I’ve been able to get out, or rather get in out of the heat, to see two films so far this month. Both have been worthwhile moviegoing experiences, thanks on the one hand to being entertaining summer fare and on the other hand to my “free popcorn all year” card at the local cineplex. Doesn’t get much better than that.

 

star_trek_into_darkness_1Star Trek into Darkness

What can I add that hasn’t already been said in reviews of this film? It’s an apt and engaging continuation of the franchise reboot, with winning performances by all parties, marvelous effects, and a storyline in keeping with the “alternate universe” idea set up in the first film (simply titled Star Trek and released in 2009). Once again, it harks back to the original series, plus the previous films based on it, which makes it an amusing trivia-fishing expedition for fans. But unlike some adaptations, viewers needn’t be diehard fans to understand and enjoy the new Star Trek movies (this is a problem for some films, like the 2005 adaptation of Douglas Adams’ novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which people who have not read the book find hard to grasp).

The next part of this review contains some spoilers, so if you have yet to see the film and don’t want to know, look away now. (Do come back after you’ve seen the movie and let me know what you think.)

All this being said, it’s a given that this movie will be derived from a million little moments in the original series (starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, and Walter Koenig) and its ensuing film adaptations. However, I had a distinct concern about this film being derivative in an out-of-kilter way of 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (starring Ricardo Montalban as its eponymous villain). This new edition of the Star Trek voyages is about Khan in an alternate universe, so the similarities make sense. But then I noticed some scenes that were lifted right out of the Khan film, almost verbatim—except there was something askew about them.

star-trek-into-darkness-quinto-cumberbatch-pineAfter seeing Star Trek into Darkness, I popped my copy of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (my favorite of the films that feature the original series cast) into the blu-ray player and saw what had jarred me. Some scenes truly are lifted right from the 1982 film, and then they are altered in odd ways, such as Kirk (Chris Pine) being assigned a task and lines that should have been Spock’s (Zachary Quinto). It just seems … wrong. (And to top things off, in the original Khan film, Spock’s symptoms actually were more appropriate to the radiation poisoning he has sustained than were Kirk’s in this new film, despite its immense advantages in effects capabilities.)

I can understand someone arguing that this “borrowing” is exactly what creates the alternate universe vision. In my opinion, however, this is a cheap and clumsy approach. The lack of creativity, which a subtler solution could have evidenced, brought the film’s appeal down a notch for me. Just slapping scenes written thirty years ago into new contexts does not make for a believable alternate universe, and the risk is exactly what happened in my case: you might confuse or even offend true fans.

Star_Trek_kirk_and_spockI do admit, though, that the handling of the alternative scenario of the relationship between Kirk and Carol Marcus was quite interesting and witty. Seeing development in the roles of other crew members (Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin) was heartening. And bringing a tribble into the mix was just lovely; I adore those furry little munchkins.

It’s still an exuberant, exciting experience that’s fun for Star Trek aficionados and novices alike. I might just be getting nitpicky in my old moviegoing age. If there are others out there who picked up on the Wrath of Khan-bootlegging and have an opinion about it, I would love to hear it!

B-

now-you-see-me-posterNow You See Me

I had not read much about this film before going to see it, but I am a fan of many of its stars (Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine), and besides, it was all about magic, right?  What’s not to like?

It’s really more about crime and punishment, deception and retribution, and righting wrongs. All good stuff. And it does a fair job of sustaining pace and building characters in the name of its desired outcome: to fool the audience and present a big reveal at the end.

Some of the effects are wonderful, but if we’re talking magic, well, it’s kind of like watching David Copperfield on TV: how can you tell what’s a trick actually being pulled off by a talented prestidigitator and what’s smoke-and-mirrors camera trickery?

Once I saw where this film was going, I enjoyed the ride, which includes a pretty good attempt at hoodwinked the audience—much as magicians do—through misdirection about who is behind the action. I am a huge fan of caper/heist movies, and that might have been my problem with one.  NOW YOU SEE METhe caper-story sleight of hand is just not quite up to par for really passionate fans of this genre.

There are some pretty large plot holes when it comes to the behavior of some characters and especially how the secret perpetrator behind it all actually got where he is and made everything happen the way it did. I am all about suspension of disbelief when watching films, but I like my caper flicks polished and awe-inspiring, with the “Aha!” moment of answers to nagging questions being self-evident once the reveal occurs, on the order of The Sting (1973), The Usual Suspects (1995), Snatch (2000), Inside Man (2006), and the like. If you now these films, you know the kind of magic they actually pull off.now you see me magic tricks isla fisher

Nonetheless, this is yet another entertaining summer flick that is fun to watch—especially if it’s 110 degrees in the shade and you’re hungry for some popcorn.

B-

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