‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Movie and 4K UHD Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit Correspondent, Tony Farinella.

Don’t Worry Darling” is a film that immediately caught my attention when I saw the trailer for it back in the summer.  I was impressed with Olivia Wilde’s feature film debut in 2019’s “Booksmart,” and the trailer for “Don’t Worry Darling” made me excited to see what she was going to do with her sophomore directorial film, especially considering the actors she had attached to the project.  The trailer didn’t give away too much, but it looked stylish, interesting and worth checking out.  However, as I’m sure many of you reading this are aware of, the film was not without controversy.  If you are interested in gossip (personally, I’m not), you can Google it and read about it.  I’m going to be reviewing the film on its own merits.

Florence Pugh plays Alice, a 1950’s style housewife, and she’s madly in love with her husband Jack (Harry Styles).  Her days are routine and structured, but she always looks forward to the moment Jack comes home from work at Victory Headquarters, so they can be together. They have a healthy and active sex life.  When the subject of having children is brought up, her friend Bunny (Olivia Wilde) is quick to shoot it down, as she proclaims they only have time for each other.  Jack works a lot in this utopian experimental society where all the men work and all the women cook, clean and shop.  It is the 1950’s to the core.  The men seem happy and the women seem happy as well.

However, it is all turned upside down when Margaret (KiKi Layne) is shunned from their community for not following the rules.  There is a very specific set of rules for women.  They are not to ask too many questions about their husband’s work or venture off to the headquarters.  Margaret has done something to leave her on the outside looking in when it comes to this community. Alice meets their leader Frank, played by Chris Pine, in a chilling performance.  He is a charismatic cult leader, and all of the men are looking to impress him and stay on his good side.  He has a personality where people are drawn to him and his every word. Pine really leans into this, and he’s magic on screen.  Alice, however, is starting to suspect that something is not right about Frank or Victory Headquarters.

DON’T WORRY DARLING Copyright: © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Caption: (L-r) OLIVIA WILDE as Bunny, NICK KROLL as Dean and CHRIS PINE as Frank in New Line Cinema’s “DON’T WORRY DARLING,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Don’t Worry Darling” is truly a tale of two movies.  You have the first hour, which is a little sluggish and bland, but it’s necessary to set up this world the filmmaker and writers have created. You have the second half where things are revealed to the audience, and the film starts to let us take a peek into the inner workings of the characters and their backstories. As a viewer, I admired the fact they didn’t spell everything out to us.  The ending is even ambiguous, which I appreciated.  All in all, though, I found the film to be Wilde paying homage to a film like “The Stepford Wives” or the works of Jordan Peele.  She touches on themes of toxic masculinity, obedience and the price people will pay for the good life.

The strongest part of the film, far and away, is the performance of Florence Pugh.  She’s one of the finest young actresses working today, and she is intense, emotional and incredibly powerful in each and every scene.  In my opinion, it’s a performance worthy of an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Without her performance, this film doesn’t stand a chance.  She’s the star here, and it’s a performance which is so raw and vulnerable.  The cinematography is also beautiful, and, in 4K, it is colorful, vibrant and full of life.  It’s a great-looking film.

DON’T WORRY DARLING (L-R) OLIVIA WILDE as Bunny and NICK KROLL as Dean in New Line Cinema’s “DON’T WORRY DARLING,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The film is flawed, however, as there are pacing issues and it does have a lot of ideas but doesn’t always know where it wants to go with all of them.  When the film works, it works extremely well.  When the film doesn’t work, it’s a bit of a slog to sit through and a little too stylish for its own good.  They had a lot of ideas here, as mentioned, but not all of them are fully fleshed out or given the time to really shine on screen. Overall, though, I admired the ambition behind this film, and I left the experience feeling like I had seen a thought-provoking and multifaceted film that doesn’t get everything right, but the things it does get right are quite impactful and meaningful. If they had a clearer vision for this film, I would have liked it a lot more.

* * * out of * * * *

4K Info: “Don’t Worry Darling” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  It is rated R for sexuality, violent content, and language, and has a running time of 122 minutes. It also comes with a digital copy of the film.

4K Video Info: The HDR is mesmerizing on this film.  A lot of the film uses natural light, and it looks fantastic in 4K. The movie stars look like movie stars, and you also get to feel like you are really living in this world with eye-popping visuals.

4K Audio Info:  The Dolby Atmos soundtrack was the right choice for this flick. There are a lot of great bubblegum pop love songs played throughout this film, and they sound flawless here. The dialogue-heavy scenes are also easy to understand and hear without any issues.  Subtitles are included in English, French and Spanish.

Special Features:

The Making of “Don’t Worry Darling”

Alice’s Nightmare Deleted Scene

Should You Buy It?

