Thursday, August 4, 2016

Star Trek Beyond, Jason Bourne, and Catching up on a Lot of Trailer Reviews

The Author reluctantly reviews some forgettable sequels and offers his unbiased opinions on 39 stinking movie trailers.

Star Trek Beyond the Eighth Dimension

Star Trek Beyond ends, as have the other fake 21st-century Star Trek movies, with a spirited recitation of Star Fleet’s mission to boldly go where “no person” has gone before, and in all the least meaningful ways, Beyond fulfills that mission. It certainly goes where no Sulu has gone before, and possibly where no in-series fight scenes have gone before, but everything else in the film is so worn out from previous adventures that it briskly earns its status as the most slumberous Star Trek since The Motion Picture. Ditching the creative input of Orci, Kurtzman, and Abrams, Beyond stupidly transfers a writing credit to Simon Pegg of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, which by default means it will be desperate, smug, and not that funny. Bones and Spock share one semi-thoughtful exchange about the fear of death keeping us alive, but other than that there’s nothing very emotional or, conversely, logical about the script. To their credit, the makers don’t try to spin a silly War on Terror allegory out of Star Trek (can you imagine how dumb that would be?), but then they don’t try to spin much of anything out of Star Trek.

There being almost no subtext or character arcs on which to ruminate, I’m forced to focus my critiques on the technical, which is neither good nor overwhelmingly bad. The dreadfully overcast Idris Elba is a terrible villain who leaves just as indelible a mark on the viewer as that elf king in Thor 2 or the yelling blue guy in X-men: Apocalypse who could do anything he wanted until he got beaten by a redhead teenager. The action sequences are the worst-filmed I’ve seen all year outside of Jason Bourne, though we’ll get to that in due course. Beyond contains a fleet’s worth of exciting sketches for sci-fi battles – a motorcycle releases a solidifying gas in its wake to intercept laser fire, a swarm of alien ships ram the Enterprise kamikaze-style in close formation, two captains fly around and punch each other in the center of several gravity slipstreams – but the combination of bonehead Justin Lin’s predilection to close-ups and the editors’ quick-cutting sensibility renders these scenes unfailingly dull, if not incomprehensible. It also looks surprisingly dark and murky, unless my theater lost the original print and just happens to be running a 480p Putlocker rip on all three screens, which I wouldn’t put outside the realm of possibility. Only four or five fighting shots stand out in my memory as being legible; I’m sure they’re in the trailer somewhere.

Speaking of the trailer, I don’t get why the internet eviscerated the Beastie Boys teaser back when it came out, presumptively blaming it and the new filmmakers for ruining the slow-paced, talky Star Trek with which they’d grown up. Said teaser was arguably the most daring and innovative move on the part of anyone involved in Star Trek Beyond, as it didn’t cheaply rely on fades-to-black, slow piano building to grandiose choir, Inception bwaaas, or other advertising staples to generate intrigue and sell a dour, epic tone the movie itself would not deliver. More extraordinarily, the song used in the trailer not only appears in the film but plays a major role in it, unlike the songs in this and this and this and this and this and this and this. Bravo to the abused and unappreciated soul who took on the responsibility of unveiling this movie I had little to no interest in and didn’t do so in the safest, most clichéd fashion.

Also bravo to Michael Giacchino, whose score remains as sweeping and hummable as ever. Rihanna’s end credits single, in contrast, isn’t so bad as to wreck a mediocre movie but is a melodramatic copy of every other pop song ever written by Sia, who should go away forever. Also bravo to the makeup artist for creating whatever alien Jayla is. If not for the contributions of these people, I would have been hopelessly bored throughout the whole affair, but not so bored as to require a Jedi mind meld to wipe this from my memory, which is fortunate, as not even President Barack Hussein Obama knows how to administer one of those.

I should also mention the scene where Spock is looking at a photograph of the original series’ crew and, seeing Leonard Nimoy in close-up, starts tearing up inside. I thought this was a really subdued and poignant way of depicting a character’s grief that I’d literally never seen before in better films.

What the Hell is Happening? ("Spoilers")

If I applied the same scrutiny to the plot of Jason Bourne as I do to more sophisticated espionage or manhunt thrillers, the structural integrity would probably implode due to the pressure of having to move as fast as cinematically possible. The last couple films in the series have taken a distancing 360-degree overview of the action that cuts between Bourne and his pursuers at an alarming rate, but this reboot (and it is a reboot) is the first in my mind to pull it off successfully. Most of the time I had barely an inkling of what was going on – or of how the characters knew what was going on –, but whenever I started to question the C.I.A.’s omniscience too much, the movie had already darted off to another location, forcing me to readjust in order to keep up.

