Star Trek: Into Darkness: written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof; based on characters created by Gene Roddenberry, Carey Wilber, Gene L. Coon, Harve Bennett, Jack B. Sowards, Samuel A. Peeples, Nicholas Meyer, and Ramon Sanchez; directed by J.J. Abrams; starring Chris Pine (Captain Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Mr. Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Karl Urban (McCoy), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), Bruce Greenwood (Pike), Peter Weller (Admiral Marcus), Alice Eve (Carol Marcus) and Benedict Cumberbatch (John Harrison) (2013): The second Trek film from J.J. Abrams and company plays better on second viewing, I think. It’s still too action-packed for its own good, and it needed to create new scenes rather than re-mixing old ones, but its heart seems to be in the right place. Though the redesigned Klingons really seem to be heavily into piercings. Recommended.
Cloverfield: written by Drew Goddard; directed by Matt Reeves; starring Lizzy Caplan (Marlena Diamond), Jessica Lucas (Lily Ford), T.J. Miller (Hud), Michael Stahl-David (Rob Hawkins), Mike Vogel (Jason Hawkins) and Odette Annable (Beth) (2008): I’m not entirely certain why I enjoy this movie so much. I think I just like seeing annoying yuppies pursued through Manhattan by a 500 foot-long gecko.
I do think viewers who thought the annoying nature of the protagonists was accidental miss the point of the whole film: these are some of the annoying, self-absorbed New Yorkers whose actions would contribute to the financial meltdown several months after Cloverfield was released. Hell, the movie’s prescient! The handheld camerawork throughout makes this the only giant monster movie I can think of which is overwhelmingly claustrophobic rather than spacious and sublime, especially in a great scene in which giant shrimp-spiders pursue the protagonists down a dark subway tunnel. Recommended.
Argo: adapted by Chris Terrio from work by Tony Mendez and Joshuah Bearman; directed by Ben Affleck; starring Ben Affleck (Tony Mendez), Bryan Cranston (Jack O’Donnell), Alan Arkin (Lester Siegel), John Goodman (John Chambers), and Victor Garber (Ken Taylor) (2012): In 1979, the Canadian embassy in Iran secretly sheltered six American diplomats who’d escaped the hostage-taking of the rest of the American embassy staff by Iranian militants. It was a wild true story, told in Best-Picture-Oscar winner Argo as a thriller in which Americans are actually almost completely behind the escape of those escapees from Iran.
OK, historical inaccuracies and omissions make Argo only slightly more fact-based than your average Aliens Invented Thanksgiving documentary on The History Channel. And I think backing off a bit on some of the thrillery additions and alterations to the real story might have made this feel a bit less contrived and Hollywoodesque.
Absolutely none of the tense moments of the last 40 minutes of the film, as CIA agent Affleck rushes to get the six American diplomats hidden at Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor’s residence onto a plane and out of Iran before their cover is blown, really happened. By the time Iranians race to catch an ascending plane with their cars and jeeps, the artificiality of the whole exercise seems to mirror the bizarre artificiality of the central premise of the escape plan: that the six diplomats pretend to be part of a film crew scouting Iran for locations for a science-fiction film named Argo.
Well, so it goes. Canada at least comes across better than New Zealand and Great Britain. Argo claims they refused to help the escaped embassy staff when in reality Canada, Great Britain, and New Zealand all took part in the dangerous months-long ordeal — to the extent that in real life, New Zealand diplomats, and not Ben Affleck, drove the escapees to the airport during the events that conclude the film. And Jimmy Carter didn’t have to authorize the purchase of airplane tickets in the nick of time, as the movie shows — Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor’s wife had already bought those tickets. Oh, well. I was entertained! Recommended.