Review: Star Trek (dir. J.J. Abrams, 2009)

The trailers say this isn’t your father’s Star Trek, but they could just as easily have said this isn’t your grandfather’s Star Trek. The series really is that old: it has been 45 years since Gene Roddenberry produced the first of two pilot episodes for the original TV show, and as James Bond could tell you, that’s a long time to let a franchise run without taking things back to square one and giving yourself a fresh start. So now, here comes the reboot: directed by J.J. Abrams (producer of Lost and Cloverfield) from a script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (the Transformers movies), the new Star Trek is a hotter, sexier, flashier, more youth-oriented version of the sci-fi series than we have ever seen before. But it doesn’t completely sever its ties with the original series — indeed, it puts those ties front-and-centre — and the result is a movie that may leave Trek fans feeling deeply ambivalent.

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Review: Knowing (dir. Alex Proyas, 2009)

If you’ve seen any of the trailers, then you’ll probably have a good idea what to expect from the first hour or so of Knowing, the latest mind-bending bit of speculative fiction from Alex Proyas (Dark City, I Robot). But even that first hour has its surprises, and after that, the film veers in directions that go far beyond anything you might have expected — directions that will be all the more awe-inspiring the less you know going into the theater.

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Review: Valkyrie (dir. Bryan Singer, 2008)

These days, it is impossible to watch a Tom Cruise movie without thinking of what it might mean to the movie star himself. Two years ago, his Mission: Impossible character got married, around the time Cruise himself got hitched to Katie Holmes. Then, after his antics on Oprah’s show and elsewhere got him in trouble with the media and with the powers that be at Paramount, forcing him to look for work elsewhere, he played a hotshot politician who criticizes a reporter to her face in Lions for Lambs and a foul-mouthed studio mogul who has zero sympathy for the people that work for him in Tropic Thunder. Now comes Valkyrie, the second film to be made by United Artists since Cruise took the reins at that struggling studio, and over the past year, thanks to constantly shifting release dates and rumours of reshoots, the film has acquired the reputation of a “troubled” production. It is tempting, then, to read an element of autobiography into the film, as Cruise plays a wounded German officer who is already unpopular with the Nazi high command when he joins in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler — a plot that we know is doomed to fail.

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Review: Bolt (dir. Byron Howard & Chris Williams, 2008)

It has been nearly three years since Disney and Pixar settled their differences, leading one company to buy the other. But while Disney technically owns the Pixar label now, the minds that created Pixar in the first place have been calling the shots at Disney Animation ever since the merger — and the first significant result of their efforts is Bolt, a cartoon that could perhaps be best described as “Pixar Lite.”

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Review: Happy-Go-Lucky (dir. Mike Leigh, 2008)

Happiness is an elusive quality in a Mike Leigh film. Sometimes, in his films, you will meet characters who try to cheer other people up, but there is usually a darker side to their perkiness. The photographer who tries to get people to smile in Secrets and Lies is stressed out by conflicts within his family; the woman who provides illegal abortions in Vera Drake naively tells her clients they will all be “right as rain” after she has left, and is caught off-guard when one of them almost dies thanks to her efforts; and when Gilbert & Sullivan premiere their latest musical comedy in Topsy-Turvy, a depressed Gilbert responds to the applause by privately grumbling to his neglected wife, “There’s something inherently disappointing about success.”

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Review: Billy: The Early Years (dir. Robby Benson, 2008)

Billy Graham has appeared in many movies over the years, most of them produced by World Wide Pictures, the movie studio that he founded through his evangelistic ministry in the 1950s. But apart from a handful of parodies, no actor has ever played him before, and certainly no film has tried to show what kind of person he was prior to becoming the internationally recognized preacher that he is today. So there was lots of fertile ground for Billy: The Early Years, the first major Graham biopic, to explore. Too bad, then, that the film does such a poor job of bringing his story to life.

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