• Ine Memoriam: Peter O'Toole and Joan Fontaine

    Today marked the passing of two of cinema's greatest figures, Peter O'Toole and Joan Fontaine. I write on the last film's of theirs that I watched, so take a moment to remember some performances that essentially created their legends.

  • Review: Spring Breakers

    I return after a long absence to review my favorite film of 2013, Harmony Korine's 'Spring Breakers'. Four college girls who land in jail after robbing a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation find themselves bailed out by a drug and arms dealer who wants them to do some dirty work.

  • Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

    CUMBERBAAAAAAAAATCH! Star Trek returns with a fantastic sequel that explores new themetic frontiers and cinematic entertainment. Set phasers to booyah.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

In Memoriam: Peter O'Toole and Joan Fontaine Double Feature

It's sad, so sad. It's a sad sad situation. Each year that light that was the Hollywood Golden Age glows a little dimmer as the stars that gave it strength pass away. And as the gods would have it, today we learnt that we lost two undeniably iconic figures of the silver screen. So I decided it would be fitting to eulogize Joan Fontaine and Peter O'Toole by looking at the last films of theirs that I watched, my own fitting farewell.

The feels.
Let's get this started.

The Ruling Class (1972) - dir. Peter Medak

Without a doubt the role which will forever define Peter O'Toole's immortal career on stage and screen is the eponymous Lawrence of Arabia. However this was but one of eight performances for which he was nominated the Academy Award for Best Actor. In 1972 garnered critical acclaim for his role in what is perhaps the most insane film I have ever watched. And that is speaking from someone that sat through El Topo

A masterpiece of sardonic farce, a biting critique of the archaic British 'ruling class' society as it clashes with modernity, this film however will always have a special place in my mind for being just plain nuts. Opening with the death of the reigning Earl of Gurney by auto erotic asphyxiation (clad in hunting regalia and a hot pink tutu no less!), the earldom is inherited by schizophrenic Jack Gurney, a man who literally thinks he is god. 

Yep, nuts. And the film doesn't stop there. Thanks to a tour de force from O'Toole that really dials the notch up to 11, the delusions of Jack Gurney are as vivid on screen as they would be on stage (which the film was adapted from). The film features spontaneous musical moments, hallucinations, murder, and spouts of dialogue which to this day remain among my favorites. 
It's your negative "insinuendos." Insinuendo is insinuation towards innuendo brought on by increased negativism out of a negative reaction to your father's positivism.
But wait, there's more! After a climatic scene in which Gurney's god delusion is shattered through electro shock therapy, the 'cured' man proclaims that "I'm Jack, I'm Jack" In truth, he now thinks he is Jack the Ripper.

Acting, look it up.

Beyond being so insane, I really connected with what the film was essentially parodying, that is the ridiculous world of British upper class and peerage. When Gurney's extended family realize the extent of his delusions, they conspire to have him committed. However this is thwarted when the court appointed psychiatrist is, like Gurney, an Old Etonian. In front of a House of Lords (which has more in common with a House of Horrors), Jack (the Ripper) Gurney proclaims that the elite have forgotten to punish, a need for a return to capital and corporal punish. Despite being the ravings of a lunatic, he is applauded, a contrast to his god delusion where society saw him for his insanity.

Look I didn't really understand everything this movie was trying to push, and there is still a discussion as to whether this blatantly theatrical film should even be considered as a film. However Peter O'Toole with those piercing eyes just steals the show, displaying all the talents of a great actor in it's three hours. If you wish to see a film that mocks the peerage and is insane for the sake of it, give it a try. 7.5/10.

I hope you're tears aren't preventing you from carrying on, have a moment with your emotions before I continue on. Go ahead, put on some Adele.

All right let's continue.

