I'd give you a rant, but last week's two movies, Star Trek and Automorphosis, didn't really give me anything to rant about.
Two pretty decent flicks.
So rather than waste time and column inches, let's just get to it, shall we?
Flying the Freak Flag
That's a bit judgmental, don't you think? That section title? Especially when it's in reference to a movie about art cars.
What's an art car?
A working automobile pretty much covered in whatever the artist found inspiration.
In the documentary Automorphosis by Harrod Blank, you get to dive deep into the world of art cars. Blank interviews dozens of art car creators about their lives and their work, and in a couple cases, he even comes back to them after what appears to be substantial periods of time.
You'll see cars covered in brass, spoons, pennies, air horns and cigarette butts. You'll see cars made to look like yachts and cathedrals. You'll see cars that look like sharks. Hell, there's even a car that looks (from above looking down on the thing) like the Virgin Mary. It's made out of license plates.
In many ways, it's fascinating stuff, and you're either going to be impressed by the art on display, or you're going to sit around thinking, "Why in the holy hell would someone do that to their car?"
That much, anyway, is addressed in the film. There are what seem to be at least two messages being espoused by Blank in the narrative.
On the one hand, there's a sort of condemnation of living life by the typical set of social mores, of living the stereotypical life. In the terms of the movie, that'd be driving a plain old Ford, Chevy or Honda and working 9 to 5 (though if you can find anyone with a full-time job who gets to work 9 to 5, you'll have to let me know).
Springing out of this, the film also celebrates those who can live their lives not caring about the opinions of others.
Personally, I always respect those people who can do that because it's a rare trait. But I'm not one to criticize someone's way of life if they're happy. You can't be an artist and condemn the lawyer just because you don't like the rat race.
If the lawyer is happy...
But that's probably a personal philosophical difference I have with the film, and not really a commentary on the film itself.
However, the second message of the film I found much more compelling: follow your dreams, no matter what. That, I can totally get behind. Ultimately, that's the thing that hooked me with Automorphosis.
It's not a big-budget doc. Clearly, it's a labor of love for Blank. He's not just an observer of this particular culture, he's a member; at least two of his cars are featured in the film. As such, the doc to me functions less as a commentary on society and more of a document of this aspect of the artist culture in America.
It's charming, quirky as its subjects, and very watchable.
Now, here's the thing. You've got basically one shot to see this thing. It plays Sunday at the Circle at 2pm. Blank will be on hand for a Q&A, and there'll be art cars in the street for you to see. Just another beyond-the-screen event at the Circle.
Make the time and check it out.
When I was growing up, you were either a Star Wars fan or a Star Trek fan, and fans of the latter were infinitely less cool than those of the former.
For one, there were no light sabers in Star Trek.
As a little kid, I couldn't stand watching the original television show because it looked so fake. I didn't like Land of the Lost, either, so don't go thinking Star Trek was getting singled out.
It's not like I didn't watch it at all. As nerdish as the reputation of Star Trek is, we all know who Spock and Capt. James T. Kirk are. We all know about the transporters and the silly sounds their communicators made. We all know all the catchphrases... "Beam me up, Scotty." "Live long and prosper." "Damn it, Jim, I'm a doctor, not an engineer."
Despite all that, the "franchise" has a history of both success and failure. Every Star Trek show (and there have been a lot of them) has been cancelled.
And then there's the largely negative legacy of the Star Trek films. The first two or three I remember being decent (the standout perhaps being Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), but after that... ugh. There was the one film that involved humpback whales, and another that had the crew talking to God.
Things generally didn't improve with the transition to the Next Generation cast as those movies pretty much played like television episodes with bigger budgets.
After the last film, Star Trek: Nemesis, the franchise was pretty much dead. There's been seven years between that movie and the new one. Hell, it's been four years since the last Star Trek show, Enterprise, went off the air. I'm sure the hope there was that that show would make the jump to the big screen.
I wonder where the idea of the total series reboot came from? No, actually, I don't really care. I don't want to know the details. What I know is this: someone managed to make a Star Trek fan out of me in one movie.
I have a hard time giving credit to writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman because they're also the ones who perpetrated the nonsense of Transformers upon us, but they got it right this time.
The best thing I can ever say about a movie is this: I didn't want it to end. That's the magic feeling, that you're enjoying something so much, you wish it would just keep going. From a business standpoint, that's also the magic formula that creates repeat viewings.
The new Star Trek is worth watching twice.
On the surface, Star Trek is an origin movie, just like X-men Origins: Wolverine. Star Trek tells the stories of the original U.S.S. Enterprise crew and how they got to be on the ship. All of them: Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Sulu, Checkov, Uhura and even Capt. Pike (If I'm remembering correctly, he was the Capt. of the Enterprise in the original television series pilot, before being replaced by Shatner).
The story begins with an attack on a Federation ship by a renegade Romulan mining ship just outside of a black hole. On that ship is George and Winona Kirk and a not-quite born James T. Kirk. When the Captain of the ship is killed, George assumes command and buys time for all the shuttles to escape the attack. He dies.
So James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) grows up fatherless in Iowa, angry and rebellious, though apparently a quite gifted youngster.
On planet Vulcan, Spock (Zachary Quinto), the child of a Vulcan and a Human, grows up trying to live the Vulcan standard of repressing any emotions. Also brilliant, he is driven by this standard and his dishonorable heritage to become an overachiever. He, too, is a bit of a rebel and when he comes of age, rather than join the Vulcan Science Academy, Spock joins Starfleet.
Kirk joins as well, but it takes a convincing guilt trip on the part of Capt. Pike (Bruce Greenwood) to tip him over the edge.
After that, there's the bit about the return of the Romulan spaceship, an attack on Vulcan and some other time-traveling tidbits I won't spoil for you.
Here's the brilliant part of the whole thing. This technically isn't a reboot. It's not just an origin story. The writers here came up with a brilliant way to free the franchise from its continuity and history while at the same time still keeping it part of the official canon. Sure, it involves time travel, but again, so do at least two of the other Star Trek films, so it's not like anyone was cheating.
The end result is that doesn't have to be yo momma's Star Trek. It doesn't have to do anything the way the films and shows that came before it did. Again, very clever.
So that said, why was it a good time? Why does it work? Well, good character writing for one. A serious and a comedic side, for another. The film takes itself seriously, but not too seriously. And instead of running from its heritage, it embraces it, taking plenty of time to wink and nod at all that's come before. All the classic lines are here. You see the characters and it's almost like waiting for a new James Bond to utter the classic, "Bond. James Bond."
With apologies to Shatner and Nimoy, I like the new versions of the characters better. That might go for pretty much everyone in the cast, actually.
Furthermore, the production design here has been upped significantly. This new Star Trek is... sexy. The special effects are far and away the best we've seen in any Star Trek film. Everything feels shiny and new.
There just seems to be a life and vibrancy here I don't remember from any other Star Trek movie. It's an improvement in pretty much every way over that which has come before.
Yeah, sure it's still a silly space-faring sci-fi flick loaded up with all kinds of completely implausible technology and plot devices. Who cares? It's a damn good time and I'm planning on seeing it again.
Star Trek. I feel so dirty, and damn it, I hate writing rave reviews about a movie. But it is what it is.
Live long and prosper.
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