Archive for the category “In Theatres…”

Star Trek Into Darkness

FILM: Star Trek Into Darkness
RATING: PG-13
DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams
LANGUAGE: English
RUNTIME: 2 hours and 12 minutes

OUR RATING: Chance It!

There’s something you should know. A confession, so to speak: we are both huge Star Trek fans. While not venturing into the Original or Animated Series much, we’ve watched every episode of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and are currently on the final season of Enterprise. We both got some subtle enjoyment out of the first Star Trek reboot film: it was new, quirky and fun. But, Star Trek Into Darkness, with its attempt to comment on global terrorism, reinvent already brilliant characters and an extremely heavy use of CGI, leaves us feeling we’ve missed something – that Trek mysteriously went mainstream while we weren’t looking, and now can appeal to anyone, anywhere (apart from Trekkies, of course!).

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This mass appeal is detrimental to the franchise. It supposes that you should have a general, cult knowledge of Trek (which everyone does, unless you’ve been living under a Tribble since 1966), but not know enough to tell your Cardassians from your Breen, or to know, first and foremost, that Star Trek is a show in which exploration rather than war is paramount. While revisiting some key moments and recreating some classic characters, Star Trek Into Darkness is really an action film with Trek branding.

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Adam: J.J. Abrams has a mammoth task on his hands. Tackling a phenomenon like Star Trek, with its own fandom community, extensive history and life of its own is nearly impossible for one man alone, and is perhaps why he took the safe route of rebooting the series in 2009. Still, one must tread a fine line between pleasing fans and selling out to the public. Unfortunately, Abrams does sell out here, but that doesn’t mean the film shouldn’t recommend itself as a standalone piece.

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We open, thankfully, on an alien world with James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) fleeing some spear throwing natives who haven’t fully appreciated his intergalactic charm (knowing Kirk, he probably slept with the Chief’s daughter). I found myself suddenly realising that I’d seen this all before: Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981. While this trope is always fun (yes, I know the Raiders scene is prejudiced, detrimental to archaeology etc., but it was the 1930s!), it felt immediately weird in the Trek context – who were these people, what’s happened, and many other questions come to mind that are never answered. Pine is passable as Kirk, but not nearly as interesting, choosing to be as one-dimensional as possible.

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The central theme of the film is terrorism – unseen, unrelenting and unmerciful. This is NOT the Star Trek of the TV series, where Earth is a utopian egalitarian paradise. On this Earth, massive destruction rips the hearts out of cities, while Benedict Cumberbatch plays the evil Englishman in a manner reminiscent of Alan Rickman’s Snape.

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Yet, for all its troubles, you do get some fun performances and great action scenes worthy of a good movie. Scotty (Simon Pegg) is still as dry and witty as ever, while Bones (Karl Urban) manages to rattle out some classic lines that still capture some of the Southern comfort we derived from DeForest Kelley.

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Alicia: Four years ago I didn’t really know much about the Star Trek franchise. I thought Klingon was Vulcan sign language, that’s how muddied my ST knowledge was. So when I saw the 2009 film I had nothing to really anchor my experience off of, other than one of your many space science-fiction films, and I rather enjoyed it.

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Four years later and I’ve seen every series except the Original, so I suppose I still don’t have quite the repertoire of a Trekkie going into seeing a movie based on the same time period and characters as the original series, but my past few years watching The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise has made me a fan of ST. Not a trekkie, not a die-hard fan, but a fan nonetheless. It has offered me interesting philosophical insights, aesthetic pleasures, and with Enterprise a keen patience for ridiculous American Nationalism.

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And oh, Into Darkness, how uninspiring you are, and how xenophobic. You could have been any science fiction movie (well, more like pure action movie set partially in space), and no matter how hard you tried with your famous actors, your one/two sets of Vulcan ears, your terrible Klingon makeup attempts and the cameo appearance from Leonard Nimoy, you just weren’t very Star Trek. Just calling characters ‘Spock’ and ‘Kirk’ doesn’t make them Spock and Kirk, and neither did any of your other attempts in recreating this world make them such. Other than that…an okay space action movie I suppose?

Final Thoughts: This isn’t your parents Star Trek, or even yours, but Into Darkness is a valiant effort and worth seeing if only to keep the franchise we love so dearly alive.

P.S. To really help Star Trek “Live Long and Prosper”, pick up a copy of Star Trek Into Darkness pre-order and have fun with the included Phaser, which is an exact replica (meaning the EXACT specifications) as those used on screen.

29th Chicago Latino Film Festival

clff_2WHAT: 29th Chicago Latino Film Festival
WHEN: April 11 – 25, 2013
WHERE: AMC Loews Theatres 600 (600 N. Michigan Ave.)