Rebecca (1940) - dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Joan Fontaine remains timeless as an actress of the Golden Age of Film not only for her wondrous performances throughout the 1940s, but also for her infamous rivalry with her famous sister Olivia de Havilland. Just a sampler of this bitterness came in an interview where Fontaine spoke on how she wanted to die.
"At age 108, flying around the stage in Peter Pan, as a result of my sister cutting the wires. Olivia has always said I was first at everything – I got married first, got an Academy Award first, had a child first. If I die, she'll be furious, because again I'll have got there first!"
Whilst I was a greater fan of her sister's films, Hitchcock's Rebecca perhaps is my favorite film from either sibling's body of work. A Gothic masterpiece and classic Hitchcock , the film stakes its claim as a classic through it's telling of a traditional horror story but avoiding all conventions of the genre to build suspense and atmosphere.

Fontaine plays an unnamed girl, who after a whirlwind  romance in Monaco falls in love with the widowed aristocrat Maxim de Winter, played by the ever charming Laurence Olivier. Marriage follows, and the 2nd "Mrs. de Winter" returns to her husband's grand estate Manderley. It is within the walls of Manderley that the horror begins, not with a ghost, but the haunting of a memory. The  invisible specter of the deceased first Mrs. Rebecca de Winter hangs over the home like a fog. The cold housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who holds an unhealthy obsession over Rebecca, maintain's her presence with impeccable detail, her room remains untouched, the portraits overbearing and omnipresent. The new wife is equally ostracized by her new husband, who seems to still be in love with Rebecca, and the poison surrounding Manderley beings to send her into depression and madness.

This film is phenomenal for its ability to create suspense, tension and fear without the use of traditional horror tropes. The brooding cinematography, Gothic surroundings of Manderley and icy presence of Mrs. Danvers just breed an atmosphere of foreboding evil. In my favorite scene, Fontaine's character is driven slowly towards the brink due to the neglect of Maxim and the incessant reminders of the woman she replaced. Mrs. Danvers, in cold manipulation, urges her to give in to darkness. Opening a window she whispers "Look down there. It's easy, isn't it? Why don't you? Why don't you? Go on. Go on. Don't be afraid...". It's terrifying, and I have yet to see a horror film create such a chilling scene with such a deft touch.

Rebecca is a masterpiece of the horror genre, and undeniably one of Hitchcock's best films. Though Joan Fontaine would go on to win an Oscar for her leading role in Hitchcock's film Suspicion, it was this film for which I will forever hold Fontaine in such high esteem. Her naive traipse into romance and susceptibility to the haunting memory of Rebecca de Winter. An effervescent presence, she will be missed. 9/10

Friday, November 15, 2013

Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers (2013) - dir. Harmony Korine

I've returned from the wilderness, did you miss me?

I'm totally worth the wait.

December is but a stones throw away, the end is nigh, and 2013 is coming to a close. And man it's been as good a year as any in our celluloid world. In my absence I've seen a litany of fantastic films which have accomplished the impossible by staying in my head more than two weeks. Unfortunately I won't be able to review these gems individually, meaning I shall have to wait until my upcoming 'Year in Review' piece to highlight them all, however I thought it best to herald my return with a treatise on my favorite film of the year, as I did for my pick of 2012 Zero Dark Thirty. The acid trip of a masterpiece, Spring Breakers. Buckle up and keep your feet on the ground for this one.

For most of you, and the greater critical community at large, Spring Breakers can be seen with equal parts derision as exaltation. Just one look at the specs and this film seemed to be inviting such a response like a lightning rod. Director Harmony Korine has rightfully earned notoriety as the provocateur of Hollywood, with his films living on in infamy for their explicit content and continuous controversy. To further muddy the waters the cast features former Disney Channel starlets Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, and if Miley Cyrus has proved anything it is that career evolution is a tricky thing. Watching the trailer, I initially was one those who dismissed it out right. Millennials, Skrillex, beer bongs and James Franco a lá Jaws, this movie was just squaring itself up to be hated. However as the Village Voice, the New York Times and Richard Roeper have noted, don't judge a film by its hot pink g-string.

