Star Trek: Into Darkness (review)


I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness this past weekend, twice. My first reaction was, hmm, this is all very familiar, but different. Well, different until the villain, played by Benedict Cumberbatch utters, “John Harrison was a fiction created the moment I was awoken by your Admiral Marcus to help him advance his cause. A smoke screen to conceal my true identity. My name is Khan.” in response to a question asked by Kirk (Chris Pine).

Khan? As in The Wrath of?

Well ok. So I spent much of the first viewing thinking, well that’s not how it happened in the original timeline. After lunch with friends, I went home and streamed the original.

And then returned to see Into Darkness again the next day able to consider what the movie actually had to say. I like movies (and TV shows) that have something to say. My friend Mattie had suggested that the film made a commentary about the modern world and terrorism.

Hmm. Yes, and no.

It does (deliberate or not) in that John Harrison/Khan commits an act of terrorism in the film. I suppose, the opening sequence in which Kirk and company save a primitive species on a remote planet from a volcano could be considered terrorism. The natives were terrified, and altered their behavior as a result of the actions of the Enterprise crew.

But, I don’t think it is a movie about terrorism, or even modern life, but rather the indomitable human spirit (or Vulcan, or Klingon, or…whatever that little guy who follows Scotty around is). It’s a movie about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps –as Star Trek always is – and carrying on.

It’s a movie about the big bad universe and how we navigate that. You broke the rules and lost something precious to you (for Kirk the Enterprise, for Spock Kirk’s trust and companionship, Scotty loses hope and a friend…I could go on, but you get the idea). But surrendering to you disappointment isn’t an option, there’s work to be done. Your mentor dies – you must carry on. Your superiors lie to you? Tough luck. Your lover doesn’t take your feelings into account? Well, buck up, you have a mission to accomplish.

Everything you have come to believe is challenged, grab those bootstraps, the sun is coming up tomorrow anyway. Your ship has lost its gravity function? Hold on, because you are not finished yet.

I think, if the film is to be considered as analogous and representing modern society, terrorism, while it impacts all of us, not as directly as the pain of losing a friend, feeling betrayed, overwhelmed, helpless…human. And just as our ancestors outran the dinosaurs, our descendants will run from space monsters and as we always have, monsters of our own creation.

Several reviews I read talked about shifting away from the original intellectualism of Star Trek to a more super hero, violence oriented franchise. And to them I say, go watch the movie again. Kirk is excited, near the beginning of the film because he believes that Enterprise will be chosen for a five year exploratory mission, and in the end he reminds us that humans move into space to explore, to learn… to be that old intellectual-like show.  I like that the bad guy isn’t killed – he is returned to his frozen state; leaving open the possibility that, perhaps he can be redeemed later, again, not the traditional super-hero ending.

Ian suggested that, perhaps, the producers (and script writers) were setting the stage for a return to the TV format. I don’t know that it is possible, with the current cast (all of whom do amazing jobs). To bring this timeline to television without the current cast, I think would be disastrous.  But it has been set up for several more “episodes” and I will gladly watch. Because space is

 …the final frontier. And we are all captivated by the voyages of the starship Enterprise and Her five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

It is my opinion that the story line will continue to go where no one has gone, to buck the system, have the smart, peaceful guys tempering the macho man because, at the end of the day, that’s the only way we will ever live long and prosper…

Go and see this movie, be reminded that part of who we are as a species drives us to go where no one has gone before.

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Lincoln


I have a crush on Abe Lincoln, there it is, I said it out loud, well I committed it to the page, and the Internet. I went to see Lincoln this week with Ian. It was a spur of the moment choice.

And it was a good choice.

The movie was filmed in Richmond, although I will have to see it again to see if there are any landmarks that jump out at me. I spent the first viewing in awe of the man that was Abraham Lincoln.

Awe.

His folksy presentation that allowed him to be at ease with people, and allowed people to be at ease with him. And yet…

And yet the power of his intellect; his ability to speak; to write; to see a problem from a most interesting perspective is awe-inspiring. Lincoln is the towering president, with the towering mind reaching across the years to leave his mark; Daniel Day-Lewis appeared to just be a conduit. He was channeling Abe.

And, and, Honest Abe was not above politics. I think we often feel that way about presidents-past. You know George Washington, Tom Jefferson [though he is a little tarnished], and Abe. Man he was driven in his own quiet way. Driven. He wasn’t afraid to say, “Damn it, I am the president of these United States, and we will do it my way!”

