Star Trek Beyond

July 26, 2016 by  
Filed under Movies

The third installment of the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise takes the best elements of the 2009 film and leaves out the weakest elements of the 2013 sequel, “Into Darkness”. The series has hit its stride with “Star Trek Beyond”, this time directed by Justin Lin (“The Fast and Furious” series), and packs an entertaining punch while also keeping a comic tone intact.

The screenplay was co-written by Simon Pegg, who plays Montgomery Scott on board the Enterprise. His keen awareness of the importance of the chemistry between the characters is very evident, making this probably the most rewarding experience of the three films so far.

The film begins much like “Into Darkness” did, with Kirk doing everything he can to mess up what seems to be a simple mission. The creatures he speaks to look a bit like “Star Wars” prequel rejects, but turn out to be cute little miniature Jumanji hybrids. Though chuckle-inducing, I hope this doesn’t become the standard in subsequent scripts. In fact, the series should probably take a new direction after this one, so as not to become stale too quickly.

The main plot of the film involves a husky lizard-like villain named Krall, who is looking for a relic that Kirk had in his possession in his mission to appease the creatures in the beginning of the film. Apparently this artifact has a lot of unknown power, but Krall is after it. They first encounter him after agreeing to a rescue mission from a distressed former captain of her own ship, Kalara (Lydia Wilson), and seek to aid her while going into the Nebula. While there, they’re greeted by a slew of aggressive ships, and it’s fairly evident that it was a trap laid by Kalara. It’s not at first clear why, until she admits that her crew is at the mercy of Krall (Idris Elba). This is no consolation to Kirk, whose crew is now also taken captive.

Kirk, Chekov, Scotty, Bones and Spock have evaded capture, and are aided by a rogue female being, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who has been living in an abandoned Starfleet ship, the USS Franklin. At first confused why there would be an older Starfleet ship stuck in the rock of this planet, it becomes evident that Krall may have had a link to Starfleet Academy.

Meanwhile, Uhura and Sulu try to release the captives, as they themselves are prisoners as well. Uhura is the one who realizes Krall may not be as simple as a foul tempered, scaly antagonist. There seems to be something deeper within his anger and resentment toward their race.

As mentioned before, the film is directed by the man who gave us much of the “Fast and Furious” sequels, and this film has moments of being too fast and furious for its own good. But for the most part, it’s very well paced and the character interactions are a joy to watch. Bones and Spock have some great scenes together, and Scotty and Jaylah enjoy some nice chemistry as well. The film is probably the most action packed of the three, but it’s never uninteresting; and even at its most brazen and contemptuous of suspension of disbelief, it doesn’t go so far as to take you out of the moment. As unbelievable as some of the stunts are, you’re still rooting for these characters to be safe and return home in one piece.

The strength of the series has always been its cast–that goes back to the original cast of the 1960’s in the first series. It always felt like an ensemble, and this cast preserves that. These characters like each other, and we like them for it. It’s bittersweet to see Chekov one last time, as actor Anton Yelchin tragically died this summer. But he has a nice role in this film, and we will definitely miss him.

Also mentioned before, the series should probably start to take a new direction after this one. They’ve rebooted the cast, rehashed a villain, and now I think we’ve had our fill of revenge plots. Much like the first series of original films, which went in new directions, this series needs to find other stories to tell. They have the cast at their prime, now give them something different. This film is forgivable for its messy antics at times and even confusing narrative; if this is repeated in a fourth film, the series could start to lose itself, and that would be a shame.

For now, though, sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s entertainment at warp speed.

My rating: :-)

The World’s End

August 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

Edgar Wright made quite a splash on the horror comedy scene with 2004’s “Shaun of the Dead”, one of the freshest films of the decade and one of my favorite horror comedies of all time–and one of the best zombie films of all time. He followed it up with the darker but still fun and entertaining “Hot Fuzz” in 2007. Now comes the third in what he calls the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy”, “The World’s End”. The plot is quite simple: a bunch of boyhood friends gather together after over 20 years of being apart to try and conquer The Golden Mile, a 12 tavern pub crawl in one night. The man behind the plan is Gary King (Simon Pegg, always appealing, if a little over the top this time), and he is stuck in the past as he wants to recapture the glory days of youth and finish the pub crawl that they could not finish when they were teenagers.