This is an action movie which passes every test of filmmaking except the one for its action, which is the most incoherent and ramshackle of the year. Over-funded and -edited atrocities like Jason Bourne’s frenzied car chases and fistfights are redeemable only in illuminating just how impressive the stuntwork and choreography were in Hardcore Henry and Mad Max: Fury Road, those two most irreproachable action films of the decade. Even the motorcycle chase in last year’s passable Mission Impossible looks like a revelatory achievement when juxtaposed with Paul Greengrass’ nonsensical Athens sequence. Graciously, most of the film consists of people looking at screens, yelling through earpieces, pointing guns, and walking quickly while ignoring their surroundings because they’re too cool for that, so the godforsaken shaky-cam only seldom becomes the ruination of a mostly entertaining adrenal rush.

A common criticism seems to be that this Bourne borrows too much from its predecessors, but as someone who never loved or re-watched any of the prior films, I wasn’t at all disgruntled by Jason driving a car recklessly again or rediscovering another person from his past he needs to kill, since these just seemed to fall within the territory of things I could expect from a generic action spy movie. Like the catchy Moby theme song that’s gone through several minor variations since Identity, the new iteration of Jason Bourne makes just enough topical changes to the core formula to warrant a Redbox rental. This one aims to capitalize on the ongoing debate over internet privacy and “fighting terrorism”, and though some might say it incorporates this theme superficially, I appreciated the adaptation of the series to our modern climate and thought it ultimately came down on the right side of the constitutionality argument (the one that isn’t backed by sniveling cowards and/or surveillance state control freaks like Boehner, Christie, and McConnell). Jason Bourne takes place in an alternate universe wherein the N.S.A. – or C.I.A. in this case – is able to hack any device to do virtually anything and is willing to suspend due process of law to assassinate any person, including billionaire tech CEOs, who could expose their legally suspect data mining to the world. If the Bourne series’ unflagging distrust of the people in power makes it “treasonous” or “unpatriotic” or “national security Russian roulette”, then label me an anarchist.

One change I didn’t take that favorably in the first forty minutes was the decision to kill off Julia Stiles, who’s always been in these movies for the sake of looking hot, so as to make room for young blood in the form of Alicia Vikander, who will theoretically rejuvenate the series with hotness (and smartness) in the next few installments while Matt Damon goes the route of Tom Cruise and doesn’t falter at picking up girls half his age. I took this as a superfluous and rather demeaning way of swapping an attractive woman in her 30s for an equally attractive but demonstrably more popular woman in her 20s. In fact, killing off Stiles just about destroyed the next twenty minutes of the movie for me until I made peace with the presence of Vikander, who used to be a hidden gem for those who saw Ex Machina and has now reached the same unfortunate point of ubiquity as Michael Fassbender, appearing in no fewer than four movies every year. She’s great and subtle in this as usual, as is Tommy Lee Jones, who would be a mustache-twirling villain if he wasn’t clean-shaven. Vincent Cassel kills a bunch of people and made me want to watch a movie like Black Swan again where he actually does some acting.

Matt Damon doesn’t talk much, which is an appropriate use of his faculties as a Democrat Party spokesman, and John Powell’s urgent soundtrack staves off fatigue, though this series’ music obviously peaked with Supremacy. I’m giving Jason Bourne 6 Hollywood hypocrites out of 10 gun-phobic beta males.

Now we reach the moment so many people have been anticipating so much more than my apathy towards lame summer movies.

Trailer Reviews through July 2016 (for sake of concision, discounting films already seen or trailers encountered outside the theater, i.e. Wonder Woman and King Kong 4)

The McDonalds Founder Movie – Why would I watch some boring Oscar-baiting movie about McDonalds when I could go buy a happy meal and get a toy from the movie instead?

Central Intelligence – I’ve seen bits and pieces of this in the line of work. The movie opens with Jumpman Jumpman Jumpman Jumpman Whoo! by Drake and has this cheesy, anti-bullying posturing which is kind of embarrassing to the manhood of both actors. That should give you a good idea for whom this movie was made.

“Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson” is a golden tagline, though.

NOW You Really See Me – I don’t care, and it aggrieves me that anybody does.

