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Lets party like its 2299! Star Trek (2009) Dir JJ Abrams

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2009 by cultfriction

I’m not sure if i’ve been swept away in the hype about this film. I’ve been waiting quite a long time for this to come around and as a Star Trek fan I feel that my excitement would cloud my critical analysis. However after leaving the screening I felt that I was satisfied as a movie goer and as a self professed Trekkie.

My one criticism of the entire Star Trek franchise is that it has always taken itself far too seriously. When a non fan would sit with me watching the show they would laugh at the silly alien makeup or turn their eyes up at the overcomplicated plots filled to the brim with baffling scientific jargon. The last time Star Trek planned a comeback was thirty years ago with The Motion Picture, riding on the back of success of Star Wars, had television actors in a rigid plot that did nothing but further the series from the fun of space travel. Only a few of the Trek movies from days gone by have tried to bridge the gap between the die hards and the rest of the public, most notably Star Trek IV The Voyage Home (the one with the whales) which fell short of farce. I feel that now the wait is over. The trick that JJ Abrams had to pull off was to make a Sci Fi Blockbuster without dumbing down the content for the regular Trek fan and now after the flop that was Nemesis and the disastrous Enterprise he has found the right combination. To put it lightly, Trek has gained some serious chutzpah. 

Where to begin? Visually the film is bursting with rich visual details. This is the Star Trek any discerning fan has always dreamed about seeing in a Star Trek film, exploding hulls with crew members being sucked out into space, planetary destruction that makes Alderann look like a party popper, even the nods to the original sound effects mixed in with iMac chic. The future has never looked so good. The costumes are wonderfully recreated for the big screen. In reshaping the Enterprise, the production designers have kept to the original essence of the kitsch 60’s feeling, something that should have been done in the Enterprise TV series.

One of the main tasks that the actors had to face was to portray characters that are much loved and known without turning them into over camped parodies of the originals. Chris Pine does a great job as the womanising rebellious Kirk. Whilst embodying the old Shatneresque traits of over cockiness yet Pine keeps it at a James Dean level rather than hamming up his performance. Qunito does an excellent job, playing more to Spock’s human side more than Nimoy ever did. This film recognises more than ever the internal conflict that is raging within Spock’s character. My highest praise however has to go to Karl Urban who portrays the old country doctor “Bones” McCoy. Urban doesn’t mimic the original Deforest Kelly performance yet he embodies the original essence of Doctor McCoy that we all know and love. It’s quite spooky at times. Sulu, Uhura, Scotty are all given new leases of life with their new actors. Be warned though, Chekov got a little too “Jar Jar” for me at times, almost becoming a shadow of Wesley Crusher, a Star Trek memory most of us would like to have placed in a photon tube and shot into space.

The music is scored by Michael Giacchino and surprisingly uses very little of the themes used in the previous incarnations of Trek. The opening blast of horns heralds the start of a new era for the series; only at the end are we given a sumptuous rendition of the Alexander Courage theme.

One of the great “Deus Ex Machina’s” within any Star Trek plot is the ability to use Time Travel to sort everything out and fix everything at the end of the day. Here the entire reboot of Star Trek uses temporal bending of the space time continuum to completely wipe the slate clean on the entire trek universe. It makes me wonder if in twenty years time they’ll reboot the Next Generation and DS9. Never the less given Paramount’s commitment to a sequel, we are assured that there will be further adventures with the USS Enterprise.

Though I know as I type many fans across the world will have differing opinions. All I can say is this. To those who dislike it, Star Trek will never die because of this film. The previous incarnations will be there on DVD forever and you can watch them again and again. Those memories will never fade. To those who did, well I can say that we needed a fresh pair of hands to really show the world how fun Star Trek is. You never know, it may become cool! This summer, I’m pretty sure it will.

Our Maher Who Art in Heaven…. Religulous (dir Larry Charles)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on April 5, 2009 by cultfriction

Award-winning Maher reflects on his own religious upbringing and travels to Jerusalem, Egypt, London, Amsterdam, The Vatican and across the United States exploring the role of religion in today’s society. Along the way he talks to believers, non-believers, religious leaders, self professed messiahs, atheists, extremists, politicians, agnostics, academics and the average man on the street looking to lift the lid on their beliefs.

This is ultimately a film about doubt! Yes my friends Bill Maher has taken it to the mountain top and shouted it loud.When released in America in the fall of 2008 it was amid the Presidential election and the appointment of one Sarah Palin as Republican VP Candidate. With the benefit of hindsight we can relax (we hope) with the election of Barack Obama but a mere few months ago there existed a very real possibility that someone such as Palin was about to be a mere heartbeat away from the highest office in the land. “What scares me is that people who run this country believe in talking snakes!,” Maher exclaims at US Senator Mark Pryor. ” You don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate.”

Religulous takes apart the Jesus franchise (amongst others) and holds it up to the light for what it really is. Although the film takes shots at Judaism and Islam it leaves out others such as Hinduism, Buddhism. Maher explains why he thought Religion was a subject he had tackle. “Since starting on Politically Incorrect in 1993, it has been my pleasure over the last decade and a half to make organised religion one of my favourite targets.  I often explained to people, “I don’t need to make fun of religion, it makes fun of itself.”  And, then I go ahead and make fun of it too, just for laughs. “

With religious fanatics like George Bush and Osama bin Laden now taking over the world, it seemed to me in recent years that this issue — this cause of debunking the man behind the curtain — needed to have a larger, more insistent and focused forum than late night television.  I wanted to make a documentary, and I wanted it to be funny.  In fact, since there is nothing more ridiculous than the ancient mythological stories that live on as today’s religions, this movie would try to be a real knee slapper.  Unless, of course, you’re religious, then you might not like it.” 

Who could I get to direct me on such an epic quest?  In reality, there was only one man, and his name is Larry Charles.  I hope that together we fulfilled that quest.  Which really isn’t that hard, considering that comedically speaking, the topic of religion is pretty much hitting the side of a barn.”   

Towards the end Mahers message gets a little preachy as he turns from doubter to die hard atheist however it highlights for him the evils of religion. There are moments where Maher sees the good in faih yet these are few and far between. The film is cleverly edited for real laugh out loud moments that highlight the absurdities of religion. 

Overall this is a very funny film with very little flaws. So to wrap up here are my top five moments in the movie (Warning Spoilers Ahead)

5) Upon realising who he is, staff members of the Holy Land Exprerience (a Jesus Theme Park in Orlando Florida) get very angry! 

4) The Iman who has Led Zeppelins Kashmir as his ringtone which interrupts the interview.

3) Maher’s innuendo laden exchanges with Pastor John Westcott, a formerly gay minister who can exorcise homosexuality.

2) Ferre van Beveren, head of the Cannabis Ministry, (a religion devoted to getting high) is so wasted he doesn’t realise his hair is on fire.

1) A disguised Maher in speakers corner preaching the beliefs of Scientology.

 Religulous opens nationwide April 3rd 2009.