Category Archives: Film Reviews

The day I review “Star Trek Into Darkness.”


“Into Darkness” might be the best Star Trek film ever made. That claim invites the wrath of Khan and his fans, but I will risk it. The franchise reboot already fights uphill against They Changed It, Now It Sucks.

The film opens with two vignettes. In media res, snappy dialog explores Trek themes; it’s episodic, a day-in-the-life for the Enterprise. The next scene changes gears entirely as a silent drama unfolds for new characters…episodic again.

Then Kirk’s called out for being Kirk, and the movie explodes. Simple motives become complex. Mentors clash. It’s impossible to tell who the villain is. My nitpicks vanished as the characters engaged me.

I was guessing until the very end. We’re in the hands of expert storytellers: They let us feel ‘in the know’ seconds before The Reveal.

But I was surprised (even shocked) just as often.

“Into Darkness” turns Mood Whiplash into art. There’s hardly time to digest one transformative event before the next tragedy unfolds. Armor Piercing Questions leave cast and audience deliciously clutching for purchase. You don’t know the right course any more than they do.

The characters evolve, yet remain believably iconic. That particular tightrope is why I don’t attempt fanfiction, but Abrams succeeded on the silver screen. Shatner’s Kirk was a surefooted, his reputation established. Our younger Kirk has the same  instincts, but no clout, and it matters. When success in Starfleet directly contradicts the conscience of his crew, you wonder which way he’ll leap.

True to form, Kirk Takes Third Options, but even those have consequences.

Fans of the Original Series may miss the methodical, scientific storytelling of trial and error. “Into Darkness” is more about human ethics than understanding new life. It’s not cerebral in the puzzle-solving sense, it’s cerebral the way “The West Wing” was, rapidly moving from topic to topic (quite hypnotic). The heroes are larger than life, but they also make mistakes. I have new respect for Chris Pine; Quinto and Cummerbatch were already favorites.

The action borrows as much from the superhero genre as Star Trek. Fortunately, the plot isn’t just an excuse to blow things up. People fight when they’re out of options. I would prefer advanced choreography to quick cuts and shaky cam, though. That kind of storytelling has also evolved.

The ending will be intensely personal for any Trekkie. Whatever you think of his choices, Abrams was faithful to the spirit of the franchise, and he borrows with pride from your favorite moments. Just like the characters, the plot manages to be both iconic and new.

See this one in theaters. You won’t be disappointed.

And later when you buy it, it’ll fit snugly in your collection. Right across from Wrath of Khan.

Five reasons Luke Skywalker is a jerk.

Five ReasonsRemember Luke Skywalker, the hero of the original STAR WARS trilogy? He’s kind of a jerk; here’s five reasons why.

1. He drops everything to chase tale.

When backwater Luke wakes up R2’s messaging software, the holographic princess awoke something in Luke. We can chalk some of Luke’s behavior to being a Tatooine provincial, but not all.

One sight of the princess and he’s forgotten about cleaning droids. He wants the entire message, and only bedtime interrupts him. (Perhaps Luke has reason to rush for the privacy of his bedroom.) In the morning when R2 is missing, any responsible young man might have confessed his error, prompting Uncle Owen to dock Luke’s allowance to pay for a replacement. Not Luke. He risks not only himself, but his other droid in hot pursuit. Read More →

Five reasons “The Two Towers” is the worst Lord of the Rings film.

Five ReasonsCritics claim that the middle film of a trilogy is the most difficult. They’re wrong.

The opening has the advantage of introduction. More time is allotted to get to know the people, setting, rules. Caring about the characters is more critical than advancing the plot.

The ending has the advantage of drama: Everything hinges on individual moments.

The penultimate installment has its own advantages, though. New threads can be introduced that don’t require immediate resolution. The characters are established. The center of a trilogy is the only place you can get away with episodic cliffhangers (the kind television takes for granted).

That’s why The Empire Strikes Back is the strongest STAR WARS. There’s no time wasted on Luke’s background, Han’s motives or Leia’s personality. Obi-Wan’s stoicism sets up Yoda’s hilarity (which wouldn’t be funny if we’d met Yoda first). Throw-away lines from the first movie (“You think a princess and a guy like me…?”) become whole plots, because there’s time for development.

Events aren’t concluded. Heroes stumble from bad to worse ’til credits roll. It’s fantastic.

Despite the gooey fun at the trilogy’s center (like a tootsie pop), The Two Towers managed to repeatedly disappoint, though sandwiched between two of the greatest fantasy adaptations of all time. Read More →

The day my favorite book became my favorite movie.

