Monday, May 27, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

Before seeing this movie, I read a tweet hoping that younger viewers would see 1982's Wrath of Khan before watching the latest prequel in the Star Trek series. Well, since, chronologically, that movie happens later in the lives of the Enterprise crew, I don't think that's necessary. Maybe fans should watch it after Into Darkness instead. However, I could have used stood to see 2009's Star Trek as a refresher course myself. I have almost no memory of J.J. Abrams first Trek venture or the relationships he created there.

While I was never a focused Trek fan, after decades of tv reruns syndicated all over, I am well grounded in the core series' relationships between Spock, McCoy and Kirk and can even appreciate variations on the original bonds (i.e. Spock and Uhura's romance), but I'd already forgotten about Kirk's dad and his mentor Pike. So, there was angst there that I couldn't fully appreciate.

The movie starts with the Enterprise on a observatory mission to a primitive civilization. They're supposed to look at how the natives live, not interfere, not allow allow themselves to be seen. They soon learn that a volcano is about to erupt which will destroy all life on the planet. With Kirk already on the ground, it's up to Spock to disable the volcano. A nervous Uhura helps him dress for the journey and kisses his helmet goodbye.

He enters its fiery mouth to do so and soon learns that in order to save the people, he'll have to sacrifice his own life. He's willing to do that. When Kirk discovers that Spock is willing to incinerate himself to stop the deadly volcano, he commands him to return to the ship. Spock refuses and limits communication with them, ready to face his death alone, to Uhura's hurt and chagrin. Kirk races to find a way to save Spock's life, though the Vulcan himself seems disinterested in that cause and cautions Kirk that he should not break the rules to rescue a friend. They should be more interested in the good of the many. Frustrated, Kirk asks his crew what Spock would do if their positions were reversed. "He'd let you die," is the answer. Kirk acknowledges the truth in this, but nevertheless raises his spaceship where it has been hidden on the bottom of the ocean floor to get Spock back safely and exposes the Enterprise to the natives (who are awestruck and immediately begin painting likenesses of the alien aircraft), forever changing the course of their development -- as they had just barely discovered fire and ruining the purpose of the mission.

Narrowly escaping that close call, back at home Kirk has been called in to see Pike and thinks that he's about to get a promotion. He finds, instead, that Spock has advised their supervisors of their crew's rule violations, unbeknownst to Kirk. Kirk reminds Spock that he risked everything to save Spock's life and he expected him to keep quiet about it. Spock reminds him that Vulcans cannot lie. Kirk counters that he's only 50% Vulcan and Kirk is trying to appeal to Spock's human side for a change. He wants him to act like a friend, not just an officer.

Pike demotes Kirk for taking unnecessary risks. Yes, Kirk is good, but that has only made him arrogant. He thinks he's invincible and is too reckless to remain a captain. They're taking the Enterprise away from him and returning it to Pike. Spock is being assigned to another ship. Kirk is despondent. Despite the fact that he's infuriated with Spock, he bids him a fond adieu and says that he will miss him. Spock is non-responsive, further maddening Kirk.

He heads out to get drunk. Pike finds him and tells him that he has selected Kirk to be his second-in-command, a show of faith that means more to Kirk on a personal level than his demotion does on a professional one.

Meanwhile, a couple keeps vigil over their dying daughter. A mysterious officer, John Harrison, offers the father a cure, giving the man a vial of blood with which to inject the girl, but it comes with a price. The father fills the girls IV with the vial's contents and watches her heartrate rise immediately. If I were him, I'd at least wait until she regained consciousness, before keeping my end of the deal, but this dad races off to do his evil benefactor's bidding immediately. He blows up one of the government's archive compounds. Hearing of the news at the bar, Pike and Kirk rush off to a special emergency meeting of commanders and first officers.

At the meeting, although he's no longer a captain, Kirk still thinks like one. There was nothing important in that archive. Why destroy it, unless the true purpose was to cause a gathering of all the military leaders, just like the one they're having, now --- just as Kirk is hesitantly putting this thought together they are fired upon by Harrison who, hovers outside in a helicopter, heavily armed. He levels a rainstorm of havoc on them, before escaping.

As they scramble around in the debris, Spock comes upon the wounded Pike. He mind melds with him, as Pike dies. Coming upon them, Kirk is devastated.

They learn that Harrison has fled to Klingon territory, where he presumably thinks he cannot be followed, since it would lead to World War if the U.S. invades Klingon land. Kirk wants to go after Harrison and begs for permission to do so. Commander Wallace says that there cannot be any more casualties, because (1) Kirk has caused enough damage and, (2) just as Pike brought Kirk into service, Wallace is the one who enlisted and mentored Pike. Wallace owes it to Pike to keep Kirk safe. So, he'll only let Kirk go after Harrison, one of their own rogue officers, if Kirk locates then torpedoes and kills him immediately, without the Klingons ever knowing he was there. That's the only way to avoid war. Kirk readily agrees. He asks to be returned to command of the Enterprise and to have Spock reinstated as his first officer. Wallace agrees.