All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun. - Jean-Luc Godard

The plot is standard crime fare, four broke girls in a dull college course are desperate to make the annual pilgrimage that is spring break, but are nonetheless broke. They include the sexually charged Brit (Ashley Benson) and Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), the vivacious Cotty (Rachel Korine) and the virginal Faith (Selena Gomez). To fast track their road to partydom, Brit, Candy and Cotty rob a local chicken shop, and the group finally bus down to what can only be described as Schoolies on acid. Beer flows not with a trickle but as a torrential flood and along with the breasts and blow all life seems to be to sucked into a hedonistic orgy of the senses. It's intense to say the least. As much as this debauchery may repel some, I found that through the character of Faith the film managed to keep its core emotional and reflective. Interspersed throughout this scene are her Terrence Malick-esque musings on the experiences she otherwise would not have had owing to her repressed and overtly introverted life at home.

"We met people who are just like us. People the same as us. Everyone was just trying to find themselves. It was way more than just having a good time. We see things different now. More colors, more love, more understanding."

However in one of many tonal 180s this movie takes, the girls are arrested on drug charges, only to be bailed out and accosted by an utterly transfixing character Alien as played by James Franco. The narrative changes from MTV Spring Break to Scarface, as Alien drags the girls into a neon underworld of crime which serves to both fracture the girls group and create a horrifying and immediate sense of danger.

For subtext it is clear from the start that this film is taking aim at the poisonous allure and illusion that is the modern American Dream. In a particularly arresting scene, Alien stands over the girls in his mansion, surrounded by guns upon guns, dollar bills and copious amounts of drugs. "This is my shit" he drones over and over with hypnotic gesture, "this is a dream, the American dream". For Alien. life's pursuit lies in our vices and materialistic desires, being drugs, sex and money. For the group, this becomes their undoing. Faith is torn from the girls for her personality ultimately rejects these vices. Cotty as well, whilst initially taking part in Alien's crime sprees, comes to experience the consequences firsthand and is herself traumatized by the experience. It is not insignificant that Korine's directing style for this film comes off as a massive fever dream. Clearly taking a page from Gaspar Noé's film Enter the Void, the color palette is vibrant and eye popping, as though all of Florida is lit by black lights. We see the film as though under this impermeable haze, a drug induced fugue state. This has me come to my ultimate realization, Spring Breakers take on the American dream, as espoused by Alien, is as he says just a dream. It is no surprise that when Faith and Cotty leave that their coloring goes from vibrant neon to cold and sensible, as though exiting this fervid Wonderland. The allure of crime, drugs, sex and money isn't a realistic pursuit, and like spring break itself one ultimately has to wake up.

Furthermore the movie paints American culture with a decidedly nihilistic brush. For these girls, college is a hum drum pursuit, reminding me of Piper Laurie's character in The Hustler who went to college for no reason more than she had nothing to do Tuesdays and Thursdays. All other priorities bow before the need to go on spring break, itself touted as an almost mythic experience, feeding into a growing detachment between the characters and the reality around them. When robbing the store Candy encourages the girls to "Pretend it's a video game, like you're in a fucking movie.", as though there will be no consequences. Pop culture also permeates the movie, perhaps to send up the excess of American culture which shamelessly pairs violence and sex with innocence and purity, ergo the many references to My Little Pony, Britney Spears and other vestiges of American youth culture.

I dare not tread to deeply into the argument as to whether this film is empowering or degrading towards women, as it is sure to galvanize all kinds of responses. However there was one underlying notion from this movie that I was really entranced by, that is the fine line tread between just portraying misogyny and actually being misogynistic. For the first part of the film, we are shown men in many situations of dominance over women, or more accurately almost all men in this part of the film are portrayed as neanderthals sexually infatuated with all other females. This is especially poignant in the opening montage, which features among many things bare breasts, girls sucking phallic like popsicles, and a line of men standing over women pouring beer onto their bodies as though the can was an extension of their manhood. Most worryingly there is a scene wherein Cotty (oblivious to the fact) is being harassed by drunken frat boy, and when the scene abruptly ends I was left with the impression that she may have been raped. For many, and myself included, this is uncomfortable as it clearly shows women in a degrading and overtly sexual manner, as with our protagonists. But for those of us that know and have been a part of this culture, I now interpret it as more of a hyperbolic send up of the spring break culture, which unfortunately is inherently misogynistic and truly has issues with rape and degradation.

