Friday, August 5, 2016

Eye On Movies: "Star Trek Beyond" and "It Follows"

 I hear Idris Elba is in this . . . I'm still looking.

I’ve always been much more Star Trek than Star Wars. Star Trek is tastier to my cerebellum and sense of humor while Star Wars is too gooey and humorless. And whatever missteps taken in the Star Trek cosmos, nothing compares with the static, sludgy awfulness of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

Still I’m not a real fan by any stretch. I have by no means seen every episode and outlay of Star Trek: The Entire Universe and because I’m not a fanboy, I found Star Trek Beyond, the thirteenth feature film in the series, to be a bland experience. It’s typical of today’s genre films—too loud, too hurried, too afraid of losing its young target audience to their smart phones. I hate smart phone usage in theaters as much as anyone but toward the end of Star Trek Beyond, I was wishing I had one.

As you might know—in case you’ve been off camping in the wilderness, as you should be— the latest Star Trek incarnation is a continuation of the prequels to the original series with new young actors impersonating the Beloved Venerable Ones.

The latest episode involves the Enterprise zooming off to a distant nebula on a rescue mission. Unsurprisingly, the mission turns out to be a trap laid by Krall, an embittered monster alien played by Idris Elba, an excellent, compelling performer who is wasted for most the film’s two hours behind a mask. (A lot of this going around: see poor Tom Hardy in the last Batman.)

Trapped on a distant planet, the Enterprise crew must find and fight their way out and that, of course, is what they do, with no real surprises along the way. Even in 3D, the effects weren’t that impressive to me, the colors seeming pallid and milky, like watercolors.

So, for the most part were the performers. Of them, only Zachary Quinto, as Spock, and Karl Urban, as McCoy, capture the flavor of the original actors with their Bud and Lou act. However, the script forces Spock to have an emotional life—a romance with Uhuru— there by destroying the very core of who Spock is! To me that doesn’t count as a genuine surprise so much as a pandering contrivance, behind which may lurk the stealth hand of marketing.

Urban as McCoy deserves a special medal for bravery, since (I’m cruising for a bruising here) he’s taken on a role first played by one of the worst actors in the history of the medium (not only am I mocking fandom, I’m also speaking ill of the dead . . . better close my Twitter account now.)

And Chris Pine, as Captain Kirk, once again proves there’s no replacement for his Shatnerness, Kirk the First. Here, we once again face the limits of feature film reboots of old beloved TV series. Those shows depended enormously on their casts, good and bad actors alike, for their appeal. No matter how you bloat the budget and pack it with special effects, without William Shatner (or Patrick Stewart) in the captain’s chair, Star Trek Beyond remains docked in space.


It Follows from 2014, drew my eye because of word that it was comparable to the most artful horror films of the early 2000s (Session 9, The Ring, The Babadook and The Witch make my list). It promised those subtle, unsettling scares, poetic atmospherics and uncanny glimpses of great and sinister forces, instead of the confrontational splatter preferred by many horror fans. Unfortunately, despite its good intentions. It Follows didn’t lead me anywhere much.

The setup is certainly clever. Riffing off of 1980s horror films, story concerns sex gone wrong, as a young girl’s backseat hookup leads to her contracting an STD—Sexually Transmitted Demon, that is—who proceeds to make her life hell. The only way she can rid herself of the thing is by passing it on by getting it on with someone else. Her choice is limited to her close circle of friends. She’s a nice girl and so stranger hookups are, it seems, out of the question.

The demon is effectively handled for the most part—seen at a distance or in shadows, or invisible, it wears many masks. Toward the end, though, inconsistency sets in. Further, despite a couple good boos, its quarry is less than interesting, with one promising sequence is brought to an abrupt end. None of the characters are particularly memorable or sympathetic, despite earnest performances.

It Follows quotes extensively from other films—in addition to other teen horror films, there’s a badly contrived nod to the Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur classic Cat People. At this point, it develops a parodic postmodern flavor that further distances the viewer. It Follows is more of a movie about horror movies than an absorbing and disturbing experience.

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