I have read that the script stays close to things Abe said. I hope that’s true, because… oh my God… I would have voted for him, re-elected him, hell probably would have done anything he asked. And he was a Republican! The scene that has left its mark on me was short and so, so brilliant. Smart is so sexy.

If Abe didn’t say this no one tell me. Equality is math. Yes it is. Bloody brilliant!

Do yourself a favor, go and fall in love with one of the nation’s architects. Do it!

 

Guest Blog: Gerry Wilson: What’s Lost, What’s Found: Wall-E, the Movie


[C]reativity and self-destruction are sides of the same coin. So A. O. Scott says in his review of Wall-E in the New York Times (27 June 2008), a statement that sums up the themes of a movie that I—most ashamedly—had never heard of until recently. My four-year-old granddaughter Irene, whom I sometimes call the Princess, brought it to my attention.

She and her nine-year-old brother Nathan came to visit for a few days to allow their parents a couple of nights away. Alone. A breather. As parents of four, they needed it, and we were happy to see these two children.

There isn’t much to do in Mississippi in July, especially when it’s either 100 degrees and the humidity tops out above 90%, or it’s raining—we had both kinds of days—so we had lots of inside activities: computer games (there are some great preschool games available for the iPad) and board games like Connect Four (Irene likes to “play herself”; that way she wins every time) and Candyland, reading, making “books” and frozen yogurt pops and writing songs with GarageBand (a Nathan thing, along with a game called Marble Blast; he bested his fifteen-year-old brother’s record score), and watching movies.

The highlight of their stay probably was an excursion to Target where each was allowed to choose a toy, Grandmother’s treat. The Princess chose a Rapunzel crown and necklace with magical lights and sounds—naturally. What else would a princess choose? Nathan went for a difficult LEGO set he put together in about an hour. The kid is a genius.

I didn’t give much thought to the fact that consumerism was at the heart of the grandchildren’s entertainment until we watched a movie that night. Wall-E brought me up short.

Watching “Wally”

The Princess can be persistent. She is beautiful, loving, and precocious. She’s a flirt. She wants what she wants when she wants it. She kept nagging to watch this “Wally” movie, and finally, not knowing exactly what we were getting into, my husband and I gave in. I figured I’d keep a cursory eye on the movie and do something else while I snuggled with her, like catch up on email. The brother opted out of watching; he’d seen it many times, he said.

Irene described the movie as the story of a poor little robot left behind on earth after everybody else had been carried off on a huge spaceship but a nice robot named Eve comes and . . .

“Sh,” we said.

So we settled in with the four-year-old to watch. As it opened and we saw the bleak landscape and abandoned skyscrapers that seemed made of compacted garbage, my husband said, “Oh great. A dystopian movie for kids.” We prepared ourselves for a long hour and a half, but we quickly changed our minds. We were drawn in, stunned by the powerful animation and images of that silent, empty world.

Wall-E, done by Pixar in 2008 and winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film in 2009, is a typical Pixar movie, exceptional for its animation and brilliant special effects. But this isn’t a kids’ movie. It transcends generations. Granted, four-year-old Irene followed and understood the basic plot (and gave us a running narration throughout; my husband tried to explain to her what a “spoiler” is). She understood the underlying emotion: the love that develops between rusty little Wall-E, the scrap-heap, left-behind, outdated-technology robot whose job it is to collect garbage, and Eve, the high-tech, powerful, sleek, oval beauty sent to earth by the surviving generation of human beings from their “home” aboard a massive spaceship. Eve seeks evidence that life is now sustainable on earth, after hundreds of years of no humans.

The two robots are an unlikely pair, and the subtleties of their communication, their gestures and expressions and mechanical sounds that morph occasionally into recognizable words, are touching, lovely, amazing.

Irene gets what’s happening to them. We get it. But we grownups quickly understood that Wall-E is more than a quirky love story set against a post-apocalyptic backdrop.

A Slip of Green

In Wall-E the earth is a ghostly, desolate place. Everything alive—all human life and vegetation—is gone except for a mere slip of a green growing thing Wall-E finds as he goes about his programmed duties, sifting through the remains. The twist is that the world hasn’t been destroyed by nuclear weapons or an alien invasion. Human beings haven’t been killed off. It’s the earth that has “died,” destroyed by laziness and greed and over-consumption of her resources.

The little robot Wall-E, whose name is an acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth Class, wanders the garbage heaps and rummages through them like a bag lady. He keeps his own sad little collection of cultural artifacts—a Rubik’s cube, a videotape of “Hello Dolly,” a light bulb, a Zippo lighter—stored in his “house,” an abandoned, warehouse-like space packed from floor to ceiling with trash: relics of a lost civilization.