His group of friends, however, have grown up and gone their separate ways. His closest friend, Andy (Nick Frost), has quit drinking and become a business man. His other friends, Pete (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman), and Steven (Paddy Considine), have also matured into adults. Not all successful, but certainly past being pub crawlers. As for Gary, he hasn’t grown at all. Still has the same car from that night, and the same cassette tape that was playing when they drove there.

The pubs all belong to a town called Newton Haven, where they grew up. They haven’t been back since, nor have they cared to. In some ways, all of their skeletons were left there and they were more than happy to leave them–especially for Andy, who had a falling out with Gary one night that Gary thinks Andy should just get over.

Gary finds all of his buds and is able to convince them to come with him based on telling them a sob story about his Mum dying, and their fascination with him being able to persuade Andy to come along piques their interest. Once together, it’s off to the pubs. But something is different. Each pub is identical, sterile, and the people are different. They’re colder, and quiet. The ones that should remember Gary and the gang don’t seem to recognize them at all.

In the bathroom, Gary finds out what is going on just as the rest of his friends grow restless with the evening. Oliver had invited his sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike), who Steven has had a crush on all these years, and Gary has tried to put moves on her as well. She leaves, disenchanting the others. Andy, who has been drinking water instead of beer, decides it’s time to go. But when they try to collect Gary, they are swarmed with kids resembling androids complete with blue blood and T-1000-like mobility. They’re convinced they’re surrounded by robots, but there’s actually a bigger plot going on. It’s an invasion. Flooding us with technology and brainwashing us with pseudo-pacification, the gang tries to escape being assimilated.

But Gary still wants to get to the World’s End, the last pub of the crawl. Through the chase sequences, we learn more about their relationships with each other and why there was a falling out. It’s almost like “The Big Chill” meets “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. But Wright doesn’t completely rip off either film. He also merely touches on an apocalyptic story about the downfall of human civilization as we become more and more reliant on technology. It would have been a nice thing for him to really satirize, as it seemed to be leaning in that direction.

It’s still good fun, though; and if you’re a fan of either or both “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”, this won’t let you down. The performances are strong, the action sequences are exciting, and most of the film moves at a good pace. The only time the film lags is near the end. It’s almost as if Wright didn’t have a real tight grasp on how he wanted to end this one, so it is a bit anticlimactic. While some of this is used for comic effect, it almost starts a whole new story with only about 10 minutes to go in the film. The film’s last scene feels like it could be the first scene of the next film, should he want to make a sequel. Although, since this was part of a “trilogy”, I guess Wright would have to bend the rules.

This is an enjoyable film, but I think it’s the weakest of the three. It’s certainly ambitious and it has some great moments. There are some very funny scenes, and the characters are very likeable, especially Sam and Pete. But there’s something more that could’ve been done with the plot, I think, that would have put it even above “Shaun” and really made a criticism about modern life. Instead it’s nothing more than a heady pint. While that can be satisfying, it still leaves something to desire. Especially if it’s an India Pale Ale.

My rating: :-)

Star Trek Into Darkness

May 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

In 2009, we were treated to another incarnation of the original “Star Trek” cast. After all, after “Nemesis” it was evident that there was no more room for the “Next Generation” cast as it seemed their film arc was all washed up. I still don’t know how that happened as they were a bright, fun cast with an introspective and classy captain. I chalk it up to unimaginative writing and stagnant directing by Jonathan Frakes, who played also played Riker.