This is a tough one.  I have a feeling this film might gain cult status down the line, but as of right now I can’t recommend you buy it at full retail price.  When it goes on sale, I think it’s worth picking up.  This is an example of a film which was doomed from the start because some audiences and critics made up their mind on it before they ever sat down and watched it.  It’s a shame because this is a good movie, and I liked it.  Not everything here works, but it’s hard to deny the work of Florence Pugh and the directional eye of Olivia Wilde.  It’s far from perfect, but I think with repeated viewings, it is a film that people will appreciate in the future. There is a lot to like here, but I also can’t ignore the bloated plot.  It is a stylish looking film, but at times, it has too much style and not enough substance.  It would have benefited from a healthy balance of both.  The 4K looks and sounds really, really good.  I was very impressed with what Warner Brothers did with this 4K release.  The lack of special features is not surprising, considering the drama surrounding the film.  For now, I’d recommend you stream it on HBO Max and buy it in the future.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘Don’t Worry Darling’ – Well, Actually, You Probably Should

Going into “Don’t Worry Darling,” I wondered if the hype for this film had inadvertently hurt it. This is the second directorial feature from Olivia Wilde whose first film, “Booksmart,” was one of my favorites of 2019, and people like myself became ever so excited to see what film she would tackle next. It also features quite the cast with Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine and Nick Kroll among others, and the trailers have shown it to have a very striking look. In recent months, the behind-the-scenes stories have taken an annoying precedence over everything else such as Wilde’s relationship with Styles which started during production, or the on-set conflicts between her and Pugh which led to what was allegedly quite the screaming match. It also had the added pressure of being promoted as a serious Oscar contender and raising everyone’s that high can ultimately lead to an inescapable disappointment even if the end result is not bad.

Well, “Don’t Worry Darling” has now arrived at movie theaters everywhere, and this allowed me to watch the film outside of all its gossip and with a full audience in attendance, For the record, I think Wilde is still quite the director as she gives the proceedings a beautiful visual look thanks in part to cinematographer Matthew Libatique, the music score by John Powell is unlike others he has given us in the past and is quite effective, and there are many strong performances to be found here throughout. But when all is said and done, Wilde and her fellow filmmakers have given us a film with a story which is old, old, old. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the plot here represents a path which has been walked and trodden down far too many times.

As the film opens, we are taken back to the 1950’s where a several married couples are enjoying an evening of endless fun and drunken games in their hometown of Victory, California. Among them is Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack Chambers (Harry Styles) who love one another to such an infinite degree as a certain scene at the dinner table will show you. As Jack gets into his car to drive to work, we see the other husbands doing the same and at the exact same time. It should go without saying how this is the first sign of things being too good to be true. While the husbands work their butts off at work, their wives stay at home either taking care of the kids or preparing the best dinner anyone could ever hope to eat, assuming it was not accidentally burnt to a crisp. Everything seems to be going in unison, and it’s only a matter of time when someone upsets the balance of things.

For Alice, it doesn’t take all that long before she realizes something is amiss. One day she cooks eggs and bacon for her husband and discovers some of the eggs are hollow. She notices a plane crashing into the mountains while others claim complete ignorance. Like all the other husbands, Jack never tells her exactly what he does for a living. And yes, there is that one neighbor who acts like Kevin McCarthy in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or Crazy Ralph in “Friday the 13th” as she tells anyone who is listening, “We’re being lied to! Don’t you see?” Of course, not enough people bother to listen to such cryptic warnings until it is too late.

By this description, it should be plainly obvious as to where “Don’t Worry Darling” is going, and is painful for me to write that Wilde is unable to bring anything new or fresh to the material. A friend of mine has compared it to M. Nigh Shyamalan’s “The Village,” and I don’t blame him. For me, it is a combination of “The Village” and Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky” as the revelations characters make here are never the least bit surprising, and the line between what’s real and what is not is stunningly lackluster. I even kept waiting for one or more characters to throw up their arms and scream out loud, “TECH SUPPORT!” No such luck though.

Heck, “Don’t Worry Darling” even reminded me of season eight episode of “The Simpsons” entitled “You Only Move Twice” in which Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie leave Springfield and move to the all-too perfect town of Cypress Rock. Homer gets to work for a surprisingly sympathetic boss named Hank Scorpio who is later revealed to be a supervillain bent on creating a doomsday device. Of course, this is all lost on Homer who barely registers the chaos Hank is wreaking on the world. Then again, who wants to quickly admit the perfect world they live in is not all that perfect?

Things become even more obvious as we get to know the Hank Scorpio of this movie, Frank, played by the always terrific Chris Pine. Frank is the founder of this utopia everyone lives in called the Victory Project, and he demands everyone’s loyalty in the most passive-aggressive way. But while he encourages the wives not to question their husbands’ work and to keep their distance from the project’s headquarters, he’s also gleefully daring them, Alice in particular, to get to the truth about the project just to see if they possibly convince anyone else of it.