However after Alien is introduced to the plot, the question of dominance is thrown on its head. For a start he is shown as exploiting sexuality to get what he wants, namely the girls. This is shown in a frightening scene between Faith and Alien, where he creepily caresses her and tries to manipulate her into staying. It was subtly a case of him trying to shame her into staying, playing on her insecurities and weaknesses to his gain. However in the most telling scene, Brit and Candy turn the tables on this would be male dominator. Brandishing loaded pistols, the girls themselves exploit his sexual obsession over them to their advantage. Pinning him to the ground, they taunt him with the notion that they had exploited their sexuality in order to manipulate him into a place of submission. And in a graphic move the girls, echoing the actions of men earlier in the film, use the guns as phallic symbols of their domination over their would be controller, and by forcing him to submit to them are able to establish themselves as controllers of the situation. It's a very tenuous interpretation I know and I'm bound to piss off a few people, but my response as always is...

This film is my pick of the year 2013 largely as it surprised me. It doesn't have the grandeur of Gravity, or the earnestness of Before Midnight. However for something I normally would have dismissed outright, it proved itself as a deep and reflective little trip of a movie. It incorporates the styles of numerous film makers, the avant gardism of Godard, poingancy of Mamet, the introspection of Malick and visual beauty of Noé, but it blended all these together into something truly unique and exceptional. Harmony Korine has said that this movie was made in order to relive the experiences he missed out on during his college years, skipping the rampant hedonism and life experiences for skateboarding. In a sense that is how I watched this, to relive the schoolies experience I had, and dream about the furthest extents we all could pursue our own vices and desires. Call it what you like, Scarface meets Britney Spears, Disney coke dream, a travesty, a masterpiece. But you can't deny that it ain't memorable. 9/10

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Top Ten: LGBT Films

Top Ten: LGBT Films

Greetings, salutations and the most wondrous of welcomes to the month of June! Not only does June hark winter in Australia, my birthday, and my most anticipated entertainment launch, June is also Pride Month. Yes as per a Presidential proclamation, each June Americans and the world alike will be celebrating the LGBT contributions of the community, whilst also drawing attention to the prejudices and discrimination the (well my) community still faces. So in recognition of my favorite month and my favorite community, I thought I would introduce my first Top Ten feature.

For any straight people that may feel uncomfortable, allow Amber Heard to distract you:

Whoops she's taken!
Guess you'll have to read on. If you're still having issues please direct your complaints to my assistant below:

Thanks Karen!
So this post includes my Top Ten picks for LGBT films. However I would like to stress that this is far larger than a film movement (coined New Queer Cinema by B. Ruby Rich in 1992) or even a genre. Queer representations on film have been around since the very invention of the medium. The first live film recording (known as the Dickson Experimental Sound Film) features the sight of two men dancing. You could see Hollywood hinting at the then closeted community all through the years of the Hays Code (see Morocco, Rope, Spartacus). However after finally appearing  in mainstream films, queers were often treated as deviants, outsides, or even as persons to be feared. And almost always these characters met a tragic end. We've come a long way, and the below films should be celebrated as seminal moments in cinema history and queer culture. So whilst some of the films on this list are direct products of queer cinema, others either feature prominent (and positive) representations of gay characters, themes and issues.

Honorable Mention - "Weekend" (2011)

Andrew Haigh's film has been making strong waves in the cinema community the last few year since it's debut in 2011, and I have included it as an honorable mention largely because I haven't seen it yet! Lauded on its first run, and recently released by my favorite company The Criterion Collection, Weekend is perhaps so reverent because it essentially isn't a gay film. It basically follows two men who hook up one night, and the next morning find themselves locked in conversation that may prove there is something deeper in their relationship beyond a one night stand. Straight or gay who can't relate to that?