When Spock hears the news, rather than rejoicing that he and Kirk have been reunited, he warns Kirk that it's against martial law for them to kill come upon Harrison and kill him without warning, without giving him a fair trial. Kirk says it's their orders. Spock insists that it's morally wrong. Impatiently, Kirk says that the last time Kirk did what was morally right, saving Spock's life, after Spock saved a primitive planet, Spock ratted him out and opted to follow the rules, instead. So, Spock is not in a position to tell Kirk when to defy orders, when he's such a stickler for them himself.

As they prepare to return to the Enterprise, Carol, a science officer tells Kirk she's also been assigned to the ship. Kirk didn't order a new science officer and Spock feels it would hardly have been necessary for him to do so, since Spock is there himself. However, since Carol is attractive, Kirk is not in the mood to question why she is there. This attitude seems especially foolhardy since they've all just been attacked from within. If Harrison turned on his own government, who's to say this mysterious science officer can be trusted? She simply tells Kirk that she was assigned to him by Wallace (which turns out not to have been true) and he doesn't even ask to see the paperwork, much less perform a background check.

Back at the ship, Scotty refuses to let them load the torpedoes. He reminds Kirk that it's their job to seek out new lives, not to take them. The Enterprise is not supposed to be a warship. Kirk insists that Scotty just sign off on the torpedoes. Scotty resigns, rather than do so and, to his surprise, Kirk accepts the resignation. Oh, I've felt the shock displayed on Scotty's countenance myself, when you think the boss can't bear to lose you and, with kneejerk speed, will promise anything necessary to keep you from quitting. Then, he doesn't. Abashed and stunned, Scotty leaves his beloved aircraft, Kirk and an overwhelmed and unprepared Checkov behind.

Reeling himself, Kirk feels besieged from all sides and feels the guilt he's been trying to deny. When he runs into Uhura on the elevator, he complains that her "boyfriend" is impossible. He quickly apologizes for this lack of professionalism, but once she regains her composures she tells Kirk it's not just him. What? Are she and Kirk having trouble? Kirk's curiousity is almost gleeful. Uhura says she prefers not to talk about it, as the elevator doors open and a bemused Spock stand before them. "Ears burning?" Kirk taunts him.

Once they get to Harrison's hide out, Kirk's conscience has won out. He's not going to sneak up and kill Harrison, no matter what he's done. He's going to take him back to the U.S. to stand trial. He announces his presence and gives Harrison a chance to surrender or else they will come in and get him. By following protocol, rather than following Wallace's sneak attack orders, the crew has put their lives in danger. They are far outnumbered by Klingons. Maybe he can just talk to them and tell them they are not interested in starting a war. They just want to capture a runaway American who is hiding in Klingon territory, using U.S. enemies as a shield. Kirk needs to explain this to them and asks how Uruha's Klingon is. Rusty but good she says. If the three of them go down to confront the Klingons, will she and Spock have any trouble working together? Not at all Uruha says. "Unclear," is Spock's more realistic answer, as he catches the frosty vibes Uruha is emanating.

Once the three are enroute, Uruha explodes at Spock. He wants to talk about it at another time and she says there is never a good time for him. He never wants to communicate. And it's not just her perception. Kirk is mad at him too. Kirk first says that he doesn't want to be pulled into their personal quarrel, but then rethinks and admits that yes, he's mad at Spock too.

Uruha is angry that Spock was so willing to give up his life in that volcano, to die without a thought to the people who love him that were left behind, because he just doesn't care. Spock says that when he mind-melded with the dying Pike, he felt his sense of loneliness and loss. He felt that way too, only tenfold, when his planet died and all his fellow Vulcans were killed. He never wants to feel such pain again. So, when Uhura concludes that he doesn't care, she's got it wrong. Just the opposite is true. He cares too much and has chosen not to give into that feeling, because of the anguish it may lead to. This touches her, but I don't know why.

Whether he's inherently apathetic or just wills himself to be so, isn't it the same difference? Doesn't that mean that he'll endanger hmself next time, just as he did in the volcano? Won't he always put logic ahead of love? It doesn't matter why he does it, it still leaves her (and their future together) out in the cold. Actually, it does matter why he does it. He has made a decision not to succumb to emotion which is actually a more determined form of rejection than if he simply disregarded her feelings unthinkingly. So, I fail to see what she's so doggone happy about.

They almost crash going in to Klingon territory. Since their plan to kill or capture Harrison without the Klingons even knowing they're there failed, it looks like their presence may be considered a threat, leading to World War. The Enterprise will be the first casualty. Uhura asks to go down alone, to use diplomacy to explain why they are there in their own language. Kirk allows this.

She tells the Klingons they're just there to get one of their own, not to fight. They are hostile. Kirk wants to go down after Uhura, but Spock thinks that he'll just anger both the enemy and Uhura, by interfering now. So, he respects her need to act, even if it costs her life, like he wanted her to do when he went into the volcano. And she did. Although apprehensive, she didn't try to hold him back. She wanted him to return when she realized it was a fatal mission or at least wanted him to acknowledge her with a goodbye, but she didn't try to stop him from doing his job, no matter what the personal cost . . . Now, she was ready to do the same.

The Klingons turn on her and Kirk and Spock bolt forward. Three of them against an army. Suddenly Harrison appears and singlehandedly destroys most of the Klingons. He then surrenders himself to Kirk, who pounds him furiously, avenging Pike's death. Spock doesn't stop Kirk, doesn't remind him about the "rules". Harrison doesn't fight back. He simply absorbs Kirk's blows. Finally, Uruha yells at Kirk to stop. They take Harrison aboard the Enterprise as a prisoner of war.

