Thoughts On “Star Trek: Into Darkness” and Character Humanization

When I saw Into Darkness about a month ago, I expected I’d enjoy something else less by this point in the summer. But, due to my failure to see some of the summer’s larger “disappointments” (again, I haven’t seen them,) Into Darkness remains my summer bummer.

 

To be blunt, large parts of the movie are still pretty cool. Aside from the moments where Dan Mindel properly conveys thematic statements through cinematography, it’s the parts where characters just talk to each other. Whether comedic or dramatic, it’s usually very, very engaging. The characters that receive focused are well executed and generally well acted. They’re snippy, funny, and have fantastic chemistry, and they’re occasionally capable of engendering some real pathos.

 

Shining amongst the examples is an early scene where Kirk winds up in a long elevator ride with Uhura. They’re about to set off on their primary mission for the film; Uhura, off-handedly, asks the captain if everything’s all right; everyone else thinks he looks kind of exhausted. Even before the tragic events that lead to the mission they’re embarking upon, Kirk was drinking himself into a stupor; Kirk has since been “put upon,” to underemphasize things. He says he’s fine.

 

Then, he doubles back to say “no, I’m not okay.” He explains that one of his beloved crew has quit and that he’s full of self-doubt and grief and has no idea what he’s doing; we’re witnessing the makings of an anxiety attack or depressive breakdown. It’s a fascinating moment in a film thus far bereft of these deeply emotional scenes. To top it all off, Kirk is arguing with Spock, who Uhura is dating at the time. She vaguely implies that she and Spock aren’t exactly sailing smoothly either. Kirk takes this as a moment for his own bravado, joking about the idea of having a lovers’ spat with Spock.

 

This is the last we will see of Kirk’s self-esteem issues, grieving, or anxiety. In fact, apart from a follow-up conversation in regards to Spock’s fight with Uhura, this is the last deep angst we’ll see out of any of our characters that doesn’t come in the form of a right hook.  Somewhere, a writer had a pathological arc for Kirk to become the bold captain we know him to be, but all traces of it but this one scene are struck from the script.

 

On the one hand, I want to congratulate them for even including a hint of that level of complexity; on the other, I chastise them for not making the more interesting film. What’s even left to beg for? Apparently, Iron Man 3 offers multiple nervous breakdowns that don’t facilitate the plot, and The Dark Knight Rises gave Christian Bale more screentime with a broken back than he got wearing a cowl. Prometheus, a film filled with ambition, made its budget back more than threefold. An ambitious, cerebral, empathetic megahit is entirely possible.

 

It’s not like J.J. Abrams is incapable of making something with heart; Super 8 is a perfect example of his repartee on full steam, without a massive budget to bog him down. And when Into Darkness abandons its more seriously interesting character arcs, it becomes a lot harder to forgive the empty plot, ridiculous fanservice, marginalization of all non Kirk/Spock/Cumberbatch characters, boring action, and truly awful ending. Delving into that stuff would require seeing the movie, and, unfortunately, I don’t plan to make that happen any time soon.

I’ll leave on a hopeful note, though. A similar note of humanity come in an early scene in which Spock accepts his oncoming (and subverted) demise. The score and cinematography aspire to the same heights Prometheus achieved last year. These short bursts of pure empathetic filmmaking reminded me of what the Star Trek film series can be; hopefully, with the somewhat unremarkable performance of Into Darkness domestically, a scaled back budget will force the Abrams understudy who takes over to really study what truly works about these first two films.

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Bangarang Review: Re-evaluation

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BANGARANG
Skrillex
2011
Big Beat, Atlantic
Prod. by Skrillex et. al
 
Full disclosure; I’ve reviewed Bangarang before. At the time, I focused on its song-by-song merits, and I found a lot of the album uncreative, too similar to what Skrillex had done before. But time has passed, and many of the songs I so despised on Bangarang are songs I warmed to over time. It was one of my earliest reviews, and I felt it was time for a re-evaluation.
 
The last time I listened to “Right In” must have been almost a year and a half ago; playing it again, it’s one of Skrillex’s absolute successes, with some fantastic synth details and vocal snippets. The dubstep movement (of which Skrillex is simultaneously described as the leader and the Antichrist) didn’t dominate pop music for more than a year or so, and so over-exposure to his style clouds the record less. It’s apparent that Skrillex’s real successes were generally in his contrast of wobble-bass and his treble synthesizers and vocal snippets, not in his (un)willingness to break from 4/4 or his use of the dubstep format.
 
Genre classifications are usually damaging this way; in trying to evaluate Skrillex for what he had done in the past and for his genre’s focuses, it’s easy to ignore a lot of what makes the album compelling. Rather than discuss whether Bangarang is “true dubstep” or “brostep” or “electro,” or worry whether “EDM” is actually dance music, or whatever, I’m gonna establish the term “electronica” for all music mostly focusing on synthesizers.

And, in that regard, Skrillex brings some real fire to Bangarang. “Breakn’ A Sweat” is a fun, simple track invoking high-energy Doors songs (albeit with samples from “Light My Fire”) and “The Devil’s Den” brings back the darker melodic elements of Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. He combines rapper Sirah with the frenzy of “Bangarang” to fantastic fervor.

