is not a bad movie. It’s well shot and has a great, grungy, country feel that I really dig. At times it felt a little like a western, especially in regard to the costume design and musical score: lots of fiddles and denim. There’s less of a coherent plot and more a journey of the two main characters, Martin and Mister. Mister is the bad-ass vampire slayer out of the two, if you couldn’t figure it out. They’re traveling north through the wasteland that is Vamp infested America to reach a place called New Eden which could be the best hope for our heroes to have a life that approaches normal. Or it could be a hellhole that’s out of food where the inhabitants have turned to cannibalism. It’s up in the air on that front.

They have adventures, they meet new people and one depressing episode after the other happens until we reach the end of the movie and it ends exactly like you thought it would. My only major complaint with the movie is The Brotherhood. They’re an ultra-religious movement that believes the vampires are God’s way of cleansing the Earth and, as such, anyone killing the vampires must be bad. They even go out of their way to helicopter drop vampires into surviving settlements to help purge the Earth of the unfaithful.

They’re almost cartoonishly evil and their leader is too over-the-top for a movie that’s, for the most part, relentlessly grim and surly. Stake Land does not pull punches and does not let up in its quest to make sure you’re as bummed out as you possibly can be.

By the end of Stake Land, I was feeling down, a little sad and I want to watch something with a rainbow in it.

And, in this regard, as a Saturday Night Movie, it fails. You won’t be laughing with your friends over the hilariousness of it. You will all look into yourselves and wonder at the bleakness of that world and wonder, truly wonder, at the costs you would pay if the world were to end and you were asked to make some truly difficult decisions. And then you’d grab another beer and turn on Strippers versus Werewolves.

I give it Two Cormac McCarthy Novels and The Executioner’s Song. Avoid for Saturday Night. Watch it Sunday Morning instead.

-D-

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The Dark Knight Rises: Prepping

Ever since Batman Begins, I’ve been a little crazy for Batman. I read all the news. Got excited about the casting. Debated the merits of Katie Holmes and how she was going to ruin it.

When The Dark Knight was announced, I nearly exploded from joy. The Joker! Maggie Gyllenhaal! Two-Face! More Batman!

I became certain that I would die before it came out, that I would miss what was surely going to be the best movie ever.

And, now very soon, the third and last movie in the trilogy is coming out and I’m going to be there, front row center. Not literally. Those would be terrible seats.

This time, I have to be there at the  start to see the end. Expect a review tonight or tomorrow.

And expect it to specked with my tears.

-D-

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Movie Review: Antichrist (Part 2)

I finished watching Antichrist and, as promised, here’s the second and last part of my review.

After I finished watching it, I needed a hug. It’s an emotionally draining movie; filled with disturbing images and grotesque elements. It depicted vile things and at the end, I wasn’t entirely sure what I had seen. I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again and I doubt I’ll ever be able to recommend it to anyone.

In spite of that and because of that, I’m more than willing to say that this is one of the best horror movies to be made in the last fifteen years. It went to the very limited of my comfort zones and stayed there for the duration of the movie. At no point was I ever relaxed or settling back down. It ratcheted up the tension and kept it here and didn’t allow for a moment of respite.

It’s  moments like this that I long for when I watch horror movies. I want to be uncomfortable. I want to be on edge. I want to be swept up in a tide of relentless energy.

It’s movies like Antichrist that give me hope that the genre will not be completely lost in a sea of senseless sequels and gratuitous violence. There is hope that people can go to the movies and experience true fear. Because if we cannot be scared in a theater, that leaves us precious few options.

-D-

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Movie Review: Prometheus

When I was younger, I was absolutely obsessed with the Aliens movies. Well, correction: I was obsessed with Alien and Aliens. The other two movies were of such questionable quality that I’d rather pretend that they never happened.

It was one of the first bits of horror I watched growing up and it had a deep and affecting impact on what I consider scary. The alien in these movies is not something to be reasoned with. It’s not evil. It’s just a very well-designed killing machine; incapable of remorse or mercy. It has no back-story, no motivation, no explanation; it does what it does and the protagonist has no recourse but to simply deal with it. It’s shadowy and elusive and brutal.

