Family is an interesting idea. There’s obviously your immediate family: mother, father, siblings. Then your extended family: grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, your cousin’s dog. But family can also expand to include anyone you deem close, anyone you love and would take a bullet for. That’s how it is for me. I’m not unfamiliar with the concept of family in the immediate sense, but I have to admit that over the years it’s become a bit skewed. So my friends have become my family, the people I want to see every day, the people I can count on and who can count on me. The idea of losing that is unbearable.
The idea of family is the main conceit behind Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams’ second foray into the world of phasers and Prime Directives before he abandons it all for lightsabers and Jedi mind tricks. It’s not the first thing you’d expect when going into a sci-fi action/adventure pic with a rabid fanbase behind it, ready to tear it to shreds at the slightest wrinkle in canon, but that theme is what makes this sequel so great, so amazing, so worthy of not just being called one of the greatest Star Trek films of all time (I haven’t seen them all, so I can’t accurately say it’s the best), but one of the best adventure movies I have personally ever seen.
First and foremost, the film is supposed to be fun. And it is. Loads. I enjoyed the first film in this reboot franchise for this very reason. But in retrospect, there are a lot of problems with it. For one, the action sequences seem to be just there. There’s no emotional stakes in any of them (save maybe Spock’s attempted rescue of his parents). Just new set pieces for the inevitable video game. Here, though, there seems to be emotional stakes everywhere. There is so much to lose, and each character’s motivation is clear and concise, making it easy for the audience to get on board and buy into those incredible moments where things go bang, zip and whirr.
It helps that each character is exceptionally performed. Chris Pine, especially. He has grown in the four years since the last Star Trek shot him through the stratosphere into A-list territory. I was very impressed. And it goes without saying that Zachary Quinto now owns the role of Spock (*braces self for the shrill screams of Trekkers and Trekkies alike*). It’s not easy to convey a range of emotions when your character is supposed to be emotionless, but Quinto nails it. And when he does have to express what he’s feeling, he nails that, too. If there’s a flaw here, it’s that the female characters are vastly underwritten. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) does get a couple of moments to take center stage and show off her skills, but her whole arc seems to be about her relationship troubles with Spock and nothing else. And Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) merely acts as a cipher and a pretty face for Kirk to ogle. Disappointing when you consider Abrams’ track record for strong and well-developed women in his work.
The breakout role here, though, is Benedict Cumberbatch as, well, the bad guy (I never cared about his identity, but going in blind and unsure of which direction it would take made the reveal all the sweeter…Make of that what you will). What makes him so compelling is that he isn’t such a bad guy. Oh, sure, he’s capable of terrible things and takes action on making sure those terrible things take place and everyone considers him, er, terrible, but his reasons for doing such things are surprisingly out of love. That sounds kind of weak and cheesy when just written down, but trust me: it works on screen, and Cumberbatch is perfect: devilish, dangerous and sympathetic.
There’s a nice parallel between Cumberbatch’s mysterious baddie and Pine’s Kirk, and that returns us to the concept of family. This iteration of Captain James T. Kirk is a broken man. He never knew his father, and the only fatherly presence he had growing up seemed to be a man who resented his duties and cared more about his red hovercar, causing young Kirk to rebel (and steal said red hovercar). He grew up with a complete disregard for boundaries and rules, most likely because he felt he had nothing to lose, so why should he give a shit about anything or anyone? But in the years since he inherited the helm of the USS Enterprise, his crew has become his surrogate family. Sure, he’ll butt heads with them from time to time, specifically with Spock, but there’s an undercurrent of love there, like the way brothers and sisters squabble. Kirk would probably not be able to handle losing any member of his crew (even the nameless red shirts), and goes to great lengths to ensure their survival. It’s a journey that’s both moving and captivating, and it bleeds into the other characters naturally.
Overall, the film is just a sheer blast to behold. It’s not perfect my any means: besides the women being shoved to the background, the cinematography seems to have no rhyme or reason behind it, as though the man behind the camera was a toddler who thought wispy movements and titlted camera angles were enough to tell a story. Not to downplay these faults, but when it comes down to it, a film like this needs to be entertaining and surprising. And that’s what I got. Star Trek Into Darkness is a touching and personal film that also happens to be an exciting and pulse-pounding blockbuster. And isn’t that what going to the movies is all about? It’s certainly what I’ve been missing this year, so thanks, J.J.
