Thursday, June 25, 2009

Star Trek

B+

Directed by J.J. Abrams


"Lost" creator J.J. Abrams resurrects the timeless "Star Trek" series in time for summer blockbuster season and, hope against hope, it turns out to be a pretty darn good movie.

"Star Trek" opens with the death of Captain George Kirk, James' father, killed by Captain Nero who's planet, Romulus, had been destroyed in a previous intergalactic incident. Kirk's untimely demise comes at the exact same moment as his young son's birth. Abrams film follows James and young Spock as they make their way through Starfleet Academy and then join the USS Enterprise and ultimately come head to head with the evil Nero, still roaming the sky, seekign vengeance against those who allowed his planet to be destroyed.

Truth be told, I'm no Trekkie. In fact, I've probably watched Star Trek maybe once or twice in my life and never felt compelled in any way shape or form to follow the exploits of Spock and the USS Enterprise. However, as many of you already know, I am a fan of the summer blockbuster, so my past knowledge of Star Trek was really besides the point. I must say that despite my lack of knowledge of Star Trek, I never felt lost while watching the film, an indication that Abrams and Co. Willfully and succesfully dumbed down their film in an effort to attract as many viewers as possible. Although some Trekkies may have been put off by the wide reaching appeal of the film, most run of the mill moviegoers such as myself benefited greatly from not having to read or watch seasons and seasons worth of source material before sitting down to watch Star Trek. Star Trek's accessibility is far from its strongest point, however, and its visual style is worth noting. Indeed, Abrams and Co. take the bizarre and sometimes campy world of Star Trek and give it a contemporary, sleek veneer, making the world of Star Trek both familiar to those who grew up watching the show and yet believable visually exciting tho those who haven't.

Star Trek proves to be such a satisfying experience because Abrams sticks to the blockbuster game plan--bathe the screen in jaw dropping special effects, throw in some likable, recognizable, but non threatening cast members, leave out the moralizing or political grandstanding, and focus every fibre of your film's being on entertaining its audience. Although Abrams doesn't reinvent Star Trek in the way that Chris Nolan flipped the Batman franchise on its head, you cannot and should not expect every film adaptation of a TV show, film franchise, comic book, etc. to reinvent the wheel. In the end, Star Trek is a hugely entertaining film that is well worth the admission and even satisfying to Trekkies (or at least I imagine it was since I didn't hear much protest coming from them), which equals mission accomplished for Abrams and Co.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Battle of Algiers


A+

Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo

There are a few films that can be considered the final word on a certain genre or movement. A film like Visconti's "The Leopard" for instance, can fairly be considered the touchstone of costume epics, the beginning and end of any conversation on the genre. Likewise, Gillo Pontecorvo's flawless "The Battle of Algiers" is THE film about armed resistance, a perfect storm of inspired film making, politically astute commentary, and biting social critique.

Pontecorvo's film opens as popular opposition to Frnehc colonial rule begins to mount in Algiers. Local casbah resident Ali La Pointe (Brahim Hadjadj) joins the Algerian insurgency and begins to carry out tactical assasinations of French police officers in the city. The violence soon escalates, however, and the insurgents and European settlers exchange increasingly violent blows, culminating in the bombings of a trio of caf├ęs in the city's European district. Desperate to cut off the insurgency, the French government calls in the grizzled Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu who mounts a counter offensive against the insurgents in hopes of stifling the movement once and for all.

"The Battle of Algiers" is rightfully regarded as one of the finest films deal with popular uprising or armed conflict and its accuracy in depicting armed insurgency's is breathtaking. Indeed, the film was screened in The Pentagon by the Department of Defense in 2004 during the thick of the Iraqi insurgency in order to give viewers insight into the realities of armed insurgency and the difficulty of both stifling an insurgency without alienating the local population. The political stance of Pontecorvo in "The Battle of Algiers" is far from unbiased but one could argue that no truly good political film has ever been completely objective. Pontecorvo, despite his obvious sympathy for the insurgents and their plight, nonetheless treats both sides fairly and seems to concede that despite the errors of colonialism, at least some of the French were simply trying to defend a political structure that, although woefully outdated and repressive, they still strongly believed in. Despite the politically charged nature of the subject matter, Pontecorvo does an impressive job of letting the intrigue play out without getting overinvolved or becoming preachy, preferring to let the story unfold in a way that seems authentic. As ambitious as the film's subject matter is, its particular aesthetic (equally ambitious, I would argue) shines through brightly. Street scenes, large public gatherings, riots, bombings, military operations and more are all rendered with complexity and stunning realism, giving the film an even more authentic feel.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Where are the updates???

I know that my faithful readers have no doubt been wondering about the lack of updates. The only excuse I can offer is that I've been trying to catch up on David Simon's excellent HBO show, "The Wire." I recently watched seasons two, three, and four and I must say that it is hands down the most intelligent, engrossing, and truly excellent show I've ever followed. For those of you who don't know the show's premise, it follows dozens of characters in Baltimore, Maryland, from small time drug dealers to convicted criminals to cops to city officials, and explores issues of crime, poverty, and urban destitution in a city that is for the most part far removed from the American Dream. It's a significant investment of time but I can't recommend this show enough. It's absolutely fantastic.

Film reviews will be reappearing shortly. I hope.