10.) "The Celluloid Closet" (1995)

I love this film, it was one of the first films that I watched when I was in the process of coming out. I remember the when I purchased it from Palace Cinemas, going home that night, and watching it twice that night. Rob Epstein's documentary chronicles queer representation in cinema, particularly that of Hollywood through the ages. Based on a novel of the same name by film historian Vito Russo, the film interviews countless Hollywood actors/directors from the golden age through today (well 1995). In fact my historical background that I gave a few paragraphs back was pretty much lifted from this. It shows the highs, the lows, the stereotypes and the ultimate triumphs of queer culture on screen. If you want to learn and appreciate the history of the LGBT community, you need only watch this documentary.

9.) "Mysterious Skin" (2004)

No you're eyes don't deceive you, that is Hollywood's current "IT" boy Joseph-Gordon Levitt. Little do people know that prior to his big break Jo gave the performance of his career in Gregg Araki's controversial film Mysterious Skin. This film is an important chapter in the history of queer cinema, largely for its honest and highly accurate portrayal of a darker side in modern society, pedophilia. Neil (Levitt) and Brian (Brady Corbet) are two boys from a small town who were both sexually abused by their sports coach as children. From this trauma we see to markedly different trajectories. Neil, already from a broken home, interprets the abuse as an introduction to sexuality, and embraces a life of sexual compulsivity which later sees him becoming a prostitute. Brian meanwhile represses the memory through developing amnesia, and interprets the blanks in his memory to alien abduction. Harrowing, raw and emotionally crushing, this film is important in analyzing abuse as it occurs to children, as well as how one can find closure.

8.) "Milk" (1999)

Gus Van Sant's biopic starring Sean Penn is a fantastic portrayal of one of America's most beloved political figures, Harvey Milk. I won't delve to far into his history as you will see in a moment, but know that this film is a celebration of a man, a community, and a journey that many of us go through. It's an emotional experience to watch this film, for me as it's a journey I'm still treading, and seeing his life on screen in such a touching adaptation is one worth seeing.

7.) "Philadelphia" (1993)

This film you may or may not know made history when it was first released. For the two decades prior the United States and the world were in the gripes of the largest public health crisis in history, the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This was a a crisis that disproportionately affected the gay community, and in the early years of the epidemic was known pejoratively as the 'gay cancer'. Philadelphia broke ground in showcasing with the then still controversial issue, and targeting larger homophobia and discrimination of the LGBT community at large. Poignant, heartbreaking though ultimately triumphant, this is Hollywood doing right by the queer community.

6.) "My Own Private Idaho" (1991)

"I'm a connoisseur of roads. I've been tasting roads my whole life. This road will never end. It probably goes all around the world". So begins Gus Van Sant's (he just keeps coming back!) modern day retelling of Henry V, not only a seminal example of New Queer Cinema but a magnificent achievement in film making. Following two male hustlers Mike (River Phoenix) and Scott (Keanu Reeves) the film follows the duo through deep personal introspection. Scott is the son of the Portland mayor, seeking to rebel from a life that is planned for him, and Mike simply wishes to know his past and find his mother. I include this film not only as it fits perfectly into the context of this list, but it also has one of the most resonant scenes between two men that I can remember. It taps into a need to wander in all of us, to depart from everyday existence and truly find ourselves and who we are.

5.) "Fight Club" (1999)

Oh yeah I'm totally going there and prepared to receive a shellacking for doing so, but bear with me and ignore your inner teenager who watched this verbatim in high school. Fight Club at its core is a celebration of men. Think about it. The central creed of the film's philosophy is the repression of masculinity in modern society. In the shackles of corporate life, commercialism and PC interactions, men's primal urges aren't free to be expressed. The fight clubs that Tyler Durden creates are a method to tap into this raw state, to a state of nature for men. Just listen to this speech, it isn't just a treatise on contemporary America, it's male emancipation. *SPOILERS* Tyler Durden (himself a split personality of the narrator) can be viewed in a homoerotic context, representing a repressed aspect of Edward Norton's character.