Doctor Strange – “Forget every Marvel movie that you think you know,” and also Batman Begins and Inception while you’re at it, because if you don’t, you’re going to have some serious déjà vu. Booming rattle sound effect.

Doctor Strange Trailer 2 – Oh, wait, Rachel McAdams is in this too? Boycott retracted, maybe.

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie – There’s an Absolutely Fabulous – Not the Movie?

Some Horse Movie – I did a web search for horse movies in 2016 to remember what this is and came up with a documentary about “a working-class horse that was about to take on the likes of the best”. If The Black Stallion Returns is a 1 and Secretariat is a 3 and War Horse is a 4 and some other horse movie is a 5, then I’m guessing that this one’s going to be a 6 out of 10.

Indignation – “I don’t prefer to practice one religion over another.” Well, I guess that just makes you better than everybody else.

Our Kind of Traitor – This isn’t a Lars Von Trier movie.

Nerve – Ugh, another social media movie. Or is it more like a Pokémon GO movie? Is Pokémon GO a real video game or a social media pseudo-game like Farmville? Wait, Emma Roberts is getting undressed for this movie? And that’s the thumbnail on Youtube? Did they put that in there just so boys would go to see this piece of crap?

“Watchers pay to watch,” says the disembodied computer voice, but why would cheap Millennials who pirate all their media pay to watch other Millennials doing stupid or dangerous stuff when they can see the same things on Youtube for free?

Ouija Board 2 – Unconvincingly shambling from candlelit séance to happy, skippy comedy music and back to “horror” again, this trailer should be lauded as a toxically accurate representation of the film on which it’s based.

Morgan – “What if I recommended that you be terminated?” Oh, you done messed up there, Paul Giamatti. Anyway, this is basically a dozen recent sci-fi premises smashed into one with a suspenseful siren blare that’s supposed to remind the viewer of the Prometheus ads, which is fitting as it’s directed by Ridley Scott Jr. Hollywood nepotism at its finest. I’ll still watch it for free some afternoon.

Don’t Breathe – If I were in charge of marketing this, I would not be broadcasting the director’s association with the Evil Dead remake of three years ago. But I’m not in charge of marketing this.

Ghostbusters Trailer 2 – They made it worse.

Assassin’s Creed – I’m in the minority on this one, but this looks like it could well be the first good video game movie, so long as they don’t waste a lot of time in the present day setting as the games have mistakenly done (Assassin’s Creed III basically has an hour-long opening cutscene). All the parkour and impractical flipping moves look real enough, the camera is mostly stabilized, and it’s got this cool hazy quality about it that was also present in the director’s Macbeth movie. Please, 20th Century Fox, don’t screw this up of all things.

Or go ahead and screw it up. I don’t really care about Assassin’s Creed. Where’s that Peter Jackson Halo movie we were rumored to be getting all those years ago?

Suicide Squad, trailer #7 part 2 – The more and more I see of this, the less enthusiasm I have to finally see the rest. DC’s obviously trying to make this look like The Avengers to compensate for criticisms of their other movies, and so they’re mitigating everything that might have distinguished their product tonally from Marvel’s. Last year’s Comic-con trailer made this out to be a dark and enigmatic tale about some seriously deranged and violent people, but now the “bad guys” are indistinguishable from the “good guys” of any other movie and appear to be starring in a weightless, disposable music video. Depending on how this turns out, I highly doubt we’ll ever get another mainstream film in the mood of Watchmen or The Dark Knight, which didn’t feel the need to be jokey and “fun” all the time.

The Legend of Tarzan – In the non-Disney Legend of Tarzan, Margot Robbie has a gotcha line when she tells evil religious colonialist Christoph Waltz, “It sounds like you and your priest were really close”. The Legend of Tarzan is set in the late 19th century Congo.

This movie sucks.

The Girl on the Train – Note to trailer editors: slowing down originally midtempo Kanye West banger tracks doesn’t make them sound more dramatic or chilling; it just wrecks a decent song and makes you sound like a hack for being the 50th person to unadvisedly jam a Kanye West song into a movie trailer. This looks like Gone Girl without the guiding hand of David Fincher, and nobody talks about Gone Girl anymore in 2016.

The Infiltrator – TV movie starring an annoying Hillary drone.

Bridget Jones’s Baby – It’s not for me, or anyone who went to Swiss Army Man for that matter, but the theater played it anyway. And why is there a second S after the possessive Jones?

Equity – It’s good because it’s a movie about banking with women playing roles normally played by men.