Until Eve shows up, Wall-E’s only companion is an indestructible cockroach that follows him around like a puppy. Once Eve is dropped off by the “mother ship,” though, everything changes for Wall-E. At first Eve terrifies him. She reacts to whatever threatens her by destroying it. But Wall-E manages to communicate with her, and the rest—well, I’ll leave that for you to discover.

The surviving earthlings’ forefathers abandoned the planet they had turned into a massive garbage heap. Now, several generations removed from the original escapees from the ruined earth, the current survivors have become useless, shapeless gluttons. They are infantile creatures with round bellies and foreshortened limbs (due to lack of use) who exist in power chairs and have their every need supplied. As the story progresses, they seem eager to find evidence that life is still possible on earth so they can return, but how will they summon the energy and, most importantly, ignite their imaginations to make it happen?

Wake-up Call

Wall-E is a cautionary tale, a moral fable. A. O. Scott calls it an “ecological parable.” It’s one of those remarkable “kid” movies that stuns adults—at least it stunned my husband and me—with its vision and wisdom. It’s a profound wake-up call for us to realize that we are ruining our earth, squandering our precious resources, and piling up garbage as a legacy for our children and grandchildren.

This movie is also about art and creativity and storytelling. These things too are necessary to save us. When we lose our love of the arts, when we lose our creativity and our imaginative energy and our ability to communicate through words and music and dance and the brush on canvas and all the other products of the human imagination, we are indeed lost.

I won’t tell you how the movie ends because I hope you’ll watch it, if you haven’t already. And if you have any young persons handy, watch it with them. This earth will be theirs to care for soon enough, won’t it?

Thanks, little Princess, for introducing your grandparents to this film. I hope you’ll remember its message always. Maybe your generation will be wiser than mine.

 

If you’ve seen Wall-E—or even if you haven’t—please leave a comment. 

 

Gerry Wilson is a native Mississippian who grew up in the red clay hills of the north—Faulkner country. As a child, she spent many hours watching life unfold through the plate-glass windows of her father’s NAPA store. Her yen for storytelling began there.

For twenty-plus years she taught English and creative writing to high school students. Now retired, she aims to write full-time and resists distractions as much as possible. Besides writing for her blog, she writes short fiction (and sends it out!), and she’s currently revising her second novel, Spirit Lamp, a work of literary historical fiction. Her pursuit of the writerly life includes workshops with Ron Hansen, Dorothy Allison, Connie May Fowler, and Jane Hamilton. The first chapter of Spirit Lamp won the “Best Of” award in Ms. Hamilton’s novel workshop at Writers in Paradise, Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida (2011).

She has published short fiction in Prime NumberGood Housekeeping, Halfway Down the Stairs, Blue Crow, Arkansas Review, and Crescent Review. The first chapter of Spirit Lamp was published in theWriters in Paradise conference anthology Sabal 2011: Best of the Conference Workshops.

Gerry lives in Jackson, Mississippi. She is married to a retired college prof who’s a poet, fiction writer, and her very best reader. She’s the mother of four grown sons, grandmother of six—three boys and three girls—and step-grandmom to three more little boys, including a set of fraternal twins.

Visit Gerry’s blog at Gerry Wilson: The Writerly Life.

 

 

 

 

Movie Review: Brave


Yesterday was the $5.50 movie Friday pilgrimage. We saw Brave. The original plan was to bring my granddaughters, Haliey and Elizabeth, but they are currently in the company of their mother, who doesn’t play nicely with others. So, I took Ian, ok, so he’s twenty and a guy—minor technicalities!

It was hot outside, and so the theater was busy. And we weren’t expecting much. I was there for the music, and the Celtic (Scottish) landscapes.  Both met expectation – even in the animation!

Brave tells a very different sort of Disney/Pixar story. It’s the story of a girl. I know, I know what you’re going to say, what about The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Snow White?

Pfft! I say. Those are stories about how a helpless, innocent/naive girl is saved, rescued, and elevated to a noble stature through a man. This movie has none of that. Merida doesn’t need, or want, the help of Prince Charming. Well, there isn’t really a Prince Charming, but there are plenty of Prince-Not-So-Charmings. Plenty.

The story begins with the traditional contrary princess, doing all sorts of traditional princessy things: being doted on by her father, having temper tantrums, being trained to be a perfect lady by her mom, the queen (who easily could have been Cinderella or Snow White)—so she can meet and marry Prince Charming.

