When I talked to J.J. Abrams in the spring of 2008, he promised that the "Star Trek" movie would deliver a lot more kick-ass action. He also dug into the roots of the 1960s TV show and reinvented it while reminding us that the original vision by creator Gene Roddenberry is still a viable jumping-off point for both excitement and social commentary.
The "Star Trek" world of international and interplanetary cooperation is still on board the Enterprise. The story actually begins pre- "boldly go where no man has gone before" with Chris Pine, an exciting young actor, in the role of the young James Kirk at the Starfleet academy. Zachary Quinto ("Heroes") plays Spock, the logical half Vulcan instructor, who doesn't like the rash cadet's tactics.
Eventually, they will be thrown together on the Enterprise along with younger versions of "Trek" characters - the miniskirted Uhura (Zo Saldana); grumpy Leonard McCoy, aka Bones (Karl Urban); and fresh-faced officers Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Sulu (John Cho).
They are led by Capt. Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), a character familiar in "Trek" mythology, who faces off against a Romulan psychopath named Nero (Eric Bana). Yes, the franchise was never subtle about where it drew its parallels, but the story here is a clever time-travel puzzle augmented by lively action, good special effects and ultimately what made the original fun - the battle between Spock's logic and Kirk's gut-instinct impulsiveness. Both actors find the spirit of their characters, reminding us of the original actors Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner, while now making them their own. Nimoy makes a cameo in the film, which helps complete the circle.
The Blu-ray DVD set is filled with plenty to keep "Trek" fans happy: commentary by Abrams; news about NASA's real space exploration; a mini-doc on reimagining the original series, casting, special effects, designing the starship, creating aliens and shooting on location; plus deleted
The complaint by many about "Bruno," Sacha Baron Cohen's follow-up to his hit film "Borat," fell into categories - it was too much and we've seen it before.
Like Borat, the Pamela Anderson-lusting journalist from Kazakhstan, Bruno, a gay Austrian fashionista, is another clueless figure.
Cohen's tactic is the same though: Put his obnoxious character out into the American heartland (documentary style) and watch the people squirm. While Borat was misogynistic and anti-Semitic, Bruno is an exhibitionistic media hound. After setting up the premise of the movie (the cancellation of his show in Europe) - and establishing his lifestyle (beware, your threshold to be shocked has to be pretty high), he heads to America, where one outrageous encounter follows another. These include an attempt to become straight with the guidance of a minister, attending a straight swingers party, a cage brawl that turns into a anti-gay melee and getting undressed in a hotel with then presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Cohen's skewering of this country's homophobic tendencies in "Bruno" are revealing without being particularly insightful.
There are moments that are just hilarious, however, and sometimes jaw-dropping.
"My Sister's Keeper," based on a best-selling novel by Jodi Picoult, is a weepie about a teen girl with a grave illness.
Director Nick Cassavetes ("The Notebook") manages to make it more than a tissue-grabber, bringing some honest emotion and realism to the inevitable struggle.
Sara (Cameron Diaz) and Brian (Jason Patric) are the parents of a long-suffering leukemia-stricken Kate (Sofia Vassilieva).
While their oldest, Jesse (Evan Ellingson), is physically fine but a bit adrift, their youngest, Anna (Abigail Breslin), was originally conceived to save the life of her older sister as a bone marrow match.
But as she has gotten older, Anna no longer wants the burden and has hired a lawyer - a terrific Alec Baldwin - to represent her in a suit against her parents so that she can become medically emancipated and not be forced to give up the kidney her sister desperately needs. The implications tear through the family as well as weigh on the judge in the case (a well-cast Joan Cusack).
Is Anna right or is familial and human obligation more important than control of her own body? As the ethical and moral questions are raised the family sticks together - sometimes tenuously - despite Anna's action. Cassavetes traverses this potentially maudlin territory nimbly, sometimes with unexpected humor and by not overplaying his hand.
Diaz, in a role you rarely see her in, is quite good as a mother intent on saving her child at any cost, and Breslin and Vassilieva ("Medium") make tricky roles believable.
Criterion is releasing a remastered version of Michael Ritchie's 1969 "Downhill Racer," a skillful portrait of a star skier David Chappellet, played by Robert Redford. The old cliche about there being no "I" in team doesn't apply to Chappellet, who only cares about winning, although a member of the U.S. squad. It isn't "exactly a team sport," notes one of the other skiers.
In "Downhill Racer," glamour boy Chappellet isn't very admirable, and his selfishness reflects many of today's athletes' attitudes. The Criterion disc includes new interviews with Redford, screenwriter James Salter and film editor Richard Harris as well as audio excerpts from a 1977 American Film Institute seminar with director Ritchie.