Even as the movie staggers through the bleeding obvious, there was one thing which kept me engrossed from start to finish: the performance of Florence Pugh. She is dynamite here as Alice and so emotionally raw that it was impossible to take my eyes off of her. Even if the chemistry between her and Harry Styles, who is good but not great here, is a bit lacking, she makes up for it and helps elevate this material to a level it doesn’t deserve to be at. I also loved the scene between her and Pine at the dinner table in which they essentially play a mental chess match with one another as Alice tries to make everyone see through the web of lies they are caught up in.

It really sucks to say “Don’t Worry Darling” will forever be upstaged by its behind-the-scenes stories as they now prove to be far more interesting than what unfolds here on the silver screen. Again, Wilde is not a bad director, and I know she will rebound from this. While the hype machine may have gone into overload on this cinematic endeavor, it still does not change the fact that this is a case of “been there, done that.”

* * out of * * * *

‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ Forgets What Makes Tom Clancy’s Hero Stand Out

Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit movie poster

While watching “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” it didn’t take long to realize like the CIA analyst hero of the late Tom Clancy’s novels has been rebooted one too many times. After being portrayed by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford, Jack Ryan got his clock turned backwards when Ben Affleck played him in “The Sum of All Fears.” I have no problem admitting I liked that film, but casting a younger actor as Ryan ended up screwing with the franchise’s equilibrium. Things were going smoothly beforehand, so why throw a younger actor, any young actor, into this role and take the audience back in time? Why not bring Baldwin back? When is all said and done, Baldwin is still the best actor to inhabit this character.

Well, now we have Pine taking over the role of the brilliant Jack Ryan, and this time the franchise goes right back to the beginning of Ryan’s career. What results is by no means a bad movie as it is well made, features a number of strong performances and some exciting action scenes. Regardless, there’s a feeling of emptiness at this film’s core. The problem it’s not much different from the many spy movies I have seen over the years and, as a result, feels largely forgettable.

For those who remember Fred Dalton Thompson’s character of Rear Admiral Joshua Painter from “The Hunt for Red October,” he gave a speech in which he talked about how Ryan was severely injured in a helicopter crash back in the 70’s and spent the following year learning to walk again. This is the Ryan we meet here when this film begins as he is compelled to enlist in the military after the events of September 11, 2001. From there, we watch him recovering from a helicopter crash, and he recuperates over time with the help of Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), the woman we know will eventually become his wife.

During his lengthy recovery, Ryan is paid a visit by CIA official Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) who recruits him to work for the agency. We then move forward ten years later to when Ryan is working on Wall Street as a compliance officer at a stock brokerage, but this job is of course a cover for his real work as a covert CIA analyst as he keeps an eye out for financial transactions which are suspect and may indicate terrorist activity. Upon discovering trillions of dollars held by Russian organizations have gone missing, the trail of criminality leads him to Russian tycoon Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh). Ryan travels to Russia and, from there, things go bang, bang, bang like you would expect.

I think one of the big mistakes made with “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” was that the filmmakers decided not to base it on any of Clancy’s novels. I know Clancy was always highly critical of the way Hollywood treated his books and I’m pretty sure he would have had many things to say about this installment had he lived to see it. At the same time, his stories were always intricate and fascinating, and the screenplay here by Adam Cozad and David Koepp is both confusing and hard in comparison. As a result, it feels a surprisingly lightweight compared to the complex stories Clancy came up with.

In addition to playing Jack Ryan’s chief nemesis, Branagh also directed the movie and has come to show a real panache for filming exciting action scenes. There’s also a crazy car chase near the end which really did have me on the edge of my seat, and he has come a long way from directing big budget movies like “Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein” and “Thor.” Granted, you can’t go into this expecting something on the level of his Shakespeare cinematic adaptations, but he does provide the audience with a fun time. The problem is the story of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is very routine, and it was hard to get excited about what unfolded once I made this realization.

In all fairness, Pine does make for a good Jack Ryan in the way the character was written here. As tired as I am of movie studios making all these origin movies, Pine brings the same kind of energy to this role as he did to “Star Trek” as James Kirk. While this Ryan is not as interesting here as he was in the previous films, Pine does the best that he can with a somewhat underwritten part.

One performance in particular I want to point out is Costner’s as Thomas Harper. It’s fascinating to watch him here after having seen him as the heroic young soldier in movies like “No Way Out,” and he is aging nicely into the role of the elder statesmen who imparts his wisdom and advice to newbies. Part of the fun in watching Costner here is how mysterious he makes Harper. Ryan is not sure he can trust him fully, and Costner’s constant poker face throws not only him off, but the audience as well.