 
Some things don’t work quite so well, though; “Right On Time,” while a really cool experiment, runs about a minute longer than it needs to, with a build-up running through to its close that ultimately falls flat. “Kyoto” uses Sirah less effectively than its predecessor, and it’s musically pretty boring. The metal power chords on the same song are  cheesy, though they lead to a pretty good ending breakdown. And “The Summit,” a very pretty omen of Avicii’s eventual radio domination and collaboration with then-girlfriend Ellie Goulding, is overlong, running out of steam a good two minutes before its close.
 
Still, it’s shocking how much of the album still holds up in a modern context. I wouldn’t call it “cohesive” (the first four songs match with each other in a way the last three don’t) but it’s a sonic playground all the way through. Whether Skrillex was the Brutus of the dubstep movement or it’s taking a short slumber, he delivered a pretty slick dance record in Bangarang, and one that will likely stand as a decent reminder of why we all listened to this stuff in the first place.
 
4/5
HIGHLIGHTS: “Right In,” “Bangarang” (ft. Sirah), 
MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: “Kyoto,” “The Summit (ft. Ellie Goulding)”
CATALOG CHOICE: Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites
NEXT STOP: Disclosure, “Settle”
AFTER THAT: Susumu Hirawasa, “Paprika OST”
 
Curious about the score? Check out Alex’s page on the subject.
 

Reviews and Scoring

My review system is…a little weird. I really have issues with most scores; they don’t give as much information as most people would like, and they allow for too much gradation for perfectly awful stuff. Scores themselves are often frustrating, but they let me express my general feeling about the album/song/movie/video game/book/pizza despite my mood at the time I write the review. Still, I prefer something a little tighter-knit that has more outlined purposes, and I think it’d be good to share it as a post before I write any “reviews.”

 

My scoring system operates on a simple 1-5 scale, with no half-points, few exceptions, and some pretty basic descriptors. It’s also often a lot harder than what most review sites use, and is based less on “recommendations” and more on my personal evaluation. There’s a lot of gradation even within each score, so the text will always be more informative that the score. Here’s ROUGHLY what each means.

 

5 – A must-experience piece without compromise, either due to incredible ambition or quality. The kind of thing you should expect to see on a best-ever list, even if it’s never as high on the list as you think it should be. 5’s are a rare score, and so I haven’t necessarily given enough fives to give my own examples. Common album examples include Rumours, Thriller, The College Dropout.  Common movies would be Pulp Fiction, All The President’s Men, or Manhattan. And common games would be Uncharted 2, Shadow of the Colossus, or Journey.

 

4 – A quality experience that I think of highly. Though there might be bad songs, frustrating scenes, or a lack of cohesiveness, it’s absolutely commendable; there’s a good chance it’ll be one of the “best of the year.” I gave this score to Frank Ocean’s channel orange, Kendrick Lamar’s good kid m.A.A.d. city, Silver Linings Playbook, and The Secret of Monkey Island.

 

3 – A decent effort. It might be a disappointment, or it might be better than what you expected. “Genre fans” will maybe find it commendable, but in the general scheme, it’s kind of unremarkable. I gave this score to Lamb of God’s 2012 album, Gangster Squad, Sukiyaki Western Django, and Temple Run 2.

 

2 – Uninteresting. It’s usually not totally unpleasant. It’s either a failure to deliver on ambition or a complete lack of ambition whatsoever. At best, this score represents a failed experiment; at worst, it represents something totally polished and totally boring. I gave this score to Maroon 5’s “Overexposed,” Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, The Adjustment Bureau, and Half-Inch Heist.

 

1 – On fire. It’s something absolutely without merit. Very, very occasionally, this kind of thing might be “so bad it’s good” (a phenomenon for another day) but it’s really more about being totally dull. I’ve never given one. Examples include Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake” and the film “About Cherry.”

 

I hope that serves as a moderately decent guide to start with. I’ll be writing reviews soon, so this’ll help people understand better. And, of course, some things might read like reviews but not carry a score, and my opinions on a piece may change over time even if the text never does.

The New Site

Hey, guys. This one’s a bit business-y, but I’m planning on writing something more interesting tonight.

I decided I wanted to consolidate all of my writing to one website; one that would be easier to find, more suited to my cross-media and personal editorials. I don’t plan on bringing over all of my old writing from Giant Bomb, Screened, or my Blogger profile, though I might bring over some of the ones that occur to me as still-relevant.

When I decided I wanted to start a more general blog site, I was between two choices; Tumblr and WordPress. After doing a little research, I decided to go with WordPress for a few reasons:

1) Tumblr seems less suited to long-form blogging. While I’ve certainly seen some four-paragraph posts hit high traffic on Tumblr (with lots of sharing,) some of what I write will probably be a lot longer than that.

2) For the most part, I plan to post text and maybe some video. Both of those things seem pretty feasible here on WordPress; if I was focusing on images, Tumblr would be more appropriate.

3) I’m able to buy my own domain here on WordPress rather than just existing as a submdomain. For the less tech-savvy out there, that means I can own “alexlovendahl.com” rather than posting to “alexlovendahl.tumblr.com.”

There are some downsides; Tumblr obviously has higher traffic than WordPress, and some people who might support me on Tumblr won’t see my blog here on WordPress. But I have my Twitter, and I’ll be making a Tumblr for sharing as well.

Anyways, I hope you like the new site. I’m hoping paying for a domain will motivate me to write more. Here’s to the future.