But then there’s a twist. Merida isn’t interested in Prince Charming. She’s interested in being strong, riding horses, shooting a bow, being free. In an America that is witnessing a “war on women” this was refreshing.

The film was filled with a refreshing feminist commentary: girls can be strong. They can stay in touch with their intuitive side without sacrificing themselves. Girls can ride, and shoot, and still be able to acknowledge the fairies of the forest. A young woman can be balanced.

Even the witch, because every Princess movie has to have a witch, isn’t really scary in the traditional sense. She’s a little OCD, and sort of a one-horse-show. A one bear show. But there is no sense of evil around her. She’s more like the crazy cat, well bear, lady at the end of the road.

There’s no sense of evil around anyone. There are just circumstances, and emotions. I like it. And I like that, in the end, Merida teaches her mother that success can be had outside the box. I like the lesson. Be who you are, stand up for your rights; be brave. It is a lesson that young women need to hear. It is a lesson that older women need to remember having learned. Maybe it’s a lesson that will stick and my granddaughters will live in a world that offers equality. Perhaps, they won’t have to fight for equal pay, equal rights, and the power to make decisions about their own bodies…

Timely film. Well played Pixar. Well played.

Snow White and the Huntsman


It sounded like an easy story. Snow White, the Evil Witch, attractive Huntsman, and decent cast. What could go wrong?

Everything! The script was poorly developed—and staid, stock set (beautiful Irish landscaping, dreary, unexceptional interiors, villages, and dark forest), flat characters, too many characters, characters and sub-plots that added nothing to the overall plotline. And the acting was not good.

And by not good, I mean it was bad. I’ve seen Kristen Stewart in two movies now: Snow White and the Huntsman and Twilight (the first one), and in my opinion, she should get a day job.  Her acting is flat, dreary, monotonous. She might as well be serving fries at McDonalds. “I’ve seen what she sees. I can kill her,” “would you like fries with that?”  It’s all the same to her. She wasn’t Snow White, she was Kristen Stewart playing Snow White—earning a paycheck.  And she certainly doesn’t qualify as “fairest of them all,” not in my book anyway!  Who else could have done the role? Taylor Cole? Rooney Mara? Annie Wersching? Emma Stone? Emma Watson—she’d have rocked. She’s beautiful, experienced working in films with a magical element, and, you know, she can act.

But no, we have Kristen Stewart with her less than perfect posture and dead eyes. She traipses around the beautiful Irish and Welsh landscape looking like she just wants to get through it; she has rent to pay, or something. She’s just going through the motions. Her Aragorn-at-the-gates speech is an abysmal failure. It should be used in theater arts classes: this is what not to do.

At one point M., my movie-buddy leaned over and said, “They should have asked us to write the script.” because the movie holds no surprises. Snow White, Evil Queen, the repressed brother figure, the tortured hero. Seven dwarves—ok the dwarves were good. But their angst and attitude wasn’t unexpected, I’ve seen Fairytale Theater.

Charlize Theron, usually an amazing actress, was overdone. She didn’t come off as an evil queen so much as a hormonally imbalanced wretch. I suppose stealing youth has its drawbacks—perpetual pms? The nature of evil queen-ness requires cold and calculating, not screaming tantrums. I wasn’t afraid of her, I wanted to offer her a Midol, maybe some hot tea. She did have the best clothes in the movie…

And then there was Snow White’s love interest, the Huntsman, played by Chris Helmsworth. The Huntsman does what a character is supposed to do in a movie; he grows and is changed by his experiences. He’s the movie’s only surprise—because he play his part well. It’s not a surprise that the Huntsman is going to be the love interest, the title tells me that.

And what’s with the Duke’s son? That character—and whole story line–is extraneous to the film. I know from the beginning Snow White’s not going to end up with him. He poses no threat to the well seasoned, rough and tumble Huntsman, he’s not a foil for the Queen or her insipid brother. He wasn’t even all that cute or charming.

It is, unquestionably, the worst film I’ve seen this year. I paid $5.50 (a Carmike 7-days a week 4-5:30 matinée special) and despite the beautiful Irish landscape, despite the eye-candy (both masculine and feminine) I feel like I was robbed. Wait for the late-night B-movie midnight TV showing, because that’s this Snow White’s destiny.