Free Fire – Somehow I managed to catch a trailer for this in Swiss Army Man even though the internet gives no indication that one exists. Consequently, I feel obligated to say something about it one cannot gather just by reading, but the trailer simply wasn’t that funny or memorable. I think there was a lot of shooting in a warehouse, and Brie Larson was in it, which is bad, because I’m getting tired of seeing Brie Larson.

American Honey – Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank was a freaking good, underseen movie with excellent no-name actors and judicious use of older songs that shed light on the characters’ positions rather than just pleading for nostalgia-based approval. Minus the concerning addition of Shia Labeouf, American Honey appears to be more of the same.

Loving – A clever double-meaning of a title for a film about interracial marriage. Joel Edgerton looks totally unlike the last character he played, again. Lots of prepackaged movie trailer lines like, “This could go all the way to the Supreme Court,” and, “Tell the judge I love my wife.”

Gleason – I’m willing to believe this guy and his family are really nice in real life. I just don’t like watching documentaries about nice people.

Our Little Sister – I thought I already had my pulse on the Asian movie circuit, but I haven’t heard of any of the three films mentioned here. Apparently Hirokazu Koreeda is Criterion-certified, which means I’ll have to check him out like the elitist snob I am. I also hear that Linklater’s Boyhood is getting inducted to the Collection this fall.

It’s obviously harder to cut a trailer for foreign audiences that doesn’t rely chiefly on visuals or accolades over dialogue, but the editor of this one really tried. Those bicycle shots beneath the pink blossoms sure look pretty, and I’ll make sure to catch this one if it ever touches down in my theater, which would be astonishing.

War Dogs – Eh.  This is definitely an August movie. Miles Teller voiceover reminds me of The Spectacularly Bad Now, and the 50/50 chance of survival joke was a fail. I guess I can’t see the reason this was made.

The Mechanic: Resurrection – Fighting on a gondola, sticking to the side of skyscraper, and blowing up a ship – I’m sure there will be a Good Parts Version with Jessica Alba available on streaming services in a couple months.

Inferno – “Dante defined our modern conception of Hell seven hundred years ago.” Why don’t you just make a movie of Dante’s Inferno, then, if it’s that important a poem?

Why Him?Bleep you, it’s January!

Split – The Shyamalan is back and the hype is real.

Sully – Why do I feel like this movie was made four years ago with Denzel Washington and 16 years ago with Tom Hanks?

Anthropoid – Filmmaking looks kind of bland and the trailer is full of expository “This is this person/thing” parts, but maybe I’ll learn something while watching it.

Denial – Having seen this trailer three times, I’m pretty sure that Holocaust denial in this movie is meant to be interchangeable with Global Warming skepticism, which is rather insulting to the memory of any Jews who were exterminated in the Holocaust. Even Rachel Weisz says, “The earth is round, the icecaps are melting, and Elvis is not alive.” Come September, I would be disappointed if Kenneth Turan, A.O. Scott, and whoever writes the plot synopsis for USA Today all failed to make this connection and gloat about it. “I’m not against freedom of speech.” Well, you kind of are.

Rules Don’t Apply – It’s a period drama with some sexy people and some people whom I hate. I’ve actually never seen anything related to Warren Beatty, but this seems to have an adequate amount of Christian jokes to keep me interested until I fall asleep on the couch.

Hell or High Water – Dude, I think I’m going to skip this one.

A Monster Calls – This is what the BFG movie should have looked like if they’d spent a little more time on the visual design and got a more audacious director than Steven Spielberg. The whole monster being a metaphor for fear of impending adulthood thing will almost definitely wear thin fast, but I’m elated to see another addition to a rich lineage of talking tree movies.

The Accountant – This is the best-edited trailer of the year so far, and I’m not just saying that because of Radiohead. The movie itself will come and go and not be spoken of again within three weeks, but I’ll be damned if the beautiful, sonorous din this sends washing over the aisles doesn’t induce chills for all well-reared 90s kids in the cinemas. I also like that Ben Affleck doesn’t speak words and it doesn’t give the entire story away.

La La Land – I’m calling it now that this is going to be my 3rd-favorite film of the year. You got Emma Stone being adorable again, Ryan Gosling being his hunky self, deep reds and blues, lovely music, and a trailer that calls to mind the advertising of both Blue Valentine and Punch-Drunk Love.  It’s also got that dunce John Legend, but I’ll try not to dwell on that too much. Here’s hoping Damien Chazelle keeps his perfect streak running.

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