Friday Flicks: Star Trek Into Darkness Boldly Goes Where No Film Has Gone Before

TIME breaks down which films to see and which to avoid this weekend.

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Paramount Pictures / Skydance Productions

"Star Trek Into Darkness"

Star Trek Into Darkness

Though he’d already established himself as a name to watch in television terms, as the creator of Lost and Alias, it’s only since J.J. Abrams stepped up to making movies that he’s been anointed by some as the next Steven Spielberg. But while his work on Mission: Impossible III and, to a far greater extent, Super 8, has been praised, it’s surely the 2009 reboot of Star Trek that thrust him into the premier league of directors.

Abrams’ fun, action-packed take on Gene Roddenberry’s original 1960s vision (which had already inspired countless spin-off series and films) grossed nearly $400 million worldwide, which is why expectations are just as high the second time around for Abrams and his crew.

His cast is all back – including Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto playing Spock and Karl Urban as Bones – but this big screen version of Trek (the 12th!) gets a serious upgrade in the bad guy department with Britain’s Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison. He’s a cold and calculating terrorist who sets off a bomb at a Starfleet archive in 23rd century England. Revenge is on the mind of Kirk, who is able to forgo a fair trial and try to track him down. Coming to the movies just weeks after the events of the Boston Marathon bombing, and the subsequent manhunt for the suspects, the instruction to, “run this bastard down,” has an eerie resonance.

Once again, the critics are mainly of the opinion that what Abrams has created should live long and prosper. And the supposed theory surrounding Trek movies – that the even-numbered ones are better than the odd – is holding up too. “Abrams has a gift for making us feel as if Star Trek Into Darkness vaulted from our own Trek-ish daydreams,” notes New York magazine. “In some sense, the title is misleading. Into Darkness is a blast, fun, funny, spectacular and exhilarating,” concludes Empire. And the Guardian reserves special praise for Cumberbatch: “As the supervillain, in closeup, Cumberbatch really … does a lot of impassive and charismatic gazing, indicative of infinitesimally amused unconcern. With that expression of his, he is in danger of becoming the Joseph Fiennes of his generation.” But the bad guy, when it comes to delivering a negative review, must be the New York Post’s Lou Lumenick, who snaps that “the only darkness here – besides the dingy-looking images dimmed by 3-D glasses – is the murky plot, which is as silly as it is arbitrary.”

CORLISS ON STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS: The Young and the Reckless

Frances Ha

A low-budget, black-and-white production set in New York: Could Noah Baumbach be channeling Woody Allen’s Manhattan any harder if he tried?

Admittedly, that’s a simplistic reading of Frances Ha but it’s easy enough to draw comparisons (and don’t get us started on all those French New Wave comparisons. Perhaps the movie should have been titled France’s Ha?) But instead of Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall, we find ourselves confronted with Greta Gerwig’s eponymous character. Gerwig has plenty riding on Frances Ha, considering that she co-wrote the movie with Baumbach, who also happens to be her off-screen partner.

And as with so much of Allen’s work, New York is more than just a location but a place to explore weighty topics such as friendship, class, ambition, failure, and redemption (and ballet dancing). “What do you do?” Frances is asked at a dinner party, who replies “It’s kind of hard to explain.” “Because what you do is complicated?” comes the retort. “Because I don’t really do it,” she fires back. But what Gerwig does do is put herself firmly at the heart of the picture. She (as well as the film) seems to have captured something pretty special, if we go by critical reaction, which has been stellar. Variety is so smitten by her that much of its review is devoted to the 29-year-old. The opening words are “You gotta love Greta Gerwig,” and the final sentence is, “Where other performers act, Gerwig manages to just be, making her precisely the right young star to carry such a genial glimpse at a character who doesn’t even seem to realize she’s trying to find herself.”

The Hollywood Reporter is similarly charmed, pointing out that “This is unquestionably Gerwig’s defining performance to date.” The New Yorker manages to praise Baumbach, Gerwig and the film, noting that “Frances is an artist whose medium is life itself, and Baumbach, his camera open with calm adoration, channels her waves of wonder and possibility.” And New York magazine, though able to offer a little criticism – “Baumbach has a hard time letting go of the notion that drama means building to humiliation” – still has to concede that “When he does, though, Frances Ha is beautiful and surprising.”

GRETA GERWIG ON FRANCES HA: “I Feel Like an Adult”
NewsFeed’s Flicks Pick: Two solid choices this week, with Star Trek Into Darkness clearly going to score big at the box office. But if a screen near you is showing Frances Ha, it doesn’t look like it will let you down.

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