Star Trek: Into Darkness
JJ Abrams (the TV series Lost, Super 8) did a magnificent job to revive the Star Trek franchise with his 2009 film Star Trek, and with Into Darkness he has created a film that defies the rules of sequel making. While the scale of the movie is markedly grander than the first, this has not been at the expense of developing a richly human drama. The presence of Benedict Cumberbatch (of the UK TV series Sherlock) as the rogue Starfleet officer John Harrison gives Into Darkness an added fillip, for not only does the actor prove once again an electrifying screen presence, but Abrams manages to shroud this character in mystery, making him much more than your typical sci-fi villain. Unlike many Hollywood re-boots of old properties, Into Darkness abjures self-referential snarkiness and opts for a vibrant pop romanticism, opening the franchise up to audiences outside Trekkie fandom.
With its two leading ladies both glittering with Oscar-luster, this workmanlike exploitation flick provides enough thrills and shocks for a joyful Friday night movie experience. Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball among many others) and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) provide solid performances, Breslin as the victim of a crazed killer and Berry as a veteran emergency telephone operator who gets a frantic call for help. Directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist), The Call is at once shamelessly transparent, manipulative, and far-fetched, and also impossibly suspenseful. Anderson borrows from the arsenal of well-honed suspense devices, and the MO of the psycho killer owes much to the much superior The Silence of the Lambs, but he manages to make The Call fresh enough to hit you at a visceral level.
The story of legendary explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s epic crossing of the Pacific on a balsa wood raft in 1947, Kon Tiki is a rousing Hollywood adventure movie that is well made, well acted, and well written, but may be just a little bit too exciting for its own good. Directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg and starring Pal Sverre Hagen as Heyerdahl, Kon Tiki maintains a high level of excitement throughout, starting with the maritime mechanics of the expedition, and building as the journey takes the explorers to the limits of human endurance. What seems to be lacking is an insight into the egotistical drive that would make someone embark on such a journey in the first place, but this failing is easily forgotten in the sheer old-school excitement of the adventure.
The Numbers Station
A standard issue spy thriller in which a former black ops agent (John Cusack) and a female staffer (Malin Akerman) find themselves fighting for survival after a secret broadcasting station that sends out coded messages to agents around the world is compromised. An interesting idea quickly degenerates as director Kasper Barfoed defaults to intense replays of surveillance audio recordings, frantic strokes on computer keyboards, and standard-issue chases to build up tension. Lots of dimly lit action in a concrete bunker doesn’t help, and while the two stars are perfectly adequate, the material does not give them much scope to shine.
The Last Exorcism Part 2
For those with no particular investment in Satanism and the genre of supernatural thriller/horror films that have grown up around it, there is really no excuse for a film like The Last Exorcism Part 2. The first film, about a troubled evangelical minister who agrees to let his last exorcism be filmed by a documentary crew, had its moments of originality with its exploitation of voyeuristic titillation and some ambiguity about whether anything supernatural was actually going on. The sequel settles simply for getting an eyeful of Ashley Bell looking frightened in a state of undress. Director Ed Gass-Donnelly displays admirable restraint in his general eschewing of gratuitous gore, quick editing and flashy visuals, so even those looking for a few harmless thrills will be disappointed.