Thursday, May 16, 2013
Star Trek Into Darkness
More than half century after the birth of
Trek" series, director J.J. Abrams
successfully rebooted the "Star
Trek" franchise with his 2009 film "Star
Trek," the first film of a planned trilogy. His
"Star Trek Into Darkness"
(USA 2013 | 133 min.) adds more fuel to the
Trek fever, in 3D. The film's spectacular visual and engaging
characters offers exciting entertainment for Trek fans as well
as Trek novices.
Set in the 23rd Century, while the beautiful starship USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) continues to fly among planets "to explore strange new worlds and to seek out new life and new civilizations," war is far from over. After a bomb attack in London, USS Enterprise becomes a war machine and is deployed to pursue the one who is believed to be responsible—John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Led by its Capitan Kirk (Chris Pine), the USS Enterprise flies out of earth with a crew on board including a few familiar Trek characters such as Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Scotty (Simon Pegg), and Chekov (Anton Yelchin).
That's how much I am willing to say about the plot, even the plot is not usually the most important aspect for a film like this. But in comparison to other action sci-fi movies, the film's story is reasonably rendered.
For Trek fans, it must be an exhilarating joy to reunite with these characters and to join their thrilling journey. However, even for non-Trek fans, the film's characters are strikingly engaging and they are not just props for the film to deliver earth-shaking special effects.
Benedict Cumberbatch's brilliant performance creates a chilling and mesmerizing villain. But Zachary Quinto stands out for playing the lovable, funny, even sensitive half-human Spock, who triggers most laughter in the film. The film cleverly lets Spock speak his logical mind about the ethical principle behind their war mission, which clearly references to the current debate about the U.S. drone attacks.
Despite the spectacular computer generated visual effects in the film, the imagination about the 23rd Century seems to be limited to our current hand-held device reality. For example, Scotty still uses a flip phone which remarkably resembles a Motorola phone (even the logo); Kirk zooms-in with his two fingers on an iPad-alike device during a meeting; soldiers still need a rope to come down from a flying ship; and a battle must be ultimately settled by a good-old-fashioned fist fight.
On the bright side, it's comforting to see that in the 23rd Century, the Golden Gate Bridge still stand beautifully tall with the new skyline in San Francisco, and the cable cars are still moving, slowly.
Monday, April 22, 2013
The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival
Carrying on the torch from Graham
Leggat and Bingham
Ray, led by its new Executive
Francisco Film Society (SFFS) once again presents the
"crown jewel of the Society"—56th San Francisco
International Film Festival (SFIFF), April 25-May 9,
After more than half a century, this American's longest running film festival continues to be a grand showcase of current international cinema. This year's exciting program consists 61 narrative features, 30 documentary features, and 7 shorts programs, represents works from 51 countries and regions.
Being sandwiched between the Sundance Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival in timing, it is quite a challenge to secure prime films into SFIFF's program. That probably explains why SFFF-supported award-winning new film "Fruitvale" (USA 2013) is missing from this year's festival, while it is selected by both Sundance and Cannes. However, I am delighted by the excellent overall selection in this year's program. The quality of the select films should make the SFFS's programming staff, as well as Graham Leggat and Bingham Ray, proud.
On Thursday, April 25, the festival opens with a heartfelt drama "What Maisie Knew" (USA 2012 | 93 min.), about a little girl who is caught in the middle of her neglect parents. The festival continues to run for two weeks and closes on May 9 with a highly anticipated "Before Midnight" (USA 2013 | 108 min.), the third film in the terrific "Before Series."
Although I am excited about plenty films in this year's program, I will mainly cover Asian films here, with a few exceptions for films I have seen.
As always, each film title is linked to the festival program, where more details about the film including showtime and venue information during the festival can be found. Each film's still image is linked to a film's official Web site if it's available (in random order):
The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival takes place April 25-May 9, 2013 at in San Francisco at Sundance Kabuki, San Francisco Film Society Cinema, and Castro Theater, and in Berkeley at Pacific Film Archive, and other venues in the Bay Area.
Labels: SFIFF2013 SFIFF56 SFIFF
Friday, April 12, 2013
The Company You Keep
The anti Vietnam War movement in the late 60s and early 70s
was much more intense compared to the effort against the
current Afghanistan and Iraq War. The existence of radical
organizations such as the "
Weather Underground" would have been unthinkable in the
post-911 era. Despite their tactics, the ideology and
conviction of these baby-boomer activists remain relevant
decades later. What do they think now about that part of the
history and their actions? Acclaimed Oscar-winning
Redford's engrossing new film "The Company You
Keep" (USA 2012 | 125 min.) offers a fictional
account from some members of the
Weather Underground. As the director, producer, and the
lead actor of the film, he impressively creates a few
mesmerizing characters who reflect on that nostalgic period,
even the film's plot appears to be ludicrous.
The film opens with news reports in the 70s about a bank robbery in Michigan that kills a security guard. Members of Weather Underground are accused as the heists and have been pursued by the FBI ever since.
