Archive for the 'Film' Category

The flawed but beautiful ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ successfully launched a pioneering TV show onto the silver screen

April 25, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 25, 2017

A strong case can be made that 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the most ambitious movie in the Trek franchise, as well as the one that holds truest to the science fiction tropes of peaceful exploration that were famously embodied by Gene Roddenberry’s original television series. And an equally strong case can be made that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is among the least watchable of all the Trek films, both on the franchise’s own terms as well as those of cinema in general.

(Reader beware: Mild spoilers ensure.)

Before I dive into either argument, a plot summary: An presmense and incredibly powerful energy field of unknown origin is flying toward Earth after having erased three Klingon battle cruisers without breaking sweat. Strangely, although Starfleet is headquartered on Earth, the organization has only one ship capable of intercepting this vast cloud, which we eventually learn calls itself V’ger. That vessel, naturally, is one U.S.S. Enterprise. She is fresh off a two and a half year long refit without having undergone a shakedown cruise, she’s assigned to an untested captain, and her crew is young and largely untried.

Enter one Admiral James Tiberius Kirk (the one and only William Shatner), who has (it is strongly implied) spent the interim period serving as chief of Starfleet operations. He persuades his boss (the unseen Admiral Nogura) to restore Enterprise to his command, usurping the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Capt. Willard Decker (Stephen Collins). As the crew struggles to prepare the starship for its upcoming encounter, and as Kirk comes to grips with the challenges of the situation, the starship finds itself facing a powerful entity that regards humanity as an infestation. Life on Earth could be exterminated unless Kirk and his top officers — Decker, a cranky Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and an incredibly remote Spock (Leonard Nimoy) — find a way to work together and satisfy V’ger’s desire to unite with God.

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Two reporters search for truth in the nation’s capital in the taut 2009 thriller ‘State of Play’

April 18, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 18, 2017

State of Play, the 2009 feature starring Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams as Washington newspaper reporters, is a well-paced political thriller with some conventional notions about power and some curious notions about journalism.

The movie, co-written by Matthew Michael Carnahan (World War ZDeepwater Horizon), Tony Gilroy (Michael ClaytonDuplicity and Rogue One) and Billy Ray (BreachShattered Glass and Captain Phillips), is based on a 2003 British miniseries of the same name written by Paul Abbott. But it feels thoroughly American, despite having a New Zealander (Crowe) portraying a blue-collar Pittsburgh native and being directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland), a Scotsman who’s mainly helmed documentaries.

The film opens with a stone-faced man (Michael Berresse) pumping bullets into a teenage junkie (LaDell Preston) who had the misfortune of crossing him and a pizza delivery man (Dan Brown) who had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Later that morning, as a Washington Globe crime reporter named Cal McAffrey (Crowe) begins investigating why an unknown single shooter has apparently attacked two very disparate targets, a young congressional aide named Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer) dies after being pushed into the path of an oncoming Metro train.

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The inventive comedy ‘Colossal’ shows what happens when a woman’s life becomes a disaster, both literally and figuratively

April 15, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 15, 2017

Minutes after the start of Colossal, Nacho Vigalondo’s quirky, entertaining new comedy, the protagonist’s life has crashed to a halt. Party girl Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is thrown out of her tony New York apartment by her exasperated boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), who says he can no longer put up with her joblessness and drinking. The chronically directionless 30something woman, now suddenly homeless, retreats to the unfurnished vacation house her absent parents own in the small town of Mainhead, where she grew up.

Little does she know that her ordeal is about to get even worse. On the plus side, she reconnects with a solicitous old school friend, bar owner Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who offers her a job, jump-starts her interior decorating, and gives her a set of instant buddies in the form of his pals Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell). On the minus side, she soon realizes that her intoxicated early-morning forays through a local park are linked with the manifestation of an immense monster that has begun terrorizing Seoul.

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The Enterprise crew takes an entertaining but inessential voyage in ‘Star Trek Beyond’

April 13, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 13, 2017

Star Trek Beyond, the third entry in J.J. Abrams’s reboot of the venerable science fiction franchise, is a pleasant but ultimately inessential way to pass two hours.

