13 Hours (June 12th, 2016)
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, and David Costabile
While I would never say the man is some auteur of the highest intellectual standard, I’ve always felt that Michael Bay gets a bad rap. Sure his movies are loud and a bit obnoxious at times, but he is very gifted at crafting a movie on the technical side and knows how to shoot action. He is at his best when he works within the R rated field, faltering more at the PG13 level but even then has had his successes. And knowing he is a big fan of the army and thus has had a good relationship with them in his career, it isn’t surprising that he has been itching to get in on the prestige war movie game. Nor is it surprising that he was close to making Black Hawk Down, Lone Survivor, and American Sniper. But in the end, I think he was in the right place at the right time with this project. The only one that wasn’t perfectly made was American Sniper, and that would not have benefitted from his touch. Here, we need someone who can tap into the macho nature of combat camaraderie and unleash some hellish action onto the proceedings, while letting the actors do the heavier lifting in making them likable enough to worry about their fates. So while this isn’t a war movie up to the singular and human perfection of a Saving Private Ryan, where the writing is as good as the performances and everyone is memorable, it is a strong enough movie to work with some short hand in that regard. When Bay was announced to be taking on a movie about Benghazi, we all assumed it would be a tasteless Right Wing wet dream that spends its whole time crucifying Hillary or some shit. But surprisingly enough, Bay doesn’t get political at all. There’s some talk about not getting the backup they need, but it’s never overtly placing the blame on anyone. It just plays like a typical war/action movie scene where the heroes are left to their own devices by their bosses. It also sets up pretty well that the whole situation was just fucked up and too crazy to even get a handle of. He sets up the guys and the situation up for a good amount of time, and then spends pretty much the entire second half of the movie raining down hell and showing how crazy the situation was. That this attack happened, how it wasn’t particularly some well plotted attack, and that a handful of men slaughtered waves of men while only suffering two casualties. It’s his most well made movie in my opinion, shot with stunning clarity and a visceral eye for action. It’s well paced and human and uncomplicated. Stripped down survival movie and it’s done well. Of the last three years that started off with soldier stories, this only falls below Lone Survivor due to the only slightly more insane story that one told and Peter Berg having greater ease at wringing pathos out of people. Not that his work with actors here is bad, as he has been pretty good with them in the past. Krasinski is good in the role, believable as the guy torn between work and family. Dale steals the show as the leader of the group of men. He brings the roughneck out well, but gives him enough intelligence and charisma to make his leadership believable. By the end of the movie, Bay achieves something he never has before. Genuine sadness. It’s a tragic story but also one that shows true heroism in the face of massive adversity. And in the end, Bay does a few things to help alleviate any potential hand wringing claims of racism. He adds a scene in of loved ones crying over the dead bodies of the dead attackers, showing us that these were human beings despite their violent ways. And in the postscript telling us what happened after the attack, we see shots of Libyan people mourning the ambassador and letting people know they don’t support the attack/attackers. It’s surprisingly restrained from the man who made Bad Boys II and Pain & Gain. This to me is the high point for Bay, a much needed movie from the man to show he hasn’t fallen into the cavernous asshole that is the Transformers movies. Parlaying those movies into interesting “for me” movies is the smartest move he’s made, and I’ll gladly take the bonkers Transformers movies if it gets me the movies he’s made in the interim. This come highly recommended.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (June 18th, 2016)
Director: Robert Wise
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, and Stephen Collins
Somebody really like 2001, didn’t they? For a franchise that started before 2001 to return in a style very much indebted to 2001 is kinda weird to me, especially since it didn’t really share much in common with 2001 other than being in the same genre. The main difference being tone. Star Trek was always fun, despite the common notion of it being a boring franchise. If nothing else, that original series in the 60s was a big ball of fun that hid a deep intellect inside of a candy coated ball of optimistic fun. So to come back more indebted to the cold, clinical and kinda dour 2001 is odd when it should have been more indebted to Star Wars, which came out 2 years before this. It coulda used that to make a more fun and watchable version of this story. Cause this isn’t too wildly different a tale than they would do on the show. They find something seemingly beyond their knowledge until they find out it’s not as out there as they thought and it gets a message across. But this time out they just dragged it out in such a cold, boring fashion that most of the fun is wiped out. It’s very slow, with the ship not even getting into the action for 40 minutes or so, and it’s a slow 40 minutes. It also tries to get that awe inspiring visuals that 2001 had, showing off trippy images that don’t work as well as they want it too for the most part. Hell, it even ends in a very similar way too 2001. All of this is to say, I don’t want 2001 in my Star Trek. For all the people that like to bitch and moan about how the JJverse movies are too action packed, I want to simultaneously point them to this and the original show. Cause the original show was the 60s equivalent of a fun action movie, where this movie feels like a betrayal of that. I’ll take the action stuff more than I’ll take the empty posturing of this one. This one really is only interesting as a midpoint between the show and the second movie. Cause Wrath of Khan is the one that really cemented the movies look and style and made the franchise cinema worthy. This movie doesn’t really have the same visual aesthetic as the show, but it isn’t at Khan levels yet. It’s this weird middle ground of the two, and it doesn’t really work. It isn’t iconic like the show or the other movies. It’s kinda bland. That’s really honestly the best word to describe this movie. Bland. Overall I like the movie, because it isn’t Final Frontier bad. The crew is always good to watch and the story is interesting enough if not executed as well as I’d like. If you really wanna measure the level of misguided in this movie, just look at the relationship between Collins and the Ilia. They want us to care about these two and their relationship, but when Ilia is kidnapped/turned into a robot slave and then Collins sacrifices himself to merge with V’gr, it doesn’t land. We get it, we see the steps they made to make it make sense. But from the unremarkable performance from Collins and Ilia, it doesn’t really do anything but slow the movie down. Now, compare that to the new characters introduced in the other movies and the difference is stark. As a warmup and a slice of Trek for a Trek fan, it’s fine. But the movies get much better (for the most part) after this. Historical value is the main motivator to see this.