Sunday, December 6, 2009
Firstly, my Trek credentials.
Essentially, I have none.
Sure, like any sci-fi geek in the ‘80’s, I thought The Wrath of Khan kicked a$$, but I never even watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and, in the wake of Khan, I found The Search for Spock disappointing.*
That was the last Trek movie I watched.
Till J.J. Abrams crewed up a new Enterprise with a terrific ensemble and delivered the best popcorn SF movie of the past summer, giving us a film light years ahead of those other 2009 Hollywood SF titles, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Terminator Salvation.
It’s a head-scratching wonder, actually, that Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are not only responsible for the script for Star Trek, but they can also be partially to blame for Revenge of the Fallen (along with Ehren Kruger).
And yes, I’m aware that the script for the Transformers sequel was simply one of the casualties of the writers’ strike, but really… that was an unholy mess…
Orci and Kurtzman’s work on Star Trek, however, not only gives us the emotional beats necessary for the audience to empathize with its characters, it also produces a narrative that is actually a satisfying adventure all its own, allowing it to rise above its prime intention: to act as prologue (and potential franchise re-starter), setting up characters and relationships and putting all the pieces into their proper places in the context of the Star Trek mythos.
In other words, getting that familiar crew gathered on board the Enterprise.
This is, after all, a reboot, and that term, used in conjunction with a property laden with stalwart devotees (as Star Trek is), can be potential dynamite.
But Orci and Kurtzman manage to weave a story that keeps faith with the original Trek canon, and still allows this new incarnation the freedom to, rather literally, enjoy the possibilities of going where Shatner and Nimoy never did before.
And their script is helped tremendously by a cast that knows how to make the most of limited screen time (limited screen time being the bane of ensembles, particularly for those who aren’t the more prominent faces of the cast).
Everyone, from Just My Luck’s Chris Pine and Heroes’ Zachary Quinto, on through to Terminator Salvation’s Anton Yelchin and Shaun of the Dead’s Simon Pegg (who’s last to the Enterprise party), are up to the task of embodying this new crew, informing these decades’ old characters with 21st century life.
These characters are fun, and certainly they’re people I wouldn’t mind crewing up with again for future adventures.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re a devoted Trek fan, or completely ignorant of the mythos.
I don’t think either will stand in the way of the good SF time that is Abrams’ Star Trek.
* I also never got into any of Trek’s television incarnations.
Parting shot: Given my status as longtime Felicity fan, I love the fact that Amanda Foreman is here, however briefly, and that Greg Grunberg is at least heard, if not seen.
I would have loved to have seen the Scotts (Speedman and Foley) and of course, Keri Russell here. Or maybe some Amy Smart.
Alas, not to be.
But there’s always the sequel…
(It does my heart good to know though, that even in the bright Federation future, Slusho is still an on-going concern. Hurrah!)
(Star Trek OS’s courtesy of scifi.com; images courtesy of aintitcool.com, ew.com, hollywoodreporter.com, & latimes.com.)
I made mention of an eco-horror double feature comprised of Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter and Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth in my review of Fessenden’s film (which slumbers in the Archive).
Now, I’ve found a film I can wholeheartedly place alongside that pair for a chilling eco-horror troika.
That would be Jamie Blanks’ remake of Long Weekend.*
Though I’ve yet to have the opportunity to see Colin Eggleston’s 1978 original, Blanks’ redo sticks to the premise of a couple on a weekend getaway, who find themselves at the cruel mercies of nature. (The remake is still written by Everett De Roche, who penned the original and who had worked with Blanks previously on Storm Warning.)
This time out, it’s Jim Caviezel and Claudia Karvan (soon to be seen in the upcoming Spierig Brothers’ Daybreakers) as Peter and Carla, a married couple whose relationship is clearly in dire straits when we join them as they prepare for the eponymous getaway.
The bitterness and recrimination is so palpable, even when it’s submerged, you can’t help but wonder what they saw in each other in the first place. There must have been love at some point; they’ve got the wedding bands to prove it, after all. You just can’t really see it these days.
And by the time the reasons for their estrangement are revealed to us, not only is it too late for their marriage, it’s quite possibly also too late for their lives as well.
Even as it chronicles the final death throes of a relationship gone horribly toxic, the film also shows in no uncertain terms, the callousness and presumption with which we, as a species, treat our planet.
The fact that Peter is a “self-centred prick” (as Carla calls him at one point in the film)—or, as I prefer to think of it, just a plain old flaming a$hole—is cold comfort when his actions (and Carla’s as well, for that matter) probably happen every single day, in some part of the world.