Men in Black III


Sunday we went to see MIB3. Will Smith is older, and Tommy Lee’s old. The storyline, like almost all time travel movies, was sketchy. But it was, you know, Men in Black: imminent disaster, save the world as the clock ticks. Dark, deadpan humor (I like that part), Smith and Jones (wasn’t that a TV show in the 70s?—I think it was), are good, because, well you know, they are. The familiar banter, Smith saying something witty, Jones raising an eyebrow, snarky minor characters, amazing effects, it was all there.

Enter Josh Brolin.

Don’t get me wrong; he was good; almost perfect. It was neat—as in tidy and not amazing. He was a softer, gentler, less jaded and cynical K. And if I hadn’t known the Tommy Lee Jones K, I might have liked it just fine. But I do know the elder K, and his previous-version-created-more-than-a-decade-later, doesn’t measure up. He was just too nice to J.

The bad guy, Boris, looked like Worf in the throes of jak’tahla whilst trapped on Vulcan. Really, even if I weren’t in the middle of a Star Trek marathon, this would be my description. Or maybe he could be described as a semi-intelligent Uruk-hai, with some funky bug fetish on a chopped space-Harley. Yeah that works too. To make it worse, Boris was pretty insecure in his bad guy-monster image. I think he may have been bullied as a child by the real bad guy monsters.

And then there was the time travel thing, sketchy. Sketchy. How could the same person inhabit the same space in two different bodies? Yeah. It all falls apart for me right there. How can you talk to your former self? And if you’re both there together co-existing, doesn’t that mean you have changed the time/space continuum – and that both beings would be functioning independently from that moment forward? Yes, I thought about this in the theater.

When you have time to consider the meta-fictional physics involved in a plot, it’s not a movie you should have spent $10 to see. Stay home, wait for Netflix.

Alias Smith and Jones—that was it, with Pete Duel and Ben Murphy. 71? Maybe later. I wonder if I can instant watch that…

Dark Shadows.


I went to see yet another movie that’s getting bad reviews, Dark Shadows. I’ve heard things like, It’s not very Tim Burton.

I’m not sure what that means, and I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. That there weren’t characters with cone or football shaped heads? I think that I am ok with that. I’m not usually a Tim Burton fan, but Johnny Depp’s another story.

So despite the reviews, we went. The preview trailers were disappointing—Frankenweinie? Really? Mary Shelley, I am so sorry, the modern world has taken a great piece of literature and reduced it to this. Please forgive the diminishing capacity of the human spirit. But then the opening scene to Dark Shadows was set to The Moody Blues, Nights in White Satin, I decided it might have promise, or at very least a good soundtrack.

I came away ambivalent, thinking, well I just don’t know. Depp plays Barnabus well. Jonathan Frid would have been proud of him. He’s villainous, creepy, contrite, and just the right mix of humorous (dark humor of course). But, Angeluqie doesn’t travel in time, she has lived the two hundred years… Burton creates a composite character out of Maggie/Victoria/Josette—and I still don’t know how I feel about that. Not that I’m a purist about these things, but, generally speaking, composite characters diminish the strength of the story. It’s hard to be a writing teacher sometimes.

And Quentin never showed up. This made me sad. I loved Quentin.

Elizabeth Collins Stoddard is perfectly played by Michelle Pfeiffer. But the only allusion to her back-story is when her daughter, Carolyn, does an intro to an Alice Cooper song, The Ballad of Dwight Frye (great soundtrack, by the way, did I say that already?); Mommy, where’s Daddy? He’s been gone for so long…

The movie almost challenges the viewer, do you know where Daddy is?

I knew. And I think that was important, I got the joke. I got all the jokes; about the story, and about the era. I laughed out loud a lot.

I laughed at the details; Deliverance playing at the local theater; the VW bus; the perfectly timed music; like the original series, in some places the imperfect sets; the actors hesitating just long enough to make you wonder if perhaps, like in the TV show, they had forgotten their lines.

I got it.  And I laughed. I enjoyed it. Like the show it was based on, the film Dark Shadows reminds us to lighten up! Stop looking for hidden meanings, some things you either get, or you don’t. Just enjoy the ride. Listen to some good music and, for God sake, laugh a little!

Don’t go to this movie expecting a remake of the show. Don’t go in search of answers to life’s questions. Don’t go with expectation. If you remember the era, go for the nostalgia, the music—the things about life we couldn’t laugh at then, but we can now. Go because Gothic doesn’t mean what it meant in 1972. But what it meant then is worth remembering.

And go for the music!

Look out Rocky Horror—Dark Shadows is a cult classic in the making!