I first read ENDER’S GAME at age 14. It was introduced to my family by aunt Bronya, one of the sweetest ladies you’d ever meet, and has great taste in fiction. (She’s also a stellar baker and hostess; if you’re ever in rural Missouri, I recommend stopping by.)

After devouring this quick read, I was stunned by its much deeper sequel and the philosophical volumes that followed.  When CHILDREN OF THE MIND came out, dad bought four copies: One for himself, me, my brother, and my then-girlfriend; none of us had to wait. That’s one of my favorite memories of dad: spontaneously generous, thoughtful, and sharing our excitement.From high school onward, I read science fiction because of Card. Oh, I’ve since read Asimov and Heinlein and Clarke, but that came later.

I majored in Philosophy because of science fiction, which was difficult to explain to my professors.THE WORTHING SAGA — which even most Card fans have never read — remains one of the most thorough and convincing treatments of theodicy I’ve ever read. (“Theodicy” is the problem of evil and suffering in a world governed by benevolent and omnipotent being[s].)

When an old friend finds me on Facebook, they’re liable to mention Card. As in, “I still read Card because you got me into him.” So Card has not only influenced my reading and my education, but the warp and woof of my social life, and of course my career as a writer. There are a dozen autographed OSC novels in my home. ENDER’S GAME and SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD sit on the top shelf in my office, facing out so you can see their covers. I will buy anyone who wants a copy of either book, no questions asked. Read More →

Why didn’t Peter Jackson consult me?

Peter Jackson has recently confessed — pardon me — announced that adapting THE HOBBIT to the silver screen will be a trilogy.

Lord of the Rings was long but cut the content to movie length. Fans raved about the extended editions, but to me they were a cheap marketing ploy to prey on fanboys chomping at the bit for “MORE” regardless of quality of relevance. The extended editions weren’t truer to the books, didn’t reveal hidden depths of character or explain cut content. On the contrary, things I expected to be explained were simply glossed.

All the extended editions offered were more scenes much like the ones you’d already seen.

So if LOTR could capture 3 volumes in 3 movies, how many movies would it take to capture THE HOBBIT, adapted to screen, which is much shorter?

One. Read More →

Even with high hopes, Star Trek does not disappoint

Star Trek 2009With the unenviable job of portraying favored iconic characters, the cast of the new Star Trek delivers with (if you’ll excuse the expression) flying colors.

It’s no mean feat to pick up the franchise that spawned no less than five television series and ten films (now eleven) in addition to countless conventions, clubs, fanfics, and pop culture references; dust it off, and re-polish the ship’s original crew to take a new look at an old idea. In addition, prequels in general aren’t easy to pull off, particularly with high expectations.

The leads were played by Chris Pine (Captain James T. Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock), most famed for playing villain Gabriel “Sylar” Gray of Heroes. Pine manages some of the original Kirk’s swagger with forgivable differences. Quinto plays what seems to be a slightly darker Spock, but one that’s no less believable or lovable for that.

The show is almost stolen, however, by promoted fanboy Karl Urban, the young Doctor McCoy (whose first lines identified the character immediately, even from off camera) and comedian Simon Pegg, playing an unforgettable Scotty.

The film’s overall plot mostly serves as a loose framework within which the characters are allowed to develop. The interplay between them is what sells this flick, and the fact that the actors (minus a couple of rough patches in which your mileage may vary) nailed their respective parts. The story is less about how the crew of the Enterprise can defeat the Big Bad and more about the relationship between Kirk and Spock (and to a lesser degree, everyone else).

If the larger plot took a backseat to character dynamics, it was a sacrifice worth making to see Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, and Checkov so compellingly brought back to life.

The film carries a clear continuity reboot, allowing a new franchise to develop with these actors, while remaining true to the original personalities in delicious ways. Each gets his/her own continuity nod, the delivery for which often qualified for a crowning moment of funny. It was primarily the humorous interplay between the personalities of the characters which drove home that these are, in fact, the same characters we know and love.

The movie’s more serious side allows for multiple crowning moments of heartwarming, and more importantly for the genre, crowning moments of awesome, even culminating in an awesome moment of crowning.

The largest flaw this film had was its soundtrack, by Michael Giacchino (The Lost World: Jurassic Park, The Incredibles). I found the score to be heavy-handed and obvious, lacking the deep subtlety of James Horner or the building intensity of Hans Zimmer. Giacchino hammers home the already-viewed explosions with action beats coming a bit too late, and emotional moments with huge cheesy swells that feel more like something you’d get from a video game (with apologies to Nobuo Uematsu) than a great movie.

The script is not without its flaws, most of them on the order of Space is Noisy and Sci Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale. And some of the changes (both character and continuity) may be difficult for part of the fanbase to accept.

That said, if you approach this film with even a partially open mind, you will find it enjoyable.