It’s interesting to note that these actions come from two different places. In Peter’s case, they’re done out of complete disregard for anything else other than himself. In Carla’s case, it’s out of an innate dislike and distrust of the outdoors.
It’s always a telling point to observe a person once they’re taken out of the confines and comfort of civilization and made to rough it. That’s when you can tell the stuff a person’s really made of.
I should stress at this point that this is not an “animals attack” sort of film (though there is that in the mix; and one must never forget that De Roche also scripted the “giant pig in the Outback” extravaganza that was Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback); Blanks’ Long Weekend is more about mood and atmosphere and good old fashioned creepiness.
In fact, aside from that eco-horror troika, I will also place Long Weekend squarely beside such venerable titles in the Creepy-a$$ Aussie Film Library as Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave. If anything, Blanks’ remake has made me even more curious to see Eggleston’s original.
Here, Blanks and De Roche focus on the fear of the unknown, of what’s out there, beyond the campfire’s glow and the headlights stabbing off into the deep, primeval night.
It’s about how so many things in our world are plainly beyond our understanding and our control.
At one point in the film, Peter points out to Carla that not everyone is afraid of nature.
Well, if Long Weekend is anything to go by, maybe we should be.
And if “fear” is too strong a word and emotion, then perhaps a healthy sense of respect will do.
Given the current state of our planet, it’s long overdue.
* In the U.S., Long Weekend has been retitled Nature’s Grave, as evidenced by the rather horrid DVD cover art below.
Parting shot: In the interests of full disclosure, there are a couple of skeletons in Blanks’ cinematic closet.
Primarily, there’s Valentine, and to a lesser extent, Urban Legend.
Urban Legend had a couple of passably effective sequences, but as a whole, wasn’t really that distinguished a title. Valentine, on the other hand, was just plain dreadful.
Though I’ve yet to see Storm Warning (which I understand may well be worth a look), I can safely say Long Weekend clears Blanks’ slate of its past blemishes.
(Long Weekend OS courtesy of impawards.com; Nature’s Grave DVD cover art courtesy of shocktillyoudrop.com; some images courtesy of outnow.ch.)
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
“… it was clear to me that [writer/director Paul Solet] was really using genre as a way to tell a really profound story about women and childbirth and sacrifices and love.”
-- Jordan Ladd
There are some films you just really shouldn’t show pregnant women (or even women who are merely contemplating pregnancy, for that matter).
Films like Fruit Chan’s Dumplings or Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s À l'intérieur (Inside); the latter more so than the former. And then there's David Lynch's Eraserhead.
Well, I can now clearly add Paul Solet’s frighteningly impressive feature debut, Grace, to that shortlist.
In this highly disturbing film, Jordan Ladd (from Cabin Fever, Death Proof, and briefly, Hostel: Part II) plays Madeline Matheson, who is on her third attempt at pregnancy, when tragedy strikes.
What follows clearly proves the maxim, a lot of love and a little mental instability do not a good pairing mix. (It also proves that Ladd is a young actress who needs to be paid attention to.)
Solet delves deeply into the primal anxieties that inform the entire process of conception, gestation, and childbirth, those universal fears of something, anything really, going so very terribly wrong.
I suppose it’s only natural then, given the film’s subject matter, that this is a tale populated largely by the feminine; there are only three male roles of note here, and one is disposed of early on, while all three are influenced (to varying degrees) by a much more powerful female figure.
It’s also interesting to note that it’s not only the disintegration of Madeline that we witness onscreen, but the other females in the narrative also undergo mental and emotional stresses of their own (some more readily visible than others).
The psychology of the female, as well as the fierce, maternal instinct, is brought sharply into focus by Solet, and what we get is a very dark and unsettling piece. In that respect, Grace is also a sort of sister film to Neil Marshall’s The Descent, where the feminine is also something forbidding and formidable to contend with.
And above and beyond the feminine aspect, these are also characters who are yearning desperately for things they can’t have, and who are willing to go further than the usual distance to have and keep those things. Regardless of gender, that’s a very universal feeling, one that can reduce us to actions we’d never thought ourselves capable of.
So, just to reiterate: this one’s got teeth.
Not your easy-peasy Hollywood popcorn horror, this.
Among other things, Grace is a disturbing portrait of the lengths a mother will go to for love of her offspring (and that doesn’t just apply to Madeline).
Fittingly enough, Solet dedicates the film to his own mother…
Parting shot: Grace is produced by Adam Green, who brought us Hatchet.
Parting shot 2: Reviews of À l'intérieur (Inside), Hatchet, Death Proof, and Hostel: Part II can be found in the Archive.
(Grace OS courtesy of shocktillyoudrop.com.)