Kirk wonders why Harrison surrendered. The way he defeated a swarm of Klingons proved that the Enterprise crew was no threat to him. Why did he let himself be captured? Kirk talks to Harrison who tells him that his real name is Khan. He asks how many torpedoes Kirk has on board. 72 Spock answers. Khan says that they didn't just load them onto the Enterprise to use against Harrison. Those torpedoes have always been there. They were the Enterprise's true mission.

I'm a big BBC Sherlock fan. Actually, I'm obsessed with Steven Moffat, from Coupling to Doctor Who, but there's no doubt that Benedict Cumberbatch (and Freeman) make Sherlock extraordinary. I enjoy the pale, androgynous Holmes character so much, revel in his soft curls and nerdy, cerebral aspect, that I was put off by all the clamor regarding Cumberbatch's sex appeal in this film. Don't Montalban this man up, I thought. I didn't like the idea of his basic appeal, his ability to penetrate from within, being obscured by cosmetic glamour. What I've learned since is that, while you can't judge a book by its cover, a good cover never hurt a book!

Like milk, a contemporary hair cut does a body good. Curls shorn, Cumberbatch's strong facial features now stand out and he appears to have bulked up for the role. Khan is carved. His stronger physical frame is matched with a deeper, baritone vocal that not only adds menace to Khan's threats, but tinges his softer moments with a rich, if deceptive, sincerity. While Sherlock is light and swift, Khan is fast, sharp and crushing. The two characters are like comparing the power of wind against that of rock. Glory in the diversity, just makes the actor more impressive. Each word he utters is considered, polished then served to maximum effect, bringing gravitas to each scene he graces. He easily steals the show, while Khan wins Kirk's trust.

Having raised Kirk's suspicions about the torpedoes, Kirk decides to open one. That's when Spock informs him that Carol is actually Commander Wallace's daughter and a weapons expert. He checked her out, since Kirk never thought to do so. He didn't reveal this information, since it didn't seem relevant. Until now.

Unmasked Carol says she worked by her father's side, but there was always one department that he kept secret from her. When she learned about the torpedoes on the Enterprise, she stowed aboard to find out what Wallace was concealing. She uses her weapons expertise to help McCoy open a torpedo and they find a body inside. It's a living organism, but has been frozen cryogenically for hundreds of years.

Kirk confronts Khan with the news. Khan says that each torpedo contains a body. They are the last people remaining from his planet. They were his crew, his family and he would do anything to save them. Wallace unthawed Khan because his people were known for their savage war skills. Wallace wanted Khan to teach U.S. troops those skills so that Wallace could then wage war on the Klingons and overpower them, with ancient techniques. Wallace held the lives of Khan's frozen crew hostage in those torpedoes which, when fired, would kill those encapsulized within. If Kirk had actually killed Khan with those torpedoes, he would have killed Khan and all that remained of his planet. Khan was prepared to do anything to save them, just as Kirk would do for his own crew. That is why Khan attacked the military officers, because Wallace was attacking his people.

Khan also gives Kirk coordinates to investigate, which Kirk passes on to Scotty. Still sulking over his forced resignation, Scotty nevertheless, leads a drunken bender and heads off to help Kirk by locating the coordinates' location.

As Wallace's plot is unraveling, the Enterprise finds that it is in the cross hairs of an unmarked government ship, headed by Wallace. He demands that Kirk hand over Khan. Kirk refuses and says he will follow due process and take Khan back to earth to await trial. Wallace says that he will just destroy the entire Enterprise then, Khan and everyone else. Carol then reveals herself and says he'll have to choose whether or not to kill his own daughter. "Actually, Carol, I don't." He just beams her aboard his own ship and then attacks the Enterprise whose engine is weakened. The defensive shield won't last much longer.

The coordinates Khan gave Kirk lead to the bow of Wallace's aircraft. Scotty sneaks aboard and is ordered to open the door so that Kirk and Khan can enter as well. Escaping a close call, they finally get in, but once aboard Khan shows his true colors, kills Wallace and turns on Kirk. Kirk escapes back to the Enterprise with Scotty and Carol.

Spock, through time travel communication (which was explained in the last movie, but I've forgotten how or why it was accomplished) contacts his future self (Leonard Nimoy) who, perfunctorily expresses a reluctance to change destiny by influencing past events, then instantly divulges the best way to defeat Khan, offscreen. We learn that the plan is to make Khan think they have fired the 72 torpedoed and killed Khan's crew, though they really haven't. I really don't understand this strategy. Wouldn't it be better to use the 72 as bargaining chips? Perhaps, they thought if the Khan crew died, he would no longer be after the Enterprise, but knowing his lust for revenge, that hardly seems probable. Griefstricken, he's more desperate to kill all of them than ever.

But if the Enterprise gave up its bargaining power, Khan did as well. Why didn't he keep pretending to be on Kirk's side long enough to ensure the safety of his people. Unarm Wallace. Play nice and get back on the Enterprise where his comrades are, then take over the ship. Don't attack Kirk while he's still got control of everything you hold dear in the world.

