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Star Trek Continues (2013)
Accomplishes exactly what it tries to do
The show does exactly what it set out to do -- recreate the look and feel of the original Star Trek. There are obviously those who will be unable to get past the different actors in the same roles (even more so than with the JJ Abrams films, because the films move in a completely different direction. And therein lies the strength and weakness of this production: the fans.
For this fan, the show was a joy to watch. I don't want to see a parody of James Shatner and the original crew, but rather another take on the same characters. Some are more successful than others, but overall (and especially for a first episode) they did a great job. Heck, go back to the early Next Generation episodes and see how cardboard-thin some of the characters were and how stiff some of the acting ones. OK, so Riker was stiff throughout the season but I digress.
The more versions of Start Trek there are, the more splintered the fan base will be. Some purists loathe the new films with their blockbuster dependence on CGI, quick cuts and explosions. Some who were raised on Next Generation think everything else inferior. Personally I couldn't stand Voyager. So, watch the episode and decide for yourself.
The Golden Compass (2007)
One of the worst book adaptations in memory
To set the context, I read The Golden Compass with my daughters (age 9 & 12) before seeing this movie. We enjoyed the book a great deal, but have only barely started the second book in the series so far. So, we are not exactly fanatics about it. For additional context and comparison, I thought the first Narnia film adequate though far less than perfect, the Harry Potter films quite good until the fifth, which was quite disappointing.
That said, this movie committed nearly all of the of the cardinal sins that a movie adaptation of a book can commit. Let's see if I can remember them all.
First, there was a great deal of important, interesting, and exciting material cut from the movie. I have a hard time believing that you can view this film as anything but a straight adventure/action flick without the missing background information.
Because of this, the movie hits you over the head with information like a blunt instrument. Where the book was masterful at simply laying out this alternate universe and letting you figure it out bit by bit, the movie starts with a ham handed narration to introduce the major concepts Concepts that unfold over the first 200 pages or so of the book are essentially blurted out in the first 2 minutes of the movie.
The movie makes changes to the book for no apparent reason. I'm not talking about characters being eliminated or combined -- those things happened. But, why rename the king of the bears? Why change Iorek Byrnison's back story (and that of Iofur/Ragnar's as well)? These are trivial changes whose only effect is to be a jarring distraction to anybody who has read the book and is paying attention.
There are also significant changes to the narrative and time line. A different character -- one that didn't exist in the book -- tries to poison Lord Asriel. The picture he shows the scholars is different. The episode with the bears is incongruously inserted before the Bolvangar climax, which was itself cut so short it could be called "Dorf on Bolvangar." (if you get that reference, consider yourself OLD) The whole handling of The Magisterium is laughably unsubtle. Oh, if only I had the free will to think for myself and figure out what the theme of the movie might be. Bleh.
The dialog is often trite. I had to exercise all my self control not to laugh out loud when the inevitable Sam Elliot "Reckon so" popped up.
Several characters are given extra screen time for the sole point (I assume) of giving the characters screen time. Daniel Craig's glacier fight was straight out of James Bond, and was completely pointless. It leads to his fate having to be clumsily inserted in an incredibly obvious exposition by Serafina Pekalla.
Serafina, on the other hand, is inserted in place of her familiar so that the actress can get her face time. The witches as a whole are completely wasted.
I might as well be presumptuous and describe what I had expected when I read the book, because I think it would have made for a better film.
First, the book should have ended with the escape from Bolvangar. This would have set up a second movie for the Svalbard chapters and the first part of The Subtle Knife.
I also would have allowed the film to run 15-30 minutes longer. Oh, I know this is heresy in a world where we have a Disney-standard maximum running time of 90 minutes for kids films, but I think the Harry Potter movies proved that kids will sit through a longer movie if it's a good movie. This would have allowed enough time to tell the story in full.
Finally...well really, that's all you'd need to do in order to have a first-rate movie that would appeal to kids and adults. As it stands, this one is nothing more than a lost opportunity. Even my 9-year-old termed it "Disappointing, plus more disappointment."
Visually stunning with a message to boot
I saw this movie today, on opening day. Having seen the HBO First Look I knew what to expect visually, and I knew that the movie was not attempting to be historically accurate. With expectations set, I was ready for exactly what the film delivered: intense action, powerful characters, and a grand story with a point to make about sacrifice.
That's right: sacrifice. Sure, the dialog is about freedom. It's about Spartan Law. It's about standing against a tyrant as free men. But the real theme is about the kind of person or people who would intentionally sacrifice everything they had, not for glory or honor, but for the sake of everything they hold dear. Everything down to the explanation of how a phalanx works -- "every man protects the man to his left, from knee to shoulder" is about interdependency, being part of something bigger than yourself, and being willing to sacrifice yourself for that very thing.
The movie earns its "R" rating in just about every way (except, amusingly, the utter lack of foul language). It also earns the right to be called an excellent movie.
Why remake a movie if you're going to do it so badly?
It's all been said before: Kevin Costner's laughably bad accent. Alan Rickman chewing up the scenery. The ridiculous attempted rape scene. This was a downright awful movie that simply did not need to be made, and definitely should not waste one's time being seen.
I have to cringe, retch, and laugh at the comments that claim that "the anachronisms add to the movie." This should have been a classic tale told with top actors using modern film techniques to enrich the setting. Instead it was an exercise in "Ooh, we can show you the archery from the arrow's point of view" while completely ignoring such trivia as dialog and character development.
If this film had anywhere near the wit or soul of Errol Flynn's classic, it could have been one for the ages. Instead it comes off as just another Hollywood rip off trying to milk a few million bucks out of a story that is long out of copyright.
Downhill Racer (1969)
Timeless because it's dated
For anybody who follows international sports, the characters and organizations in this movie ring true. Whether you follow skating, gymnastics, skiing, or any other essentially solo international sports, you have seen the loners, the chosen stars, the politics, fund raising, and everything else that goes on behind and in front of the scenes.
This movie captures those people and circumstances exceptionally well. As has been noted in the coverage of the Olympics, the parallels to the 2006 US downhill team are stunning. The fact that this movie was made in 1969, with the film style of the day, makes it quite dated. But it is exactly the dated fashions, music, cinematography, skiing equipment, and attitudes that make it a keeper.
Downhill Racer remains the seminal skiing movie (unless one prefers the slob humor of Hot Dog: The Movie), but it's also about bigger themes. Redford is the quintessential American loner, out for his own goals and not interested in serving the needs of his sport, his team, or the international press. It's a character we've seen a thousand times in real life, and it's one who gets deified or demonized depending on his success in the field of sport.
So, view this very dated movie in today's context. You'll be surprised how relevant it is.