Movies, Best: It's a no brainer. Star Trek, a movie franchise thought to be left for dead after the fiasco that was Star Trek Nemisis and the atrocious TV show prequel Star Trek Enterprise rises from the ashes to provide the film to beat this summer at the movies. All the actors excel, notably Chris Pine capturing the swagger and charm of Captain Kirk, Eric Bana as Nero the Romulan villain with an ax to grind against the Federation, Simon Pegg is a gut buster as Montgomery Scott; but the scene stealer is Zackery Quinto as Spock. From the pointy ears right down to the first officer's actions, he scores every scene he's in. But the real credit goes to director J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible 3) for injecting explosive action, humor and heart into a franchise who's best days (The Wrath of Khan, First Contact) seemed long behind them.
*** 1/2 stars our of ****
Up: Let's get to the obvious - the wizards at Pixar are to movies and animation what Radiohead is to rock-and-roll, and music in general: neither have put out a godawful piece of shit; even the weaker works (A Bug's Life, Cars, and Monsters Inc. for Pixar; Amnesiac and Pablo Honey for the Oxford quintet) stand alone as a unique work of art. Does Up stand with works like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and last year's WALL-E? Hard to tell. But Up is one of the funniest - and most poignant works the animation company has made. You can feel the love between Carl (a superb Ed Asner) and his sweetheart Elle even from the time they first met. The opening sequence that takes the lovers from childhood to marriage to Elle's death is a whirlwind of joy and pain and is a study of undying love that has never flamed out. It's one of the most moving scenes in years and is more real than the forced charm tossed out in movies these days (yes, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, i'm talking to you). And the rest of the movie doesn't miss a comic beat.
*** 1/2 stars out of ****
Disappointing, most: X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Talk about a huge let down. What was supposed to be the balls-to-the-wall, sucker-punch kickoff to the summer movie season left me feeling cold and betrayed. Hugh Jackman, back as mutant with the killer claws keeps intact the humor and the badassery status he earned throughout all the X-Men movies, but it's still not enough to overcome a bland script meant to excite, intrigue and tie up all lose ends, which instead confuses (Wolverine and Sabertooth are brothers?!). Wolverine is a clear demonstration of two things: that too much can be a bad thing (see Pirates of the Caribbean, The Matrix, and High School Musical) and as kickass Logan is, he still needs the rest of the X-Men at his side.
** stars our of ****
Surprise, biggest: Spock returns! No, not Quinto. Lenord Nimoy playing Spock in Star Trek. Confused? Don't be. just sit back and be amazed. Not to be outdone, the Governator returns to the screen as the Terminator?! OK, it was a CG Arnold, but it still was cool to watch him throw Christian Bale around like a rag doll in Terminator Salvation.
Performances, best: The cast of Star Trek. Not a weak performance from any of the leads and supporting actors. Everyone from Chris Pine, to Bruce Greenwood as Captain Pike to John Cho (yes, Jon Cho from the Harold and Kumar movies) as Commander Sulu to Winona Ryder (WTF?!) playing Spock's mother, everyone has a chance to shine and everyone is dynamite. Runner-up is also a surprise: Porn queen Sasha Grey as a Manhattan call girl in Steven Soderbergh The Girlfriend Experience. As good as Grey was, it has been reported that the 21 year-old porno actress has plans to keep doing movies and continue to have sex for the camera. Take that, Hannah Montana!
Underrated, highly: Angels and Demons. Lost in the Wolverine, Star Trek and Terminator shuffle is a thrilling, faced-paced sequel to the 2006 blockbuster The DaVinci Code, that never lets up. Director Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks, reprising his role as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon caught a log of flak from the critics last time around: DaVinci was too talkative and too boring and Hank's haircut sucked. This time Hanks ditches the hair-don't and Howard moves at a faster, edgier pace. The plot is a mess (Langdon returns to Rome to stop the Catholic Church's old enemy, the Illuminati, from using the stolen antimatter from blowing Vatican City to Kingdom Come, but the group has infiltrated the walls of the Vatican and everyone is suspect. Huh?), but the action sizzles and the actors are solid, particularly from Ewan McGregor as Father Patrick McKenna. It may be more religious psychobabble, but its still a great time even if Star Trek and Up are sold out at the box office.
*** stars our of ****