Oh well. The Enterprise is disabled and can't withstand the continued attack from Khan, who has control of Wallace's ship, much longer. There's a reactor that Kirk can try to restart, but only if he exposes himself to deadly radiation in order to do so. He doesn't hesitate to go in and, literally, kick the reactor back in place, which works like a charm, but seems like a rather primeval repair job if you ask me. It's like calling The IT Crowd for technical support and having them ask, "did you kick it?" first.

The Enterprise is up and running again, but a radioactive Kirk is dying. He's behind a glass partition which can't be raised until the decontamination process is completed or else the entire ship will be infected. Scotty calls Spock to come down. Why not call McCoy, since he's a doctor?

Spock arrives and melts at the sight of his dying friend. Kirk is afraid. He wonders how Spock does it? How does he cut his feelings off and will himself not to care. Spock says that he doesn't. He can't. Right now all he feels is hurt. Kirk presses a wavering hand up to the glass his fingers spread and, on the other side, Spock places his own against it, two fingers on each side, in his familiar Vulcan vee. Just as I am thinking that he should spread his fingers to show his human side, Kirk separates his four fingers into 2 and 2, mimicking Spock's Vulcan greeting. It is the film's most moving moment. Hand to hand, with his friend, Kirk dies. Spock emits a vengeful scream "Kha-a-a-a-a-n," to match the one Kirk cried out for Spock in the 1982 movie.

Meanwhile, Khan has returned to earth to wreak havoc. Spock is prepared to go down to battle him. He turns to Uruha first and she commands him to go get Khan. Spock flees. I wish this scene had just been 5 second longer. Spock certainly had Uhura's approval, but I wanted to know if he was asking for her permission? Their exchange didn't last long enough for me to see a question in his eyes. Was he allowing himself to fully realize the love between them and saying that he would not leave, if she wanted him to stay? Was he putting their relationship above his thirst for justice, for once? I'll never know. I suppose it's enough that he pushed aside the rules and let his anger over Kirk's death propel him after Khan, rather than dispassionately wondering what military protocol demanded.

Sad to think that as the time frame in these movies meets the one in the tv series, Spock and Uruha will break up and become nothing more than the colleagues they portrayed in the tv show. That will be a sad parting.

For now, a younger Spock is off fighting Khan to the death, when McCoy discovers (via tribble testing) that Khan's blood can revive the dead. Therefore, it's imperative that Spock not kill Khan. They need to alert him. Uhura has herself beamed down, which is silly. As a language officer it made sense for her to engage the Klingons, because she is the only one who could have communicated with them. But Spock is in a death match with Khan, why not send a fighter down to him, someone with trained brawn, rather than his linguist girlfriend?

Besides, they have 72 frozen bodies on the Enterprise. Why not just heat one of them up and extract the blood needed to revive Kirk that way? Khan is not the only source of this magic claret.

They don't know this. They spare Khan's life, take his blood and resuscitate Kirk.

Khan is repodded. The lid to the cryogenic capsule closes down over him and he lives, well hibernates, to fight another day.

Kirk is rewarded with continued command of the Enterprise and, back in the captain's chair, they embark on a "five year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before." It is fitting that the word "man" that was used in the original series has now been placed with the word "one."

Where should they go, Kirk asks Spock. Why their destination should be left to Kirk's good judgment, the logical (?) Spock replies.

We have such a history with these characters, having long known and loved them as well as they do each other, that the pleasure a mere look or one-liner between them gives is all that is needed for this movie franchise to live long and prosper.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cruel Intentions (1999)

More than most, this film was such a creature of pop culture that, 14 years after the fact, there is no way I can appreciate the impact it had when first released.

Looking back, I just see established actors in a mediocre comedy (?) rather than rising stars making some of their first marks on our entertainment consciences. Darn it, maybe I should have watched Dangerous Liaisons, even Valmont, first or, heaven forbid, read Les Liaisons Dangereuses to fully appreciate this contemporary take on the french classic, but I didn't, so my less informed impression of the movie is that it's just an uninspired cross between Something About Mary and a coed Heathers.

I understand that the movie's graphic dialogue was quite shocking for its time, but 14 years after the fact, it doesn't even cause me to raise an eyebrow. I've heard more lurid language on the ABC Family channel.

We meet Sebastian Valmont at his therapy session. We don't know what he's being counseled for. Sex addiction? He's been expelled from school, but his actual offenses are not specified. Whatever his mental malady, while assuring her that he's improved, he's making a play for his self-absorbed doctor, who brushes him off for a book tour. However, the joke's on her as, once he leaves, she learns that he's seduced her scholarly daughter and posted nude pictures of her on the internet. Hey! I didn't realize people even did that back in 1999. We were more evolved than I thought.

Heedless of social mores, human feelings or, parking regulations he returns home infuriating countless people on the way. Back at their high rise apartment, his stepsister Kathryn Merteuil is waiting. As a Buffy fan, I'm impressed with Sarah Michelle Gellar's refined appearance and frosty elegance and her sex appeal is certainly not lost on me, but no part of her portrayal here blows me away. I'm rather perplexed as to why this role has become so infamous over time. Sure, Kathryn is evil, but it's no surprise that Gellar can be. Kathryn can turn a nice phrase of dialogue. Duh! Gellar was doing that back when she was still a kid on All My Children. A bigger problem is, I have the benefit of 145 hours of Buffy, while this movie was made back when the show had only been on the air for 2 years. I suppose that, as Kathryn, Gellar exhibits a sophistocated range that Buffy Summers, who in Buffy's second season, still snuck out of her bedroom to avoid her mother's curfew, had yet to reveal. Original movie viewers had not yet seen Buffy and Spike having public sex all over Sunnydale. Even with that in mind, while Kathryn often charms, I'm underwhelmed by the film's overall use of Gellar. Kathryn's a seductress and schemer, but she's no slayer.