The series was rebooted and at the helm was “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams who had done a nice job taking an ensemble cast in that show and putting them in interesting situations while growing them as characters (for the first few seasons, anyway). Abrams was hired as director for the “Star Trek” reboot even though he was admittedly not a big fan of the show. That’s not always a kiss of death, however. In some ways it can help because there’s no fanboy bias that you have to worry about. The result, too, was a smashing success, putting together a great cast of young actors to reinvigorate the roles of the original star ship Enterprise. Although the villain was a bit cartoonish and weak, the main story of Kirk and Spock becoming friends was extremely well done.

Now, four years later, we say hello again to the same cast, and it’s a real pleasure seeing them again. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto have mastered the roles of Kirk and Spock respectively; though they are friendlier, there are still some kinks to work out. When we are first introduced to them this time around, the Enterprise is on an observational mission on a small planet of natives who are about to be wiped out by a volcano. Acting against their Prime Directive, they are seen by the natives and Kirk saves Spock’s life while he is in the active volcano, trying to save the race from extinction. Though it was a noble effort, Kirk is reprimanded by not only his superiors, but also by Spock because saving his life was “illogical”. Kirk is relieved of his captain status, and Spock is reassigned to another Federation ship.

But don’t think that means we’re not going to see them work together. A bomb explodes on Earth wiping out a department in Starfleet, and the culprit is a former officer known as John Harrison who, for unexplained reasons, has gone rogue. Kirk is given First Officer status on the Enterprise and is assigned to accompany Admiral Pike (reprised by Bruce Greenwood). Before their mission is underway, however, they are attacked at Starfleet Command, and Pike is killed by Harrison. Kirk finds out at this point that this terrorist plot is related to a secret that Starfleet is keeping, one that offers a bit of a twist on John Harrison that I won’t reveal–but you will be very familiar with it if you’ve followed any of the “Star Trek” films in your life.

With Pike dead, Kirk resumes his position as captain and reinstates Spock as First Officer. Their mission is also a secret one: to take out John Harrison on the Klingon planet Kronos, in an uninhabited city. The order is given by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), and the Enterprise is sent into Kronos. Once on the planet, however, Kirk decides to spare Harrison’s life and capture him rather than kill him. They are greeted unexpectedly by Marcus in another Federation ship, the USS Vengeance, and Marcus insists again that Harrison be killed. Marcus’ daughter, Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) is on board the Enterprise, and when she learns that Marcus intends to destroy the Enterprise if needbe, she tries to intervene. But all Marcus does is beam her aboard, and Kirk is left in a very precarious situation.

There is a lot more going on in this film than the previous one, obviously. That should always be the case when it comes to sequels. Raise the stakes, make it more interesting, give the characters something more to work with. Abrams and Co. do this as best they can but they are somewhat hampered in this sophomore effort by a sophomoric script, co-written by former “Lost” buddy Damon Lindelof. As in “Prometheus”, Lindelof shows that he cannot seem to handle complexities in character and narrative arc, and some situations are handled more like a Sunday morning comic rather than a feature film. So expect some Deus Ex Machinas, and suspend your disbelief a little bit more than you’re used to, even in a science fiction action film like this.

It especially works against them in the character of Harrison, who is a very convincing villain played exquisitely by Benedict Cumberbatch. There is an open ending which begs for his return and I hope it does happen, because his character felt a bit rushed at times when this character deserves patient and deliberate writing to be a worthy foe for Kirk and the Enterprise.

But it is nice to see the cast again, and actors Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, and John Cho are appealing supporting actors rounding out the splendid Enterprise crew. The only one that seems to still just “impersonate” his counterpart is Karl Urban who plays Dr. “Bones” McCoy. Every time he speaks he is trying too hard to “sound like” Bones rather than just be Bones. Other than that, the cast works perfectly.

The film delivers big laughs as well as big thrills, and although there are a few too many climaxes in third act that wears you down a bit, the ending is satisfying and it made me want to see where these characters will boldly go next.

I just hope the next script provides an equally interesting story that isn’t littered with plot holes and convenient resolutions.

My rating: :-)