But despite all the good things about “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” the whole package feels far too ordinary for it to work effectively. We’ve seen this kind of story before, and not much was done to elevate it above the usual fare this genre has to offer. In the process of trying to make Jack Ryan young again in the hopes of jump starting this long-running franchise, they have robbed the character of what made him unique. In this film, he’s like any other young CIA recruit who has yet to understand what he’s getting himself into, and I have seen this scenario played out far too many times before.

For me, Jack Ryan was always the accidental action hero. He has a brilliant mind and always gets to the truth of the matter because he takes the time to study the individual at the center of the story. Like John McClane, he’s not out to be the hero and is always looking to avoid life threatening situations, but he eventually steps up to the plate because no one else can, and no else knows what he knows. If they ever do make another Jack Ryan, they need to make him the analyst he’s always been and not just start from scratch with an origin story. We know all about Ryan’s past, now let’s deal with his present and future. Is this too much to ask?

* * ½ out of * * * *

 

‘Wonder Woman’ is the Comic Book/Superhero Movie We Need and Deserve

Wonder Woman movie poster

Wonder Woman” is not just the comic-book/superhero movie we needed, it’s the one we deserve. Audiences have been long overdue for a female-led superhero movie, and this one proves to be well worth the wait. Director Patty Jenkins has taken this famous DC Comics character and given her the cinematic treatment she richly deserves, and it’s a relief she has gotten it considering the failure of “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” (the theatrical version anyway) and “Suicide Squad.” For once, the DC Comics Extended Universe has a win, and “Wonder Woman” proves to be the best of its kind since Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, and that’s saying a lot.

One the main reasons “Wonder Woman” is such a success comes down to the actress playing the title role, Gal Gadot. Many scoffed at her casting as they saw Gadot as nothing more than a Miss Universe contestant who was cast for her looks over everything else. Those same people did not take into account how Gadot served in the Israeli Defense Forces for two years as a combat instructor, or that she studied law for a time. All this experience made her the perfect choice to portray Diana, Princess of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta, who would became better known by her civilian identity of Diana Prince.

Seriously, Gadot shows so much range here as she takes Diana from being an Amazonian princess infinitely eager to become a warrior like her Aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright), to becoming a total fish out of water when she leaves the island of Themyscira and ventures into World War I-era London. She embodies this immortal Amazonian princess with vigor, strength, intelligence and a lot of heart, and it’s not just her beauty which kept my eyes glued to the screen whenever she graced it.

Also matching Gadot scene for scene is Chris Pine who plays United States Army Air Service Captain Steve Trevor. Pine has long since proven himself a terrific actor thanks to making the role of Captain Kirk his own in the past three “Star Trek” movies, but he really knocks it out of the park here as a man who discovers the meaning of true heroism thanks to both duty and love. Steve could have been portrayed as an overly cheeky character who easily stumbles over his unmistakable attraction for Diana, but Pine gives the character a lot of heart as well as a strong arc as Steve comes to discover he is not so different from the enemy he is pursuing.

In fact, this is what I love about “Wonder Woman;” it explores the dynamics of an immortal princess and the all too mortal human beings she encounters in her journeys. This could have been a simple good girl and guys versus bad guys adventure, but Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg have more on their minds than giving us the usual summer blockbuster. A good deal of thought went into this one, and while the best visual effects available were put to astonishing use, it is the story and characters which keep us riveted more than anything else. While stories of heroes trying to do good in the world have us scoffing at them with cynicism to where it feels like we cannot take them seriously, “Wonder Woman,” and the “Captain America” movies which proved to be better than we expected them to be, show how virtue can be such an immeasurable strength when portrayed in the right way.

Jenkins, who directed Charlize Theron to Oscar-winning glory in “Monster,” turns what could have been a cheesy spectacle into a thrilling motion picture from start to finish. Memories of the “Wonder Woman” TV show still echo in my brain to this day, and its theme song is one of my all-time favorites. As much as I would have loved to have heard that theme song in this iteration, it’s just as well it wasn’t included as this is a Wonder Woman for a new generation of fans as well as those from the past. There is no invisible jet on display here, nor are there any scenes of Diana Prince turning around in circles and bursting into a flash of light while changing into her Wonder Woman attire. But while Jenkins studiously works to avoid any cheese in her cinematic interpretation, she does not treat the material ever so seriously as she allows for a good sense of fun and spirit which makes this motion picture all the more entertaining. The hero at this movie’s center is not just a powerful one, but a sincere one as well, and this makes it all the more thrilling to sit through to where seeing it once is not enough.

In a summer season which has so far proven to be as underwhelming as it has promised to be, “Wonder Woman” is a much-needed breath of fresh air as superhero/comic book movies have threatened to become stale. But with this thrilling motion picture and “Logan,” we have been given a strong reason to rejoice as filmmakers are intent on providing us with something enthralling to witness.