After thirty years hiding from the FBI, a member of the Weather Underground, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), turns herself in to the authority in Albany. That triggers the attention from an ambitious fame-seeking local newspaper reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf). Never mind that FBI has been investigating these activists for decades and fails to capture anyone, with just a search on Google, Ben is able to dig out and expose another member of the Weather Underground—Nick Sloan (Robert Redford), a recently widowed attorney under the name Jim Grant living with his 11-year-old daughter. FBI agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) leads a nationwide man hunt for Nick.
As if a KGB spy in action, Nick leaves his daughter behind to his brother (Chris Cooper). He is on the run while meeting up other former Weather Underground members along the way. Apparently, he is not concerned to expose them at this moment, when the FBI is closing in following his every step. All he wants is to locate his former comrade Mimi (Julie Christie). He believes that Mimi is the only one whom FBI trusts—if Mimi says he has nothing to do with the bank robbery, the FBI is going to leave him alone. Oh, really?
If you can forgive the implausible story line, you will appreciate the lively portrait of some former Weather Underworld members in the film. Even given very limit screen presence, these memorable characters are terrifically performed by an ensemble of outstanding veteran actors including Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Julie Christie, and Richard Jenkins. They constantly steal the scene and grab the spot light in the film. Nick Nolte can't be any better in a "Liberty or Death" T-shirt.
In spite of these arresting characters, the unconvincing main plot is further distracted by couple perplexing subplots. They unnecessarily diverge our attention from the main story. Together, they reach to an embarrassing conclusion like the ending of a typical Hollywood film.
The film is an earnest attempt from director Robert Redford to look back those hippie years. It's hard not to be impressed and even inspired by the characters in the film. Yet, you watch the story unfolds with disbelief. Perhaps that's precisely the case even back in the 60s and 70s.
Friday, April 5, 2013
The Place Beyond the Pines
of my top ten films in 2010, director Derek
Cianfrance's brilliant sophomore
Valentine," intimately tells a story about a husband
and a wife, terrifically
played by Ryan Gosling
Williams, who fall in then fall out of love. Continuing to explore complex human
Cianfrance's third feature
"The Place Beyond
the Pines" (USA 2013 | 140 min.) is a much more
ambitious triptych film about fathers and sons involving two
intertwined families. Although the film is absorbing, it
would have been better if it
were made into three separate films like
trilogy, because the film's each chapter has its own story and
protagonists and deserves to expand and have a life on its own.
The film's story takes place in Schenectady, New York, which gives the title of the film—Schenectady means "the place beyond the pines" in Mohawk. The movie opens with a close-up of the inked six packs of Luke (Ryan Gosling), a high-wire motorcycle stunt performer traveling with a circus from city to city. Now Luke is stopping by Schenectady with the circus. When he visits his ex-girlfriend Romina (Eva Mendes), he finds out that he has a new born son, Jason.
Knowing that he has a son dramatically changes Luke's perspective about how he wants to live his life. He decides to stay and to take responsibility of raising Jason. But it isn't an easy task for Luke to take on, so when a seasoned mechanics Robin (Ben Mendelsohn, as terrific as in "Animal Kingdom") offers a chance for easy cash, Luke jumps right in.
That leads Luke's path crossed with a straight shooter cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), who also has a new born son named AJ. Then the film abruptly proceeds to its second chapter, which is a typical episode of cop drama. While Avery struggles with his personal baggage, he leads on a crusade against the police corruption led by detective Deluca (Ray Liotta, who else?).
After Avery steps up the ladder and becomes the District Attorney, the film shifts its focus once again to the next generation—Avery's son AJ (Emory Cohen) and Luke's son Jason (Dane DeHaan), who are teenagers by now. How they inherit and carry on their father's legacy becomes the final chapter of the film.
Director Derek Cianfrance confidently and unusually unfolds the story using a straightforward linear structure, and clearly divides the film into three chapters. That makes the film looked very much like a "buy one get two free" deal, especially when the first chapter about Luke and Romania is the most endearing and engrossing story among the three. Ryan Gosling comfortably slips into Luke's character, and rides his motorcycle as impressive as he drives a car in "Drive." Although Eva Mendes is solid playing Romina, it would have been better to see Michelle Williams in that role and to reunite with Ryan Gosling.
In comparison, Avery is a less interesting character, despite a fine performance by Bradley Cooper. The entire second chapter seems a recycled episode from a good cop vs. bad cop movie.
It seems a little circumstantial for AJ and Jason to cross each other's path as teenagers. But perhaps that's their fate, and they are designated to shoulder the heavy burden from the older generation. Plus, their encounter is crucial to chain the three chapters together and for the movie to make its point.
In spite of the ambition for the triptych to play out in the gravity of an epic Greek tragedy, by the end of the film, it looks more like an admirable architect creation with excellent details, but built on a shaky foundation.