J.J. Abrams reinvention of Star Trek is as thrilling a ride as we have seen anywhere this year. The franchise has been re-booted (as the saying goes) and re-started from before the beginning of The Original Series as Kirk, Spock, Bones, etc go on their first voyage together and take on their first universe-threatening mad alien.
A very grumpy Romulan miner (Eric Bana) discovers the secret of creating wormholes and uses it travel back in time to wreak revenge on Spock — the ageing Ambassador (a frail looking Leonard Nimoy) who failed to prevent the destruction of his home planet. His revenge will take the form of destroying Spock’s home planets of Vulcan and Earth while the trapped old man is forced to watch. Luckily for the universe (but too late for the people of Vulcan) the hot headed cadet Kirk (Chris Pine) and the young Spock (Zachary Quinto, known in some circles as Hot Spock) are able to save the day and forge a legendary friendship at the same time.
The fine line between thrilling the neutral and pleasing the fanboy is negotiated with considerable skill — there are plenty of nods to Star Trek history, and the characterisations (while not impersonations of Shatner etc.) are easily recognisable. Pine, in particular, pitches his performance perfectly — allowing a subtle acknowledgement of Shatner’s unique physicality to appear only when he finally takes the helm as Captain.
It’s interesting to note that as soon as the Romulan travels through time he changes the whole space-time continuum and the the future paths of all the characters change — parents are lost that were alive in the TV series and films for example — which makes the whole story a parallel universe story. They can do anything with these characters now and they won’t be in breach of the canon. Very clever.
A standard 35mm film frame is 35mm wide, 24mm high and less than 1mm thick and it is that final dimension that comes to mind whenever I’m confronted with a Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy — shallow doesn’t even begin to describe him or his work. In Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, he plays a womanising photographer who, at his brother’s wedding, is taught how to be a decent human being by the ghost of his Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas) and the ghost of his first snog (Emma Stone). It’s an acknowledged rip-off of A Christmas Carol with Dickens’ perfect structure wasted on a crappy and lifeless wedding comedy. I hate wedding comedies.
No one comes out with an improved reputation, which is a particular shame for Jennifer Garner, and Douglas’ character is a one-note riff on Hollywood producer Bob Evans that barely counts as a performance. His dad Kirk has been doing better work recently and he’s 93.
Despite surface similarities, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Rachel Getting Married (the new verité-style film by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme) couldn’t be more different. A troubled sibling threatens to ruin a wedding with inappropriate behaviour but there the two films diverge, thank goodness.
Anne Hathaway is Kym, Rachel’s sister, and she’s been let out of rehab for a weekend so she can see her sensible sister get married. Kym is a deeply troubled soul with substance and abandonment issues going back to childhood and she is still struggling with the fall-out from all that bad behaviour. Of course, a wedding is stressful enough at the best of times but the pressure (and the temptation) push them all towards breaking point.
It’s quite brilliant, perfectly acted, and maintains a core of beautiful, forgiving, human understanding throughout. How many times can you forgive someone you love when they seem to have no power to change? I’d say, as long as you have the capacity for forgiveness you have an obligation to deploy it and that, I think, is also the message of the film.
Finally, Bill Maher’s polemical documentary Religulous is more angry than funny. In it, Maher, travels the world talking to (but not really listening to) religious leaders and religious thinkers trying to unravel why we continue to believe in certain palpably unlikely phenomena as talking snakes, a man living inside a whale for three days, and other softball digs at faith.
I personally sympathise with Maher’s position (and his frustration that religious teaching and leadership dominates so much of the world’s thinking) but his snippy tone and lack of any obvious tolerance himself turned me off.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 13 May, 2009. Notes on screening conditions: Star Trek looked perfectly fine at the Embassy but I recommend sitting at least half way back when they play ‘scope as the focus is always soft and that gets more annoying the closer you get. (I understand that the softness is a slow lens issue not operator-related.) Religulous was a Festival screener DVD with unfinished credits and time-codes on a lot of the news footage — that’s the first time I’ve been given an unfinished (or more accurately un-polished) film to review.