FILM: Dictado (Childish Games)
RATING: Not Rated
DIRECTOR: Antonio Chavarrias
LANGUAGE: Spanish with English Subtitles
RUN TIME: 95 minutes

OUR RATING: Do It!

From humble beginnings in 1985 to the international recognized mega-festival we now celebrate, the Chicago Latino Film Festival (CLFF) organized by the International Latino Cultural Center is an explosion of creativity that brings the best of Latino filmic arts to the Chicago screens. With over 100 feature length films and shorts from the length and breadth of Latin America, there is literally a film for every taste, whether you’re interested in gritty social commentary, light-hearted comedy, or darkly fascinating thrillers.

Perhaps what makes the CLFF most innovative is that it highlights Chicago as a center of Latino culture within the United States, a distinction that might not be the first thing to come to mind. This internationalization has only positive effects, allowing for cross-cultural pollination and diverse understanding that transforms Chicago into a truly global city.

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While the festival is two weeks long, we only managed to secure tickets to one show at this highly popular event, where tickets go for $11 per film. Dictado, a thriller in the style of Hitchcock, seemed to be absolutely up our street, and we even got the opportunity to participate in a Q&A with the director. Sit back, grab a popcorn and enjoy!

clff_4Adam: Dictado, known in English as Childish Games, creates a psychological tapestry with deep, dark undertones that play on our deepest emotions. Above all, what would happen if an event from our childhood came back to haunt us with full force?

In an intriguing story, childless couple Daniel (Juan Diego Botto) and Laura (Barbara Lennie) take in the orphaned Julia (Magica Perez), who is not everything that she seems, as she holds the key to unlock a repressed moment in Daniel’s childhood. Directed by Antonio Chavarrias, we see produced a beautifully compact piece that seems akin to a play in its intimacy and a high calibre film in its cinematography (Guillermo Granillo) – a melding that we do not often experience. Chavarrias makes us question the validity of our protagonists’ actions and memories, thus presenting a mysterious world that is both riveting and reflective.

As the truth about Daniel’s past is slowly revealed (is it a descent into madness, or the opening of emotional floodgates, the waters of which he is unable to stem?), I was enthralled to see the unexpected and twistful realizations that make this film worthy of being included beside the likes of the great English Ghost authors such as M.R. James.

Drawing heavily from Greek tragedy, although perhaps not exploring it in the way you would expect, almost no violence occurs “on stage”, while the psychologies of the characters are fully untangled to explore the plot’s core horror. A much needed antidote to the regular blood and guts of the genre.

clff_6Alicia: During our Q&A session with Chavarrias, he mentioned one of his influences being the infamous Frankenstein and the question of what makes one a monster and what factors influence an individual in thinking that they themselves are monsters, which *hint hint* is something that is beautifully explored here.

The psychological exploration of violence through fear, rather than through malice, is another incredibly intriguing aspect of this film, and the filming of any violence in this movie is done with the intentions of beauty and sadness, rather than shock or grotesqueness.

How are monsters forged: by the monsters themselves, or by others? Rather than just thrusting us into a solution, Chavarrias lets us think about this in a more adult way. How responsible are children for their actions and do adults sometimes make things worse? One of the best Spanish-language films out this year, Dictado is a must-see.

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Final Thoughts: The Chicago Latino Film Festival allows audiences across cultures to experience the enormous diversity of Latin America in this unique creative outlet, merging art with education, especially through discussions with local and visiting filmmakers which accompany a majority of the screenings. The festival’s wide array of programming allows moviegoers of all types to enjoy this multicultural exploration.

P.S.: Dictado is now available on DVD, but only as a non-US import. If you can play international DVDs, pick it up here and enjoy.

Big Fish The Musical

A big welcome to our first Sunday Guest Author, a Chicago playwright and director, who weighs in on the recent pre-Broadway world premiere of Big Fish The Musical. Our guest author is pleased to be joining us as a contributing author, providing a unique perspective from behind the curtain of the theatrical world.

WHAT: Big Fish The Musical
WHEN: April 02 – May 05, 2013 (schedule)
WHERE: The Oriental Theatre (24 W. Randolph St.)
RUN TIME: 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15 minute intermission
WHO: Broadway in Chicago
PRICE: $33-$100

GUEST RATING: Do it!

Picture 1Growing up doing plays in grade school and theater camp, I was endowed with a deep appreciation for the Broadway musical. After five years of living in Chicago though, I’ve come to prefer the intimate to the spectacular and emotional honesty to razzle dazzle, which the Chicago storefront community ably provides. Nevertheless, when I saw the soon-to-be Broadway production of Big Fish at the Oriental Theatre, I couldn’t help but remember my childhood wonderment with everything Broadway.

