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Review: Star Trek, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Rachel Getting Married and Religulous

By June 6, 2009September 9th, 2010One Comment

Star Trek posterJ.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 con­tinuüm 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.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past posterA 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.

Rachel Getting Married posterDespite 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.

Religulous posterFinally, 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.

One Comment

  • anita says:

    I liked “Rachel get­ting mar­ried”. Surprisingly, I watched it on the plane –not the kind of movies I’d expect in a Qantas flight. I found it very human and humble. A little bit sad but heart­en­ing at the same time. I guess it’s that sense of for­give­ness and fam­ily love you men­tion, which makes it so iden­ti­fi­able. Who hasn’t had to for­give or been for­giv­en in the name of love?