Kathryn, a seemingly model college student and mentor to underclassmen, was dumped by her last conquest for, Cecile, an insipid teen. She wants revenge: against Cecile. This confuses me because (1) Cecile is not still dating the boy and he won't be effected by her ruin, (2) Cecile is oblivious to the fact that Kathryn was jilted and doesn't even realize they dated the same fellow, and (3) Cecile's honor would seem harder to preserve than to lose. When we meet her, she is sitting open-legged in Kathryn's living room, gawking at Sebastian. The fact that her virginity remains intact is due to stupidity, rather than intent. If bringing Cecile down is Kathryn's idea of plotting, I must question her true deviance.

Sebastian seems to feel the same. When Kathryn tries to enlist his aid against Cecile, he declines, claiming that such a conquest would be too easy for a man of his expertise. Instead, he wants to debauch Annette Hargrove, the new college dean's virtuous daughter. She's taken a vow of abstinence and Sebastian intends to break it. Kathryn bets he'll fail. The stakes? If she wins, she gets his expensive 1956 car. If he wins, he gets Kathryn. It seems he's lusted after her since her mother married his father. He's the only woman he can't have, not unless he plays his cards right. Sebastian seems hesitant -- guess he really likes his car. But Kathryn closes the deal by promising, "I'll let you put it anywhere," a temptation even blase Sebastian can't resist. It's a deal.

He embarks on the plan to bed Kathryn who is a guest at his wealthy aunt's home. But his reputation precedes him and Annette easily defends against his false flattery. In fact, she seems to be playing a game of her own. Sebastian plays loud music to lure Annette to the the indoor swimming pool where Sebastian is lulling about in a wheel chair (for reasons unknown and unquestioned). They engage in laps and Annette does not seem immune to his flirtations, but when he moves in for a kiss she coolly pulls away and wonders just how stupid he thinks she is. He's the one left stunned.

He wonders whose alerted her to his untrustworthiness and jumps to the broad conclusion that it must be Greg, a student he knows who hails from Kansas, like Annette does. I know it's a small world, but as far as deductive reasoning goes, that seems to be straining things a bit . . . Certain that he's right, Sebastian has Blaine, a gay friend, seduce Greg, comes in and takes pictures when they're in flagrante delicto and blackmails Greg. Greg insists that he never spoke to Annette about Sebastian. Threatening to expose his bisexuality, Sebastian makes Greg find out who did. This extortion plot is stupid on so many levels. First, why does Blaine do Sebastian's bidding so easily? Sebastian pays him, but judging from his surroundings, Blaine doesn't seem to need the money that badly. If he did, why not just blackmail Greg himself and be paid by him, rather than working on Sebastian's behalf? He and Sebastian seem to be occasional companions in ennui, rather than BFFs. So, Blaine didn't act out of loyalty or friendship. Once the set up is complete, it becomes clear that Blaine never thought Greg was the guilty party anyway. So, what was his motive? He said that Greg was good in bed, why gratuitously ruin the relationship, however casual it was?

Secondly, why does it matter who is badmouthing Sebastian to Annette? All Sebastian has to do is work to change her mind or to show her that he's changed -- which is what he ultimately does. Therefore, her initial impression of him is irrelevant, since it's not a static one. In short, the entire threat to expose Greg's homosexuality is pointless and I'm confused as to why it's in the script. This is one of the subplots that was probably better illuminated in the novel or play.

Seeking Annette's confidence, Blaine discovers that the person who actually warned Annette about Sebastian was Cecile's mother, Bunny Caldwell. He passes this tidbit along. Although the news annoys Sebastian, he doesn't seem to act on it. He never says, "I'll sleep with Cecile to get back at Bunny" and there would have been no point in doing so because, again, Cecile was not an easy conquest. She was just easy, period. Knowing him, I think it would have been more interesting if he'd slept with Bunny, as his form of revenge. Yet, revenge doesn't seem to be his purpose. He ends up sleeping with Cecile seemingly for no other reason than that Kathryn repears her earlier request that he do so. This time, he says yes.

Not to be outdone by Sebastian's pointless plot pranks, Kathryn has been indulging in her own. She takes Cecile out, gets her tipsy and french kisses her, for no discernible reason. Sure, the move titilates the audience. Sarah and Selma created a scene that's still talked about today, but to what end? She tells Sebastian she needs him to whet Cecile's burgeoning sexual appetite, so maybe that's what she was doing as well. But there's no need. The overheated Cecile does upside down leg splits right under her male music teacher's nose. Literally. Her sexual appetite needs no whetting or wetting. It's raring to go, already. Furthermore, if Kathryn wants to subject Cecile to social ruin, why involve Sebastian at all. Simply pushing Cecile into the arms of her black music teacher, Ronald, is enough to scandalize Bunny Caldwell and her prejudiced social circle. Upon learning that they are romantically inclined, Bunny exclaims, "but he's so black!" and fires him on the spot. I would think that all Kathryn would have to do was spread the word about Ronald and Cecile on campus and the girl would be shunned by the entire blue-blooded college.