Did I just blow your mind? Or suckerpunch you in the childhood?
4.) "Mulholland Drive" (2001)

I've reviewed this film briefly in the past, though if that is any indication this is one of my favorite films of all time. I will save any deeper analysis of this film for a future review but I have included it here as it contains the most beautiful lesbian relationship I have ever seen put onto the silver screen. The first part of the film shows the strangers Betty and Rita trying to get to the bottom of the mystery behind Rita's past. The closeness they exhibit grows deeper, and they soon descend into a tragic love affair. Just watch the below video and tell me you don't shed some kind of tear for the purity of their connection. Lesbians in particular haven't fared well in cinema, often portrayed as villains or as doomed to perish. So I cherish any positive representation Hollywood gives us. 

3.) "Brokeback Mountain" (2005)

Yeah I bet you all could see this coming. I mean this is one of the biggest romance films of all time, and that it is of a queer relationship in itself makes it groundbreaking. For those who haven't seen Ang Lee's adaptation of Annie Proulx's novel the film follows a decades long sexual and romantic relationship between two men in the American West. Much like my assertion for Fight Club, this film shows a deep masculine attraction which begins as seemingly meaningless sexual release before fully evolving into a romantic affair. I loved this film largely for its representation of a highly closeted society in the west, where any natural expression of attraction to the same sex is taboo if not illegal, and how this repressed environment is emotionally devastating to one's self and families.

2.) "A Single Man" (2009)

This isn't just one of the best queer films out there, it's one of the best films of all time. Why? This film doesn't have the narrative effusions of Mulholland Drive, the poignancy of My Own Private Idaho or even Brokeback Mountain's impact. What whats this the perfect queer film is its depiction of normalcy. That a gay relationship is exactly that of a straight relationship. We laugh the same, we love the same, we grieve the same. George's descent following the death of a lover is the most relate-able experience one can have, and the film is successful in providing a humanizing face to a community that is so often treated as different.

1.) "The Times of Harvey Milk" (1984)

Well here's a familiar face. Yes much of Gus van Sant's 2008 film owes much to this documentary. Harvey Milk is one of the greatest LGBT figures and a seminal American icon. As Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, Milk had hope, hope which carried an entire community across the country. As the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, he came to be the figurehead of a movement for equal rights and protections for gays and lesbians in America. Rob Epstein's documentary is the perfect record of this incredible man's life and accomplishments, and is a fascinating look a society which at the time wasn't merely disparaging towards the LGBT community but rather openly hostile.

Milk may not have changed public opinion overnight, as we to this day are still fighting for equality, but he did give this community a face. He showed denouncers that gays aren't the monster in the dark. He showed them that we're your teachers, your doctors. We're your coworkers, the neighbors down the street and the barista that brews your coffee. We're your brothers and sisters, your sons and your daughters.

He has been quoted as saying "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door. " And that's what his accomplishments did. He made it possible for that indescribable barrier of the closet to become meaningless, as their is a community, a society and ultimately a someone out there that loves you regardless. This documentary is not only important for showing where we came from, the steps Milk took and the sacrifices he made. It's important for showing how far our society has come towards true equality, and gives promise for the uncertain steps that we still need to take.

Well that's the list! hope you enjoyed my first departure from the inanity of film reviewing and into something different. The ultimate message here, Happy Pride Month! Stay fresh, stay classy and stay proud, take it away Karen!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) - dir. J.J. Abrams

Oh my god people...It's finally here!

2009 seems like it was yesterday. Global markets were in freefall, Taylor Swift told the world a love story, and Amanda Bynes was years from her first relapse. However this year Hollywood had something special brewing. No not James Cameron's over-inflated ego, this was a film straight from the genius of J.J. Abram's mystery box, the long awaited reboot of the beloved Star Trek series. Critically acclaimed and a smash at the box office, Star Trek gave a breath of fresh air to a stale franchise, and more importantly showed the success that comes from Hollywood investing in visionary talent to produce exceptional entertainment. Now after 5 LONG years in the development wilderness the wait is finally over, and J.J. Abrams has delivered a sequel in Star Trek Into Darkness. And boy was this worth the wait.

Caution: There will be spoilers...

There aren't rocks big enough to hide from this movie's twists.