If you’re thinking about seeing Big Fish, it’s important to understand that this show is geared towards New York. It’s designed to appeal to tourists and present large scale spectacle for mass consumption. There is nothing particularly adventurous about its storytelling or characters. However, in spite of this, Big Fish proves to be tremendously satisfying and echoes enough of what is good about the modern Broadway musical to make you forgive everything that is wrong with it.

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Big Fish is based on the 2003 Tim Burton film of the same name, which itself is derived from the 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace. John August, Big Fish‘s screenwriter, wrote the book for the musical, using much of the same dialogue, while the music and lyrics are written by Andrew Lippa, best known for the musical version of The Addams Family. The story is set in Alabama and focuses on Will Bloom’s relationship with his father, Edward. Edward communicates with his son through tall tales about everything he’s done and accomplished during his life, featuring fantastical characters including a witch, a werewolf, a giant, and, of course, a big fish. When Edward is dying of cancer, Will must use the stories to understand the true story of his father’s life and legacy.

(Photo by Paul Kolnik)

I was very eager to see this production and ever since I saw the film, I knew it was strong musical material: a simple, emotional story with ample room theatrical magic. Spectacle is something that Big Fish gets absolutely right. It uses projections quite well, and the spectacle does more than just dazzle: it surprises. Surprise is really one of the great strengths of this piece, and director Susan Stroman‘s visual tricks are effective not because they are lavish or expensive but because they surprise the audience and move the story forward. Andrew Lippa’s score is strong for the most part. There are a few clunkers that don’t belong (hopefully they will be removed before the Broadway run) but also some incredibly successful pieces including like “Fight the Dragons,” “Closer to Her,” and “How it Ends.” The score is not a “hummable” one, and I’m not sure I’d listen to the cast album, but the songs that work serve the play well.

(Photo by Paul Kolnik)

For all the good songs, Big Fish still has a lot of problems, but it’s biggest overarching issue is that it just doesn’t trust its audience. This is perhaps a symptom of it being a commercial production. The creators are so afraid of our attention wandering that they refuse to take their foot off the gas and let the story unfold. They keep the pace frantic, the musical numbers big and plentiful, and moments of character development few and far between. The biggest improvements Big Fish could make before moving to New York involve spending more time with its individual characters in both dialogue and song. There is a wonderful moment where Edward’s wife Sandra (played by Kate Baldwin) sings about her husband, saying, “There’s magic in the man,” a beautiful turn of phrase that surely would work well as a song and a way into her character. However, rather than exploring Sandra Bloom, the song cuts back and forth between her singing and Edward’s encounter with a mermaid. This I think is very emblematic of what is wrong with the production, but it’s nothing some careful changes cannot fix.

(Photo by Brian Harkin)

Additionally, there seems to be a lack of clarity about the show’s protagonist. Make no mistake, Big Fish is Will Bloom’s story. He is the character who changes, who ends the play differently than where he began it. Edward has more stage time, which is fine, but the artistic team needs to find a way to highlight Will’s journey. Frankly, I think the Will role might need to be recast. Edward is played by two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz, and he dominates the stage vocally and emotionally. The actor playing Will, Bobby Steggert, simply cannot match him and never makes a direct connection with the audience. Part of this is because Will is never really given his own musical number early on in the play, a huge miscalculation. What the show really needs is a strong enough actor in this part to be on equal footing with Butz. Yes, Norbert Leo Butz is the marquis name, but his character doesn’t help create a coherent story.

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Tickets for this show are expensive, though they do offer some great promotional offers. If you love musicals and are willing to see something as a work in progress, then this is an absolute must see. The show is only a few changes away from being a front-runner for next year’s Best Musical Tony Award, and it would be a shame for any musical fan to miss it while it is playing in Chicago.

Hitchcock (2012)

WHAT: Hitchcock (2012)
RATING: PG-13
DIRECTOR: Sacha Gervasi
LANGUAGE: English
RUN TIME: 98 Minutes

OUR RATING: Do it!

If you’re looking for a movie you may not have heard of, why not try out Hitchcock, a biographical drama of Alfred Hitchcock’s process of making the classic horror film Psycho. Made truly great by inspired performances from Anthony Hopkins (Alfred Hitchcock) and Helen Mirren (Alma Reville), the film explores the complex romance of Alfred and Alma against the backdrop of the mayhem and pitfalls of adapting, producing, directing and filming a film all by oneself in the middle of Hollywood.

Hopkins’ performance is masterful, and allows us to view his creative process in a step-by-step manner, accompanied by the macabre humor of someone obsessed with getting back in the game. Even in makeup, he makes us believe he is Hitchcock, a feat lesser actors would not have been able to achieve so admirably. Mirren balances this with a strong determination that reflects well on the film as a whole and the Alfred/Alma relationship in particular. And then there is the constant presence of the serial killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) in the mind of Hitchcock that provides both comic relief and serious analysis of Hitchcock himself.