As the picture begins, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the intrepid crew of the starship Enterprise are roughly three years into their five-year mission. But Kirk has grown weary of deep-space exploration (there’s an amusing shot of him opening his closet to see several hangers displaying identical uniforms). Meanwhile, his first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto), feels compelled to break off his relationship with the human communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) because of his wish to help propagate the Vulcan species. This longing is only magnified when he learns of the death of Ambassador Spock (the late Leonard Nimoy, glimpsed in stills), his counterpart from and link to the original Star Trek TV series.

When Enterprise puts in for resupplying, rest and recreation at the remote (and oddly named) Starbase Yorktown after an unsuccessful attempt to broker peace between two warring alien races, there’s a distinct air of discontent about the ship. And yet Kirk remains up for a challenge; when the alien Kalara (Lydia Wilson) rockets toward Yorktown on an escape pod spinning a tale about how her crew has been marooned on an even more remote planet named Altamid, the captain gathers his crew for a voyage through an uncharted nebula.

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Four friends go all in on murder in the modest direct-to-video suspenser ‘The Poker Club’

March 30, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 30, 2017

The Poker Club is a modestly effective direct-to-video suspense film about four friends who struggle to hold their lives together after one of them accidentally kills a burglar.

The 2008 movie, based on a novel by prolific author Ed Gorman, begins as Bill, Neil, Curtis and Aaron are playing cards at Aaron’s isolated farmhouse in a small New Jersey community. The quartet have been playing on Monday nights since they were college students, but this get-together takes an unexpected turn when they discover a jittery knife-wielding intruder (Lenny Levi) in the kitchen.

The men tie up the burglar after a chaotic scuffle, but when he breaks loose, a wounded and frightened Curtis (Loren Dean) kills him with a single blow from a baseball bat. To avoid an ugly legal mess, the friends agree to bundle the corpse into a tarp and deposit it in a nearby river.

Naturally, this does not resolve their problems, in part because it turns out that the intruder was not just a random burglar.

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Intriguing independent science fiction suspense movie ‘Infini’ is a minor treat for genre fans

February 28, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 28, 2017

The 2015 science fiction suspense movie Infini borrows plenty of concepts from superior movies, among them Invasion of the Body SnatchersSolaris and Aliens. But although this independent film is obscure, having been made in Australia on a minuscule budget, it’s executed well enough to make it worthwhile viewing for science-fiction aficionados.

Most of the movie takes place on an abandoned mining base on Infini, the farthest-flung outpost in the galaxy. A few hundred years into the future, when members of Infini’s skeleton crew go insane and program a deadly cargo to be sent to Earth, troops are teleported (“slipstreamed,” in the movie’s parlance) to the location to shut down the shipment. But the first wave of responders quickly go insane, and an elite search-and-rescue team led by Capt. Seet Johanson (Kevin Copeland) is summoned to clean up the fiasco.

The group encounters the only known survivor of the disaster, a security specialist named Whit Carmichael. The frazzled Carmichael (Daniel MacPherson) claims that he shut down the base’s heating system during the carnage, thereby leaving most of it in a deep freeze as crazed personnel slaughtered one another. He agrees to help his would-be rescuers disable the cargo transport, but during the process many of the team members are exposed to the same toxic biological material that plunged earlier visitors into madness.

The rest of the story consists of Carmichael’s increasingly frantic efforts to evade the armed psychotics who are hunting him (and each other) while counting down the hours until he can teleport back to Earth.

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A motley band of raiders defies an Empire in the unexpectedly timely new ‘Star Wars’ movie, ‘Rogue One’

February 11, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 11, 2016

Gareth Edwards’s December 2016 blockbuster, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, is a film very much set in the Star Wars universe but not quite of that fictional realm.

The movie can be watched independently of any other Star Wars feature, and arguably might be more enjoyable that way. Nonetheless, it serves as a sort of prequel to the very first Star Wars film, the 1977 movie retroactively retitled Star Wars: A New Hope, to the point that Rogue One ends shortly before the action of George Lucas’s original blockbuster commences. The McGuffin of the new release is the Death Star, the top-secret planet-destroying super-weapon central to A New Hope — or perhaps more accurately the Death Star’s engineering specifications, which the protagonists must discover and help learn how to destroy.