I do, however, have to say that while not having the invisible jet in this movie was a smart move, having the lasso of truth was. Lord knows we could use this same lasso in today’s frightening world of politics as those in power show no hesitation in lying about what they know. At least with the lasso, we could get to the truth about all the issues which permeate our cynical yet concerned minds today.

Also, I love how Wonder Woman is not the kind of heroic character who shows any hesitation about being “the one.” Too many movies in recent years have featured people who spend the majority of their time complaining about how they are not sure they are “the one.” Princess Diana, however, doesn’t show any hesitation in going up against any nemesis who threatens to lay the world she lives in to waste. Perhaps this should serve as infinite proof of how women are not the weaker sex and never have been.

* * * * out of * * * *

Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond poster

With “Star Trek Beyond,” the rebooted franchise now follows the Enterprise crew on its five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations and to boldly go where no one has gone before. What results is a mixed bag of a movie that gets a little too bombastic for its own good at times, but which still entertains better than many of the other summer blockbusters released in 2016. More importantly, this movie remembers what makes “Star Trek” so memorable: the relationships these characters have with one another.

We meet up with James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew in the third of their five-year mission. Kirk finds his duties as captain growing monotonous and becomes increasingly interested in accepting a promotion to Vice Admiral. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is reeling from his breakup with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and the death of Spock Prime (the late Leonard Nimoy) to where he is considering leaving Starfleet to help New Vulcan. Scotty (Simon Pegg) still loves his warp engines, Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) are still at the helm, and McCoy (Karl Urban) is still eager to remind everyone that he is a doctor and nothing other than that.

The Enterprise’s latest assignment has them traveling through an unstable nebula on a rescue mission, but it turns out to be a trap that destroys the Enterprise and leaves its crew stranded on an alien planet whose inhabitants are quick to enslave them. An alien commander named Krall (Idris Elba) seeks to destroy the Federation of Planets for reasons which eventually become clear as the movie goes on.

As the trailers for “Star Trek Beyond” have long since revealed, the Enterprise is destroyed early on. This isn’t the first time we have seen this famous starship destroyed. We watched helplessly as it self-destructed in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and we its lower half explode and its saucer section make a spectacular crash landing in “Star Trek: Generations.” But what’s significant about this movie’s Enterprise is that it is destroyed very early on as opposed to the halfway point. This is a bold move as these films thrive on the presence of the Enterprise for the most part, but here we see it destroyed from the get go to where you wonder how the crew can do their jobs without it. As a result, things in “Star Trek Beyond” feel more unpredictable than usual as everyone is separated from one another and trying to figure out what to do without easy access to the Federation of Planets.

J.J. Abrams stepped away from the director’s chair as he was busy directing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” In his place is Justin Lin who is best known for his numerous contributions to “The Fast & The Furious” franchise, but I also like to remind people of his 2002 film “Better Luck Tomorrow” which I felt made him a good choice to helm this “Star Trek” movie. Thanks to a script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, he takes the time to focus on the characters and their evolving relationships with one another. I especially loved the scenes between Spock and McCoy as these two can’t stand one another but still need to rely on each other when danger looms over them. Spock may find the fear of death of illogical, but McCoy rightly points out that it is what keeps us alive. This is reminds me of a pivotal moment from the original “Star Trek” television series when McCoy said, “Do you know why you’re not afraid to die Spock? You’re more afraid of living.”

Having said that, Lin does make the action scenes in “Star Trek Beyond” feel, and I have to say it, a little too fast and furious. It gets to where we threaten to lose sight of the movie’s plot and what its main antagonist is aiming for. I imagine that when I see this “Star Trek” movie again, and seeing any “Star Trek” movie just once is not enough, I will better understand all that is going on, but the fact that I wasn’t able to follow every little detail here did take away from my enjoyment. I liked “Star Trek Beyond,” but I came out of it feeling like I could have liked it a lot more.

Speaking of the main antagonist, he is Krall and is portrayed by Idris Elba, an excellent choice as he is the kind of actor who can elicit fear with just a look of his eyes. Like Oscar Isaac in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” he is covered up with way too much makeup which threatens to take away from his natural charisma, but he still gives us a villain that is in no way, shape or form a one-dimensional character. As “Star Trek Beyond” goes on, we learn that he is a victim of circumstances beyond his control, but while that doesn’t justify his actions, it certainly explains why he does what he does. Elba is one of the best actors out there today, and his performance here is further proof of that.