Of course, Kathryn doesn't like to get her hands dirty. She's revered by Bunny Caldwell and their peers. Unlike Sebastian, she's not a social outcast. She says she can't afford to be, because of her sex. That's why she keeps her cocaine concealed in the crucifix around her neck and, fingering it meaningfully, lets everyone know she takes comfort in God in times of stress. For Sebastian tarnishing his image, somehow enhances it. But a woman who sins is judged harshly and permanently. Kathryn takes pains to keep her handiwork hidden, but that only means she could have Sebastian blab the word about Ronald and Cecile rather than doing it herself.

True, Sebastian's callous handling of Cecile contrasts with his sincere feelings for Annette, helping to express the character's gradual metamorphosis. The problem is that Cecile is such a pratfalling caricature that you can't take her scenes seriously. She's not innocent, sympathetic or sensient. She can't add structure or context to any other part of the story.

Consequently, there's no logical reason for Sebastian to sleep with Cecile, but he does, pushing the awkward girl out of bed immediately afterwards. Selma Blair is quite funny in the role of slapstick dunce, but she's involved in comedy so over-the-top that it seems at odds with everyone else's performance. None of the other characters are walking into doors with tongue-lagging and eyes spinning stupidly.

While making time with Cecile, Sebastian is also making inroads on his bet. He's winning over Annette who sees cracks in his bad boy facade. He admits to Kathryn that Annette is also getting to him. Her wants to scoff at her wholesome allure, but can't quite do it. Making kooky faces he can't resist, she melts his sneers into smiles. In turn, she's no longer playing nonchalant herself. Whatever guard she put up has long fled. Sebastian makes his move. She says she's been saving herself for love, but then when it really comes along, she's not ready to act, is she? She's afraid. She accepts his challenge and is soon inviting him into her bed. He's the one who runs.

Back at home, Kathryn taunts him. His car will soon be hers, because Annette turned him down, didn't she? No, he informs her. It's just the opposite. Kathryn declares that that's even worse, if Annette was ready to sleep with him, but he couldn't close the deal. This is where I'd like insight. How does Kathryn really feel about this? Is she jealous because Sebastian's genuine feelings for Annette are deeper than his lust for Kathryn ever was. Kathryn has said that while it's easy enough to compromise herself and snag men, she inevitably loses them to ignorant and innocent girls like Cecile. Does she view Sebastian as another loss? Is she hurt? Is she mad? Or is she simply as amused by the exploits of others as ever? Does she want Sebastian back as her partner in crime or is she content to watch the lovesick fool hang himself? It's hard to tell, but she clearly takes delight in informing him that Annette has packed her things and left the home of Sebastian's aunt.

Sebastian runs after her, pulls her into his arms and they are soon sharing a night of tender passion in the film's most compelling scenes. Phillippe and Witherspoon were married the year this movie came out and it's not hard to imagine that Annette and Sebastian's believable intimacy sprang from real life emotion.

The morning after, Sebastian is still on cloud nine. So he bedded, Annette? Kathryn expects him to collect on his bet. Has he come to her to make "arrangements." Sebastian tells her he's no longer interested in anything she has to offer. She's not ostensibly angry or hurt, but orders him to break it off with Annette or she'll tell her about their bet. I don't know enough about her character to decide if she's doing this to keep Sebastian for herself or just for sport?

Of course, it doesn't matter. Sebastian could tell Annette the truth, since she suspected he was out to hang another notch on his belt in the first place. That shouldn't come as a real surprise to her. He can say that that started as his goal, but then he really fell for her and she should believe it. The forced break up is the largest plot device in a script that's full of them. Sebastian tells Annette that he doesn't love her, but since he's crying the entire time, it's hard to fathom why she believes him. Blackguards don't weep, generally. Despite this one's sobs, although Annette initially thought he was kidding about not loving her, she soon accepts it as true and orders him out of her life.

Distraught, he belatedly wants to explain everything to her, but she avoids him. He then leaves her his journal, so she can read everything herself and, hopefully, forgive him.

Realizing that Sebastian is not returning to their wicked fold, Kathryn calls Ronald (who happens to be a former liaison of her own) who is now paired with Cecile and asks him to come over. He declines and she falsely (and tearfully) claims that Sebastian has hit her. It's urgent that she see Ronald and -- it's related to Cecile. Though she says no more than that, Ronald concludes that Sebastian has slept with Cecile and runs off. Of course, the plot's persistent situations premised on failed reputations make it clear that the movie is based on a much older story, created in a bygone age when one romantic indiscretion could result in a lifetime of exile. Otherwise, it would make no sense for Ronald to rush off in a rage when he doesn't know when Sebastian slept with Cecile (before or after she and Ronald became a couple) or if he did it for improper reasons. There's really nothing, under today's standards, for Ronald to be that mad about.

We get a stony stare from Kathryn, but unless I know what she wanted, I can't tell what she's lost: the game, her pawn, her soul mate? If her feelings are conflicted, then let us see them clash. Don't just leave us with her silence.