Rating: Four stars.
When I go to the movies, I look for a few things in particular, items I often cite in my reviews that hold great bearing over whether or not like the film.
First of all, you have to care about the characters, and in order for that to happen, you need to know them a little. You need to understand where they are coming from, either through their background or through their relationships with others.
Secondly, the character’s arc needs to be something that’s, you know, interesting. They are on a journey from here to there, and we the audience are watching it for a reason. That reason could be for sheer entertainment, or it could be something thematic, some great point or lesson meant to inspire. If that isn’t there, then the flick is just pointless, and a bad time is had by all, or at least me.
Lastly, the structure of the film should be relevant to the story. Take Memento for example. It’s not just told backwards because it’s a nifty parlor trick (though it is). It’s told backwards because Leonard the protagonist is currently in a confused state (understatement). It’s hard for him to interpret things, and therefore, thanks to the narrative, the audience feels the same way, so we’re right in his shoes with him (hope he’s a large size, ha ha, so clever, shut up). Or Blue Valentine, which shows the start and disintegration of a romance. Both stories are told not only because just hearing the exposition of the beginning plot line would be boring, but because the characters are in the midst of their ending marriage, so there’s no doubt that they would be flashing back to either see where they went wrong or to try and reclaim some of that initial spark.
All of these things are kind of obvious when you think about it, but sometimes it helps to take a moment and remember them, especially if you want to be a professional writer, like I do. I definitely look for these keys in my own stories and do my best to make them come across in the subtext. But then I go back and read the work and can’t help but feel that something is missing. Problem is, I can’t see it, can’t touch it, can’t even smell it.
That’s the problem I’m having now. I’m trying to write my next draft of Play with Fire, but I keep resorting to basically the same outline, minor changes here and there. That doesn’t bode well for a draft I plan to be shorter than the 152 pages Draft 1 turned out to be, and it certainly isn’t satisfying for a self-proclaimed perfectionist such as myself.
I would like to think that the main problem comes from its structure. Like Blue Valentine, there are two storylines, one past, one present, both interspersed. And the purpose of the structure seems sound, with the main character doing her best to escape her past but needing to embrace it in the end in order to move on. However, the problem with the structure seems to be, well, structural. Because of the back and forth, some plot points in the flashbacks might come to late, which push some plot points in the present day story even later, and before I know it, I’m back to a too-long-by-industry-standards screenplay.
Then there’s the problem with perspective. A friend’s brother who is an aspiring director gave me some excellent notes a while back, and one had to do with point of view. The structure seems to take away from or confuse the idea of who the main character is. It can be argued that there are two main characters with two equally important arcs, but predicting how professionals will look at the script, and imagining that it was just a movie I happened to waltz into and was free to judge, it would certainly be a problem they and I would have with the film. But there are important bits and moments for both characters, and so I’m finding it hard to just adjust the focus onto one in particular.
I’d like to think I’ve got time to really hone in on what changes I can make, and technically speaking, of course I do. But I’m giving myself a deadline: Zoetrope, Francis Ford Coppola’s production company, has a screenwriting contest, with a cash prize for the winner and consideration from agencies and studios for the winner and the top ten finalists. That’s kind of hard, nay, impossible to pass up, and I am more than game. I just need to have a screenplay I’m proud enough to enter. I have other ideas that have gone through several drafts to which I can turn my attention, and often times I feel a little ADD and start thinking about these stories. But I’d like to maintain focus on Play with Fire. It’s personal, and I’m very proud of it.
I’d like to be even prouder.
The Office came to me by accident. I don’t recall ever seeing the promos before the series first aired, but at the very least, I had a waning interest, despite being a big fan of Steve Carell from his Daily Show days. Then, one evening, I was at my best friend’s Zack’s house. Our good friend Nate was over as well, and I believe he was in the midst of marathonning the entire series up to that point with Zack. I just happened to wander in. I didn’t know any of the characters, I didn’t know what was going on or what relationships there were. I think I was too distracted to fully invest.