Edwards’s movie features a few characters from A New Hope, notably the villains Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin (using the digitally reconditioned face of the late Peter Cushing) and the robots C-3PO and R2-D2, mostly in brief cameos, as well as a handful of settings from the earlier picture.

But the main action in Rogue One involves the awkwardly named Jyn Erso. Her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), was once a lead engineer for the Death Star before he grew disgusted with the totalitarian Galactic Empire and fled to a remote farm world with his wife and child.

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From modest beginnings, a monster would rise: Ray Kroc’s ascent is chronicled in ‘The Founder’

January 28, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 28, 2017

John Lee Hancock’s new biopic, The Founder, is an only-in-America not-quite-rags-to-mega-riches story.

At the opening of the movie, written by Robert D. Siegel, main character Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a 52-year-old traveling salesman who’s struggling to sell high-volume milkshake blenders at a variety of desultory small-town diners and drive-in restaurants. The Krocs aren’t exactly poor: Ray and Ethel (a typically excellent Laura Dern) have a lovely house in an affluent Illinois community, but they’re certainly not keeping up with the upper-crust Joneses who boast about their overseas vacations during the couple’s infrequent dinners at a lavish local country club.

Then Kroc’s company, Prince Castle Sales, receives an order for six blenders out of nowhere. The baffled salesman calls the San Bernadino, Calif., restaurant that placed the order, certain that there’s been a mistake; after all, why would any place need more than one? And he’s right: It turns out that the restaurant actually needs eight of the blenders, not six. Intrigued, Kroc drives halfway across the country to take a look.

He finds a thriving family-friendly hamburger that fulfills customers’ orders almost instantly but lacks seating, waiters, flatware and silverware. Enthralled by this unconventional setup, Kroc presses an all-too-willing Maurice “Mac” McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and the somewhat less voluble Dick McDonald (a bare-faced Nick Offerman, almost completely unrecognizable from the mustachioed character he played on Parks and Recreation) for the story behind their operation.

Kroc is captivated by the business and its potential for expansion. “McDonald’s can be the new American church,” Kroc rhapsodizes to the brothers. “And it ain’t just open on Sundays, boys.”

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‘Hidden Figures’ combines science, melodrama and social justice in a charming and lively movie

January 23, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 23, 2017

Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures is a touching historical drama about trail-blazing NASA mathematicians who fought racial and gender stereotypes at the dawn of the space age as the nation was still reluctantly moving to endorse the promise of the civil rights movement.

The movie, based on the 2016 history book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, focuses on three women who worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., as computers — laborers who performed a wide variety of mathematical calculations at a time when the most powerful computers filled rooms and accepted input from punch cards. They are gifted mathematician Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), pioneering computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer, who played a concerned mother in Snowpiercer) and ground-breaking engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe).

Goble, a widowed mother of three, has the best-developed story. Her facility with abstruse, high-level mathematics wins her assignment to the Space Task Group. This group of about two dozen eggheads led by Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) is charged with developing the math that will help American rocket ships and their astronauts safely journey where no man has gone before.

Goble, one of only two women in the group, and the lone non-white person in the room, struggles to win the respect of peers like Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons, best known as Sheldon from TV’s The Big Bang Theory), who initially take her to be a secretary, janitor or worse. She also has a budding romance with Col. Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali), despite the two of them getting off on the wrong foot.

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Damien Chazelle’s ‘La La Land’ is an entertaining and engaging love letter to movies, jazz, Los Angeles and love itself

December 27, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 27, 2016

Writer-director Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is an utterly charming romance about star-crossed lovers in Los Angeles.

She is Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress working as a barista at a movie studio lot and sharing an apartment with three other wannabe performers. He is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a.k.a. Seb, a free-wheeling pianist whose shabby apartment is stuffed with unopened boxes full of memorabilia that he intends to put into the jazz club he dreams of opening some day. (If the character’s last name was given in the picture, I don’t recall it.)

The couple meets cute several times before the relationship really gets going. We first meet the characters in standstill freeway traffic when Mia incurs Seb’s wrath by failing to notice that the road has cleared because she’s caught up in rehearsing lines for an audition.

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