Friday, March 05, 2010

Penny Thoughts: Feb. 26-Mar. 4

Star Trek: Generations (1994) **
Director: David Carson
Writers: Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, Rick Berman
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Malcolm McDowell, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, William Shatner, Whoopi Goldberg

“The Next Generation” cast of the “Star Trek” gets their big screen launch off to an uneven start. Tying the two casts together, the filmmakers provided a storyline that allowed the two Enterprise captains to interact together, but unfortunately the story is one of the weaker ones of the franchise. Malcolm McDowell provides a villain well enough, although his character is given little depth. But the biggest problem with this first film for the new crew is that it relies too heavily on what has already developed in the television series. We are never really introduced to the characters of the new crew; and as such, their behaviors seem more contrived for humor than existing as fully developed personalities working towards similar goals.

The Damned United (2009) ***½
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: Peter Morgan, David Peace (novel)
Starring: Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Henry Goodman, Maurice Roëves, Jim Broadbent

“The Damned United” is the most claustrophobic sports movie I’ve ever seen. It follows the short-lived tenure of Brian Clough, “Englands greatest manager”, in 1974 as the manager of then England’s greatest soccer team, the Leeds United. It spends the entire movie inside Clough’s obsessed head. That combined with the dreary Yorkshire climate and the fact that director Tom Hooper cleverly chooses to show very little of the actual games makes this an intensely focused study of Clough’s destructively obsessive nature. His close relationship with his estranged assistant Peter Taylor also plays like some sort of plutonic love story.

Logorama (2009) ****
Directors/Writers: François Alaux, Harve de Cercy, Ludovic Houplain
Starring: Bob Stephenson, Sherman Augustus, Aja Evans, Joel Michaely, Matt Winston, Andrew Kevin Walker, David Fincher

Starting out like “Pulp Fiction” and ending up like “2012”, this Oscar nominated animated short is one of the more original cartoons I’ve seen, its story told using only corporate logos for the landscape and characters. I don’t know if it is intended as some sort of critique of our corporate dominated consumerist society, or if it is just some sort of goof; but it’s definitely not for children.

Watch it.

Surrogates (2009) **
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Writers: Michael Ferris, John Brancato, Robert Venditti (graphic novel), Brett Weldele (graphic novel)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames

I think the reason this film came through fairly unscathed by critics in the fall is because it clocks in under an hour and a half. Had it been longer, more would’ve complained. It gets better toward then end, but its plot about a future where most people use a surrogate robot to interact with the rest of the world requires a good deal of fuzzy sci-fi math to set itself up. The filmmakers are wise to gloss over the set up; but unfortunately the concept behind the surrogates requires thought, so their fudging is pretty obvious.

49th Parallel (1941) ***½
Director: Michael Powell
Writers: Emeric Pressberger, Rodney Ackland
Starring: Eric Portman, Raymond Lovell, Niall MacGinnis, Peter Moore, John Chandos, Basil Appleby, Laurence Olivier, Finlay Currie, Ley On, Anton Walbrook, Glynis Johns, Leslie Howard, Raymond Massey, Theodore Salt

I’ve still got Olympic fever. In tribute to Canada’s hosting role this year, I’ve watched the classic war film “49th Parallel”, which in an opening title card is dedicated to the people of Canada for their help in the Allied forces during WWII. The movie bravely follows the antagonists, a small group of Nazi U-Boat crewmen stranded in the most polite country around after their sub is sunk in Hudson Bay. As they try to escape Canada and capture they encounter a string of good citizens, played by many acting legends, who can’t help but make many of the Nazi’s think twice about their ideology. The script does a good job of highlighting the reasons why democracy is the best way of life; and Powell’s direction keeps the tensions high while making the Canadian way of life seem idyllic.

Whiteout (2009) **½
Director: Dominic Sena
Writers: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes, Greg Rucka (graphic novel), Steve Lieber (graphic novel)
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, Alex O’Loughlin, Shawn Doyle, Tom Skerritt

I am just a sucker for a good winter-based thriller. And this one had me for a long time. It worked on me. Then in the waning moments director Dominic Sena dropped the ball and not only let the audience catch up, but let us get bored by how ahead we are. It’s too bad too, because they did such a good job keeping two possible suspects or more going the whole time. I still love feeling cold when I’m watching a thriller, though. Brrrrr!

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