Soon after, “Casino Night” garnered big headlines because of Jim’s tearful confession of love to Pam, followed by the kiss every fan of the show had been yearning for. I read these headlines and didn’t understand what the big deal was. So I Youtubed the clip (this was before the days when networks cracked down on illegally downloaded clips…ah, memories)…and I watched it over and over again. Nothing I had ever seen up to that point had had such a visceral impact of me. The realism, the emotion, the satisfaction of seeing these two people that A) I didn’t even know, and B) were fictional, finally coming together…It was obvious from the get-go that they were soul mates, and I could do nothing but swoon. And this was supposed to be a comedy! Perhaps I was vulnerable because, not even a year earlier, I had made my own confession of love to a girl and felt the same sting of rejection, but mine was not followed by a kiss that negated all of that. Either way, I was sold.
The Office was much more than a sitcom to me. The characters weren’t just characters. I don’t believe I’ve ever cared more for fake people than I have for the crew at Dunder Mifflin. Maybe only Lost and Boy Meets World rival them, but The Office cast seemed more accessible. These were people I could get along with, spend time with, that I wanted in my life. That could be because the documentary gimmick created the illusion of reality, or maybe because the actors were just pitch perfect in their roles, but everyone, even Dwight, even Michael, even Angela, even Creed, was someone I looked forward to seeing each and every week, and not just because they made my sides split.
And now the show is over. What am I going to do every Thursday without The Office to look forward to? As series finales go, it seemed to go through the motions: everyone comes together and everything gets wrapped up in a little package. The tone was all lovey dovey, there were a few life changes here and there just because the show’s ending and the characters are allowed to finally move on because the story as we know it is over, and of course there was the fan service that must always be obliged, here in the form of a certain cameo by a certain someone. It was lacking and moments and, really, laughs, though when I did laugh, I laughed hard. But the heart, as always, was there, and the legacy of the characters and the show itself made it a fitting end. Even that cameo wasn’t bothersome because it was so grounded and sincere, and it became a joy to witness, warm fuzzy feeling and all.
That’s what kept The Office so genuine in my mind: its heart. Even in the later years, when the characters became caricatures and the humor became more broad and cartoonish, the heart was always there. I had a lot of negative things to say as the quality of the show seemed to falter, but only because I felt these characters deserved to have the best possible show they could get. Only because…sigh. Might as well confess:
Michael, Dwight, Jim, Pam, Ryan, Andy, Darryl, Phyllis, Stanley, Angela, Kevin, Oscar, Creed, Meredith, Toby, Kelly, Erin, Nellie, and even the new guys, Pete and Clark (never Gabe, forget Gabe): you made me laugh, you made me cry, you made me swoon, you made me frustrated, you made me look forward to 9 on Thursdays every week. I’m really sorry if that’s weird for you to hear, but I needed you to hear it. Probably not good timing, I know that, but…I just needed you to know…Once.
I’M A MONSTER!
Well, now I know what “Ars Gratia Artis” means in Latin.
The Office Shuts Off the Lights, by Andy Greenwald - Grantland -
I’ll probably have a little something to say of my own after tonight’s finale, but Greenwald writes a very accurate, pull-no-punches eulogy here.
This website maps every recurring joke on Arrested Development -
usnews:An interactive visualization of running jokes in Arrested Development.
This is amazing.
'HIMYM' Season 9 'Will Tell the Epic Story of the Longest Wedding Weekend Ever' | TV Line -
I swear, if they spend the entire season on the wedding weekend…
While it’s on my mind, I’d also like to mention that HIMYM made splendid use of The Shins’ “Simple Song,” a song I enjoyed but wrote off fairly quick, but will now probably be in my head forever and ever. HIMYM has always made great use of tunes, never exploiting them or rendering them obsolete due to poor editing. They’ve always reached for the core of the moment, the feeling, and enhanced the scenes they were sharing.
So, while I’m still awake, I’d like to list some of the songs that have worked tremendously on the show. I can’t wait to see what songs they use next year, the final year, of one of my favorite shows of all time.