It’s great to see how these actors have grown into the roles they were first cast in seven years ago. Pine shows how the years of space travel have worn down Kirk’s soul but not his spirit. Quinto continues to do excellent work as Spock, having made this character his own a long time ago. Urban remains a pitch perfect McCoy, and his delivery of that character’s classic catchphrases is worth the price of admission. Saldana continues to give us a kick-ass Uhura who isn’t about to take shit from anyone, and I mean anyone. With this “Star Trek” movie, Pegg gets to make Scott more than a comic foil as he works to get the support of a particular alien who can help him and the crew defeat Krall. And there’s Yelchin who finally gets to do much more as Chekov here than in the previous films. He’s terrific here, and it makes his recent death all the more tragic as he was a major talent whose life was cut much too short.

Special mention also goes to Sofia Boutella who gives a genuinely strong alien warrior character in Jaylah. This is the same actress who made an undeniably memorable impression as the henchwomen whose prosthetic legs were designed to leave some serious damage. Boutella steals every scene she has here as Jaylah looks to defend herself against those who destroyed her family, and I can’t wait to see what role she will take on next.

While part of me wishes “Star Trek Beyond” was a better movie than it is, it still proves to be better than many of the other summer blockbusters released so far in 2016. Many believe that this franchise is still be converted into one resembling “Star Wars,” but I don’t believe that as the filmmakers involved are fully aware that the characters are far more important in this one than the special effects. It also makes me smile that this franchise continues to live on to further generations no matter what. While some look at Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a hopeful future as nothing but hooey, others see it as one that nobody should stop believing in, and I am one of those people. Here’s to this franchise continuing to live long and prosper no matter what.

* * * out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness movie poster

J.J. Abrams has done it again; he’s made another incredibly entertaining “Star Trek” movie. “Star Trek Into Darkness” proves to be just as much fun as the reboot he helmed in 2009, and I found myself with a big grin on my face as the end credits came up on the silver screen. In a summer season that has gotten off to a somewhat tepid start, Abrams manages to thrill us with a combination of spectacular action pieces and characters we come to care deeply about. He also takes this movie to where no “Star Trek” movie has ever gone before: a place where roman numerals and colons are not needed in the title.

One year has passed since the events of the last movie, and this one starts off with the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise accidentally catching the attention of a primitive civilization that is not yet ready to discover the existence of things like starships. This leads the crew, and James T. Kirk in particular, to violate the Prime Directive which dictates that there will be no interference in the development of an alien civilization, to attempt to save one of their fellow crew members from certain death. Back on Earth, none of this sits well with Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) who berates Kirk (Chris Pine) for acting as if the rules don’t apply to him.

But things change quickly when a vicious domestic terrorist named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) lays waste to certain parts of Earth, and Kirk becomes consumed with vengeance and determined to bring him down at any cost. But in their pursuit of Harrison, the crew of the Enterprise find themselves in conflict as to what course of action is the best one to pursue. While Kirk feels justified in killing Harrison, this action could lead to an all-out war that the Federation of Planets cannot afford.

Now some complain that ever since Abrams became part of the “Star Trek” franchise that the movies have become more about action than ideas, but that’s pretty much been the case since “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” What Abrams gets right though is his attention to the characters, and in the end this franchise is really more about the characters than special effects. While we love the action with all those starships firing their torpedoes at one another, it’s the characters and what they go through which keeps us endlessly riveted.

I love the complicated relationships these people have with one another. Admiral Pike continues to be the father figure Kirk needs in his life, and Greenwood is perfect in the role as he dishes out some hard love to the strong but arrogant captain of the Enterprise. You never really catch Greenwood acting in the role, and his moments opposite Pine are filled with a lot of genuine emotion that never feels faked.

But the key relationship in this particular “Star Trek” movie is the one between Kirk and Spock which remains as complicated as ever. While Kirk is willing to fudge the facts in order to justify his course of action, Spock has no choice to be 100% honest about everything because he’s a Vulcan, and Vulcans don’t lie (but they do exaggerate). You wonder how these two can stand to be on a starship together for even a brief period of time, but the fact is that these two need one another in order to survive from one galaxy to the next. This becomes all the more apparent as “Star Trek Into Darkness” reaches its relentless conclusion.

Pine gives another excellent performance here as the iconic character James T. Kirk, and it’s fun to watch him take Kirk from being a cocky individual to one who ends up making selfless decisions in order to save the only family he has left: his crew. Quinto remains riveting as ever as Spock as we watch his half-human and half-Vulcan sides battling with one another for supremacy. Spock has always been a very complex character, and there are many reasons why he was the only one to survive the pilot episode of the original “Star Trek” television series.

Zoe Saldana really gets to kick ass as Uhura, and there’s something thrilling about her not just being relegated to her communications station on the bridge. Simon Pegg remains a delight as Scotty who finds out more about starships than he’s supposed to in this one. John Cho really does get his moment in the sun as Sulu when he is required to take the Captain’s chair and makes it clear he is not to be messed with. And then there’s Karl Urban who remain as pitch perfect as ever as Dr. McCoy, and he delivers some of the character’s most iconic lines with a freshness which reminds us how much we loved this character in the first place.

