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3 Stars Movies

1917 is not the first single-take movie, but it’s one of the best

Every review or casual comment about 1917, from pan to praise, will all begin with the same undeniable fact: it’s an astounding technical achievement. While far from the first apparent single-take feature-length film, it’s certainly one of the most seamless. Better, the feat is partially insulated from charges of gimmickry in that the structure derives directly from the urgency of the plot. There’s an essay waiting to be written about how both Sam Mendes and Christopher Nolan approached the venerable war film genre in the 21st Century: by experimenting with structure and time.

A couple things took me out of the experience:

  1. The very intrusive score. Often so overbearing that I suspected the filmmakers doubted the power of their imagery. (a particular example being Schofield’s mad run across the battlefield being accompanied by a pounding rock score, when surely the shells, screaming, and guns would have been more effective)
  2. Sentimental war movie cliches, most notably coming across a pretty young woman in the middle of a battlefield.
  3. Casting movie stars as the various superiors the soldiers encounter throughout the film has some deleterious effects: it’s distracting when the two leads are relative unknowns, it calls attention to an episodic structure, and it relies too much on melodramatic camera reveals (holding the lens on Mark Strong’s boot for so long seemed a bit rich).
  4. An unimaginative, unevocative title. These are not perfect analogies, but imagine if Platoon had been titled 1967, or if M*A*S*H had been 1951.
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3 Stars Movies

Star Trek Into Darkness comes with too much baggage

Long term Star Trek fans may bemoan the fact that the latest films have ejected much of what was previously considered essential ingredients. Gone are the spacey metaphors for what a moral utopian society might look like, not to mention the years of established chronology and backstory. But to old timer Trekkers I say: too bad. Trek ran itself into the ground years ago as the Voyager and Enterprise series disappeared up their own backsides. It was long past time for Star Trek to undergo shock therapy to adjust to a new era.

But given the mostly clean slate set up by J.J. Abrams’ first film in 2009, I wish Star Trek Into Darkness had struck out for new territories instead of largely retreading the original series episode “Space Seed” and the movie The Wrath of Khan. The return of the titular villain in Khan held a great deal of weight for Trek fans in 1982. A character from the often campy and casual ’60s television series was treated with a degree of seriousness, as Kirk et al were forced to deal with the consequences of actions taken and forgotten years prior.

When we encounter a “new” Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) for the first time in Star Trek Into Darkness, what does it mean to non Trek fans? Little beyond a possibly familiar name. If the point of rebooting Star Trek was to give it some meaning for modern audiences not versed in Trek lore, even this supposedly fresh Khan comes with too much historical baggage that is poorly explained here. Even as a long time Star Trek fan, I was a little at a loss to understand who exactly he was based on the evidence supplied by exposition.

Any degree of consistency between franchise entries is rare. Star Trek Into Darkness shares a great deal with its predecessor, for good or for ill. The good being that it is handsomely, nay, expertly made. The ill being that its plot barely holds together. Admiral Marcus’ (Peter Weller) diabolical scheme makes little to no sense. As I understood what was shown on screen, he had two separate goals: to speed along a possibly inevitable war with the Klingons, and also to kill a cryogenically frozen army of genetically enhanced supersoldiers left over from World War III. He attempts to do both AT THE SAME TIME, in the least efficient way possible. I blame Hollywood’s current can-do-no-wrong golden boy Damon Lindelof, who is also rumored to have been responsible for the incomprehensible plot issues with Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

But as with the original 2009 film, I still found it a rollicking good time, and wish there was less of a long gap between films. Now that J.J. Abrams is preoccupied with a very different “Star —-” franchise, that gap may be even longer, or we may see Trek taken over by another auteur.

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