The intro recalls Raiders of the Lost Ark in the 23rd Century 
Now I could spend this review detailing the various aspects of the narrative and plot, however even by watching the trailer I bet you could guess how this films plays out. Set pieces, part procedural, revenge plot, explosions, end. However like its predecessor, and a class of other contemporary blockbusters from modern auteurs (such as Sam Raimi, Jon Favreau, Zach Snyder, Joss Whedon and Christopher Nolan), Into Darkenss  gives the pretense of a by the books summer tent pole film whilst exploring great plot and character complexities to great effect.

Into Darkness as the title suggests follows the dark trajectory as set by it's predecessor. And whilst it's hard to top the destruction of one of the series most iconic races (I teared up), this film treads deep touching on the darkness of death and loss. It is during an Indiana Jones-esque opener that the Enterprise crew have a very close brush with death. The scene is rife with danger, Spock is in the cradle of a volcano, Kirk torn between rescuing a friend and the constraints of his training as an officer (so much hate for the Prime directive these days). Though he chooses the former, this sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the film for both Spock and Kirk. For our favorite half Vulcan, we call into question his very friendship with the crew, for who would so readily embrace death without thought of those it would effect? As for Kirk, it shows just the reckless abandon he would pursue for his friends, even if it conflicts with his duties and principles. Seeing this opening scene just opened a huge array of possibilities for the film to pursue, and it was the introduction of the best new character in the franchise that this film managed to do itself justice.

In comes Benedict Cumberbatch, as a man fans of the franchise will all know and love. And this is where J.J. Abrams treads the fine line of remake vs. rework of Wrath of Khan. Yes Khan Noonien Signh, one of cinema's most iconic villains is introduced to the new adventures of the Enterprise, and it is a reworking that I am still reeling from. Following a dramatic bombing in London and an all out assault on Starfleet (in which a beloved character is tragically lost) the prologue's ruminations on loss by the crew lead to a thirst for vengeance. Khan, as in the original, provides the perfect icon to which we despise, and Cumberbatch is phenomenal in presenting the character as this genetic superman is to be. However he does this in such a cold and calculating fashion that not is he just magnetic on screen, but thematically creates the perfect foil to Pine's Kirk and better yet his true nemesis in this film in Spock.

But seriously cannot stress how much this film belongs to the Cumberbatch, he's our new leader. Have a GIF.


Whilst Shatner and Montalbán battled it out in the Mutara Nebula, the best twist Into Darkness pulled was reversing one of cinema's greatest rivalries and sacrifice between the two heroes. This avoided a by the books rehash of Wrath of Khan, and I think created a far more believable stand off and emotional climax (and let's just say I thank TO GOD that this film eliminated the need for a Search for Kirk...). It was beautiful, I nearly cried, and we once again come out knowing that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few...or the one. *CUE TEARS*

As for the peripheral aspects of the film? Mixed bag unfortunately. I feel like the filmmakers decided to fully embrace a semblance of darkness themselves, especially when it came to the sets and one casting choice in particular. Whilst the first film was primarily shot in front of a green screen, and a brief visit to Vasquez Rocks (awesome), this film chose for an unusual combination of location, sound stage and green screen shots. Starfleet is quite obviously the Getty Museum (not a bad choice, just awkward having been there and recognizing the locations). The Klingon homeworld of Cronos is this laughably hammy sound stage that looks  like a paintball field. And worst of all some of the engineering sections of the Enterprise just look crappy compared to the sleekness of the other sets. If you're film is budgeted at over $150 million, make it look so, especially given that the CGI is unparalleled in its sleek presentation. My other major gripe was the casting of Alice Eve as Dr. Carol Marcus. Not only was she just the most annoying character imaginable, but her performance was criticized (rightfully so) as being sexually exploitative. See below:

This was literally one of the only instances of skimpyness in the film, and just came across as tacky and unwarranted. On the whole, it just goes to show that writers should not revive characters from Wrath of Khan for the sake of continuity or maintaining a link. Just awful.

I highly recommend this film for fans of the series and those looking for an action romp. I am especially appreciative that this marks a continuance of the trend for more thought provoking Hollywood action films, with clear effort placed in its script, screenplay and directing. Just a fantastic package all together. 8/10