As for Anton Yelchin, his character of Pavel Chekov is kind of underused in this “Star Trek” movie. Yelchin gives a good performance, but Chekov is relegated to engineering a little too much this time around, and he comes off looking like he’s not a necessary part of the Enterprise crew.

There are also some new additions to “Star Trek” family in this sequel that prove to be very welcome. Peter Weller, the original “Robocop,” co-stars as Starfleet Admiral Marcus, and he brings to his role the same relentless hard ass intensity he brought to the fifth season of “24.” Alice Eve portrays the very alluring Science Officer Carol Wallace who knows more about weapons than anyone is comfortable with, and she hides secrets which may jeopardize her relationship with the crew.

But the one actor everyone will be paying the most attention to is Benedict Cumberbatch. Long before this sequel was released, it was believed that he would give us one of the most unforgettable villains of the summer 2013 movie season, and he doesn’t disappoint. John Harrison is not your typical one-dimensional bad guy, and that makes Cumberbatch’s portrayal of him all the more mesmerizing to watch. He also gives the role a strong depth you don’t expect it to have as we discover his true nature and why he is wreaking all this havoc.

To say anything more would risk spoiling the movie for you, and I am not about to do that. Abrams makes a very welcome return to the director’s chair for this “Star Trek” adventure, and his success here bodes well for that “Star Wars” movie we are waiting for him to make. While some directors get caught up in visuals, battles and explosions, Abrams is one of the few who gives an equal amount of attention to the actors and the characters they play. That makes his films all the more thrilling and emotionally involving to witness.

 

It’s hard to say where “Star Trek Into Darkness” ranks among the other movies in this franchise that continues to live long and prosper, but it’s safe to say that it won’t be sharing company with “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” anytime soon. This film entertained me from beginning to end and it never sacrificed character for the sake of action. It has me looking forward to the next film which should have the Enterprise crew finally starting their five-year mission to explore strange new worlds. Whether or not Abrams will be in the director’s chair, it’s bound to be a very entertaining journey.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2013.

Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek 2009 movie poster

I have been into “Star Trek” since I started watching the original series when I was five years old. I reveled in Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew hurtling through space and exploring new worlds. I still remember watching the episode “The Return of the Archons” where the Enterprise crew was being held prisoner, and there was this overwhelmingly loud noise which rendered them unconscious. As they fell to the floor, I mimicked what I saw on that ancient Zenith television my parents bought, pretending I was part of this great crew. Back then, I envisioned myself as a character on that show and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as its adventures made up for the dullness of reality.

As “Star Trek” expanded from its original incarnation later became a never ending movie franchise, I stayed with it as much as I could. My dad had to carry me out of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” after I burst into tears at the end. The fact that I kept saying he would come back to life was truly an utter coincidence when “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” came out, and I was in tears after that one as well. I later became determined to be the first person in Thousand Oaks, California to own a copy of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” on VHS. When my family moved from Thousand Oaks to the Bay Area, I found myself wanting those transporters to be real so that I could beam down south to hang out with the friends I was forced to leave behind.

But somewhere along the line, I found myself losing interest in all things Trek as I started to miss out on the last couple of seasons of “Star Trek: TNG.” Then there were other spinoffs like “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” among others, and I became increasingly less excited about the franchise as it came to resemble “Law & Order” and its various other incarnations. You knew what you were going to get, so the level of excitement I had for the franchise kept fading away year after year. Still, I believed that the franchise could be resurrected because, as Spock would say, there are always possibilities.

That resurrection has now arrived, seven years after “Star Trek: Nemesis,” thanks to J.J. Abrams. His “Star Trek” movie is the most exciting film this series has seen since “First Contact,” and I fucking loved it! This origin story of the Starship Enterprise and its cast gives the franchise a much needed kick in the ass. By taking the series in new directions, Abrams has succeeded in opening up the world of Trek to an audience that never fully embraced it before.

We get to see a young James Tiberius Kirk driving a hot rod while blasting the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” on the car’s stereo, and this is the first sign that this “Star Trek” is not going to be the same old shit. We see a young Spock getting taunted by his classmates which makes him use methods other than that famous Vulcan nerve pinch to subdue his enemies. Seeing Spock beat the crap out of others might have been hilarious in any other movie, but Abrams takes the character in fresh new directions we have not seen him go to before. This plays much more intensely on the fact that Spock has always been half-human and half-Vulcan.