A rejected Sebastian is leaving Annette's. She's reading his journal, taking in the unvarnished truth and considering forgiveness. Ronald is on his way to hear Kathryn's full accusations against her stepbrother. These worlds collide on a busy street. Ronald sees Sebastian, lunges at him. Sebastian is unexpectedly getting in a few good punches of his own. I didn't know they taught fisticuffs in prep school. Annette screams at them to stop fighting and tries to intervene. She's knocked into the street. Sebastian lunges to save her and, in pushing her away from an oncoming car, he's hit himself. "I love you" he whispers to Annette who holds his broken frame. "I love you too."

I flashback to the wheelchair we saw him in earlier, during the indoor pool scene. I think it foreshadowed the fact that he ends up paralyzed and can hardly believe it when it turns out he's dead. Really dead. I keep waiting for a twist, perhaps this is a trick to indict Kathryn, but it turns out the funeral everyone is attending is the genuine article.

As the mourners assemble, we find Kathryn in the restroom, having just snorted a line of cocaine from her crucifix necklace. Annette surprises her by emerging from a stall and wondering if she's all right. Patting the cross, Kathryn says she's relying on God during this difficult time. Did Annette know Sebastian, Kathryn asks? You could say that. Left alone, Kathryn just tidies herself. We don't know if she's feeling guilt, grief or satisfaction at Sebastian's passing. She enters the gathering and takes the pulpit to eulogize Sebastian when suddenly there's rustling and snickering, then everyone runs outside. Furious, Kathryn rails at their rudeness then joins them outside to find out what's going on. It turns out that everyone is (speed)reading a copy of Sebastian's journal. Annette has xeroxed and distributed hundreds of them. Even Kathryn's parents have them and now know everything that Kathryn has done, as she and her dastardly deeds take center stage in the diary's illustrated pages. Her stepfather verifies the truth of Sebastian's writings by grabbing the cross from around Kathryn's neck and finding the cocaine inside, just where Sebastian said it was. We leave Kathryn to her humiliation.

We next see a carefree Annette driving down the highway in Sebastian's prized car, wind in her hair, sunglasses on. Sebastian's leather bound journal rests in the back seat, a satisfied smile on her face and all her memories of him in her heart, we know that Kathryn's lost the bet once and for all.

I don't know what to feel here. Although, they had nice scenes, the movie was too vacuous to take Annette and Sebastian's "love" seriously. He was just as heartless as Kathryn and hadn't been converted long enough for me to mourn his death. As part of a black comedy, the ending wasn't particularly humourous and since Kathryn's feelings were largely shielded from us, her comeuppance wasn't as triumphant as it could have been or, as long-lived, since we quickly cut away from the funeral while everyone's reaction to her exposure was still occurring.

The movie delivered on some smirks and sexual posing, but hardly much else. The intentions seemed less cruel than kooky. Sebastian and Kathryn really aren't apathetic enough for this to be a study on the devoid detachment of monied youth. They're pretty easily flustered to be as jaded as the story would suggest. Presenting languid indifference as a lifestyle is a great way to condemn the wealthy, but that's not what we get. Even the way penetrable Sebastian conceded to Kathryn, much less Annette, suggested that he was never a true sociopath to begin with. Kathryn might have been one, but we didn't see enough of her to tell. Phillippe and Gellar are good together, so we should have been given more of their complicated story and less of the facile Annette/Sebastian relationship. At one point Kathryn remarks that Sebastian doesn't love her anymore and I'd never know he had or that she thought he had. Presented with a stronger motive for her actions, her sense of having been scorned and abandoned, they would have resonated more with the audience. As it is, her desultory meddling gave me little to sink my teeth in. Fill her with anger, ice or misguided pain, but not ambivalence.

I think the film's remembered most for Sarah Michelle Gellar having played so far against type and, maybe because I'd heard about that going in, I was waiting for an acting turn or tour de force that never materialized. It was fun to watch the four leads in this piece work, but only because in the 14 years since this movie was released they've all turned in much finer and fuller performances elsewhere. Even so, it was entertaining to see them nearer the beginning of their careers. Maybe if I'd witnessed this then, it would have left a more indelible impression than it can in retrospect.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Iron Man 3 (2013)

While not awful by any definition, this installment just seemed useless. It didn't add anything to the series in terms of plot, special effects or acting and while Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley seem intriguing as villains on paper, the irony that they played nerdy and stoner losers, respectively, is somewhat of a one joke pony. If either had brought real menace to their character, it would have been more interesting.

It's been established that Tony Stark could already jump into an Iron Man suit on the fly, literally. Now, he has perfected the technology to the point where the suit actually flies to him. Hand, leg, and face armor parts travel from wherever they are, soaring through the air at Tony's command (he communicates by earpiece with Jarvis, the robot control system, which puts Siri to abject shame) and latching onto his body -- or anyone else's if he so orders.

Alternatively, Tony can remotely control an entire suit. No human even has to be inside of it. So, he can protect and attack from a distance, as long as he has access to Jarvis.

When the movie opens he and Pepper are now living together. He's embraced monogamy. Their main relationship problems stem with his obsession with his iron suits. After the Avengers events and the destruction in New York (they have now moved to Malibu) Tony has become even more neurotic. He has anxiety attacks remembering the defeats of the past and suffers from acute sleep deprivation which bring a dangerous edge to his genius experiments. His brilliance is not compromised, but his judgment is.