(courtesy of imdb.com)

(courtesy of imdb.com)

Unfortunately, supporting roles were weak, and Scarlett Johansson can never hope to live up to the likes of Mirren and Hopkins. While true to her role, her tendency to be modern was distracting, and made one wish an unknown had been cast instead of a pseudo-star. But, the quality of the starring roles, the interesting story, raw humor, and a great score by Danny Elfman, make this movie a must-see.

P.S. Sorry we missed you on the 25th, but we were taking a break from posting to enjoy the holidays with our families. Happy Boxing Day to all our Commonwealth friends!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

WHAT: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
WHEN: In theatres starting Friday, December 14
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
LANGUAGE: English
RUN TIME: 169 Minutes

OUR RATING: Do it!

Last night, we were invited to the special pre-screening of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and began our own overwhelming journey into the world of Middle-earth once more. For those of you who did not read the book (and shame on you for missing such a classic — go buy it now!), The Hobbit is set before The Lord of the Rings trilogy and is centered around Bilbo Baggins, a home-loving Hobbit who is unwillingly drawn into a quest led by a Dwarf band seeking to reclaim their gold and home from the evil dragon Smaug. Of course, with this film being in a trilogy, we only get the first segment.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (photo courtesy of thehobbit.com)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (photo courtesy of thehobbit.com)

Our immediate impression of the film was a sense of comfort: here we were, back in the Shire, listening the the story of Bilbo’s first adventure. Action soon follows, as you are plunged into the map beyond the Shire, were Bilbo must face all manner of foes, from the brutish Orcs, to the conniving Goblins and even living mountains themselves. Peter Jackson also manages to deliver us a healthy serving of humor throughout the adventure, more than enough to satisfy the most Dwarven of appetites.

Adam: The two star performances certainly come from Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins). Sir Ian’s marvelous good humour smattered with his wise and measured acting create the image of the archetypal wizard, who is both friend, grandfather and sage all in one. Freeman acts in his usual Freeman-esque style, with observations and exclamations in that tone of Watson we have become so familiar with during Sherlock. However, this translates well into the character of Bilbo, who somewhat mirrors Freeman’s transition from the Shire of the small screen to the Middle-earth of the big time.

I know a lot has been said about the choice to use 48-frames per second instead of the standard 24 frames per second, but I would like to get my two cents in briefly. It was certainly a daring move and one that should be applauded, for we must always experiment to move forward. Nevertheless, I felt that it removed from the epic nature of the film in some ways, and perhaps highlighted certain elements too much (such as make-up and sets).

Overall, the film was very good and I would highly recommend it. Go for it and have fun!

Alicia: If you really want to see this film, do it. I am so very glad I did, and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s expectations or desire to see this movie. However, ultimately, I was a bit disappointed, but I think that’s because my expectations were set so high because of how amazing the book was and how epic the LOTR film trilogy was.

Adam and I had the opportunity to discuss the film last night on the way home, and it was crazy how similar our reactions were to the film. There were two key elements that really degraded my experience. The first was what Adam mentioned: the choice to use 48-frames per second. Everyone is talking about it, but I have to admit I fully agree with A. A. Dowd from Time Out Chicago:

Long touted as the next frontier in filmmaking, the choice is meant to amplify the clarity of the 3-D effects. What 48fps mostly does is give the entire picture the too-smooth, hyperreal luster of a daytime soap.

For me, much of the magical fantasy (especially of the Shire scenes) was ruined because of these effects. I felt totally taken out of the movie in a very uncomfortable way. But not only was the film reminiscent of a soap opera, at the same time it was alarmingly similar to the world of, dare I say it, Harry Potter. The dwarves, the set, the filming. I wasn’t in the Tolkien universe anymore, but rather that of Rowling’s, especially with the comical nature of the Dwarven makeup and the Weasley-esque looking home of Radagast the Brown.

It’s much too painful to go further into this film’s ailments. I’ll stay on Jackson’s journey through the next two movies out of my nostalgic love for the story of The Hobbit, out of loyalty to the LOTR books and films, and of course the sheer desire to watch Sir Ian McKellen et. al. on screen.

The final say: Do it, no matter what we say.

Our ticket and special 3D glasses for the pre-screening!

Our ticket and special 3D glasses for the pre-screening!

P.S. We saw the screening for The Hobbit at the Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatre in the South Loop. A very disappointing venue with extremely rude staff. Great seats with amazing armrests, but overwhelmingly a terrible experience due to poor management. Skip it and see The Hobbit elsewhere. This theater simply doesn’t deserve your patronage.

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