The plot of “Star Trek” revolves around the device of time travel which has played a part in the most entertaining and successful films in the series (“The Voyage Home” and “First Contact”). It involves a large mining ship of Romulans commanded by Nero (Eric Bana) who is as thirsty for revenge as Khan was in “Star Trek II.” It doesn’t matter how much you know about Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi universe because anything and everything you remembered about it previously will seem very different, and that makes this movie all the more entertaining and unpredictable.

One of the key successes Abrams has with “Star Trek” is the actors he has chosen as none of them try to do imitate what the actors who originated these roles did before them. Among the most impressive is Chris Pine who plays Kirk as a hotshot who gets himself in trouble constantly and lacks a father figure in his life. Pine really succeeds in capturing the same cockiness and over confidence that William Shatner brought to the role before him.

But even better is Zachary Quinto who plays Spock at his most emotionally unhinged. Of all the actors here, he has the biggest obstacle to overcome since the original Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is in this film as well. I admired how Quinto strongly displayed Spock’s inner turmoil and of the fact that he is a child of two worlds. One of his best moments comes when he essentially flips off the Vulcan High Command after he is accepted into their prestigious science academy. By describing Spock as having done well despite the “disadvantage” of having a human mother (played by Winona Ryder of all people), we get a huge thrill out Quinto making “live long and prosper” sound like he’s saying fuck you to the.

Another inspired casting choice in “Star Trek” is Simon Pegg as Engineer Montgomery Scott. As the movie heads to its exciting climax, it is frightening to see just how much Pegg resembles Scotty from the original series, and that’s even more so when we hear him say, “I’m giving her all she’s got Captain!” Pegg gives us a Scotty that is a perfect comic foil, and it will be great fun to see where he will take Scotty in future installments.

As Nero, Eric Bana gives us the strongest and most lethal villain this series has had since Khan. Whereas the previous antagonists seemed more refined in how they acted among their prey, Nero’s fury is so personal and uncontainable, and the fact that he is named after the Roman Emperor whose rule was marked by tyranny, and that he ordered the execution of his mother and adopted brother, should give you an idea of how screwed up he is.

The rest of the cast includes Bruce Greenwood who is perfectly cast as Christopher Pike, and it reminded me a lot of his underrated portrayal of John F. Kennedy in “Thirteen Days.” John Cho of “Harold & Kumar” fame plays Sulu, and he has a great moment where he gets to put his fencing skills to the test. Zoe Saldana plays Uhura with a calm sexiness and an intelligence that is foolishly underestimated by others until she makes you see the big picture. Karl Urban gives us a pitch perfect Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy and captures the character’s infinite crankiness we all know him to have. Anton Yelchin plays Pavel Chekov, and while the character feels underused here, he is still well cast and has a flawless Russian accent. And of course, we have Winona Ryder playing Spock’s mother, and her performance is all the more impressive when you take into account that she is only two years older than Quinto.

What impressed me even more about this particular “Star Trek” is that it was given a budget of over $100 million. There is no doubt that the money is there on the screen, and the effects are remarkable. This is an especially good point to make as special effects have never really been the strong point of the “Star Trek” series, but here they are the best they have ever been. The Enterprise bridge looks so much different than it ever before, and it has a sleek style to it that makes being there all the more inviting.

I’ll be very interested to hear what die hard Trekkers think of this latest adventure of the Enterprise crew. This one does not dwell on big ideas the way “Star Trek” has done for the most part throughout its various incarnations. The main power of Roddenberry’s series was how it dealt with social issues of the day in the realm of science fiction. This one is meant to be more like “Star Wars,” and it allows Abrams to give this aging franchise an invigorated feeling that it desperately needed. While it may not be a “Trek” rooted in philosophy, I think this one leaves the door open for writers to explore present day themes in a future installment.

But I cannot go on without mentioning the welcome return of Leonard Nimoy as Spock (. This could have been a gimmicky cameo that lasted just a few seconds, but Nimoy’s Spock does play a very pivotal role in this movie. Furthermore, he also helps give it a sense of legitimacy that it would not have had without his appearance. Keep in mind, his character was the only one who survived the rejected first pilot of the original series.

Seeing this “Star Trek” brought a lot of happiness to me. My mood seems to get inadvertently sidetracked depending on the health of the franchise. I can honestly say that I am not all surprised at its longevity or constant rebirth. Roddenberry’s message of hope always finds a way to win out, and it is fitting that the movie is getting released around the beginning of the President Barrack Obama’s first term. Granted, this is really a coincidence since the movie was being developed before he made his decision to run for President, but it’s a wonderful coincidence all the same.

All those kids who gave me crap about liking this great series can suck it now, because “Star Trek” is here to stay. Even those who picked on me for being a Trekker, and ironically did much better in science classes than me, won’t be able to pass this one up. “Star Trek” can be seen as the first truly great odd-numbered movie in the long running series, and it is proof that this series will never die.

Live long and prosper? OH HELL YES!!!

* * * * out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2009.