We flashback to New Year's Eve 1999 where he had a one night stand with a scientist, Maya, who created plants that could regenerate themselves, sprouting new stems via a white hot firing process. Tony thought the "botany" was cute, but was more interested in the lovemaking. Meanwhile, an outcast inventor, Aldrich Killian, waits to meet with Tony. Tony humors him, takes his business card, but then stands him up. Some time after that, we learn that Killian and Maya found each other. Two great tastes that taste deadly together. Killian has learned to apply Maya's plant regeneration process to humans. They grow new limbs, which not only possess inhuman strength, but wield excessive heat that not only burns, but eventually explodes everything they touch. While the regeneration seems to turn once-decent people into killing machines, it's not clear why this happens. Killian has also refined the ability to project a person's brain as a 3-D image, a hologram. If you pinch his arm, you can actually see his brain react. A trick her performs for Pepper. So, he's engaging in some form of mind control with his regenerated minions, but that parts not clear. Later when he kidnaps Pepper, someone upon whom he once had a crush, he subjects her to the regeneration process. It sets her limbs afire, but doesn't make her a murderous robot as it does the others. I'm not quite sure why that is, except for the fact that the process was incomplete and Pepper was rescued while she was still in Phase I.

It's silly any way you slice it. No one wants to lose an arm or a leg, but prosthetics have improved to such an extent (look at Oscar Pistorius' races) that you don't have to submit to evil to regain your physical abilities. That's why one scene where we realize that the Vice President of the United States is a Killian ally because his wheelchair-bound granddaughter needs a new leg is absolutely ludicrous. This is not Heidi's cousin Clara. Amputees are no longer "cripples". No VP has to destroy the world just so his granddaughter can walk again. Do you hear that Joe Biden?

The illogical plot unfolds when Killian's deranged robots attack Tony's best friend Happy Hogan outside of Grauman's chinese theater. Happy was suspicious of Killian's visit to Pepper at Stark Headquarters, but Tony ignored his concerns. Hogan ends up in a coma and Grauman's is destroyed, causing an angry Tony to give a press conference vowing revenge. He gives out his home address in a "come and get me" challenge. Killian obliges and disintegrates Stark's Malibu home before Pepper can get them moved out. This is the only superhero franchise where the protagonist's own home is repeatedly destroyed in scenes that last forever. They could make a 2-hour montage movie just from the battles that take place in Tony's lair. In this latest Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Stark saves Pepper (and Maya) and then goes on the run to Tennessee. He is presumed dead, but lets Pepper know he is safe, before using the anonymity that "death" brings him to catch Killian offguard and bring him down.

Of course, there's a hitch in this plan when Killian (with Maya's help) captures Pepper.

After that, there's more fighting and fire than story. Some suspense is generated by the fact that the Iron Man suit (and Jarvis) ran out of electrical power and need to be repowered, leaving Tony rather defenseless in the interim. Tony hides Jarvis in the garage of a boy scientist who helps power the weakened Jarvis back up and Tony must skulk around Tennessee without his armor, using his wits and Macgyver-like improvisational skills to avoid Killian's automatons instead.

But once the suit is back online, it's on. Between Tony's armor and his friend Colonel James Rhodes' the iron man suits fly them all over the globe, to Killian's hide out, to Air Force One and Washington, D.C. Finally, Jarvis calls in back up (all the extra iron man suits stored in the basement of the razed Malibu home). They fly from California to the scene and help Iron Man and Colonel Rhodes defeat Killian and restore order to the world.

Although, Pepper had fire coursing through her body and superhuman strength due to the excruciating injections that Killian subjected her to, Tony is able to reverse the process and she becomes normal again, inspiring him to want to do the same. He gives Jarvis the order to self-destruct all of the Iron Man suits. He throws the disc shaped generator that causes his heart to pump, into the Pacific ocean (in a manner some have called environmentally unsound)and perfects a simpler pacemaker. While Pepper has indicated that this return to basics is what she wants, I'm not sure why. Tony has not just saved her life with his Iron Man suits, but they protected the president and the world as well. Yeah, so they occasionally short circuit and wake her up in the middle of the night, but that's a small price to pay for world peace, I would think.

As Tony walks away from his discarded armor he says he doesn't need it because, "I am Iron Man." Well, ok, but you can't fly. You aren't indestructible. You have a panic attack that leaves you crouching in the fetal position every time someone mentions New York City. When it comes to saving the universe, I'd rather have the suit back. I'm just not sure how the two hours that preceded the movie's "back to nature" message actually corroborate it.

While the idea of magical, omnipotent suits flying to your rescue and playing offense even when unmanned is an enticing one, it actually works to anti-climatic effect in a story. We all know the superhero will prevail in the end, but we want it to be a good fight. All of these invincible Iron Man suits rather deplete the story's sense of challenge. Maybe that's why they were ultimately destroyed, to send Tony back to a more vulnerable, underdog state for the next sequel.

This go round, if you want to see RDJ play an erudite, but dissolute prodigy, whose brain is both manic and dazzling, reciting humorous lines with glib nonchalance, rent one of the Sherlock Holmes films. Your imagination would be better served.