So when I heard about Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien, I was concerned. The Alien creature lost a lot of its mystique because of mindless and pointless repetition. The boogeyman is not scary when it’s dragged into the light, kicking and screaming. In the latter sequels, the Alien is put onto the dissection table and pointlessly and needlessly over-analyzed. There was no more fear; it just became a part of pop culture, something that used to scare us.

And now, Scott was once again returning to the well. Except, instead of revisiting the alien and telling that same damn story all over again with a pointless origin story, he showed another aspect to the story. Instead of a direct prequel, he created a story that took place in the same universe and, while it does shed some light on the story in Alien, it is not directly about those later movies.

And in some ways, this is the best kind of prequel. It’s not like the Star Wars prequels, where Lucas shoehorns in pointless contrivances just to work in familiar characters and uses needless and tedious exposition to elaborate on parts of the back story that no-one cares about. Scott attempts to tell a new story that just happens to take place in the Alien universe. By the time it was over, I had re-examined the events in Alien and re-contextualized them, but in a way that didn’t cheapen or lessen the fear or impact of that movie.

Even better, he avoids explaining everything fully. By the time the movie is done, you’re still left wondering and that, I believe, is for the best. For horror, it’s always better if the audience is guessing at the end, at least just a little bit. There should be an element of doubt and curiosity. It is the unknown that people, in general, fear the most. And by leaving questions unanswered at the end of Prometheus, Scott has left a lot unknown. He fleshes out the universe without taking anything away from the fear and the unknown terrors of the original movie.

And so while Prometheus is not a great movie, it is a great prequel. It has its problems and its “the hell?” moments, but it doesn’t detract from its predecessors.

If you’re a fan of the series, check it out.

-D

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Movie Review: Laid to Rest

Article first published as Movie Review: Laid to Rest on Blogcritics.

A young woman (Bobbie Sue Luther) wakes up inside of a coffin with no recollection of who she is or how she got there and she is, perhaps understandably, a little freaked out about the whole thing. After breaking free, she ends up on the run from the lunatic who put her there. It’s a screamy, amnesiac against a dangerous madman wearing a chrome skull mask and it’s no holds barred.

There are a few things to recommend Laid to Rest, although it is ultimately a subpar horror flick. For every obnoxious, cardboard cutout character, there’s someone who I actually cared about. Tucker (Kevin Gage) felt like a human being and I was actually concerned about his well being. Steven (Sean Whalen) was a quirky nerd whose bizarre idiosyncrasies weren’t overwhelming or obnoxious. I ended up liking them a fair amount, making it nerve-wracking when they were put in danger.

Of course, to balance this out, the script called for them to do mind numbingly dumb things that made me want to slap the stupid out of the movie. Tucker spends a lot of time telling everyone they need to stick together and then wanders off on a whim to split up the group. There was also the character who pointed a gun at the killer and then allowed the killer to walk up to him and shoot him with his own gun. Every brain-bendingly stupid action felt like the director was just padding out the film, adding precious minutes to the run time.

Speaking of the killer, he was strangely lackluster for a guy wearing a metal skull mask. Beyond the fact that he liked his camcorder and was on the sadistic side, there’s not much going for him. He had no real hook or personality. He was just the Killer of the Week, another loony in a mask to cover the camera in blood ‘n’ guts. And lord, were there blood ‘n’ guts.

This was probably one of the more gruesome movies I’ve seen in a while, with scenes that genuinely shocked me with how brutal they were. Generally speaking, I don’t need to see people putting their guts back where they belong. Less show, more tell when it comes to eviscerations. If you’re a fan of goo, then you’re in the right place. There’s a lot to see and it’s extremely well done, with faces, heads, and limbs a’flying every which-a-way.

Even more off-putting than the gore, was the first ten minutes, where we’re treated to a schizophrenic’s view of reality. The amount of edits and jump cuts is jarring and there are spaces of time where I was unable to piece together what happened. Someone gets stabbed in the eye, but god only knows how that happened.

For all that, Laid to Rest was not as bad as I was expecting. Decent acting, engaging characters and a ruthless, viscious killer hunting those characters kept me engaged for the duration, but I won’t be thinking about it after I submit this review.

Dylan Charles

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